The Arty Semite

Roxy of Radio City

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy Columbia University Press
Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel

Cole Porter’s 1930s song hit “You’re the Top” declares: “You’re romance, / You’re the steppes of Russia, / You’re the pants on a Roxy usher.” The aforementioned pants owed their existence to Samuel Lionel Rothafel (1882-1936), known as “Roxy,” an entrepreneur, theatre builder and radio personality, honored by “American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry”, a biography published by Columbia University Press.

Written by Ross Melnick, “American Showman” details how Roxy constructed many palaces for movies and related entertainment, of which only Radio City Music Hall survives today. Manhattan’s long-gone, once-majestic Roxy Theatre on Seventh Ave and 50th Street was known as the “cathedral of motion pictures.” Indeed, “Moving Picture World” joked in the 1920s: “Now that New York has three cathedrals, St. Patrick’s, St. John’s, and Roxy’s, we can look for the canonization of the latter almost any day now.” Born in Bromberg, Germany (today’s Bydgoszcz, Poland) Roxy moved with his parents to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1886. He remained ever-conscious of appealing to Jewish audiences, as when he opened a West Harlem theatre, the Regent Roxy, in 1913. A journalist noted in 1923 that at the latter palace, Roxy offered a glimpse of luxury through refined music, soft lights, and quality movies: “This [Roxy] attempted where he knew he would appeal to Jewish audiences, for he knew that the Jews were a music-loving race.” Hiring resident orchestras and choirs one hundred strong in some theatres, Roxy boosted musicians’ careers, as when the Hungarian Jewish violinist Jenő Blau landed a job playing and occasionally conducting in one of Roxy’s theatres, and later became known as the famous maestro Eugene Ormandy.

By pampering audiences in exquisite surroundings, Roxy fascinated some observers such as the pioneering German-American Jewish psychologist Hugo Münsterberg, who termed Roxy the “world’s most natural psychologist” for intuitively grasping the innate link between music and then-silent film. Roxy also attracted the scorn of anti-Semites such as American novelist Theodore Dreiser, whose diary records a 1916 visit with Roxy, a “clever Jew who has become managing director of three great movie houses in New York… That apartment! And his wife! Former kikes all, raised to ridiculous heights by wealth.”

Others lauded Roxy’s talent for presenting films of quality, such as Ernst Lubitsch’s “Passion,” Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North,” Robert Wiene’s “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” and F. W. Murnau’s “Sunrise,”. Roxy was the top, and not just for his ushers’ pants.

Listen to an orchestra conducted by Ernö Rapée, longtime Roxy theatre music director, in a 1930 recording, here.

And find a 1932 recording here.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel




Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.