Tuesday, September 12, 2017

adventurers in movie reviewing: Glenda Jackson & Richard Chamberlain in New York, 1971

Glenda Jackson, celebrated here in the previous essay, was someone I interviewed during my decades-long stint as a movie critic.  In retrospect, this should have been referenced in the original piece but I tend to forget the various interviews I did because, frankly, I didn't want to do them.

When I was hired for one position, I jokingly told my editor, "I don't do windows or interviews." It's too much of a compromise for a critic, who is supposed to be objective, to get too close to the people whose movies he/she will be reviewing. There's the threat of being finessed. The New York Times has the right idea, keeping criticism and interviewing apart.

But I did interview Jackson and I guess writing about her brought back a wonderful memory of the events surrounding our session together.

Consider this a tiny postscript:

It was January, 1971. A small number of the press gathered in New York for a private Friday night screening of Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers," which Jackson would be promoting with her co-star Richard Chamberlain.

The screening was at the fabulous, now-gone Coronet Theater.

The Coronet and its twin, The Baronet, located on Manhattan's Upper East Side (59th Street at Third Avenue), were two of the smartest movie houses in Manhattan (the marquee announced them as "A Walter Reade Twin Theater"), specializing in the highest pedigree of Hollywood films and foreign-language movies. They closed in 2001 and were eventually razed.

A sad end to a glittering movie era in New York.

The subsequent one-on-one interviews the following day took place in a suite at The Plaza Hotel, where the out-of-town press was also based.

I was happy to have an early-morning time slot because I was anxious to get back to the Coronet which was playing Robert Altman's ”Brewster McCloud.” (It was one of MGM's arty 1970 Christmas releases, along with Paul Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland." These two titles, so hot at the time, are now barely remembered.)

But first, the interview...

Chamberlain arrived for the session with the beard he grew for the role of Tchaikovsky and a new British accent. He was friendly but very actorly (if that's a word). Jackson was surprisingly down-to-earth. Known largely as a stage actress, she was new to film and, no snob, claimed that she now preferred it to the stage. She confessed an admiration for Joan Crawford among Hollywood legends and I asked her if she'd ever consider a Crawford-type role in a more conventional Hollywood movie.

"Who could top Joan Crawford,?" she responded.

I guess at some point we got around to discussing "The Music Lovers," but then Jackson noticed that I was wearing a Mickey Mouse wristwatch.

Uh-oh, nerd alert. But wait! She was wearing the same watch. Whew! No judgment. A chat about our watches followed, until I was rather diplomatically escorted me out of the suite by the United Artists press rep. Just in time for me to make the first show of "Brewster McCloud" at the Coronet. Which I adored. And still do.

* * * * *
(from top) 

~Ken Russell directing Glenda Jackson and Richard Chamberlain in "The Music Lovers"
 ~photography: United Artists 1971©

~The Coronet and Baronet Theaters
 ~photography: Matt Weber/Street Photography 1985©

~Bud Cort in "Brewster McCloud"
 ~photography: MGM 1970©

~An authentic Mickey Mouse wristwatch, circa 1970


Kevin Barry said...

Great stuff, Joe! I saw many great films at the Coronet and Baronet (Chinatown and Nashville come to mind). I love that photo of the two theatres, and the Cinema I and Cinema II in their glory days with the original marquees! (I saw Boccaccio '70 at Cinema I, the first movie to play there). I was in Manhattan last weekend and that area seems so tacky now. New York hasn't been kind to its great old movie theatres. Even the Ziegfeld is gone!

joe baltake said...

Yes, the Cinema I and Cinema II. Along with the Baronet and the Coronet, much of my film education occurred at that location on 59th Street. I described the Baronet and Coronet as twins in my piece, but I think the Baronet was slightly smaller. Or am I confusing those two with Cinema I and Cinema II? Hard to say. I haven't been to any of those theaters, all gone now, since the late '80s. I have no problem believing that the area is now tacky. As for the great Ziegfeld, what a loss. My fondest memories of that theater is seeing "Day of the Dolphin" (gorgeous on the big Ziegfeld screen) and "Hair" there. And I adored the Plaza, also gone now. Sad.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Well, L.A.'s no better. There were many fabulous old theatres still operating when I moved here in 1981; today, they're mostly gone. Westwood used to be THE destination for filmgoers; now only two venues remain. (The beautiful National was reduced to rubble years ago.) The only theatres left in Hollywood are the refurbished Chinese (turned into a faux IMAX house with a smaller screen than had been there before and the seating all loused up) and the Egyptian, which is run by the American Cinematheque. Most of the downtown picture palaces have been turned into churches, flea markets or simply lie vacant, if they're even standing. And wonderful neighborhood destinations like the Picwood, the Fairfax, the Fox, Venice and the Rialto, South Pasadena sleep with the fishes. I can only imagine what it was like years earlier.

joe baltake said...

