Palace Theatre (New York City)
The Palace Theatre, circa 1920
New York City, New York
|Owner||Nederlander Organization and Stewart F. Lane|
|Opened||24 March 1913|
|Architect||Kirchoff & Rose|
The Palace Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 1564 Broadway (at West 47th Street) in midtown Manhattan, New York City. From 1913 through about 1929, the Palace attained legendary status among vaudeville performers as the flagship of the monopolistic Keith - Albee organization, and the most desired booking in the country.
Designed by Milwaukee architects Kirchoff & Rose, the 1,740-seat theatre was funded by Martin Beck, a vaudeville entrepreneur based in San Francisco, in an attempt to challenge Keith-Albee's east-coast monopoly. Albee in turn demanded that Beck turn over three-quarters ownership to use acts from the Keith circuit. Beck took the deal, and was in charge of the booking.
When the theatre finally opened on March 24, 1913 with headliner Ed Wynn, it was not an instant success. It lost money for months. The theater is notorious, too, for its enormous and difficult-to-sell second balcony in which nearly every seat has an obstructed view.
Soon the Palace became the premiere venue of the Keith-Albee circuit. The theater owner Albee sometimes traded on the performers' desire for this goal by forcing acts to take a pay cut for the privilege. Even so, to "play the Palace" meant that an entertainer had reached the pinnacle of his vaudeville career. Performer Jack Haley wrote:
- Only a vaudevillian who has trod its stage can really tell you about it... only a performer can describe the anxieties, the joys, the anticipation, and the exultation of a week's engagement at the Palace. The walk through the iron gate on 47th Street through the courtyard to the stage door, was the cum laude walk to a show business diploma. A feeling of ecstasy came with the knowledge that this was the Palace, the epitome of the more than 15,000 vaudeville theaters in America, and the realization that you have been selected to play it. Of all the thousands upon thousands of vaudeville performers in the business, you are there. This was a dream fulfilled; this was the pinnacle of Variety success.
Simply to play the Palace assured an enhanced reputation and future bookings, but to play the coveted headline spot, usually billed seventh and next to the closing act, was a special distinction. Through the years of vaudeville's heyday, these headliners included:
- Ed Wynn (1913)
- Ethel Barrymore (1913)
- Nora Bayes (1914)
- Fritzi Scheff (1914)
- Nan Halperin (1915)
- Will Rogers (1916)
- Blossom Seeley (1917)
- Lillian Russell (1918)
- Leon Errol (1919)
- Marie Cahill (1919)
- Olga Petrova (1919)
- The "Dixie Duo" (Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake) (1919)
- Bert Williams (1919)
- Marie Dressler (1919)
- Aileen Stanley (1920, 1926, 1930, 1931)
- The Marx Brothers (1920)
- Lou Clayton and Cliff Edwards (1921)
- Bessie Clayton (1921)
- Fanny Brice (1923)
- Isabella Patricola ("Miss Patricola") (1923, 1926, 1927, 1938)
- Cecilia Loftus (1923)
- Trixie Friganza (1924)
- Florence Mills (1924)
- Cliff Edwards (1924)
- Doc Rockwell (1925)
- Weber and Fields (1925)
- Eva Tanguay (1926)
- Barto and Mann (1927, 1929)
- Ethel Waters (1927)
- Julian Eltinge (1927)
- the Duncan Sisters (1927)
- Clark and McCullough (1928)
- Clayton, Jackson & Durante (1928)
- Buck and Bubbles (1928, 1929)
- Harry Langdon (1929)
- Mary Hay and Clifton Webb (1929)
- Phil Baker (1930, 1931, 1932)
- George Jessel (1930)
- Adelaide Hall (1930, 1931,1933)  
Other performers appearing at the Palace included Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso, Helen Kane, Eddie Cantor, Frank Fay, Bob Hope, Sophie Tucker, George Jessel, Mae West, Vernon and Irene Castle, Gus Edwards, Eddie Leonard, Burns and Allen, Fred Astaire, Benny Fields, Kate Smith, Bill Robinson, Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby, Wheeler and Woolsey, Rudolph Valentino, and Jack Benny.
