I love watching this scene from KING OF JAZZ (1930).And the way the Paul Whiteman band come together at the end.
Russell Markert’s dancers, who were first known as The Roxyettes, became the world famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.
- The Rockettes made their debut in St.Louis and were originally called The Missouri Rockets. They were formed in 1925 by Russell Markert who was inspired by the British Tiller Girls who were active from 1895 with their precision dancing.
- When the Missouri Rockets came to New York, they were seen by entrepreneur S.L. ‘Roxy’ Rothafel who booked them for the opening night in December 1932 of The Radio City Music Hall. And renamed them The Roxyettes.
Prior to the opening of The Radio City Music Hall, Rothafel had opened The Roxy Theatre at 7th Avenue and 50th Street in 1927.
The Roxy became known as The Cathedral of Motion Pictures. It’s auditorium sat 5,900 , it had an orchestra pit for 110 musicians and three organs! It became famous for the elaborate stage shows each week, which accompanied the major Hollywood feature film.
Costing $12 million, it really was a movie palace and Rothafel sparred no expense with his stockholders’ money.
The building was designed by architect Ahlschlager and had a golden Spanish inspired auditorium and a lobby in the form of a large, columned rotunda called the Grand Foyer, with the world’s largest oval rug.
What a palace to walk into! And all for 35 cents to 75 cents.
The picture below gives you an idea of the sheer size of the auditorium.
When you see the Roxy program, it’s as if the feature film is almost an afterthought! An organ recital, the Roxy symphony orchestra, the 32 Roxyettes and dancer Harriet Hoctor, plus a cartoon and newsreel before the big feature!
Still, with four (de luxe) performances a day, lasting two hours, I guess they made a profit.
Gloria Swanson at the Roxy demolition, in the remains of the Grand Foyer.
The Roxy had opened in 1927 with a Gloria Swanson silent feature, LOVE OF SUNYA. it seemed appropriate that when the Roxy was demolished in 1960, it was Gloria who was photographed for Life magazine among the ruins of the interior.
The Roxy’s final film was Dirk Bogarde’s The Wind Cannot Read.
When controlling interest in the Roxy was sold to the movie mogul, William Fox, ‘Roxy’ Rothafel moved on and created Radio City Music Hall which opened in 1932. Most of the Roxy’s artistic staff moved with him. And he opened another Roxy theatre, now called The RKO Roxy which didn’t last as long as the original Roxy. It only had an orchestra of 50!
Rothafel brought the same spectacular show to Radio City and in 1934, the Roxyettes became The Rockettes and continue to this day. Amongst former alumni are Lucille Bremer and Vera-Ellen.
If you want to see some stunning Rockette routines, visit Rockettes.com Their “March of the Wooden Soldiers “ is a sight to behold.
‘Roxy’ Rothafel retired in 1971. What a legacy he left.
So famous did he make his Roxy theatre that it was quoted in songs. Cole Porter , commenting on the ushers’ crisp attire, wrote in You’re The Top – ”you’re the pants of a Roxy usher…”
And in Frank Loesser’s GUYS AND DOLLS, for the title song, Loesser wrote – “What’s playing at the Roxy, I’ll tell you what’s playing at the Roxy, A picture about a Minnesota man so in love with a Mississippi gal that he sacrifices everything and moves all the way to Biloxi,
That’s what’s playing at the Roxy…”
Fame indeed. Such a pity the Roxy didn’t survive.