Thursday, March 25, 2010
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE PALACE
On this day in 1913-- the same year that my dear mother was born, The Palace Theatre in New York City opened its doors. The Palace is the home of Broadway theatre, but when it opened, it was the hallmark of all of vaudeville. The black and white picture on this page actually show's the theatre's construction. The Palace was designed by architects Kirchoff & Rose, the theatre was built by Martin Beck a California vaudeville entrepreneur and Broadway impresario. The project experienced a number of business problems before it opened. E. F. Albee, one of the main executives for B. F. Keith and his powerful vaudeville circuit, demanded that Beck turn over three-quarters of the stock in the theatre in order to use acts from the Keith circuit-- a powerful organization. In addition, Oscar Hammerstein -- the father of the great lyricist--was the only person who could offer Keith acts in that section of Broadway, so Beck paid him off with $225,000. The theatre finally opened on March 24, 1913 with headliner Ed Wynn. To "play the Palace" meant that an entertainer had reached the pinnacle of his career, and it became a popular venue with performers like Sarah Bernhardt, Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, George Jessel, and the dear and one and only Jack Benny. With the Great Depression came a rise in the popularity of film and radio, and vaudeville began its decline. In 1929 the two-a-day Palace shows were increased to three. By 1932, the Palace moved to four shows a day and lowered its admission price. In November of that year, it converted to a movie house. Appearing on the closing bill when the venue ended its stage policy were Nick Lucas and Hal Leroy. There was a brief return to a live revue format in 1936, when Broadway producer Nils T. Granlund staged a series of variety shows beginning with "Broadway Heat Wave" featuring female orchestra leader Rita Rio. The classic film Citizen Kane had its world premiere at the theatre on May 1, 1941. In the 1950s, the RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) chain tried to revive vaudeville with shows by such names as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, and Harry Belafonte. While the shows were successful, they did not lead to a revival of the genre. On January 29, 1966, the Palace reopened as a legitimate theatre with the original production of the musical Sweet Charity, although for a period of time it showed films and presented concert performances by Bette Midler, Josephine Baker, Eddie Fisher, Shirley MacLaine, Diana Ross, Vikki Carr, and many others like that between theatrical engagements. In the 1980s, a towering hotel was built above the theater, cantilevered over the auditorium; today, the theater is practically invisible behind an enormous wall of billboards and under the skyscraper, and only the marquee is visible.The Palace is somewhat infamous for having an enormous and difficult-to-sell second balcony in which nearly every seat has an obstructed view. The theatre recently housed Legally Blonde: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the 2001 film, which played its final performance on October 19, 2008 after 595 performances and 30 previews at the Palace.The Palace Theatre is currently owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization and Stewart F. Lane There is also a grand legend of a Palace Theatre Ghost. The ghost of acrobat Louis Borsalino is said to haunt the theatre. According to various versions of the story Borsalino "fell to his death in the 1950s" and that "Stagehands say that when the theater is empty, the ghost of Borsalino can be seen swinging from the rafters. He lets out a blood-curdling scream, then re-enacts his nose dive." However, in reality Borsalino who was a member of the Four Casting Pearls was only injured when he fell 18 feet during a performance on August 28, 1935 before 800 theatre goers. Borsalino's act was not a trapeze but rather fixed towers in which the acrobats are "cast from one to the other." Comedian Pat Henning started his act after the accident before the curtain was pulled. John and I dream of having our first Broadway show here, although my memory of the Palace was grand (I got to see "La Cage Aux Folles" here in 1984, this was the theatre in which I was robbed. My wallet, my credit cards, everything. I remember it happened when I tried to exchange my seat for "La Cage" My 1984 $50 seat was up in the nosebleed section. As i was in line seeing about exchange (which they just don't do) someone lifted my wallet. It remains the only time in my life that I have been physically robbed. Getting home on the airplane was a real challenge-- today, it would have been impossible. Ah, the days before 9/11!