Glory days: the Ziegfeld hosted many premieres over the decades including the 1972 gala for Bob Fosse's "Cabaret". Forty years later the Ziegfeld hosted Liza Minnelli and other cast members who returned for a screening of the restored version of the film.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
In 1969 the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan opened its doors for the first time. The lavish theater quickly won the hearts of movie fans. It was an elaborate place and showcased top films. It was considered New York's secondary jewel, however, as Radio City Music Hall was still alive and well and showing top-notch movies. Over the years Radio City closed its doors, a victim of changing times in the film industry. The Hall would only show family friendly films and there were precious few that could profitably play at the cavernous theater. You used to be able to get to a first run movie and a big stage show for five bucks but, after a while, nobody came. After the Hall closed and reopened, you can now see the stage show only for about a hundred bucks and the place is packed. Go figure. Now the Ziegfeld will follow Radio City into the realm of glorious Gotham cinematic memories. The landlord has notified management that the lease will not be renewed and the theater is expected to close in the next few weeks. It will mark the end of Manhattan's last single-screen theater. Ironically the plug wasn't pulled by the theater's owners, Cablevision, who kept the venue open despite losses of over $1 million a year. Under Cablevision the theater played first run movies but also periodically showed restored classics. The theater also hosted the occasional premiere. However, American studios rarely hold the kind of glorious premieres that were once regular occurrences, thus resulting in the loss of a key part of the theater's income. The theater's name will change to the Ziegfeld Ballroom and will now be hosting corporate events although the new owners will keep the screen intact primarily as a decoration and promise that occasional films will still be screened there.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer at the Ziegfeld's New York premiere of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" in August 2015.
For this writer the closing of the Ziegfeld seemed like an inevitability in changing times when multi-plex cinemas dominate the landscape. The first film I saw there was the 1969 reissue of "The Sand Pebbles" starring Steve McQueen. It was being promoted with a new ad campaign that capitalized on the anti-Vietnam war movement that had emerged since the film originally opened in 1966. I recall being a wide-eyed 13 year-old and being swept away by the grandeur of the place even though I had been to the even grander Radio City countless times. I have nothing but wonderful memories of the Ziegfeld. In 1975 when I was the film critic for my student university newspaper I would get invitations from the studios to attend movie events there. For blue collar kid from right across the river in Jersey City who was working his way through college, it was pure bliss. I recall taking my girlfriend (now wife) to what I thought was a standard advance screening of Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" in 1975 and being mortified to find everyone else dressed to the nines for some kind of prestigious unveiling of the film. (They even gave you the vinyl soundtrack album on the way out. Pure Heaven!) Over the decades I have seen countless films there and witnessed the slow but inevitable decline in the atmosphere. My last visit there was in August for the premiere of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." feature film. Despite having a somewhat tired interior, the old place still rallied for one last red carpet, celebrity-packed event. I won't be going to the Ziegfeld again before it closes because I want that very special evening to be my lasting memory of a very special place, one that will remain alive and well at least in the hearts of movie lovers. "Closing Channel 'D'", indeed.