Friday, December 19, 2014

The real 'Miracle On 34th Street': 21 great historical details from New York City's most famous Christmas movie



The Bowery Boys Obsessive Guides look very, very closely at a classic movie filmed in New York City, finding buried history, additional context and a few secrets within various scenes and plot points. Filled with film spoilers so read this after you've seen the movie -- or use it to follow along as you watch it!  Check out my previous guides for Midnight CowboyGhostbusters and The Muppets Take Manhattan.


"Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it." 
-- Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwynn)

Miracle on 34th Street is the most famous New York City Christmas movie ever made, a celebration of post-war prosperity that happily substitutes Herald Square for the North Pole.

The movie is a complete inventory of the commercial Christmas experience. It treats the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade like a starting gate -- Thanksgiving? What's that? -- and, like many Americans, spends much of its entire running time in department stores.

The central question posed by this 1947 classic is whether Macy's newly hired Santa Claus (played by Edmund Gwenn) is actually the Santa Claus or just some crazy person. At stake is not only the entire world's celebration of Christmas, but the heart of young Susan (played by Natalie Wood) who never believed in Santa, thanks to her mother Doris (Maureen O'Hara).

Manhattan is perpetually bustling, from the Upper West Side down to Foley Square. Despite its reputation as a saccharine sweet take on the materialistic component of the holiday, the film is really quite cynical, even dark, at times.  Throwing an old man into the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward in the 1940s is hardly what I call a warm and fuzzy image.

I recently dug deep into the film and found a great many fascinating details, many involving people and places that lived in New York City at that time.  Here's my obsessive guide to what normally stuffy critic Bosley Crowther originally called "the freshest little picture in a long time and maybe even the best comedy of the year."



1) Arranging Reindeer  The film opens with Kris Kringle walking south down Madison Avenue. Get it? He's Santa. He's from the north! Along the way he passes several long-vanished New York businesses -- Rosenberg & Grief furrier, Janice Carol salon, Liszt jeweler (or possibly pawn shop?)

He stops to chastise a store clerk on 19 East 61st Street about the placement of reindeer in the shop windows. That shop belonged to the interior designer Lillian Schary Waldman, often employed by high society and responsible for the homes of a few celebrities including Danny Kaye.  

By the way, you'll notice there's no Rudolph in the Christmas display.  The red nosed reindeer was created in 1939, within a coloring book produced by Montgomery Ward (at right), but not popularly considered part of Santa's team until the 1964 Rankin-Bass animated special. (EDIT: Thanks to the commenter for reminding me of Rudolph's real coming out --the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," recorded by Gene Autry and Bing Crosby in successive years.)

2) Old Newsprint  The film occasionally uses the technique of turning newspaper pages as a way of setting the scene.  Notice the first time this is used, before the parade.  The prop designer constructed a phony newspaper but used real news articles from the New York Times.  Here's the catch -- most of the stories are well over a decade old! Some examples:  "NEW FRENCH CABINET UPHELD BY DEPUTIES" - Dec 23, 1932, "OUR SPEED PRAISED IN CHILD LABOR BAN" - July 20, 1933, and "EARTHS FORCES LAID TO COSMIC IMPULSE" - July 24, 1933


The curious Deitrich Knickerbocker balloon from the 1936 parade. (Courtesy Smithsonian)

3) The Real Parade  Santa Claus has appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since the very first parade in 1924. One detail that did not quite make it into the modern era -- knights in shining armor.  Santa arrived in Herald Square "in state. The float upon which he rode was in the form of a sled driven by reindeer over a mountain of ice.  Preceding him were men dressed like the knights of old, their spears shining in the sunlight." [source]

The scenes of the Thanksgiving Day parade in Miracle are real, taken from the 1946 parade.  This mixing of live events and fictional set pieces (filmed in Hollywood) was rather unusual for the day.  "Scenes shot in actual New York settings add credibility to the film," said Crowther.  Gwenn was even the parade's real Santa!  "A somewhat frostbitten Santa Claus, in the person of Edmund Gwenn, the actor, gingerly climbed off his high perch and unveiled Macy's mechanical windows...." [source]


4) Bad Santas  "These pants are gonna fall off in the midst of Columbus Circle," said the unfortunately inebriated Santa, who is relieved of his duties and replaced by Gwenn's Santa.  Several decades before Santacon, newspapers would occasionally make note of a Santa who would come to work "with liquor on his breath."  It seems there were all sorts of lecherous Santas! In 1948, the year after Miracle, the New York Times Magazine notes a Santa who "grabbed a trim young mother, set her on his knee and suggested that they both go out and have a drink."

