Tag Archives: Times Square

The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic

It’s a sweltering July evening in 1915 and the lights have just come up after the finale of a Ziegfeld Follies show at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. You dread walking out into the muggy night and long for a cool escape. But you’re in luck tonight because it’s the premiere of Flo Ziegfeld Jr.’s new revue, the Danse de Follies! You take the elevator from the theatre lobby up to the rooftop garden (you’ve heard it called “the meeting place of the world”) and as the doors open you are met with dancing and the sound of champagne being uncorked. The show starts at midnight and you have work in the morning, but a late night of revelry to escape the stuffy New York summer seems like a small price to pay for the exhaustion of tomorrow.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

Earlier that year, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., tired of seeing his audiences leave after performances of the Ziegfeld Follies to spend money at other people’s nightclubs, staged a second late-night revue in the New Amsterdam Theatre’s underused 680 seat roof-top level with tables, complete with box seats, and a balcony. Ziegfeld mechanized the stage so that it rolled back to reveal a dance floor, and installed a glass walkway that would allow chorus girls to dance right above the customers seated below. Later called the Midnight Frolic, the show was a bit more risqué than the Follies. The girls shimmying down the glass walkway above the audience were reportedly cautioned to wear bloomers but oftentimes the rule wasn’t followed very closely. Audience members were asked to vote for the young lady he or she considered the most beautiful and to state why on cards handed out by the usher. The young lady receiving the most votes during the run of that Frolic series had her salary doubled. One of the audience favorites was the “balloon girls,” who encouraged male patrons to use their cigars to pop the balloons covering the majority of their costumes.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

To keep out the rougher elements, Ziegfeld charged a hefty $5.00 cover (roughly $117 today) on top of the ticket price – first row seats went for $3 (approximately $55 today), while orchestra seats went for $2.50 (about $46). Upper class theatre-goers were delighted with the Midnight Frolic’s party-like atmosphere, and the revue became an annual event after its premiere in 1915. Insisting that theater-goers would have sore hands after applauding so much, Ziegfeld provided little wooden hammers at Frolic tables, so audiences could bang out their appreciation.

Souvenir - wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

Souvenir – wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

The Midnight Frolic often received rave reviews from the New York Times: “The latest edition of Florenz Ziegfeld’s ‘Midnight Frolic,’ which had its first presentation Monday midnight before an audience that embraced all who live and move and have their being in Broadway, out-Ziegfelds all its predecessors. It is like the others only more so. It is a Ziegfeld-Urban-Wayburn show of beautiful women, frocks and tableaux designed for the business man who is too tired to go home after the play… One might search the world and not find anything quite as unique or lavish as this midnight revue.”

The show was broken up into different comedy, singing, and dancing acts featuring stars like Frances White, Teddy Gerard, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

During the twenty-five minute intermission between the acts, audience members were welcome to dance, drink, and dine. For .75 cents to $1.00 (from $17-$23 today) guests could partake in a cold beer or soda, and for those willing to pay $2.75 ($64 today) there were small bottles of champagne readily available. The Ziegfeld kitchens were most known for their steak dinners, but also popular was Beluga caviar for $2.00 a serving ($47).

There was no limit to the extravagance of the Midnight Frolic, even after the US entered World War I. The New York Times reported in 1917 that, “For fear some one will think that he has adopted a policy of retrenchment because of the war Mr. Ziegfeld calls attention to one novelty, a chiffon scene in which the chiffon alone cost $3,000. He also wishes to state that the cost of production approximated $100,000.”

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

The club stayed open year-round for seven years and while World War I couldn’t stop the Midnight Frolic, Prohibition was ultimately what led Ziegfeld to end the show in 1922. He commented on this to the New York Times in 1921: “The best class of people from all over the world have been in the habit of coming up on the roof … and when they are subjected to the humiliation of having policemen stand by their tables and watch what they are drinking, then I do not care to keep open any longer… But occasionally some of my patrons have brought liquor of their own, and recently two men were arrested on the roof. When these things can happen I think it is time to close.”

