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Meet Me at the Astor

by Glenn Erickson Jul 21, 2018

CineSavant poaches on Greenbriar Picture Shows territory with a quick slideshow of photos from New Yawk, New Yawk, where once upon a time, any old film release might get a gigantic ‘your name in lights’ opening on the Great White Way.

This photo idea won’t be a trend at CineSavant, but it is a welcome break. It came about because long-time correspondent ‘B’ wanted to assure me that some movies I had described as marginal, actually opened big in New York. To prove to me that the Louis De Rochemont social issue movie Lost Boundaries wasn’t a micro-release seen by nearly nobody (which seems to be the fate of so many pictures today), “B” sent along this color photo of the gigantic electric billboard at the Astor Theater, presumably in early July of 1949.


The Astor Theater

“B” wrote, “Back in the day — when ‘The Great White Way’ was truly a light show beyond belief — the Astor, and its sister house the Victoria down the block, often sported amazingly complex marquees and electrical signs to promote current attractions. Here are some samples.”

Built in 1906, The Astor was originally a legit house. In April of 1913, the theatre hosted its first motion picture screening, the Italian-produced feature adaptation of Quo Vadis?  This apparently ran for months. In 1925 it permanently became a movie theatre — I think Loew’s owned it for many years — and that year played The Big Parade for an astounding 96 weeks. That’s longer than The Sound of Music played the Rivoli, though both Around the World in 80 Days (also at the Rivoli) and This Is Cinerama (at the Broadway and Warner) would have somewhat longer B’way runs.


This fairly amazing photo just below is part of a shot used as a postcard, probably from the Fall of 1952. You will note that Limelight is playing at the Astor, in one of the movie’s very few theatrical engagements in America in the ’50s. But, wait — who the heck is Charles Brade?

It’s a case of Soviet-style revisionism, albeit on a minor scale: the photo has been retouched (!) to remove Charlie Chaplin’s name for the planned postcard. Chaplin had become so controversial and the editorial attacks on him so fierce, that he had already departed the country before the picture opened. The State Department revoked his re-entry permit. I guess that I can be counted on to jump at any chance to talk about the blacklisting era.

By the way, the jet plane above the marquee for The Four Poster next door at the Victoria, is being prepared for David Lean’s Breaking the Sound Barrier.


And here’s a shot of the space above the Astor and the Victoria in use as a single giant poster, for the June 13, 1967 premiere of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. A few years back working on a Barbra Streisand project, I saw most of the alternate unused film and video footage from her legendary Concert in Central Park, which took place on June 17. Opening the concert is a noted aerial helicopter shot, which eventually reaches the park to look down at the mobs in the concert area. About a minute earlier in the uncut 35mm camera roll, the helicopter passes over the Astor. Even from several thousand feet up, the giant 007 marquee looks enormous.


I just like these photos, of features big and small. It looks as if producer-distributor Samuel Goldwyn had a lock on the Astor if he wanted it to push a particular picture. Would a show we remember as not doing well — Edge of Doom, for example — play to full houses on Broadway just because of the venue? I have to admit that whenever some disc comes up with scenes taken on Broadway, or any Main Street anywhere, I’m known to slow the player to 1/8th speed, just to see what’s showin’ at the Bijou. ‘Special Guest Films’ visible at the Victoria or elsewhere are Bogart’s Knock on Any Door, Kirk Douglas’s Act of Love, Bergman’s Joan of Arc, Goldwyn’s Our Very Own, and The Window.


The approximate playdates are:

My Six Convicts (March 27, 1952)
The Marrying Kind (March 13, 1952)
Sergeant York (September 27, 1941)
Limelight (October 23, 1952)
You Only Live Twice (June 13, 1967)
Queen Christina (December 26, 1933)
Gone With the Wind (December 19, 1939)
Hell Below (June 9, 1933)
On the Beach (December 17, 1959)
Baby Doll (December 18, 1956)
Spellbound (November 1, 1945)
The Princess and the Pirate (February 9, 1945)
Quo Vadis (November 8, 1951)
Top Banana (February 22, 1954 — note that it’s not in 3-D…)
Edge of Doom (August 3, 1950)
A Song is Born (October 19, 1948)

After looking at all the pictures, I feel like stopping by that corner, for some Maxwell House Coffee or a drink at Benedict’s, or maybe a Mayflower Doughnut! Thanks to ‘B’ for all the detailed information. The images are taken from the web at large and no rights are implied.

July 19, 2018

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.