Comments from SPearce

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SPearce commented about Vogue Theatre on Jan 13, 2008 at 4:06 pm

I would like to record my memory of the Vogue Theater and that neighborhood before further time passes. Maybe some oldtime Chicagoans can speak to this further. BTW, I would have thought any demolition of this movie house was later than 1958 but I know it didn’t show movies much later than that.

I lived at Fremont and Grace, 1956-57, which was one block west of Broadway, and the Vogue Theater was my first experience with attending a neighborhood theater. A half block west of Broadway on Grace, on the south side of the street, was the Marigold Arena. At that time the Marigold mainly presented night, or even afternoon, wrestling matches, sometimes boxing. There was also a bowling alley along the street, if I remember correctly. In the early ‘50s some events from there were nationally televised on fledgling TV; it did have a national reputation, but it was waning for some reason – other, better venue somewhere else being developed, perhaps. Remember, with Chicago, the powers that be, and the folks who made decisions, did not necessarily obtain approval through city planning boards, and the best interests of the community did not seem to be a consideration.

Across the street on the north side of Grace was a diner, a simple but small horseshoe diner. As a schoolchild with nothing to do in the summer (no organized after school activities then), while a parent worked, but sit in our apt. and read or watch TV, I often was left money with which to eat a hamburger at the diner (sometimes also to go to a movie; but even then I was careful and didn’t like to go into movie shows alone in the afternoon; but I did attend many movies at the Vogue otherwise with schoolfriends and a parent). They showed rerun double and triple features. I remember seeing “Arsenic and Old Lace” there (and it was run a number of times; maybe they had their own copy of it), and I thought it was the most hysterically funny movie I had ever seen.

While eating lunch at the diner one day, I saw some men (business sorts) cross Grace from the Marigold arena and walk through the diner, without a by your leave, and walk through a back door, not into the kitchen, but another door, where it appeared they immediately walked down a stairwell. I believe I partly overheard, and partly was told by a waitress, that there was an underground passage, under Grace St., from the basement of the Marigold arena to the basement of the Vogue Theater. But when persons couldn’t access the passage for some reason, i.e., flooding, locked off by the city or something, there was another access by just walking through the diner, through that door and downstairs. Someone said they had been coming through a lot that week. I believe I had heard about an underground passage connected to the Vogue Theater from some other source as well.

Then the folks in the diner started chuckling about the whole business. And I learned it was told that there was supposedly a gambling den (tolerated) under the Vogue Theater, I think under the stage, and maybe even related to business across the street at Marigold Arena. It was also suggested there may have been a bowling alley down there, but I think that was across the street), and/or dressing rooms and areas where the talent waited before they went to the ring across the street, and various rooms for other business, maybe offices. I do not think there were any floors above the Vogue Theater. And I vaugely recall a story that when the Vogue was constructed, someone wanted floors above the theater, but they were not allowed to build up, so they built down.

I learned there had been some raids, the police tolerated the place, but also raided it at times. I think there had been some kind of raid recently, that had made the papers as well. Maybe the gambling had surceased for a season; or perhaps it was a decision to end it permanently; it was unclear.

I inquired as to what extent the persons managing the Vogue Theater were in some way managing what was going on in the basement. I think the comment was, they didn’t think the persons running the theater were in charge of what was going on downstairs (don’t really know what their link was to Marigold), or whether Marigold leased the underground space, but they certainly had to know of it.

There were other businesses between the Vogue and the corner of Grace St., and around the corner, all adjacent also to The Vogue – small shopkeepers mainly in what probably had been a somewhat gentrified neighborhood in the 1920s and ‘30s. Preferred housing moved north over time, but it clearly appeared to have been a nice area at one time; nicer I thought than the Uptown area which had more active focus then. Simply put, the economically active Jewish community which had probably resided there to some extent, had moved north to Uptown and farther, including to Skokie, and the economic activity was waning in the Vogue Theater neighborhood. The climate was “still;” it still had Wrigley Field a few blocks away on Waveland, but that neighborhood was just about to make its inevitable downward economic turn.

In late summer of 1957 we moved away from the area. But I would still ride the bus (I think it was No. 36 Broadway) up Broadway from where I lived near Halstead and Webster to Broadway and Irving Park, where I still took dance lessons at Helene Studio of Dance. Helene Allen (plus other aliases) had been considered a fine ballerina, I suppose, and had transferred to vaudeville, where she had done well, and then ran this dance studio. She closed her studio in 1958, I think, and moved to the west side near where she lived, and near the Nefertitti Lodge, of which she was a member, and where her students gave dance recitals.