5) Behind The Beard  Edmund Gwenn, the film's jovial Kris Kringle, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (Unfortunately, he beat Richard Widmark's work in the film Kiss of Death, widely considered to be one of the greatest film noir performances.)

Although he had made dozens of films, the British actor was known for his work on the stage.  In fact, right before starting work on Miracle, he gave what would be his last performance on the New York stage -- the play You Touched Me with upcoming young star Montgomery Clift.

At right: Clift and Gwenn from their Broadway production of You Touched Me (Courtesy WalterFilm)

6) D-I-V-O-R-C-E  Miracle is unique in that its heroine is a divorced woman, but she's badly treated by the film's screenplay.  Note the look of shock on the face of Fred Galley (John Payne) when little Susan casually mentions that her mother and father are divorced.

After World War II, divorce rates skyrocketed in America as servicemen returned from war to changed domestic situations. Divorces were only "fault-based" at the time; "typical grounds were adultery, desertion, habitual drunkenness, conviction of a felony, impotence ... and, most used by divorcing parties, 'cruel and inhuman treatment'." [source]

The film makes some unsubtle commentary -- Doris (which even sounds like divorce) is depicted as a cold, cynical woman, lacking little joy. I mean, she's the director of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and she doesn't even bother to stay and watch it?


7) Locker Room Talk  We're granted many scenes of Macy's work spaces that customers don't get to see, such as the locker room, where Kringle meets Alfred, the sometimes store Santa "with extra padding" and a thick Brooklyn accent -- "just troo 'em on the floor!"

Macy's was actually once renown for its locker room! From a report in 1913:  "At Macy's there are vast locker rooms containing expanded individual metal lockers for the majority of the employees and some smaller ones for certain groups.  Never are two required to use one locker, except during Christmas rush. This is an exceedingly liberal policy, considering the size of the establishment, and a most desirable one."

8) Toy Stores  We get to the crux of the tale when Kringle, now hired as Macy's Santa, begins sending customers to other department stores in the city.  Most notably he sends a thankful mother (played by Thelma Ritter, in her debut film role) to Macy's big rival Gimbels and another to a toy store called Schoenfeld's, in Yorkville, at 1254 Lexington Avenue.

Here's an ad for a toy submarine that was sold at Schoenfeld's in 1927.



9) Cutthroat Business  Macy's and Gimbel's were the two biggest department stores in Herald Square and one of New York's best known rivalries. "Would Macy's tell Gimbels?" was a popular expression of the time, expressing the fierce secrecy in sales and marketing practices.  In Miracle, after Macy's embraces Kringle's policy of recommending items for sale at other stores, Gimbals tries to one-up their rival by adhering to the same policy and spread it to their stores across the country.

According to Gimbels lore, the company chairman Bernard Gimbel was asked to take the role of Kringle in Miracle. (I personally find this very hard to believe.)  Such a request would not have been made of Macy's founder Rowland Hussey Macy as he had died almost 70 years before.

Below: Gimbels Department Store in Harold Square, taken in 1915, from the vantage of the Marbridge Building (Photo by the Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of City of New York)



10) Home Away From Home  When not at the North Pole, Kris Kringle resides at Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged at 126 Maplewood Dr, Great Neck, Long Island.  That's a real address although you won't find the grand exterior that was used in the film. Why would they put Kringle in a nursing home in Great Neck?  Perhaps it was a literary illusion to another great New York City fictional tale -- Great Neck is called West Egg in The Great Gatsby, written only twenty-two years previous.

11) Santa Gets It Wrong Kringle is taken in for a psychological evaluation to prove his competence.  He's fully prepared, of course, seeing as he's frequently accused of being crazy.

He rattles off a list of questions that might be thrown his direction during the mental examination.  The trickiest?  "Who was the vice president under John Quincy Adams? Daniel D Tompkins. And I’ll bet your Mr Sawyer doesn’t know that!"

Tompkins was a great many things in his day.  Today he's the namesake of Tompkins Square Park and Tompkinsville, Staten Island. But one thing he was not -- he was never vice president under John Quincy Adams.  That was John C. Calhoun. Tompkins served under President James Monroe.

