You’re the steppes of Russia,
You’re the pants on a Roxy usher...”
(from You’re the Top).
Billed as “The Cathedral of the Motion Picture,” the Roxy boasted such things as “the largest oval rug in the world” and five-story columns of Verde marble. The Roxy’s precision dance troupe, the “Roxyettes,” later morphed into the well-known Rockettes.
Where else but the Roxy on opening night (March 11, 1927) assuming you could get in, could you see the likes of Harold Lloyd; followed by the Jazz-age mayor of New York, Jimmy Walker and his wife? Or the Marquise de la Falaise de la Coudraye, aka Gloria Swanson? Swanson’s movie, The Love of Sunya, premiered that night. To further quote Ben M. Hall, from the revered pages of his excellent book, The Best Remaining Seats: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace, “At a moment shortly after eight o’clock...the gaudy, enchanted, phony, preposterous, and lovely Golden Age of the Movie Palace reached its Klieg-lit pinnacle. Nothing quite like it was ever to happen again...”
There were numerous Roxies built or renamed after the original one, but none ever equalled the Ur-Roxy, apparently named for its less-than-modest creator, Samuel Lionel Rothafel, whose nickname just happened to be “Roxy.” At the end of opening night, he is reported to have said, looking down into the emptying rotunda, “Take a look at this stupendous theatre. It’s the Roxy, and I’m Roxy. I’d rather be Roxy than John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford.”
Sadly, his career as a theatre entrepreneur and his life would last one more decade; he'd be done in by the costly opulence he embraced. As for the theater, his glorious confection was torn down rather early in the era of declining movie palaces, 1962, with a return engagement of Gloria Swanson, exquisitely gowned, standing in its ruins, like some goddess descended briefly from Mt. Olympus.
The name “Roxy” lives on, if not in many extant theaters, at least in the annals of Cinema Treasures or the memories of patrons all over America. Cleveland Ohio’s notable burlesque house (first The Family Theatre, then The Orpheum) was renamed The Roxy in 1931, before going to burlesque. The oldest continuously operating movie theater in San Francisco (C.H. Brown,1909, still in operation) reopened in 1933 as The Roxie, with 300 seats, a name which it keeps to this day. Clarksville, Tennessee sports a charming Roxy. Ashland, Pa.’s Roxy is no more, but had a kick-ass marquee.
What exactly--to reference the Bard--IS in a name? Prestige, ticket sales? Shakespeare would have understood, involved as he was in the bottom line of The Globe Theatre (1599) rebuilt a little less than four hundred years later under the same name, on almost the same spot.
I think I’ll save “Orpheum,” “Bijou,” and other historic appellations for another couple of episodes. There’s a lot — as it turns out — in a name.
FLASHBACK FORTY YEARS:
Wednesday, June 16, 1976
A double feature, the classic
Texas Chainsaw Massacre and
Torso filled the screen at
The St. George Theatre.
"All Seats, All Times, $1.50, Children 90 cents."
Clip this ad and receive FREE popcorn! Check out our Dinner Movie Special--Dinner at Casa Barone, Movie at The St. George, both for only $4.79!