Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rockin' the Para--uh, mount, toniiiiiite!

I can trace my fondness for old theaters back to two habits of my misspent youth--special-treat Saturday matinees at the RKO Keith's in Flushing (whose building may be finally redeveloped as condos after two decades of vacancy and decay), and frequent pre-teen contemplation of the poignant gatefold cover of Styx's Paradise Theater (sorry, couldn't find a photo showing both the "1928 Gala Premiere" front and the "1958 slated-for-demolition" back). I oughta be ashamed of the sheer cheesiness of the latter, but I'm not--and though I haven't listened to the record in eons, I still find the cover entrancing. Evidently I'm not alone, either. Let's stick together and futurize our attitudes!



(NEW YORK) PARAMOUNT THEATRE--in the Paramount Building, 1501 Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets. There's no need for one of my usual redundant recaps on the Paramount Theatre's history--cinematreasures.org's Paramount Theatre page contains a surfeit of lore galore, plus further links to photos and movie screening ads. Can't resist poaching a few pertinent quotes, though:

The Paramount was the first great movie palace in New York City that was built in the "Chicago-style" pioneered by the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp. When first opened in 1926, its extravagant French Renaissance interiors were a radical change from the restrained Adam and Empire styles that New Yorkers had become accustomed to at the Paramount's main rivals, the Strand, Capitol, and Loew's State (all designed by Thomas Lamb). The Paramount became one of the city's top tourist attractions, but not for long due to the 1927 opening of the Roxy, which was almost twice as large and even more spectacular...For a theatre of its size (3,664 seats), the Paramount was one of the narrowest ever built because the auditorium had to be squeezed between two adjacent buildings--the Paramount office tower, which faced Broadway, and the headquarters of The New York Times (229 West 43rd Street). Consequently, the Paramount Theatre's entrance and a short lobby were carved out of the Paramount Building. After you passed through that short lobby, the actual theatre building began with the Grand Lobby, where you found yourself at the rear of the auditorium, which ran parallel to Broadway with the stage wall backing on West 44th Street. The main floor had only four sections of seats. Above that was a separate and recessed mezzanine with boxed seats. And one level above the mezzanine was the steeped balcony, divided into five sections of seats across and four from front to back. Due to the narrowness of the auditorium, the Paramount also had a narrow stage opening that proved a problem throughout the theatre's lifetime. Stage productions had to use the orchestra lift as part of the show or erect small platforms next to the pit. When the wide screen era arrived, some of the procscenium had to be removed to accommodate it...

The lobby was modeled after the Paris Opera House with white marble columns, balustrades and an opening arms grand staircase. Inside, drapes were red velvet, the rugs were a similar red. The theater also had a grand organ, and an orchestra pit that rose up to the stage level. The ceilings were fresco and gilt. The railings were brass, and the seats plush. There were Greek statues and busts in wall niches. The rest rooms and waiting rooms were as grand as any cathedral. In the main lobby there was an enormous crystal chandelier.

[Side note: these pages on early Times Square signage mention the previous structure on this site, the Putnam Building--named in honor of General Israel "whites of their eyes" Putnam. Supposedly he and George Washington met at this spot during the Revolutionary War.]

Famed as much for its stage shows as for its films and sumptuous decor, the Paramount boasted a long list of legendary performers, including Mary Pickford, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman (with Gene Krupa on skins), Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Erskine Hawkins, the Treniers, Martin and Lewis (and apparently Jerry had worked as a Paramount usher in the early '40s), Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Joey Bishop, Les Paul and Mary Ford, the Mills Brothers, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Imogene Coca, and Jackie Gleason with his "Honeymooners" cohorts, among many others. Fine as these folks were, none of them caused quite as much of a stir as Frank Sinatra, who played several multi-date engagements to hordes of screaming, swooning, street-blocking bobby-soxers in the early '40s.

Alas, the theater's rock & roll connections concern us most here. Such events were few and far between, but fun.

Elvis never made an appearance, but his 40-foot-tall, guitar-slung likeness was mounted above the marquee for the November 15, 1956 premiere of Love Me Tender.



Although Alan Freed's association with the Brooklyn Paramount is more well-known, he did put on a few of his extravaganzas at the Manhattan location. Some researchers confuse the two venues, which has made ascertaining the correct dates a bit difficult.



