You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

December 27: Radio City Music Hall

December 27, 2015

radiocity1Radio City Music Hall, nicknamed “The Showplace of the Nation,” opened its doors to the public on Rockefeller Center for the first time on this date in 1932, as the Great Depression deepened. Created by John D. Rockefeller, David Sarnoff of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and Samuel Roxy Rothafel, the entrepreneur who had created the Roxy Theater in 1927, the theater had seating for 6,000 and was the largest movie theater in the world. It also had the largest pipe organ built for a movie theater, the “Mighty Wurlitzer,” with 4,410 pipes. Opening night featured performances by Ray Bolger (the “Scarecrow” in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz), comedian Doc Rockwell (who would become the father to American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell), and Martha Graham. The cavernous size of the theater proved daunting for live performers, however, and the format of a feature film accompanied by a stage-show spectacular featuring the Rockettes (originally called the Roxyettes) became the standard offering of Radio City within a month of its opening. By 1980, however, Radio City was once again a concert and performance hall, only rarely showing films, and served as a venue for the Tony and Grammy Awards ceremonies, among other show biz spectacles.

“The secret of the trick stage lies in the fact that it is not a stage at all in the ordinary sense, but instead consists of three fifty-ton hydraulic plunger elevators, seventy feet wide and fifteen feet deep. These elevators may be lifted thirteen feet above ‘stage level’ or dropped twenty-seven feet below, singly or together...” —Popular Mechanics, January, 1941