This Day in 1932: The First Show at Radio City Music Hall

We were delighted to see “Radio City Music Hall” trending on Twitter this morning and to realize that today (December 27) was the anniversary of that storied venue’s 1932 opening show. It was a legendary variety bill, starring many of the vaudeville performers we have written about. It was also legendary for going on way too long, several hours, well into the morning of the next day.

The brainchild of S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel, Radio City Music Hall was the flagship theatre of R.K.O., the recent result of a merger of the B.F. Keith vaudeville chain (then known as Keith-Albee-Orpheum), Radio Corporation of America (RCA, which was also parent to NBC), and Joe Kennedy’s Film Booking Offices of America. Radio City was what was then called a presentation house, a state-of-the-art venue, larger than even the most impressive big time vaudeville houses, designed to showcase live acts (including large scale ones like big bands and dance companies) as well as the premieres of major motion pictures, often on the same bill.  The Music Hall seats nearly 6,000 people. Its gorgeous art deco architecture and interior decoration make it one of New York City’s jewels as well as a highlight of Rockefeller Center, which it anchors on the Sixth Avenue side. The advent of Radio City eclipsed the Keith Circuit’s previous flagship theatre, the Palace Theatre, just a few blocks away, which ceased its two-a-day big time vaudeville presentations around the time, focusing more on movies.

That legendary first night bill at Radio City Music Hall included Weber and Fields in their very last public performance, as well as Dorothy Fields (Lew Fields’ daughter and a major Broadway figure in her own right), Martha Graham, Ray Bolger, Dewolf Hopper, the Flying Wallendas, Doc Rockwell, the Berry Brothers, Barto and Mann, Gertrude Niesen, Taylor Holmes, The Tuskegee Choir, an acrobatic act called the Kikutas, and the in-house precision dance chorus The Radio City Music Hall Roxyettes — later better known under the simplified name of the Rockettes. There were also several other acts on the bill including an entire company performing a version of Carmen. No wonder the show ran long!

And happily the venue is still with us, after over 8 decades ups and downs, including nearly being torn down by King Kong! Happy birthday, Radio City Music Hall!