  • The earliest appears to have taken place in February 1957, in conjunction with the premiere of Don't Knock the Rock. The bill included the Platters, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Ruth Brown, Nappy Brown, the Cleftones, the Cadillacs, and the Duponts, which featured a pre-Imperials Little Anthony Gourdine.
  • Not absolutely sure of the dates for this show, but I believe it happened in early July, 1957--Chuck Berry, Clyde McPhatter, the Moonglows, Big Joe Turner, the Everly Brothers, Johnny & Joe, Paul Anka, LaVern Baker, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, his brother Lewis Lymon with the Teen Chords, Jodie Sands, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Terry Randazzo.
  • From December 26, 1957 through January 6, 1958, the "Christmas Jubliee/Holiday Show of Stars" featured Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, the Rays, Paul Anka, Danny & the Juniors, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, the Teenagers (I guess Frankie L. went solo by then), Jo Ann Campbell, and the Rays. Seems this show broke Frankie Sin's house record!

Here's a pic of the statuary management put in storage before these bookings in an effort to prevent rowdy teens from toppling them. And here's a pic of said delinquents dancing in the aisles and on seats. Be sure to consult the archives section of alanfreed.com--especially the "newspaper articles" link, loaded with vintage scans about these events.

[Side note # 2: While Freed booked most frequently at the two Paramounts, he also utilized the Brooklyn Fox (10 Flatbush Avenue), the Academy of Music, Loew's State (1540 Broadway), Loew's Paradise (2413 Grand Concourse in the Bronx--which hopefully won't meet a Stygian fate), the St. Nicholas Arena in Harlem, the Sussex Avenue Armory in Newark, and the New York Coliseum (10 Columbus Circle, demolished; now the site of the Time Warner Center).]

[UPDATE 2/7/2007: The Game Show Network recently aired a '50s episode of To Tell the Truth with Alan Freed as one of the contestants. It must have been originally aired around the time of the 57/58 Holiday Show of Stars, because some references were made to broken house records--not to mention broken house seats and other damage sustained by the Paramount in the wake of those raucous record-breaking delinquents. The panelists, including Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, Kitty Carlisle, and Hy Gardner, clearly had an anti-rock & roll bias--I mean, jeez, the man had been in three movies by then and they didn't recognize him? Still, Bellamy and Carlisle correctly identified him as the real Freed. Polly Bergen chose one of the impostors because he knew the Paramount's manager was named Bob Shapiro.]






A cinematreasures.org regular posted the following: "For the Easter holiday period in 1964, the Paramount presented what the press reported as the theatre's first stage show in seven years. It was a Rock-N-Roll revue emceed by the radio deejays known as the 'WMCA Good Guys.' The performers included Sam Cooke, Dean & Jean, Rufus Thomas, the Devotions, the Sapphires, the Four Seasons, Terry Stafford, Chris Crosby, Diane Renay, and King Curtis & Band. There were five stage shows per day, punctuated by screenings of Zenith International's "No, My Darling Daughter," a British comedy with Juliet Mills and Michael Craig. The engagement ran from March 27 through April 5." Another cinematreasures guy remembers seeing Lesley Gore and James Brown at one of these shows. "Dandy" Dan Daniel offers some memories of those shows in this obit for his former fellow Good Guy, Dean Anthony.

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly learn anything new about the Beatles, along came another factoid. As if to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Frankie's fervent '44 fanbase, the Fab ones caused further screaming to echo off the Paramount's proscenium on September 20, 1964. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, of all people, were the opening act. All proceeds went to the United Cerebral Palsy and Retarded Infants Services charities--and this was the sole benefit concert the lads did in the U.S.






[UPDATE 7/20/2006: According to Norton Records' required-reading Mary Weiss interview, the Shangri-Las were also on this bill!!!]

[UPDATE 9/29/2007: Mary offers some further memories of this gig in a NY Sun interview.]





[UPDATE 6/9/2010: Oh my, am I late to the party on this one. Over a year ago, an NYC photo-blogger ("what about the plastic animals?") located the remnants of an old poster on the side of a Harlem building that was undergoing renovations at the time. It advertised a Dave Clark Five show at the Paramount, emceed by Murray the K. The blogger couldn't ascertain a concert date, but according to this DC5 chronology, it must have been on October 31, 1964.]





In May, 1965, coinciding with the engagement for Harlow (one of two Jean Harlow biopics released that year, this one starring Carol Lynley), local dance-party TV show host Clay Cole put on a revue featuring several soulful acts--Mary Wells, the Marvelettes, Ronnie Dove, Tony Clark, Charlie & Inez Foxx, and the Gypsies.