That first midnight performance back in 1915 closes to a sea of hammers and cheers. You shuffle out with the crowd, your feet sore from dancing and the bright white lights of Broadway shining on your face. You feel tired, but you know there will be no way for you to fall asleep now after seeing the sensation of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.

Be sure to keep an eye out for photos like these and more with the IMLS Broadway Production Files digitization project.

Up on the roof, entertainment en plein air

Spring in New York City is glorious.  Allergy issues aside, the season of rebirth is especially welcome after this winter’s polar vortex shenanigans.  And though I celebrate the sunny days and refreshing rain of spring, I can see the heat waves forming on the horizon.  Summer is coming and with it a suffocating wall of humidity.

One of my best strategies to beat the heat is going to the theater. Be it a movie, musical, or play,  the cool darkness of a theater combined with a few hours of entertainment is my preferred place to be on an unbearably hot day.  A hundred years ago, this wasn’t so much the case.  Without air conditioning, the heat of the lights and the crush of fellow audience members could make visiting the theater  intolerable.  Not wishing to lose business during the summer months, theater owners came up with a new strategy: the roof!

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre.] ca. 1900.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10866.

In the photograph above, a rooftop audience enjoys some light entertainment on the Madison Square Garden roof.  This MSG was located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.  Designed by Stanford White, it was the second tallest building in the City at the time construction finished in 1890. Part of the fun for the audience was the chance to watch musical comedies and operettas from 32 stories off the ground. (Check out Mia’s early blog on the theater’s Diana statue.)

Further uptown at 44th and Broadway, the New York Theatre roof offered similar entertainment fare. The New York Theatre was originally built as the Olympia Theatre by  Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of the Oscar Hammerstein from musical theater’s famous “Rodgers & Hammerstein”).

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Though a financial failure for Hammerstein I, the theater was only the second to be built in what would become the Times Square Theater District.  In 1895, the area was known as Longacre Square.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Hammerstein I’s second effort at extravagant outdoor entertainment was the  Paradise Roof Garden at 201 West 42nd Street.  Part enclosed space and part open air, the Garden spanned the roofs of  the Victoria Theatre and the Theatre Republic next door.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria.]ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10856.

The Paradise Roof Garden was run by Hammerstein I’s son Willie.  As the noise of an ever expanding New York drifted upward, the vaudeville shows presented on the roof adapted to include wordless routines and pantomime.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10860.

Just down the block at 260 West 42nd Street was the American Theatre.  With a seating capacity of over 2,000, the American Theatre was a  popular venue for melodrama and comedies.  The roof  offered escape from the crowds below.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.), American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Beautiful lights lit up the roof and audiences could gather around small tables to chat or enjoy a variety of entertainments.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden - American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden – American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Lighter fare was the entertainment of choice for rooftop theaters. Many of the auditoriums below were known for their comedic musicals and revues.  Rooftops offered even less serious spectacle with acrobatic troupes, vaudeville sketches, and variety acts requiring minimal staging.  It was just too darn hot to think of weightier things.  No doubt it’s the same impulse that guides the current blockbuster push for summer movies.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Casino.] 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Casino. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850.

Movie screenings were also a part of rooftop entertaining.  As the technology developed, projectors and screens were taken up top so that audiences could enjoy the silent films and a breeze.

Postcard. "Fred Winter's Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York." Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910.

Postcard. “Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York.” Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, X2011.34.3841.

Rooftop entertainment began a sharp decline in the 1920s, a decline that coincided with the rise of air conditioning installations in theaters of all types. While live performance on a rooftop may be a thing of the past, New Yorkers can still check out a movie thanks to the series set up by Rooftop Films.  You can also get your fix for outdoor theater this summer with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions.  Another great way to beat the heat: visit a museum!

Eugene O’Neill: the sailor, the sickness, the stage

In December 1912, a young man experiencing the onset of tuberculosis committed himself to Gaylord Sanatorium in Connecticut. The third son of a well known Irish-American actor, the young man had up to that point led a somewhat dissolute life. Brought up in boarding schools, he was suspended from Princeton University after his first year . By the time he checked into Gaylord he’d been a miner in Honduras, married (and abandoned) his first wife, spent several years sailing the Atlantic , and survived at least one suicide attempt. A change came when at the sanatorium he began writing plays. He was 24 years old. His name was Eugene O’Neill.

