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Social History: New York Jazz Age, the Cafe de Paree and Earl Carroll Theatre

Social History: New York Jazz Age, the Cafe de Paree and Earl Carroll Theatre

  • In December 1934, the refurbished Earl Carroll Theatre located on the south-east corner of 7th Ave and 50th Street, New York City, opened as the French Casino.
  • This glittering supper club was described by Fortune magazine as ‘a vast scarlet and silver restaurant which, in terraced rows of tables, seats fifteen hundred people without any crowding.’

Earl Carroll review in the 1920s.

  • For a short three year period, it became the unrivaled premier nightspot in New York.
  • It also celebrated the end of prohibition.

Excellent films of backstage scenes at the theatre during the 1930s.

  • The original building was designed by architect George Kiester and opened 25th February 1922 as the Earl Carroll Theater with seating for 1,000. The first few shows did not do well but there was some success with The Gingham Girl and Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1923.
  • With the advent of the depression, Carroll’s fortunes floundered and, he rented the theatre to Radio Pictures. Carroll decided he needed a bigger space and with the backing of William R. Edrington, a Texas oil baron bought the land East of the theatre for $1m and leveled the building. He spent a further $4.5m creating a new theatre which was an art deco masterpiece once again designed by architect George Keister with the interior designed by Joseph Babolnay.

The new lobby was three times bigger than the old one. Seating capacity was tripled with 1500 seats in the orchestra, 200 in boxes and the loge and 1300 on the balcony. In the 60 x 100 feet space under the balcony lounge areas were created. It was the first theatre to be cooled backstage, in the auditorium and public areas.

The premier attraction was Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1931, but Carroll could not make the theatre a success since operating costs for such lavish shows were high and the ticket prices low due to the depression. Within six months he had lost the theatre Carroll and was sued for back rent, taxes, and interest. He eventually relocated to Hollywood and made more of success there. Florenz Ziegfeld took it over, called the building the Casino Theatre and opened with a revival of his great hit Show Boat (1932) but during the run, he died and the show closed. George White used the theatre for Melody (1933) but success was still elusive and the theatre closed.

  • In late October 1933, the Theatre was sold to a business consortium of Louis F. Blumenthal, Charles H. Haring and Jack Shapiro for $52,000,000. This set in motion the beginnings of the French and London Casino project. The new owners invested $125,000 in renovation work to turn the theatre into the latest, up-to-the-minute cabaret-restaurant. They took out the seating and put tiers in the balcony and orchestra with tables. One of the key features was access.
  • In other cabaret-theatre-restaurants, balcony diners must walk down through the rear to reach the dance floor. At the French Casino can descend the balconies by means of a series of ramps flanking both sides of the auditorium to the dance floor. People can ascend and descend in the theatre proper not by going out into the lobby.
  • It provides the means of a grand entrance. Capacity was 900 on the lower floor and 500 flanking the sides and on the mezzanine and upper balcony. The show performs on an extended circular platform that comes out from the stage proper so that a neat ringside effect is created.
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