I think locals do have this history if someone could be found from the area who took it in through neighborhood osmosis, and could retell it in detail, though it was long ago. I think the issue with the Vogue Theater though was that it was not necessarily first and only a theater for the business interests involved with it at the time, though it appeared so to those who attended movies. I do vaguely recall a dancehall; maybe there was a second story with a dance hall, or maybe the entrance to the dance hall was adjacent to the Vogue and the dancing took place either over the Vogue or the building that extended south to the corner. The Vogue was linked to other activities, and may have been a front in some small way, or later was used that way (don’t know how much).

It may actually have been that “business sorts” made a decision to abandon certain business interests in that area, and it brought the Vogue to a premature end, at least for neighborhood people to use as a theater. I know when I first arrived in 1956, there was a lot of street traffic of an evening of people going to the movies at the Vogue after work; it wasn’t passe to go to a movie there, but it started in that direction about 1957.

My recollection was that it had a nice entrance in the movie theater style, a nice enough lobby and was simple, not ornate inside. I think there was some raising of eyebrows over the fires happening when they did, but that reaction tended to often happen. Who knows? It was a neighborhood about to pass its first stage of life.

I hope this will raise other clarifying or affirming details from readers here.

SPearce commented about Roxy Theatre on Jan 10, 2008 at 6:58 pm

From the May 10, 1946 edition of the NYC Daily Worker is this ad:

Lucille Ball Clifton Webb William Bendix Mark Stevens
“The Dark Corner"
A 20th Century-Fox Picture
Merry Macs – Extra! – Rosario & Antonio
ROXY 7th Ave. & 50th Ave.

SPearce commented about Academy of Music on Jan 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm

The Daily Worker was a proper newspaper publication, and actually covered a pretty full cross section of news, movies, plays, book reviews, and radio station listings (but not social news). I am not sure if it was a daily or something else. It is listed as Friday’s edition, Vol. XXIII, No. 112. However, far and away the hard news in this newspaper related to organized Labor and potential strikes (including by movie theater personnel) and government news, politics and Veterans; I think that was what the Daily Worker really was about.

Whatever any individual’s politics may have been, IMO – organized Labor’s membership probably picked up this newspaper and read it (5 cents).

There are some large ads for a Madison Square Garden Rally, featuring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and many others, for example, plus another big rally. That was the flavor of the times. (By today’s standards this little edition is chock o' block with news.)

To reply to one of your comments, I vaguely remember seeing or hearing that a witch hunt had been initiated around the time of the beginning of WWII in the U.S., but was quickly ended because the U.S. became allies with the Soviets. There is an article headlined: “Movie Unions Hit Witchhunt” and a participant is George Marshall; having to do with acting on abolition of the Wood Rankin Comm. on Un-American Activities. So witchhunting was in the air. And much more.

The movie and theater ads were proper for their time, sometimes 2 cols, sometimes 1 col.

Some clearly appear as if they came out of the studio package, or were professionally developed, with critics comments scattered across them. Some had graphics that would have been interchangeable perhaps with what one would see in movie posters.

I look at every detail to see what can be culled to flesh out my understanding of the culture of the setting at the time. One thing I noted, for example, was the ad for the Paramount – the film was “The Blue Dahlia” directed by George Marshall (mentioned above)(I also vaguely think I have come across an exacting review of this film as to hidden political meanings, real or imagined, but don’t remember the details.) On the bill with it is the Duke Ellington stage show. I also know that at this time the Black or “Negro” Labor Workers were in the process of starting their own “Black” or “Negro” Labor Union. So, there is background to be studied, I would think, for the history of the Paramount Theater or whomever scheduling this combined product and/or marketing it in the Daily Worker. What might be interesting for a graduate student one day might be to compare the ads on any given day between a daily NYC newspaper of the time, and, say, the Daily Worker, or a Harlem newspaper…something like that. Maybe they can do that easily online at NYPL.

Though I am not qualified to discuss these NYC movie houses in depth, from what I have heard in my life (coming from attending movie theaters during some of their heyday and noting at the time I was in the presence of unseen minds that had committed to treating me as a patron very beautifully and with generosity), and subsequently visiting, and studying some the theaters and the basis of their development and design, I fully expected to find the Roxy at 7th & 50th Streets in the CT index, but didn’t, and don’t know why. Incidentally, it was showing “The Dark Corner” plus on stage George Jessel, Merry Macs, and (extra) Rosario & Antonio.

SPearce commented about Embassy 72nd Street Twin 1 and 2 on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:52 pm

No. I was wondering whether there was considered to be a best general site for info on something going on with a number of movie houses at one time, or if movie houses don’t appear to the untutored eye to have their own movie house site at CT, where is the preferred site to share for every readers' best interest. Meantime, I did post on specific theater sites after all. Some ad content was more historically interesting than others but one never knows what is going to be interesting to the reader (the Stanley was the most informative in content to me). Some of the movie houses mentioned above I did not find on the CT index, but may be listed under another name, don’t know. For example, I did not find all, or even probably the main Embassys, then the Roxy, Brandt’s Apollo, and I think, World were movie houses I did not find in the CT index.

