Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A trip to New York City to see "Cleopatra" at the Rivoli

(A version of this entry was originally published on January 5, 2010, on Relics.)

My side hobby brings me in contact with a lot of books. Some of these books have not been opened in many years. And when you open them up and leaf through them, you invariably find interesting things tucked away inside.

It would be easy to toss out those receipts and ticket stubs and bookmarks and move on with the process of assessing the book. But what fun would that be? This blog is, in part, about all that ephemera that gets tucked between the pages and forgotten for decades.

Maybe those scraps didn't tell much of a story then, but they can tell us something now. Take these ticket stubs from 1963...

These $3 tickets were for a matinee showing of "Cleopatra" on Sept. 3, 1963, at the Rivoli Theatre, which was located on Broadway in New York City.

"Cleopatra," starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton and personal favorite Roddy McDowall, was one of the most famous debacles in movie history, even though it won a few Academy Awards. It cost $44 million to produce, the equivalent of more than $300 million today, and Taylor almost died during the filming.

But let's set "Cleopatra" aside and discuss the Rivoli (right). It was anything but a debacle. It was one of the more decadent, spectacular places to see a movie in American history. According to Cinema Treasures, the Rivoli, designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, opened in December 1917 at 1620 Broadway in Manhattan. In the 1950s, it was converted to 70mm Todd-AO, with a massive, deeply curved screen "that generated the illusion of peripheral vision" (imagine watching "Avatar" on that sucker). There was seating for nearly 2,100 film-goers. The Rivoli screened "roadshow" films such as "Oklahoma!", "Around the World in 80 Days," "West Side Story," "Cleopatra" and "The Sound of Music." With roadshows, films would play exclusively at one large metropolitan theater, sometimes for as long as a year, and tickets were usually sold on a reserved-seat basis, explaining seats E9 and E11 on the mezzanine-level ticket stubs (which, if you read the tiny type, were printed by the National Ticket Co. in Shamokin, Pa.).

But while these ticket stubs and their accompanying envelope to a sword-and-sandal cinematic flop from 46 years ago have stood the test of time, the Rivoli Theater did not. According, again, to Cinema Treasures, the Rivoli was "twinned" (converted to a two-screen theater) in the 1980s. One of the last films shown in its magnificent interior was "Class of Nuke 'Em High." It was closed in 1987 and later demolished, replaced by a glass skyscraper.

A piece of New York City's architecture and film history gone, leaving behind memories and ticket stubs.

See this 2011 followup post.