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Thursday, October 03, 2019

The People's Orchestra Takes Denver Stage


A Hundred Men (and Women) and Deanna

As old-style opera houses and vaudeville pits fell before 20th century onrush, there'd be the picture palace to take slack of all and be the performance center wherever built. It took private enterprise to erect such mighty monuments, as what municipality could wring from taxpayers the fortune needed? Theatres in eternal pursuit of community good will made facilities available for local events, often tying them in with whatever unspooled. The Denver Theatre was that city's temple of entertainment and enrichment, 2,525 seats there for filling. Management curried favor of locals to put the Denver quite beyond civic reproach, so could boast  "Dominant Leadership" when a twelfth anniversary came in 1937. Just the front entrance was enough to stagger eyes. Is there today any venue remotely like this? Neon alone looks able to out-light the sun. Ad at top announces the menu to celebrate a twelfth year, most noteworthy the 100 piece Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which we see was underwritten by the Federal Music Project of the WPA. How appropriate then, to pair them with Deanna Durbin in her newest, That Certain Age. Here was live realization of Deanna's previous vehicle, One Hundred and A Girl, where she sought sponsorship for concert artists who would otherwise be out of work during grip of Depression. Art imitated life a lot more than we suspect during Classic Era days.

7 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The ad mentions "motion pictures' greatest year." I wonder if the ad guys referred to every year as motion pictures' greatest year, given that this was 1938. What would they have said in 1939?

11:45 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

The same thing they said every other year; Hollywood never changes in this regard.

2:06 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Radio City Music Hall was a cinema showcase, but nonetheless was better equipped than a lot of legitimate theaters (check out their Christmas Spectacular, which shows off their technical prowess as well as the sheer scale of the place). While I doubt any other movie palace was built on that scale, it seems a lot of them were in fact designed to accommodate substantial live performances with deep stages, backstage space, fly towers.

The local houses of my youth might have a shallow stage in front of the screen, so when the curtain was closed you could put up a lectern for a meeting. The Granada in Morgan Hill was one such; it's been converted into a nice banquet and event space since it was never designed for performances. The grand California Theatre in San Jose was built, I believe, for vaudeville and such. I knew it as the Fox, and saw "101 Dalmatians" there before it stopped showing movies and became a sometime rock concert venue. It's since been restored for Opera San Jose, with the stage & backstage facilities expanded. When they tore down the nearby United Artists theater in the 70s, you had a brief view of the fly tower and backstage space that had gone unused for decades.

I'm old enough to remember when heavy red curtains opened and closed in front of the screen, which was framed by an elaborate proscenium arch -- and the seats were lousy. Now we have luxurious motorized recliners and the screen is plain and unadorned.

I've ranted before about how movie houses changed from a sort of church where you went to be part of an event to an airport where you bought your snacks and proceeded to a departure gate. Now we're moving to something like a fantasy of a home screening room, but with waiters. I had a point, but it got lost in the shuffle.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

We had a few here in downtown Portland, Oregon, here's a link to a photo of three of them in their glory. A fourth is not shown in this picture. The only one left is the one that was at this time called The Paramount. It is now a municipal concert hall.
https://www.stumptownblogger.com/2009/07/stumptownwhen-broadway-was-king.html

12:47 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

You can only honestly call a year great from a distance of at least 20 years. As for the Denver, I visited the site and thought for a moment it might have been saved. But, no, like so much else of bygone beauty it was torn down. Progress. Is there a multiplex anywhere one would regret seeing be torn down?

11:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the musical aggregation that accompanied THAT CERTAIN AGE at the Denver Theatre:


Pairing a Deanna Durbin film, "That Certain Age," with a symphony orchestra would have been perfect. All the Durbin films during this period were musicals featuring her in a repertoire of light classics, along with more contemporary songs to leaven the bill for the audience of the time. In this one, the boys and girls of her school are putting on a show, allowing her to be featured in renditions of Leo Delibes "Les Filles des Cadiz" and "Je Veux Vivie" from Gounoud's "Romeo and Juliet." She also performed three songs by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson specially composed for the picture, including "My Own," which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Original Song.

As you noted, Deanna had scored a big success in "One Hundred Men and a Girl," her first starring vehicle, with a story line of out of work musicians enlisting the great Leopold Stokowski to lead them in a benefit performance. The featured Colorado Symphony Orchestra was an ad hoc organization sponsored by the Federal WPA to the same end; that is, of providing employment to classical musicians. Of those featured in the advertisement, the young conductor, Frederick A. Schmidt ("Fred Schmidtt"), had been a championship swimmer at St. Olaf College and a member of the famous St. Olaf Choir. Later he would return to the college to manage its music organizations. Jeanne Carroll was a popular jazz singer who would perform for the big band orchestras of Charlie Agnew, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Apparently, they were featuring something for everyone that night. Marjorie Hornbein was a local pianist who later became an historian.

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra should not be confused with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, though that body had been organized just a few years before the release of "That Certain Age" to provide musicians with a venue that would pay them union wages. Some of its musicians also played for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Ironically, the Denver Symphony Orchestra would be dissolved in 1989, in part due to labor difficulties. It would be reborn a few months later as the Colorado Symphony, after its parent organization, the Denver Symphony Association, emerged from bankruptcy to merge with the new Colorado Symphony Association. The Colorado Symphony remains a respected regional orchestra under the baton of Brett Mitchell.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@Beowulf, there is one multiplex here in Toronto I would very much regret to see shut down:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotiabank_Theatre_Toronto

1:02 AM  

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