The Birth Of The Movie Palace, Roxy, and The Best Deal Ever For A Screenwriter

The Strand Theatre Opens, April 11 1914

When the Strand Theatre opened on April 11, 1914 in New York at 47th Street and Broadway, it marked the beginning of a new era in the exhibition of motion pictures; the age of the movie palace.

The Strand seated an astounding 3,500 people and was the largest and most ornate theatre ever built exclusively to show movies. The Strand covered 20 city lots and had a frontage of over 155 feet on Broadway and over 277 feet on 47th Street.

Innovations in design included special heating and cooling systems and featured a two story rotunda and mezzanine promenade in the front of the house. This added social feature enabled people a better space to congregate, mingle and talk during intermissions.

Previous to the Strand, people attended nickelodeons and converted play theatres when going to motion pictures. The Strand signaled that motion pictures were not only gaining popularity, but were to be considered an art form that should be taken seriously.  The Strand differed from other movie theatres in that as part of the entertainment there would be a full programme of music interspersed with the showing of movies.

The New York Sun newspaper noted that besides having a magnificent organ, there was a full orchestra to accompany the showing of the silent movies.  The Strand Concert Orchestra had Carl Edouarde leading as conductor, and each of its 25 players was a soloist in his own right.

"Roxy"

Running the theatre and beginning a meteoric career in the management of movie theatres was Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothapfel. He would later be known to most Americans through his radio program by just his nickname, Roxy, and inexplicably changed his last name to Rothafel, dropping the “p” between the “a” and the “f”.

In 1913 Roxy managed the Regent Theatre, and made vast improvements to that theatre, when he was hired to run the Strand. Roxy’s innovations were primarily to the quality of the pictures that were being shown, the musical programmes, stage shows, and lighting effects.  After running the Strand, the visionary impresario would go on to lead successively larger theatres such as the Rialto, the Rivoli, the Capitol and the eponymous Roxy Theatre.   The Roxy, which opened in 1927 was known as “the Cathedral of the Motion Picture” and seated nearly 6,000 people, which was at the time the largest movie theatre in the world.

Roxy’s most enduring legacy was his management of Radio City Music Hall from its grand opening in 1932 until he resigned in 1934.  The dancers who put on the stage show at the Music Hall were known originally as the Roxyettes. The name was later changed to the one known today – the Rockettes. Roxy died at the age of 53 in 1936 and left an estate of over $200,000 including stock in several theatres.

A big deal was made out of the opening night movie shown at the Strand –  The Spoilers, which was based on a 1906 novel by Rex Beach. The New York Sun of April 5, 1914 commented before the premiere, “It is said to be the most interesting film production that has ever been produced in America.  William Farnum and Kathleen Williams interpret the principal characters and they are supported by a cast of exceptional quality. The production was made under the supervision of Rex Beach himself. It adheres closely to the story, leaving no detail of importance omitted.”

Rex Beach

 

Rex Beach’s involvement would benefit him in an unforeseen way and would prove to be a landmark for screenwriters.

According to Terry Ramsaye’s early history of movies, 1926’s A Million and One Nights The History of the Motion Picture:

Beach often dealt with John Pribyl, the literary buyer for Selig. They dickered over the story for months. Beach was being most canny. He demanded $2,500 for The Spoliers. It was an appalling figure. Pribyl and Selig were shocked. Authors were going to get expensive. Beach was firm and insistent. Presently they compromised and gave Beach a royalty agreement. This brought Beach something close to a fortune for his story. It is the first instance in motion picture annals of a royalty arrangement with an author. It has remained as probably the only one that proved entirely satisfactory to the author.

The Spoilers, first and best of the screen flowerings of the Alaskan saga is one of the landmarks of screen history. Its success was extraordinary.

The original production of The Spoilers conferred fame upon its cast, which included William Farnum, Besse Eyton, Wheeler Oakman and Thomas Santchi. The terrific fight scene, a high point of the picture, made Farnum more famous on the screen than all his years of stage drama. It also set a fashion in screen fights and scenario construction.”

The Spoilers would go on to be remade in 1923, 1930, 1942 and 1955. You’d think Hollywood would look to remake The Spoilers again today with the seemingly short supply of well written stories. At least you know you have a proven commodity.

The Strand was renamed several times over the years and was finally closed and demolished in 1987.

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2 thoughts on “The Birth Of The Movie Palace, Roxy, and The Best Deal Ever For A Screenwriter

  1. jake

    Hi – do you have a pic of conductor/composer Carl Edouarde? I found one a year ago, and I don’t know who the source was.
    Thanks

    Reply

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