With the Great Depression came a rise in the popularity of film and radio, and vaudeville began its decline. The transformation of all of Keith-Albee-Orpheum's vaudeville houses into movie houses through a merger with RCA and the Film Booking Office at the hands of Joseph P. Kennedy in 1929, was a major blow but did allow many to see their favorite radio performers of the day on the Palace stage.
In 1929 the two-a-day Palace shows were increased to three. By 1932, the Palace moved to four shows a day and lowered its admission price. In November of that year, it was rebranded the "RKO Palace" and converted to a cinema. Appearing on the closing bill when the venue ended its stage policy were Nick Lucas and Hal Le Roy. There was a brief return to a live revue format in 1936, when Broadway producer Nils Granlund staged a series of variety shows beginning with "Broadway Heat Wave" featuring female orchestra leader Rita Rio. Finally in 1957 the Palace, sucummbing to the popularity of television, gave up stage presentations with its films and began a straight film policy, beginning with James Cagney starring in 'A Man of A Thousand Faces".
The RKO Picture Citizen Kane had its world premiere at the theatre on May 1, 1941.
Beginning in 1949 under Sol Schwartz, the refurbished RKO Palace tried to single-handedly revive vaudeville, with a slate of eight acts before a feature film. It attracted acts like Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Lauritz Melchior, Betty Hutton, and Harry Belafonte. Judy Garland staged a record-breaking 19-week comeback here in October 1951. But while the shows were successful, they did not lead to a revival of the format.
In 1965, the Nederlander Organization purchased the Palace from RKO Theatres. On January 29, 1966, the Palace reopened as a legitimate theatre with the original production of the musical Sweet Charity, although for a period of time it showed films and presented concert performances by Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Josephine Baker, Eddie Fisher, Shirley MacLaine, Diana Ross, Vikki Carr, and the like between theatrical engagements.
In the late 1980s, a towering hotel was built above the theater, cantilevered over the auditorium; today, the theater is practically invisible behind an enormous wall of billboards and under the skyscraper, and only the marquee is visible.
The theatre was the original home to the musical Beauty and the Beast, running over five years before moving to another theatre. A notable tenant and one of the longest running shows was Aida, which ran for over four years, from 2000 through 2004, and 1,852 performances and won four Tony awards. The theatre recently housed Legally Blonde: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the 2001 film, which played its final performance on October 19, 2008. A revival of West Side Story opened on March 19, 2009 and closed on January 2, 2011.
The theatre was home to the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which closed on June 24, 2012. The Broadway revival of Annie opened at the Palace Theatre on October 3, 2012 in previews and November 8, 2012 officially.
Palace Theatre ghost
The ghost of acrobat Louis Borsalino is said to haunt the theatre. According to various versions of the story Borsalino "fell to his death in the 1950s" and that "Stagehands say that when the theater is empty, the ghost of Borsalino can be seen swinging from the rafters. He lets out a blood-curdling scream, then re-enacts his nose dive." However, in reality Borsalino, who was a member of the Four Casting Pearls, was only injured when he fell 18 feet during a performance on August 28, 1935 before 800 theatre goers. Borsalino's act was not a trapeze but rather fixed towers in which the acrobats are "cast from one to the other." Comedian Pat Henning started his act after the accident before the curtain was pulled.
- 1967: Henry, Sweet Henry
- 1968: George M!
- 1970: Applause
- 1973: Cyrano
- 1974: Lorelei
- 1975: Goodtime Charley
- 1976: Home Sweet Homer
- 1977: Man of La Mancha
- 1977: An Evening with Diana Ross
- 1979: The Grand Tour
- 1979: Beatlemania
- 1979: Oklahoma!
- 1981: Woman of the Year
- 1983: La Cage aux Folles
- 1991: The Will Rogers Follies
- 1994: Beauty and the Beast
- 2000: Aida
- 2005: All Shook Up
- 2006: Lestat
- 2007: Legally Blonde: The Musical
- 2008: Liza's at the Palace...!