So what accounts for this obvious error? Is it a true gaffe or an insight into Kringle's character? Maybe he was crazy! Or just in need of an encyclopedia.

By the way, the psychiatrist Sawyer is taking his examination cues from a 1946 book called Mastering Your Nerves: How To Relax Through Action.

12) Working Delusion  The handsome Doctor Pierce from the Brooks Memorial Home is sure the old man is suffering from a deeply held delusion.  But so what?

"Why there are thousands of people walking around with similar delusions, living perfectly normal lives in every other respect. A famous example is that fellow -- I cant think of his name -- but for years he’s insisted he’s a Russian prince. He owns a famous restaurant in Hollywood and is a highly respected citizen."

Pierce is referencing an actual person named Michael Romanoff (at right), a noted 'professional imposter', who once walked the streets of New York City claiming he was Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, nephew of Tsar Nicholas II.

In 1941 he opened the restaurant Romanoff's in Los Angeles on North Rodeo Drive, enjoying newly found success in a town noted for its impostors.  The famous photograph of Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield is taken at Romanoff's.



13) Martini Time! In a delightfully throw-away scene, Shellhammer, the head of Macy's toy department, tries to convince his wife to let Kringle stay at their home.  In order to get her to agree, he gets her wasted on martinis.  "We always have martinis before dinner.  I'll make them double-strength tonight."

We have Prohibition to thank for martini hour in many American homes.  Driving alcohol consumption into private dwellings, the cocktail hour was firmly entrenched by the 1930s.  It was properly solidified by the world's most famous martini drinker after James Bond -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "Before dinner we usually had martini cocktails made by the President's own hands," said one cabinet member.  Many remembered that Roosevelt made very, very bad martinis, preferring to enhance them with a few drops of absinthe.

At right: A festive Gimbels ad which ran in the New York Times in 1946

14) Advertising Blitz Macy's fully embraces the altruistic policy of directing shoppers to other stores if they are looking for an item that is not stocked. In a montage, we get to see some of the other department stores benefiting from Macy's new rules -- Bloomingdales, Hearn's, Gimbels, Stern's and McCreery's. 

These stores were situated very close to one another during the 1940s and had followed each other up the island of Manhattan, beginning their existence in lower Manhattan, then moving to Ladies Mile in the late 19th century, then to Midtown by the new century.  For instance, Hearn's went from Broadway and 8th Street, then to 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue (very near Macy's old home).

McCreery's made its Ladies Mile home at Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.  Today it's occupied by another building with a Best Buy on the bottom floor.  It later moved to 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.

For more information about the department store scene, check out our podcast on Ladies Mile.

15) Vintage Lunch  We see Alfred and Kris Kringle in another space for Macy's employee's -- the cafeteria.  This was obviously filmed on location as evidenced by this picture of the cafeteria from 1948 (photo by Nina Leen):


16) The Nut House  Kris Kringle purposefully fails a mental exam -- heartbroken by what he believes is a betrayal by Doris --- and gets thrown into Bellevue Hospital for a few days. Kringle is seen in a relatively safe environment although the hospital's reputation was less than rosy during this period. This is the era of shock therapy and other controversial treatments. In one experiment at Bellevue from the mid-1940s, almost one hundred children with diagnosed schizophrenia were given shock treatments six days a week.

 Bellevue was also famous during this period for its alcohol rehabilitation center.  In 1945, the film The Lost Weekend detailed one alcoholic's "staggering ugly treatment" here.

17) Kooky Headlines In another swirl of headlines, we're alerted to Kringle's upcoming court trial to determine his true status.  Among the many headlines we see is one that makes a total assault upon the English language -- KRIS KRINGLE KRAZY? KOURT KASE KOMNG "KALAMITY" KRY KIDDIES

This is a gag directed squarely at Daily Variety, who specialized in absurdist headlines as early as the 1930s.  In 1935 they went with the mind-boggling STICKS NIX HICK PIX, a headline later made famous in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy.

18) Historical Spot  The climax of the film arrives at a peculiar place -- Foley Square and the New York County Courthouse, one of the pillars of this civic district. The building was a little over 20 years old at the time of this film, and it looks pretty much the same as it does today.  Along the top of the structure you can make out a carving of a 1789 quotation by George Washington -- "The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government."

This building sets near the infamous intersection of Five Points and almost exactly on the spot were old Collect Pond once sat!

