Saturday, May 13, 2017

1961 ads for the Rialto: Louisville's million dollar movie palace

 January 8, 1961.
 Luana Patten had been a Disney child star (Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart). 
January 19, 1961. 

 
Somewhere around the time Fox was thinking about casting Joan Collins in Cleopatra, she made Esther and the King.  Like Cleopatra, Esther was shot in Rome.That was probably small consolation.
January 26, 1961.     

 Legions of the Nile (1959) was an Italian movie starring Linda Cristal as Cleopatra. According to IMDB, Fox bought the movie to prevent competition from its up and coming Cleopatra which would play the Penthouse Theatre in Louisville, born of the United Artists' 900 seat balcony. IMDB also says it was shelved, but here it is.  February 2, 1961.
 February 9, 1961 
 February 16, 1961.
                                                             February 23, 1961
Soon the low rent double bills would end at the Rialto.  It also soon become the 'new Rialto' which they felt compelled to call it henceforth after the $100,000 (or perhaps $150,000) renovation when Louisville was about to finally get its own Cinerama theater. Up until this point, one had to drive to the Capitol Theatre in downtown Cincinnati or the Indiana in Indianapolis to experience riding in a roller coaster or flying over the Grand Canyon while remaining safely seated in a movie theatre.  It should be noted that the Rialto did not have three separate projection booths -- it adopted the more convenient (though less effective) Cinemiracle system with three projectors in one central booth.
                                        In the meantime, Goliath continued.  March 5, 1961.
On March 12, 1961 the Rialto announced it was ready to start selling tickets.  It should be noted that the Rialto's marquee never became quite so modern.
                    It's hard to know what sort of 'error' they were referring to on March 19, 1961.

This is the only interior view of the Rialto I have found besides the shots taken in 1921 (go here to see them). Clearly visible is the Cinerama louvered screen being hung.  These louvers, like vertical blinds, were turned slightly towards the audience to keep the sides of the deeply curved screen from reflecting upon one another. I noticed that in a few very bright shots of the old 3 camera Cinerama movies shown in recent years at the Cinerama Dome (which does not have a louvered screen) there was indeed some reflection from one side to another.

You can see in this shot that several rows of seats were removed on the main floor under the balcony as the line of the balcony would have created a restricted view for the back rows. As a youngster I remember staring at the wide open space where no seats were but I didn't have any idea why.  They also built the new projection booth on the main floor; originally it was at the top of the balcony and that would have resulted in too much distortion.

The capacity of the Rialto was originally about 3,100 seats but this was reduced to somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 (there's some conflicting information about this in this and other articles of the day) when it became the 'new' Rialto. Not only did seats have to be removed in the orchestra section, but about half of the balcony was curtained off at the rear.  When I went to see The Bible...in the Beginning, a friend and I walked up the aisle during intermission  and peeked beyond the curtains.  I'll never forget the sight of rows and rows of battered, broken and missing seats.  Standing there and looking back, it was obvious why this was the cutoff point; the edges of the Cinerama screen began to dip below the line of the balcony.  I also remember having vertigo walking down the aisle, the rake was so steep.  It felt as if I would fall I would roll headlong down the steps and directly into the enormous chandelier suspended in the gaping void beyond. 
Courier-Journal writer Boyd Martin describes what he himself saw during the renovation.  March 26, 1961.

This is Cinerama (1952) was about to finally play Louisville nine years after New Yorkers saw it. Ad is from March 26, 1961.
                                                              March 26, 1961 ( article is above)
                                               This full page ad ran on March 26, 1961
And then, finally, it happened.  When I finally saw This is Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood around 1995, I was pretty disappointed overall. There are some very long, dull stretches.  Perhaps watching static shots of bagpipes being played or the Vienna Boys' Choir singing was fascinating sixty years ago, but I kind of doubt it. It did, however, have a very zippy water skiing section as well as the iconic opening roller coaster which was said to make a lot of people sick at the time. April 2, 1961
                                                                      May 21, 1961
 
After a few months, the Rialto was ready to show the third Cinerama travelogue, Seven Wonders of the World (1956).  For the time being, they skipped the greatly superior Cinerama Holiday.  June 25,  1961

                                                                   July 13, 1961
Seven Wonders of the World is one of the weaker of the Cinerama travelogues.  Lowell Thomas' nasal narration grates to an extreme and a lot of it is simply overhead flying shots.   July 16, 1961
                                                                     July 23, 1961
                                                               September 24, 1961

For my money, Cinerama Holiday (1955) is by far the most interesting Cinerama travelogue. It's a bit more thoughtful than the others, like tagging along on someone's real vacation. It is available on Blu-Ray.  If you have a big TV, you'll be impressed by the sharpness and clarity for a movie this old. Cinerama was the Imax of its day.  Seeing Las Vegas -- still a small town in 1955 -- so sharply detailed is interesting unto itself and the skiing section in Switzerland is lots of fun. October 8, 1961
                                                                   October 15, 1961
                                                                     October 22, 1961
                                                                October 29, 1961
It ran through the end of the year.  Much more Cinerama would follow.  December 31, 1961

No comments: