Monday, June 18, 2012

Lunt Fontanne Theater, 205 West 42nd Street, New York, NY

 Capacity 1475

Opened on January 10, 1910 as the Globe Theatre, in honor of London's Shakespearean playhouse,  for producer and theater manager Charles Dillingham, this theater was designed in neo-Renaissance style by the firm of Carrere & Hastings.

Opening night was a musical entitled The Old Town. But The Sun's drama critic found his predecessor's effort disappointing, except for the stage theatrics of the star, Fred Stone, which included tightrope walking, acrobatic falls, dancing through a lariat and pistol juggling.
1910, 1555 Broadway, The Globe Theater, NYC
Although it was situated on 46th street with a grand Beaux-Arts facade, it also had a small entrance on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets.

Although Charles Dillingham never married, he was the longtime live-in companion to producer Charles Frohman, who taught him the ins and out of , uh, stage production. Dillingham also brought nine of composer Jerome Kern's musicals to Broadway.
Dillingham inspired "Billings," the fictional character played by Frank Morgan in MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936). (4)
Charles Dillingham

Sarah Bernhardt performed for four weeks in 1910 and appeared briefly in 1911.
Sarah Bernhardt

Christmas 1915 brought Irving Berlin's Stop! Look! Listen! featuring "I Love a Piano" and "The Girl on the Magazine Cover."

It was at the Globe in 1916 that a young British-born actress named Lynn Fontanne made one of her first American appearances in "The Harp of Life," giving a performance that The Times called "notably direct, eloquent and moving."

On March 18, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson witnessed the performance of "Jack O' Lantern". The applause was so persistent that Mr. Wilson was compelled to make a speech,
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are laboring under a delusion. You think you see the President of the United States. You are mistaken. Really, you see a tired man having a good time."(3)
President Wilson visits the Globe Theater, May 18, 1918

Fred and Adele Astaire starred in the popular Fritz Kreisler musical App1e Blossoms in 1919-1920.

In 1920, when Dillingham's lease on the theater expired, Dillingham purchased the building for the reported price of $1,250,000.
Most of the Globe's early shows were dramatic plays, including two revivals of La Dame aux Camélias. In the late teens and 1920s, the focus shifted to musicals. Dillingham was a partner with Florenz Ziegfeld and Abraham Erlanger, and Ziegfeld mounted his ''Follies of 1921'' at the Globe. Fanny Brice sang "Second Hand Rose" here.

In 1922, George White's "Scandals of 1922" featured W.C. Fields and Dolores Costello.
The original design and construction called for the ceiling and the roof 20 feet above it to roll back to reveal starlight and keep the theatre cooler in summer. No other Broadway theatre had such a design. There is no record of it ever actually opening. Other innovations included seats being individually cooled by ice or heated by hot air from vents underneath.[1] 

Another connection with the open air was through a foyer on the first balcony floor, which opens through large windows to an exterior balcony on Forty-sixth Street, making it possible, when the weather permits, for patrons to walk out of doors.

It had two balconies and an unusual proscenium, where the stage was set off by a framelike border on all sides. The interior, especially near the stage, was richly ornamented, with a color scheme of ivory, gold and rose. The Sun noted that the theater had ''seats for fat men'' and a spotlight station in the dome. Other theaters mounted spotlights in the audience areas.

No, No, Nanette opened in September 1925 for a 329-performance run, and included the popular songs "Tea for Two" and "I Want To Be Happy." Dillingham also produced a number of Jerome Kern musicals including Stepping Stones (1923), Criss Cross (1926) and Three Cheers (1928). The Cat and the Fiddle of 1931 proved to be the most successful of all, playing 395 performances.

Sadly, Charles Dillingham [the producer who built the original theater] lost his fortune in the 1929 Crash. His beloved Globe was foreclosed in 1931 and converted into a motion picture theater in 1932.  The next year Dillingham went bankrupt, with debts of $7.3 million, including $2,000 to Irving Berlin. Among his major creditors were his former partners, Erlanger and Ziegfeld. One hundred and twelve plays whose rights he owned, including Peter Pan, were sold at auction for $10,500. Dillingham produced one more show, New Faces, after his great financial loss, and was planning another at the time of his death in 1934.
In 1934, Dillingham died at age 66 in his suite at the Astor Hotel. He had produced more than 200 shows. The New York Times described him as ''robust, expansive, good-natured'' and noted that he ''never went in for gangster plots or sex dramas and his revues were notable for their disregard for bedroom scenes.''
1943 Globe Theater

 December 24, 1943

Apparently Carrere & Hastings's lavish interior was intact until 1957. Robert Dowling and the City Playhouses Group bought the theatre in 1957 and had the firm Roche and Roche gut/ renovate it.
The architect was John J. McNamara and the decorator Arthur Boys.
Major changes were made, including the removal of the second balcony level, the Broadway entrance, and much of the original decor. At the same time, the main entrance was moved from Broadway to the former side entrance on 46th Street. The new style was a modernized Venetian Baroque; in the main hall, Edward Melcarth painted a 100- by 100-foot mural depicting the Four Winds, looking down on a generally blue color scheme. The seats were equipped with opera glasses.

And it was at the Globe in 1953, during its cinema phase, that New Yorkers first peered through polarized glasses at a full program of stereoscopic films. Bosley Crowther of The Times was underwhelmed and leery of the 3-D craze, asking readers to imagine Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appearing to be "so real and close they could reach out and almost touch you!

It was rechristened the Lunt-Fontanne in honor of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (original name Lillie Louise Fontanne; born December 6, 1887, Essex, Eng.—died July 30, 1983, Genesee Depot, Wis., U.S.) and reopened on May 5, 1958 with Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit, starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in their last Broadway appearance. One of the major moments in Broadway theatrical history. They eventually earned a reputation as the greatest husband-and-wife team in the history of the theatre. Katharine Cornell, Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes, Beatrice Lillie, Anita Loos, Mary Martin, Laurence Olivier and Ginger Rogers were in the audience.
In 1922 Fontanne and Lunt were married, and thereafter they appeared on the stage almost invariably together.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne

In 1924 they joined the Theatre Guild and with The Guardsman of that year were celebrated enthusiastically as the bright couple of the Broadway stage. Their superlative performances, especially in comedies focusing on marital infidelity, brought many triumphs for the Theatre Guild, under whose auspices they appeared until 1929. The couple constantly strove for perfection and rehearsed almost continuously to attain the effortless rapport that was their hallmark. Although they were considered at their best in comedies by George Bernard Shaw, Noël Coward, and Terence Rattigan, Fontanne and Lunt appeared in several dramas as well. Among their plays were Arms and the Man (1925), The Goat Song (1926), The Doctor’s Dilemma (1927), Queen (1930), Idiot’s Delight (1936), Amphitryon 38 (1938), and The Pirate (1942). They appeared separately in two O’Neill plays, he in Marco Millions (1928) and she in Strange Interlude (1928). They also appeared together in films and on television. Over the years from the 1930s, Lunt himself directed a number of plays, as well as two operas for the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Despite their devotion to each other, their marriage was widely rumored to be a lavender marriage, or a marriage of convenience. Nevertheless, the Lunts were almost inseparable during their 55-year marriage.(2)

From 1959 through 1962, the longest run of any play at the theater was Rodgers and Hammerstein's ''Sound of Music'.' The play opened at the Lunt-Fontanne to mixed reviews that praised Mary Martin as Maria von Trapp but warned of the saccharine story. ''Too sweet for words,'' said Walter Kerr in The New York Herald Tribune. ''Could become sticky,'' said Brooks Atkinson in The Times. 
A 1,443 performance run.