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill,  son of actor James O’Neill, was born on October 16, 1888 at the Barrett House Hotel located in what was then known as Longacre Square.

Unknown. [Broadway north from 43rd Street.] 1896. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.943
The Barrett House Hotel is the distant building on the left side. It later became the Hotel Cadillac.

James O’Neill was a dramatic actor known best for his role as Edmond Dantes in a stage adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. His declamatory style was in step with the kind of theater popular at the time: full of bold gestures, spectacle, and clear lines of morality.

In May of 1913, after receiving a clean bill of health, the young Eugene took up play writing in earnest.  He attended George Pierce Baker’s play writing class at Harvard University.  Sailing up to Cape Cod in 1916, he spent his first summer in the company of the Provincetown Players, a newly formed group of theatrical artists committed to working against the grandiose melodrama that dominated the American stage.  It was at the Players’ Wharf Theatre that O’Neill performed in his own Bound East for Cardiff.  (Shown on the far left in the image below).

Unknown. [From left to right: Eugene O’Neill, Fred Burt, David Carb, and George Cram Cook in “Bound East for Cardiff” in Provincetown Wharf Theatre.] 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 54.380.39

Bound East for Cardiff was the first in what would become the Glencairn Plays, so named for the fictional ship on which the one-act plays were set.  The S. S. Glencairn, its characters, and its journeys were inspired by O’Neill’s time aboard the British steamship S. S. Ikala.  These four plays include Moon of the Carribees, The Long Voyage Home, and In the Zone.  They focus on a group of sailors and what they carry: secrets, a longing for a different life, and sometimes a bottle of rum.

Though written second, In the Zone is considered the last play in the series in terms of the characters’ chronology. The play debuted on Broadway at the Comedy Theatre as part of an evening of one-acts.

Theater program for “In the Zone”. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 74.72.2

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Left to right: Eugene Lincoln, Robert Strange, Frederick Roland, Jay Strong, Arthur Hohl, and Rienzi De Cordova in The Washington Square Players production of “In The Zone”.] 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 47.59.18

The play was successful enough to allow for a 34 week tour giving O’Neill his first steady income as a playwright.  It wasn’t until 1924 that the Provincetown Playhouse put up the first full-scale production of the complete cycle in New York City. By that time O’Neill was an established playwright with a Pulitzer Prize under his belt.

Unknown. [Scene from “Moon of the Caribbees” at Provincetown Playhouse, NYC.] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 75.130.12

In 1920 O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon earned him his first in what would turn out to be four Pulizters for Drama.  His first full-length work, the play is set in a rural farm community not unlike the one dreamed of by the sailors aboard S.S. Glencairn.  The opening scene is a road.  Below is a sketch from a draft page of Beyond the Horizon and the realized scenery at the play’s debut at the Morosco Theatre.

Eugene O’Neill. First page of draft of “Beyond the Horizon”. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. 30.145.3A

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Setting for Act I, scene 1 of “Beyond the Horizon”.] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.24

The main character, Robert Mayo, is described in the opening stage directions as having “a touch of the poet” about him. He is a dreamer and longs to travel outside what he has known. (Robert was portrayed by Richard Bennett, below, seated at far right).

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Mary Jeffrey, Sidney Macy, Erville Alderson, Robert Kelly, and Richard Bennett.] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.25

Robert’s older brother Andrew is content to work the land, but through the affections of a young woman, the brothers’ fates are reversed. Robert stays on the family farm while Andrew takes to the sea. Neither fares well. Robert ends up contracting tuberculosis. He dies in the final scene as the sun rises up from a disappearing road.

Eugene O’Neill’s own end came with a long illness, a neuromuscular disorder that rendered him unable to hold a pen. He died 59 years ago this week at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. He was 65 years old.