Yes, not good, Mike. When I was reviewing out of Philadelphia in the 1970s, there were about two dozen first-run theaters in the city, plus a handful of art houses. When I left in the '80s, there were only three "artplexes" owned by the Posel family. All the major studio films opened on the outskirts of the city in the suburbs and in South Jersey. The theaters disappeared one by one and no one cared. -J

Sheila said...

Funny article, Joe. I love that you were "escorted" out of the suite.

Marvin J. Halpern said...

Joe, you have brought back to me incredibly fond memories. Quite a few years after 1971, I was in New York on "business." I had a suite right next to Glenda's suite. I believe she was in Manhattan on stage in HEDDA GABLER. We were both there for considerable periods of time; and I got to listening for her "return" from the theatre each and every night, knowing only then that one of my (and the world's) favorite actresses was "tucked safely into bed."

One night I believe I dreamed that Glenda had erroneously entered my suite, rather than hers. I do think that was really a "dream," not reality, and wishful thinking on my part.

The hotel in Manhattan no longer exists as it was back then. It was called the Wyndham. I stayed there a lot, and on other occasions ran into Jessica Tandy/Hume Cronyn in the elevator, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Donald O'Connor.

By the way, BREWSTER McCLOUD was exceptional.

Thanks, Joe, for bringing back memories of one of the happiest times in my life -- long ago.

Marvin J. Halpern

joe baltake said...

Marvin- Thanks for sharing this singular, special moment in your life. Much appreciated. -J

Joyce J. Persico said...

hi, Joe, What does it say about me that I remember all the old movies of long ago, the good ones and the mediocre.? And the theaters, of course. They are always part of the memory.
In Trenton, which once was filled with grand and glorious movie houses, I had my movie education, along with the long-gone Broad, a movie theater that was my classroom.
But it was in a theater called the Brunswick, located on the edge of Trenton near the Lawrence border that I experienced the thrill of seeing the controversial "La Dolce Vita." I was alone and very young, having nothing in common with the patrons who gathered in the lobby to sip espresso and chat about foreign films.
Fellini's black-and-white masterpiece about a world-weary hero (the beautiful Marcello Mastroianni) who had been to one orgy too many, felt lurid and exciting to this impressionable young woman at the time. I have never forgotten how it felt to see it, something forbidden (tame by today's standards) and to feel so worldly as I left. I don't feel that way any more when I go to the movies. I feel grateful to escape the flashing I-phones and the rude know-it-alls whose inane pre- and post-screening comments are so laughable.
But that's just me.

w. said...

ahhh...memories of ' Brewster McCloud'....
I was the MGM P R guy for the Pacific Northwest, and my boss told me to fly to Vancouver, BC to where Altman was filming ' Mccabe & Mrs Miller' so I went on the set , hang around Altman, Julie CHristie, Warren Beatty, whereas my job was to herald the whole Altman players from Vancouver BC to Houston, Texas for the world premiere of ' Brewster McCloud' which took place inside the Houston Astrodome.....they erected a 80 X over 100 Ft screen and the stars arrived for the screening in their cars right onto the playing field and into their seats.....
whilst all this was going on, my boss and I were up in the seats/upper stands, fortifying ourselves with some ' fire water', if you get the drift.....LOL
great memories.......

Marilyn Halprin said...

Joe, you moved me to tears with your reflection on the lost Cornonet and Baronet. Too many good theaters are gone and these two were gems.

wwolfe said...

It's not just in the big cities that grand old theaters are vanishing. In my small hometown in Ohio, our glorious single screen theater, with a very long, steeply inclined entryway, lined with movie posters inside glass cases, was torn down earlier this year. Attached to the theater, with the two joined structures forming a large L-shape that covered most of an entire block, was the town's Masonic Temple, complete with a grand ballroom on its third floor. That came down, too. When I visit family back home, I avoid that block now.

joe baltake said...

Bill! It's the end of a precious era. About a month ago, my wife and I were watching an episode of "Live with Kelly and Ryan" earlier this summer and a guest - I believe it was Richard Gere - commented on how he missed "the curtain" in movie theaters. I doubt if anyone in the audience knew what he was talking about but I agree: When "the curtain" went, it was the beginning of the end. The ambience was gone. Now, going to the movies is like going into a big box with a flat white screen.

Near-Genius Nephew said...


David Packard still has the curtain in place at his Stanford Theater in Palo Alto. Also--they don't roll back the curtain until the movie starts to play!

(They have been renovating for the past several months, but sold out every seat in their 1175-seat theatre this past Christmas Eve for their annual screening of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.) Since I seem to remember you mentioning that you live somewhere on the West Coast, you quite possibly know about the ST already, though many of the films you bring back to life for your readers would likely be off-limits in their eyes (David Woodley Packard seems to still be a believer in the Hays Code!).

More general info about the Stanford is here: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/404

And the Stanford Theatre compiled yearly lists of what was screened there during the first thirty-six years of their operation (1925-61) which can be accessed here: http://stanfordtheatre.org/aboutWhen.html

Interesting to see how frequently they (and presumably many other "mid-range" theatres of that time) changed their shows...

Don Malcolm