[UPDATE 2/14/2007: While researching an entry on the Brooklyn Fox, I came upon this auction site page featuring a number of '60s concert programs for sale, including three for shows held at the Paramount:

  • The aforementioned WMCA Good Guys "Easter Parade of Stars" in 1964, with James Brown, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Rydell, Lesley Gore, the 4 Seasons, King Curtis, Chris Crosby, Dean & Jean, American Beetles, Rufus Thomas, the Sapphies, Diane Renay, Ruby & The Romantics, and Terry Stafford.
  • Another WMCA Good Guys event called the "Show of Shows," with the Animals, Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon, Jan & Dean, Elkie Brooks, the Dixie Cups, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Ronnie Dove, Dee Dee Sharp, The Chartbusters, and Ronnie Dayton. The dates aren't given, but this site suggests that it occurred during Labor Day week in 1964.
  • A "10-Day Easter Show" hosted by Soupy Sales in 1965, with the Hullabaloos, the Detergents, Shirley Ellis, Little Richard, the Vibrators {sic.--should probably be the Vibrations}, the Exciters, the Hollies, the Uniques, Dee Dee Warwick, Roddy Joy, Sandie Shaw, and King Curtis.] [UPDATE 3/22/2009: Found these images from the program.]





[UPDATE 5/27/2010: In a BBC Radio 2 documentary originally broadcast on 5/26/2010, Allan Clarke and Bobby Elliott recalled that Jimi Hendrix was playing for Little Richard's band at the time...but that Penniman was let go and forcibly removed from the premises at a certain point, for refusing to cut his set down to two songs.]


The Paramount closed later that year; Thunderball was the final flick shown. The auditorium and lobby sections were gutted and remodeled as office space, most of it serving as an annex to the adjacent New York Times headquarters. (The theater's renowned Wurlitzer organ survived and eventually found its way to Wichita, Kansas.) In the early aughts, the World Wrestling Federation operated a theme restaurant on the lower level of the building, where the theater's lounges and restrooms had previously been located. To spruce up the entrance, the WWF funded the construction of a replica of the Paramount's original marquee design. Though fans were presumably pleased that they now could actually smell-ell-ell-ell-ell what the Rock was cookin', the wrasslin' restaurant didn't last very long. As of August, 2005, the space became the new home of the Hard Rock Cafe. In a related-in-name-only twist, plans are afoot to convert the nearby Paramount Hotel (235 W. 46th Street) into the city's first Hard Rock Hotel by Spring 2006.

6 comments:

Mike Fornatale said...

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I got to crawl around the bowels of the Times Square Paramount for awhile a couple of days before hallowe'en. Richard and The Young Lions were booked for Little Steven's Hallowe'en Party at the New Hard Rock Cafe (moved to the Paramount building after closing on 57th street) and, of course, nothing of the old interior remains. The original Paramount Theater was at street level. The Hard Rock is downstairs in the former basement -- theater to the left, restaurant to the right. Still, it was nice just to be in there at all, even though no mention is made in any of the exhibits of the building's history -- which is odd, given the Hard Rock's propensity for repackaging Relics As Culture.

P.S. We backed up Bobby "Boris" Pickett on "Monster Mash" as well as doing a short set on our own. The audience, who were all there to see headliners Rocket From The Crypt, absolutely hated us! ;)

Viagra Online said...

I listened to the BBC Radio 2 documentary you mentioned here, it brought me many good memories and even made me cried because in those years I met my wife, and she is gone now...

Ligger said...

I was there for Soupy's Easter show. I wanted to see the Hullabaloos, Hollies and Jan & Dean.I wish I could remember seeing Jimi with Little Richard, but alas... They gave away some free Hullabaloos' LPs.

Anonymous said...

I went to a WMCA Good Guys show, methinks around Christmas, 1964, with the Animals headlining and the Rag Dolls and Ronnie & the Daytonas. There were more, I just don't remember. I remember those 3 as standouts (Rag Dolls were really cute...) It was also one of those shows where they changed one of the acts everyday of the run.

Johnno

cl renter said...

I was at the Easter 1964 show with my good friend Karen Eckwurzel. It was my first live R'n R show. Our seats were in the 3d or 4th row and I will remember James Brown's incredible performance of "Please, Please, Please" until the day I day. One of my very best musical memories! Thanks for the great blog! Sharon Jones - sharon.l.jones1@ fcebook.com

Dave Ward said...

I was at the Easter 1964 show at the Paramount. Great show, I had the program for a long time after, lost now I'm afraid. Imagine though James Brown, Four Seasons, Leslie Gore and Bobby Rydell and many more all on the same program. It would never happen today,