Notable performances were given by Sid Caesar in Little Me (1962) and Richard Burton in Hamlet (1964).
In 1964 when Richard Burton was playing in Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontaine, each night after the performance a bubble-top limo would pull up to the stage door and Burton would get into the car where Elizabeth Taylor was waiting. Elizabeth would give Richard a big kiss and the crowds surrounding the car would cheer.

April 9-August 8, 1964

Julie Harris starred in her first musical here, Skyscraper, in 1965.

Marlene Dietrich made her Broadway singing debut here in 1967, accompanied by Burt Bacharach and a large orchestra.

The theater became part of the Nederlander Organization in 1973.  Peggy Lee and Carol Channing have both appeared on the Lunt-Fontanne's stage.
This theater, once entitled The Globe, was designed with grand entrances, and the people who like to make them, in mind. From the balcony, above the door, audience members are able to spot the new arrivals entering the theater.
Patrons say that its 1,475 seats are excellent in all locations, and the orchestra is amazing. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

The current W. 46th Street address was originally the side entrance for its carriage patrons.
The main narrow entrance that was used from its 'legit' theatre opening on 22nd January 1910 until it closed as the Globe movie theatre in 1957 was 1555 Broadway.

There are pictures of The Lunt in the Dover paperback by William Morrison, "Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture."

Miss Fontanne returned for the reopening in 1958, appearing with her husband Alfred Lunt in "The Visit. "The Visit was the initial production which opened the newly renamed Lunt-Fontanne Theater, had a large set which used the entire stage. Actors wishing to go from wing to the other without being seen by the audience had to go outside one stage door and around the stage end of the theater reentering at the other stage door.

Christopher Gray, who writes the "Streetscapes" column for the Sunday "New York Times," once wrote an article about the Lunt-Fontanne. It had been rumored that the original Globe had what today we would call a "moon roof," which could be opened in good weather. During the various remodelings, however, the "moon roof" opening was plastered over. But Gray was able to get a close-up look of the remaining mechanism from on top of the roof, and he wrote about it in the "Times."

Here's some info about the Lunt-Fontanne from "New York, 1960" (pg. 442) by Robert A.M. Stern (the famous architect) et al.:
Some existing legitimate theaters were renovated as well, most notably the former Globe (Carrere & Hastings, 1909), which became the Lunt-Fontanne in 1958. [At this point in the Stern text there is the first of about three footnotes that cite various sources, including a July 1958 Interior Design article and a May 6, 1958, "New York Times" article entitled "Broadway Agog as Theater Opens"]. . . . Once the most luxurious of Broadway playhouses but used for movies since the 1930s, the theater was redecorated by the British designer Arthur Boys, who was asked by the new owner, Robert W. Dowling, to base his work on the music room of Frederick the Great's Sans Souci Palace and on Venice's Fenice Theater. Because according to Dowling, "Going to the theater should be like visiting a charming and gracious home," he wanted the redesign to have "a new elegance and comfort." Marya Mannes said that the original Globe had been considered "the most beautiful" theater of its day, "with Grecian pillars and a balcony promenade that drew such phrases as 'commodious and handsome.'" Although she acknowledged that this style was "no longer supported by public taste," she found the renovation showy, lacking the dignity required for serious drama: "Mr. Dowling has spent millions in painting the reconditioned house pale-blue and white, encruting it with rococo, stringing it with crystal chandeliers, upholstering it with damask and carpeting it in deepest pile; and what is his idea of a gracious home is my idea of an inflated powder room."
On page 441, there is a nice photo of one of the Lunt-Fontanne's lobby areas with murals by Cosmo di Salvo.

