Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - And Then There Were None

Well, that sucks.

The news came out this week that the famed Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan would close its doors shortly.    It will be converted into a grand, high-end ballroom for corporate parties, etc..   Translation: an expensive catering hall.

And, as a result, the great media city of the world now has zero single screen movie palaces in the hub of Manhattan.   

If you're not wiping away tears, you should be.

Okay, admittedly, the Ziegfeld is not an old-time movie palace.   I mean, it was built in 1969.  But, inside there was the feel of one of those legendary cinema showplaces that had been around for a century.  It was opulent and majestic. And a fabulous place to see a movie.

It's actually criminal that the biggest media market of this country no longer has a grand movie theater.   Back in my parents' day and when I was a kid, it was oh so different.   "Downtown" was the place to go if you wanted to see the hot new fare from three thousand miles away.   All the big pictures opened in Manhattan first at places like Radio City Music Hall or the Rivoli or the Criterion.  And that was just in midtown.   On the classy upper east side, the fancier art and foreign films would open up at the Sutton or the Beekman.   

If you wanted to be among the first to see these new movies, you had to be at one of those places in Manhattan.  And my parents would drag me on the subway to do so from time to time.   But, for the most part, we would wait.   As the expression went...

"...till the movies come up by us."

Oh, eventually, they would.  And, at least in my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York, you had two glorious single screen movie palaces to relax in all to your self.   Loews' across the street from City Hall.   And the RKO Proctor around the corner on Gramatan Avenue and conveniently across the street from my orthodontist.  

But, Manhattan was the place for the newest first-run fare.  And it was where you wanted to be.

Sadly, no more.   And this is a major blight on New York City.  You've got plenty of 17 or 18-plexes.  But no palace now that the Ziegfeld is going south.  Indeed, the real villain in this piece is the guy who first had the idea of taking a big movie theater and chopping it into two screens.   I hope that dude is residing uncomfortably in Hell.

Waxing nostalgically on the Ziegfeld, I remember going down to it several times during college with pals to see whatever summer blockbuster had just come out.  Later on, it was the place where classic movie restorations had their world premieres and I got to relish in a couple of those.

"Spartacus" with Tony Curtis in attendance.

"Vertigo" with Kim Novak present and accounted for.  I later got to meet her at a similar function in Hollywood.

"Lawrence of Arabia" in 70 MM where you could actually feel the heat of the sand under your feet.   It played the Ziegfeld for a month and I know that both daily showings were sellouts.

And there was the premiere of the restored "My Fair Lady" when my friend, in his haste to meet singer Marni Nixon, literally knocked...wait for it...Donald Trump back into his seat.   Meanwhile, I was on the concession line at intermission and discovered that the film co-star Theodore Bikel was right behind me waiting for his buttered popcorn.

Later on, I was hanging out a lot on weekends around the Upper West Side and, when we were looking for a movie, we always first checked the paper to see what was playing at the Ziegfeld.  I mean, you can go to a multiplex up in Yonkers.   When in Manhattan, you wanted to do your movie viewing the best way possible.

No more.

Los Angeles, at least, has done it right.   There are still single screen classic theaters all around town.   In Westwood, the Fox and the Bruin.   The Nuart still thrives.   And, of course, the restored Egyptian and Aero Theaters which still run classic films all the time.   As a matter of fact, they are both featuring a 70 MM festival over the next two weeks.   I will be hitting the Egyptian next week for a screening of "Ben-Hur."

Something you can't do in New York anymore.   Thanks so much for the good times, Ziegfeld Theater.   You will be missed.

Dinner last night:  Scrambled egg whites with Taylor Ham and cheddar cheese.

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