SPearce commented about Brooklyn Paramount Theatre on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:32 am

The following ad content ran in the May 10, 1946 NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker. My guess – it was important to someone at this theater to support that newspaper at that time.

B'klyn Paramount Flatbush & DeKalb
Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
Extra! In Technicolor

SPearce commented about RKO Jefferson Theatre on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:26 am

From the May 10, 1046 NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker RKO Jefferson 14 St. & 3rd Ave.:

Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman
“Bells of St. Mary’s”

Question: photos of the facade of the Jefferson posted by Thomas in May 2005: would a theater as famous as B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville house really have been only as wide across as the facade in the photo suggests in its heyday? I will have to change my mental image (or at least the ones provided me by “the movies”) of what the approach to B.F. Keith’s might have been. Thank you.

SPearce commented about Academy of Music on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:15 am

Thought I would post on the theater homesites that match up for some movie ads I have in a May 10, 1946 NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker. Evidently this theater supported that paper, in its way.

ACADEMY of Music 126 E. 14
Now through Wednesday
Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, George Brent

Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan

Under that is a general blurb:
“Patronize the Daily Worker Advertisers”

SPearce commented about Stanley Theatre on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:06 am

I am glad to see this movie house is already identified as a communist sympathizer house as I found this movie ad in my trusty May 10, 1946 NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker (reading from top to bottom various type size):

“Has more dramatic excitement than most films in town.” – World-Telegram
K. Simonov's
An Artkino Release
Now – A Stirring Film
Doors Open 8:45 a.m.
Stanley 7th Ave. bet 42 & 41 STS
Also 1st New York Showing—
“Warsaw Rebuilds” and Soviet “Young Musicians"
Just arrived – first film of "Election Day in the U.S.S.R.” Exclusive pictures of Stalin, Zhukov, Konev, Ilya Ehrenburg, Boris Babushkin, Nikolai Cherkasov and other Soviet celebrities."

So there.

SPearce commented about Paramount Theatre on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:52 pm

In my May 10, 1946 copy of the NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker are some select movie ads (obviously not all theaters in NYC advertised in this newspaper), including one for Paramount Times Square indicating:

Paramount Presents Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix in “The Blue Dahlia” A George Marshall Production, Doors open 8:30 a.m., then a musical note separating columns and on the right side of the ad:

In Person DUKE ELLINGTON and his Orchestra, Stump & Stumpy, Extra The Mills Bros. (This is the show I would have wanted to see.)

I look at this historically as someone then determined it was worthwhile to run this ad for this show in the Communist Daily newspaper. If it wasn’t for the content, then perhaps management had a vested interest.

SPearce commented about Irving Place Theatre on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:37 pm

I happen to have a copy of the NYC edition of the (Communist) Daily Worker of May 10, 1946. Showing at the Irving Place on that date at East 14th St. GR 5-6975 was:

Waltz Time – Story of Old Vienna when the waltz was naughty – (Gay and lilting – N.Y. Post) and The Marx Bros. in “Monkey Business”, then it reads, Held Over “The Liberation of Vienna.”

Historically speaking, perhaps all, or especially “The Liberation…” might have been deemed attractive fare for those who would have read the Daily Worker then. The border of the ad is of a musical score with a dancing couple; clearly the main attraction over “Monkey Business.”

SPearce commented about Embassy 72nd Street Twin 1 and 2 on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:22 pm

I have a copy of the NYC edition of the Daily Worker of May 10, 1946. In it are some movie ads, evidently for theaters that would advertise in the NYC Communist Party paper at that time.

One of the ads is for Embassy Newsreel Theatres. The feature newsreels were “Alcatraz Riot” (which riot indeed occurred from the end of ‘45 well into '46) and “Kentucky Derby.” It lists several addresses for multiple Embassy Newsreel Theatres: 42nd St. & Park Ave. (Airlines Terminal), 46th St. & Broadway – 72nd St. & B'way, 50th St. – Radio City – Broad St., Newark (That is the way it is typeset – in one line.)

To Warren (who seems to be a pretty knowledgeable person related to movie theaters and publications on them (I think of them as churches of a sort), or anyone else:

Wondering if there are any quick clues of other sites at CT at which to share the following movie theater ads with their features (I am not knowledgeable enough about NYC to know):

Irving Place at East 14th St., Stanley (7th Ave. bet 42 and 41 Sts) Roxy (7th Ave. & 50th St.), Academy of Music (128 E. 14), Brandt’s Apollo 42 St., Paramount Times Square, World 49th St., RKO Jefferson, 14 St. & 3rd Ave. and the Brooklyn Paramount.