A Trip Up Broadway

From 1916 to 1921, Arthur Hosking photographed Broadway, from its southernmost leg at Bowling Green all the way north to Yonkers. Here are some highlights, all taken in 1920 unless otherwise noted.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Bowling Green looking north from Custom House steps. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.4

At the far right of this photo is the Produce Exchange, which was demolished in 1957. This photo was taken in 1921, when both street trolleys and horse-drawn carriages competed as viable means of transportation.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Broadway looking north from Rector Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.18

A photo taken a few blocks north at Broadway and Rector Street shows pedestrians, automobiles, and street trolleys competing with each other for space. Trinity Church is on the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Looking north from 2nd floor window at corner of Fulton Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.30

Broadway is bustling at the intersection of Fulton Street. St. Paul’s Chapel, seen on the left, was built from 1764 to 1766 and is Manhattan’s oldest continuously-used public building. In 1966, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The City Hall Post Office on the right did not fare so well. Built in 1878, it was immediately despised by city officials and the public alike. It was razed in 1938 in anticipation of the 1939 World Fair. (See http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON022.htmfor more details.)

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View of east side of Bway, looking north from Lispenard and Canal Street, where the two streets converge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.58

Taken in TriBeCa, this photo shows an advertisement for Nehemiah Gitelson & Sons. Nehemiah Gitelson immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1880. In addition to running the family company, he supported Jewish scholarship. In honor of his patronage, the Jewish Theological Seminary named his donation of over 1,100 volumes the Nehemiah Gitelson Talmudic Library.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking south from 18th Street taken from 3rd floor fire escape. 17th Street foreground, and Union Square in center. 1920. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.85

In 1815, the intersection of Broadway and the Bowery (now 4thAvenue) was designated a public meeting space and named Union Place for the convergence of the city’s main thoroughfares. The city gradually began to acquire surrounding land, and in 1832 Union Place was renamed Union Square.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from “El” station at 33rd Street and 6th Ave, showing Herald Square. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.108

This photo shows Saks & Co. on the left, then Macy’s. To the right is the New York Herald building. Only the Macy’s building survives today. Saks & Co. merged with Gimbels  to form Saks 5th Avenue in 1932. However, the original Saks building in this photo operated under the name Saks 34thStreet until its closure in 1965. The New York Herald building was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White in 1894 and demolished in 1921.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from 44th Street (Times Square), where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.117

This photo shows the heart of Times Square. To the left is Hotel Astor, built in 1904. Before 1904, the area was known as Longacre Square, but Adolph Ochs, owner and publisher of the New York Times, convinced the city to officially rename the space Times Square. Hotel Astor remained until its demolition in 1967.

Arthur Hosking. View of the southeast corner of Broadway and 155th Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.158

Here is the Church of the Intercession in Hamilton Heights. It was only 8 years old when this photo was taken.

The photo below shows Broadway at a much slower pace in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Broadway Inn is to the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from Mosholu Ave with Broadway Inn at left. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.190

The “Dimming” of Times Square

Close your eyes. Think of Times Square. Imagine all the chaos, the sounds, the overwhelming rush of humanity illuminated by the never-ending glow of neon and electric lights. Would Times Square, not to mention the whole city, be the same without the  neon and glittering lights? During World War II, that question was a reality as the city enacted a nightly dim-out that was meant to protect New York from both air and naval attacks by disguising the recognizable skyline.

Dim - Out Traffic. Times Square during dim out. R.W. Shipman. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.

The first mention of the dim-out was in January 1942. Over the next six months the various rules and regulations of the dim-out crystallized into a thorough document that covered everything from which direction light can escape from windows to the wattage of marquis signs.  The full text of a New York Times article on the subject is  here.  For the next eighteen months, the streets of the five boroughs were dark, there were no lights above street level, outdoor baseball games were banned, and Times Square was a “gloomy cavern.”

These pictures show Times Square in the height of both the dim-out and the war. The lack of light allows the moon and stars to be seen from the middle of Times Square – a phenomenon that the New York Timesclaimed hadn’t happened since 1917.

Constellation. Photograph by Frank Paine Baldwin. ca. 1945. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.

Billboards are in shadows, marquis are dark, but Times Square was still the place to be.

Gone but Not Forgotten. Photograph by J.G. Suter. ca. 1945. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archives.