- 2009: West Side Story (2009 Revival)
- 2011: Priscilla Queen of the Desert
- 2012: Annie (2012 Revival); Broadway Backwards
- 2014: Holler If Ya Hear Me
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 386
- Jack Haley, quoted in "No Applause, Just Throw Money", by Trav S.D. (Travis Stewart), page 160
- Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in ..., Volume 1, by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly, page 236
- Notable american women: a biographical dictionary, by Edward T. James, Janet Wilson, page 117
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 385
- Jewish Women in America: A-L, by Paula Hyman, Deborah Dash Moore, American Jewish Historical Society, pg. 585
- The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway stage to the national stage ...by Will Rogers, page 68
- Rosa Ponselle: American diva, by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, pg 66-67
- Jimmy Durante: his show business career, with an annotated filmography and ...by David Bakish, page 35
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 81
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 170
- No Applause--Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, by Trav S.D., page 169
- Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America's ...by Camille F. Forbes, page 289
- Marie Dressler: the unlikeliest star, by Betty Lee, page 134
- Women vaudeville stars: eighty biographical profiles, by Armond Fields, page 63
- Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994. p. 337.
- Palace playbill for January 24th, 1921, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/bobhope/images/vc9.jpg
- Funny Woman: The Life and Times of Fanny Brice, by Barbara Wallace Grossman, page 131
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 392
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 323
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 199
- Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Volume 2, by Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman, page 799
- Breaking records: 100 years of hits, by William Ruhlmann, page 48
- Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, pg. 420
- Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in ..., Volume 1, by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly, page 1004
- Vaudeville From The Honky Tonks To The Palace (1953), by oe Laurie, Jr., page 493
- "Vaudeville Charts on Past Performance". Zit's Theatrical Newspaper. 30 July 1927.
- "Vaudeville Charts on Past Performance". Zit's Theatrical Newspaper. 16 March 1929.
- Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters by Donald Bogle, pg. 152
- The vaudevillians: a dictionary of vaudeville performers, Anthony Slide, page 47
- Eccentrics of comedy, by Anthony Slide, pgs. 51-52
- Jimmy Durante: his show business career, with an annotated filmography and ..., by David Bakish, page 39
- American National Biography: Blatchford-Burnet, page 832
- Harry Langdon: His Life and Films, by William Schelly, page 125
- The gay & lesbian theatrical legacy: a biographical dictionary of major ...by Billy J. Harbin, Robert A. Schanke, page 266
- Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994. p. 21.
- Chappie Gardner (February 22, 1930). "White Press Acclaims Adelaide Hall As Packed House Gives Her Great Ovation". The Pittsburgh Courier. p. 16. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- 'Underneath a Harlem Moon ... the Harlem to Paris years of Adelaide Hall' by Iain Cameron Williams. page 394 (1930, August - Adelaide headlines with Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson), pages 389, 390 & 395 (1931 - Adelaide appears four times during her 1931/32 world tour - February (with Noble Sissle), April, July & November), page 396 (1933, June) http://www.amazon.com/Underneath-Harlem-Moon-Paris-Adelaide/dp/B005ZOLV7C
- Programme page from RKO Palace Theatre, 1930, Adelaide Hall and Bill Bojangles Robinson http://www.myspace.com/adelaidehall/photos/51013863#%7B%22ImageId%22%3A47245752%7D
- Lamparski, Richard (1982). Whatever Became Of ...? Eighth Series. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 182–3. ISBN 0-517-54855-0.
- A DETROIT FAMILY BUYS THE PALACE; Nederlanders to Convert It Into Legitimate Theater
- " Annie at the Palace Theatre". Playbill.com, accessed July 7, 2012
- Big Apple is Ghost Town, NY Post, October 26, 2008
- Acrobat Plunges to Palace Stage, NY Times, August 28, 1935
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Palace Theatre (New York City).|
- Palace Theatre at the Internet Broadway Database
- Palace Theatre history, New York City Theatre.com
- Wurlitzer organ at the Palace Theatre