I have not yet checked out all of these theaters in the CT index; just wondering if anyone would recommend shortcut best place(s)? (There are some plays advertised too) Thanks.

SPearce commented about Radio City Music Hall on Dec 2, 2007 at 9:29 pm


Thank you, and for your preservation work. The photos of the lounge area at the Boyd site were quite beautiful also. I will further check out Mr. Ricci.

SPearce commented about Radio City Music Hall on Dec 2, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Thank you for posting the beautiful photos in November.

Questions: (I think some of this was covered in a posting up the string, but in scanning back I could not locate it) a. Are the murals in the lounges original, ca. 1932; b. in the men’s basement lounge (photo is reddish) is the covering on the walls adjacent to the murals, a series of reddish hued squares a la Mark Rothco(?)and original or of later vintage, and a wallpaper covering; © as to the leather (naugahyde?) chairs throughout – are they all original with original colored upholstery, ca. 1932; and (d) could someone provide the name of the interior decorator and any direction to history on that decorator’s referenced style, or intention for this theater? Thank you.

SPearce commented about Radio City Music Hall on Sep 23, 2007 at 1:15 am

Thank you for the beautiful postings on your memories of this theater, and also how the movie projection booth has been used to exquisitely express both the intended beauty of the artistic endeavors presented there and of the place. I, too, have taken a couple of days to scan through this material. A couple of comments and two questions.

Question: In venues such as this, which mixed movies and theater, how did the theater designers feel about technicians in the projection booth projecting effects rather than a stage crew? Was there resentment between crews, were they relieved about it, did they have a whole other take on it?

I believe I have read that some movies were consciously made to be presented at RCMH; maybe “Annie Get Your Gun” was one, I am not sure. So it can be said that movies were actually principally made for this theater. I missed any commentary as to that; sorry.

As to Bob Endres credited quote that “You have never been boo'ed until you have been boo'ed by 6,000 people (Feb. 2005), I had to laugh out loud. Having worked with Bob – sort of – in the mid ‘60s in a small town in Illinois with a larger population than the theater, more like 20,000 people, and having experienced a range of responses from audiences from kudos to boos (kudos are better), I might add, "You have never been boo'ed until you have been boo'ed by an entire small town in Illinois.” I believe Standing Boovations are usually relative though – sometimes one setting or audience is not of a mind to “receive” all or some of what is being presented. I think Warren Beatty recently allowed “Reds” to be screened to a standing ovation, and the comment was, he should have held it back for 30 years. Anyway, thinking of boos from town to town only makes me think of comedian George Burns’ routine, which makes me feel better.

Question: So, how imaginatively has consideration been given to how to utilize Radio City Music Hall in the future? I believe strongly in valuing the continuity of a piece in resolving its dilemma.

For example, my personal favorite genre of film is “Silents” or more appropriately, I would say, early movies. Granted RCMH was created after the period of early movies. And early movies have been disserved by having been relegated too long to being thought of as a passe form replaced by “sound.” I believe through less dialogue and more grace they represent the cornerstone, keystone and apex of the movie art form, and they were designed to be shown to a huge audience, not the more limited ones some may be used to thinking of for them. (So I will try to keep this short now.)

Original theaters were designed in some cases simply to be appendages to this or that early movie, to enhance that movie as a set, then they were left that way. In the midwest, one saw, if I remember correctly, more historical themes used than art deco. On the west coast the other way around – not exclusively, but theater by theater, more or less. In early movies, some creative artists worked from heavy historical literary themes, while other more contemporary artists were highly self-conscious of their time period (1920s especially) and incorporated that awareness in their films. The production values of early movies serve all of this awareness. RCMH may have been designed during the cross-over period as well.

One wonders how persons using imagination might be able to present in some fashion, or along some contemporary theme, a well considered early movie (not necessarily a cliche one, and thankfully TV’s Turner Silents is moving audiences away from those) in Radio City Music Hall (don’t really know if there are insurmountable technical problems to do this today) so that the early movie and RCMH might have an occasion to help each other and please an audience at the same time, in a creative, well developed event in continuity with any of the intrinsic terms of each. Oddly enough, early films and their natural sunlight all over the place (but possibly enhanced at times) seemed to really show exteriors in that era the way they were. In other words, many times, at least in their exterior shots, the films became records of that time period. Whew!

Pardon my temerity in joining in with this; it was just a thought to make a point as to exploring what are the values of RCMH that link it to other things.