The Lunt-Fontanne provides exciting ground for the urban archeologist. At the roof -- visible from J. W.'s Steakhouse on the eighth floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel across the street -- the mechanism for Dillingham's open-air roof is still intact. Two large panels, each perhaps 10 by 20 feet, are set on opposing, sloping rails. Each panel is wired to a steel cable, connected to a counterweight on the other side, and the giant gears are ready to slide both panels back -- but are glued in place by a heavy coat of asphalt and roofing tar.
The upper area of the theater, between the later ceiling and the underside of the original roof, is a dusty, half-lit forest of 1910 steel framing and catwalks and 1958 ceiling supports. In the center is a large drum like form, perhaps 20 feet across. It appears that the sliding ceiling, which ran at the level of the catwalks, was removed in the 1958 renovation.(1)

Lunt Fonatine is painted creamy ivory with gold gild and looks beautiful now.

Jerry performed here on
10/15/87 JGAB and JGB
10/16/87 JGAB and JGB
10/17/87 JGAB and JGB
10/19/87 JGAB and JGB
10/20/87 JGAB and JGB
10/21/87 JGAB and JGB
10/23/87 JGAB and JGB
10/24/87 JGAB and JGB
10/25/87 JGAB and JGB
10/27/87 JGAB and JGB
10/28/87 JGAB and JGB
10/30/87 JGAB and JGB
10/31/87 JGAB and JGB

How it came together:
"Bill Graham was having a benefit for the poster artists of the 60's because they had fallen onto some financial difficulty or something. So he was having everybody who was involved in that time do a 15 minute set; 4 or 5 songs. He had Country Joe [McDonald] and just everybody. So, he asked Jerry if he’d come and Jerry said, “Yeah, me and John Kahn and we’ll bring Nelson and Rothman…” So that was the actual first gig.
And then, after we played; we played four songs; and we got back in the back room and Bill Graham bursts into the room and says,  “I’ve gotta do something with this!” He’s really intent.
And we’re (laughs) we’re sittin’ there; we’re stoned now, we’re sittin’ there on the couch going, “yeah, yeah Bill. That’s right. Do something with it, man.”
And he goes, “I’ve gotta take this somewhere, I don’t know where, exactly…”
And Garcia looks up and goes (imitates Jerry’s voice), “take us to Broadway, Bill.” (Laughs) And Bill goes, “Broadway…” and walks out of the room. (Pauses) I’m not kidding you. That’s how it happened.
PG: That’s great.
DN: “Broadway.” The next thing we know, we’re booked.
PG: That must’ve been a tremendous experience.
DN: Yeah.
PG: The Lunt-Fontaine is a very nice theatre.
DN: I know. The Lunt-Fontaine. Being in the same dressing room as W.C Fields and people like that it was just incredible; it was totally incredible.
PG: Before the internet and such, when you were on the road you probably saw a lot of those performers on mid afternoon movies and things like that waiting around in hotel rooms, I imagine.
DN: Oh yeah. I’m a total fan of all that stuff, yeah, yeah. In fact, I’m an aficionado (laughs) as they say. Here’s the thing: my first moment on the stage at the Lunt-Fontaine: we’d done the sound check and everything, ok, and now it’s “places everybody,” it’s like, official. “Places.” And you stand in your place and then you wait for this seemingly interminable long time; it’s just agonizing… It’s actually only about a minute and a half but nothing happens; the curtain is closed and, geez, you hear the audience and it gives you time to go “oh my God, I’m playing at the fuckin’ Lunt-Fontaine, oh God, man, what am I gonna do? And guess what? The curtain opens up and smoke wafts in to the stage and it was all of us people and they went “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH” (laughs). Right from that moment, you know, the audience saved me once again. It was just like, “awww yeah, OK, hi (laughs), you know?” It’s just totally amazing.(5)

1.)^Gray, Christopher, Streetscapes/The Lunt-Fontanne; 1910 Theater, Once the Globe, 1998-02-01,
2.)^"Lunt and Fontanne." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 16 Jan. 2012. <>.
3.)^President Here For Red Cross Drive, 1918, 5-18, n.y. times
4.)^Kenrick, John, Who's Who in Musicals: Additional Bios, 2002
5.)^Nelson, David, KBOO Community Radio, Interview With David Nelson,

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