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On this Day in Movie History March 25, 1913: Broadway's Palace Theatre Opens

Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway (at 47th) in midtown-Manhattan, NYC
Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway (at 47th) in midtown-Manhattan, NYC
Pubic Domain

March 25, 1913, the Palace Theatre opened its doors in New York City. Ed Wynn was first on the vaudeville bill.

The Palace Theatre, located at 1564 Broadway (at 47th) in midtown-Manhattan, from 1913 through about 1929, 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. When the theatre finally opened, 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.

But the Palace soon 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:
<blockquote>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.</blockquote>

With a rise in the popularity of film and radio during the Great Depression vaudeville began its decline. The transformation of all of Keith-Albee-Orpheum's vaudeville houses into movie houses at the hands of Joseph P. Kennedy in 1929 was a major blow.

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. 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.

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.

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 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. 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 Palace Theatre is currently owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization and Stewart F. Lane.

1901 - Ed Begley (actor: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Sweet Bird of Youth, Sorry Wrong Number, On Dangerous Ground, The Oscar; died Apr 28, 1970)

1919 - Jeanne Cagney (actress: A Lion is in the Streets, Quicksand; sister of actor James Cagney; died Dec 7, 1984)

1921 - Nancy Kelly (actress: The Great Gatsby [1926], To the Shores of Tripoli, The Bad Seed; died Jan 2, 1995)

1943 - Paul Michael Glaser (actor: Starsky &amp; Hutch, Single Bars Single Women; director: Butterflies are Free, The Air up There, The Cutting Edge, The Running Man, The Amazons, Band of the Hand)

1948 - Bonnie Bedelia (Culkin) (actress: Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Presumed Innocent, They Shoot Horses Don't They)

1953 - Mary Gross (actress: The Santa Clause, Troop Beverly Hills, Feds, Club Paradise, Billy, A Mighty Wind; comedienne: Saturday Night Live; sister of actor, Michael Gross)

1961 - John Stockwell (Samuels) (actor: Born to Ride, Top Gun, City Limits, Christine, Losin' It, My Science Project; director: Undercover)

1965 - Sarah Jessica Parker (actress: Sex and the City, Miami Rhapsody, L.A. Story, Honeymoon in Vegas, The Little Match Girl, The Innocents, Annie, Square Pegs, A Year in the Life, Equal Justice; opera singer: Hansel and Gretel, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Parade; dancer: Cincinnati Ballet Theatre, American Ballet Theatre)

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