Inside the Ziegfeld Theater, one of the only remaining single screen movie theaters left in New York City [2016 update: it’s closing soon], is a museum dedicated to its history. The movie palace, one of the last built in the city, currently stands on 141 West 54 street, a two minute walk away from 1341-47 Sixth Avenue, the home of the original Zeigfeld Theater. Beginning on February 2nd, 1927 until it was demolished in 1966, the theater premiered everything from Broadway productions to feature length films.
The original theater, named after Florenz Ziegfeld, who along with William H. Randolph financed the construction of the property, was first used to stage Broadway productions and was a tremendous success until The Great Depression. During its run, Ziegfeld financed dozens of productions, most of them starring a group of chorus girls known as the “Ziegfeld Girls.” Inspired from the Folies Bergère in Paris, classic Hollywood actresses such as Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer, and Barbara Stanwyck began their careers as Ziegfeld Girls before going to Hollywood. Other notable actresses such as Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball, were rejected when they auditioned for a spot
Glass cases along the walls of the Zeigfeld’s downstairs lobby all the way up to the theater lobby contain numerous pieces of memorabilia, including outfits worn by the Ziegfeld Girls. One highlight is from the most famous and emotionally complex Ziegfeld Girl, Lillian Lorraine. Known as the “Ziegfeld Diva,” Lorraine had a relationship with Ziegfeld himself, who discovered her. Their relationship was anything but sane, as her behavior and affairs (while Ziegfeld continued the affair through two marriages) gave the tabloids plenty of headlines. Her career faded in the early 20’s, but her legacy lived on as she was the basis for characters in plays such as Gentleman Prefer Blondes and the 1936 feature film The Great Ziegfeld.
A few weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter talked to James Dolan, owner of The New York Knicks and CEO of Cablevision, which owns the property. During the interview, Dolan stated that the theater was losing money and that the days of the Manhattan movie palace were numbered. Representatives from Cablevision responded the next day, stating that the Ziegfeld would “remain open for the foreseeable future”, which would put us at ease, if we didn’t know that their lease is up in three years.
To find out which film classic he would love to see just once inside the Ziegfeld, contact the author on twitter @ChrisLInoa