Below: New York County Courthouse, where Kringle's fate is decided. (Photo from 1927, Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York)



19) Kids Court  In an effort to prove the existence of Santa Claus, the son of the prosecutor is called to the stand.  His name is Tom Marrah (you know, because he's the future -- tomorrow) and he is questioned about his beliefs on Old Saint Nick. "He gave me a brand-new flexible flyer sled last year," he proclaims, then proceeds to point out Kringle from the stand.


The scene is an amusing twist on the great tale of "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus," the famous confirmation of Santa's existence that was published in the New York Sun fifty years earlier. The Virginia in question was also the child of a city employee -- the coroner's assistant -- whose letter was answered by Sun editor Francis Pharcellus Church.  In the case of Miracle, it is a more assured child that confirms his identity.  Judge Henry X Harper -- a Democrat, we learn -- affirms Kringle's existence to curry favor from the electorate.



20) Dear Santa  The final proof arrives, deus ex machina style, in the form of thousands of letters, re-routed from New York's mail processing center to Foley Square.  Kringle's lawyer Galley then proceeds to regale the hall with a brief history of the U.S. post office.  Galley informs the judge that the mail service was created in 1776 -- technically it was 1775 -- by the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was indeed the first postmaster general.

So how many letters does Santa really get a year? In 2013 -- even in the era of emails --  there were over one million letters from American children alone. [source]  Back in 1940, the postmaster's office was inundated with correspondence. Letters address to Santa were "opened and read so that 'the real worthy ones'  can be set aside from those which were childish requests." Because how dare a child ask Santa a childish request.

The film may have played a hand into an increase of Dear Santa letters in 1947 -- "up 25% over 1946," according to reports.

From the 1940s article:



21) Christmas In June Miracle on 34th Street may be set during Christmastime, but it was originally released in the late spring, June 2, 1947. The film made its New York debut at the Roxy Theatre in a program that also featured comedian Jerry Lester, singer Art Lund, a puppet show and "the Gae Foster Roxyettes," which replaced the original Roxyettes after they moved to Radio City Music Hall.

As part of the promotion for the film, Macy's sent an undercover shopper into Gimbel's to report for Macy's-owned radio station WOR.  It's doubtful that either department store took Santa's advice and recommended visiting their competitor.






Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ten holiday gift ideas for history buffs: The best reads of 2014 with Robert Moses, Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty


Illustration from Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City

GIFT GUIDE What do you get for that history fanatic in your life?  Afraid of buying them a book that they may have already read?  Here are nine books published in 2014 that I've had the pleasure of reading this year, illustrating wild and colorful corners of New York City history. I've reviewed a few of them in postings earlier this year if you'd like more information.  Oh, and there's one book on here that I actually haven't read. But how could I leave it off? I'm just assuming I'm getting that for Christmas.


New York Mid-Century 1945-1965
Annie Cohen-Solal, Paul Goldberger, Robet Gottlieb

After World War II, New York reinforced its international power and influence by becoming a vanguard in the arts. The city embraced new ideas by artists, writers, actors, architects and dancers who then went on to influence each other.  This magnificent coffee-table book sits their towering achievements side-by-side and in full color -- the work of Mark Rothko, the architecture of Philip Johnson, the movements of Martha Graham, the photography of Weegee, the stage magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Even the Rockettes! In placing high and low performing arts together with conceptual design and abstract expressionism, New York Mid-Century convincingly illustrates New York as the world's culture crucible.


The Lost Tribe of Coney Island
Headhunters, Luna Park and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century
Claire Prentice

Inspired by an unusual photograph of native people around a fire -- taken in Coney Island -- Prentice explores the sad but true story of the Igorrotes, a Filipino tribe, taken from their home for profit and exploitation to America's recreational seaside capital.  The exhibitor Truman Hart was a would-be P.T. Barnum, a charlatan profiting from the tribe's appearances at Luna Park. He eventually unravels, drinking heavily and running into problems with the federal government.  This is light but fascinating window into the stark reality of Coney Island entertainment.



A History of New York in 101 Objects
Sam Roberts

In a 2012 column, the venerable New York Times writer and editor recruited 50 precious objects into service of the story of New York City, a tale that began over 13,000 years ago.  He elaborates on those objects in this new book and expands the contours of his itemized history with 51 additional items.  From artichokes to Gilded Age clocks, rusty spikes to the New York Public Library lions,  Roberts' history is a friendly, colorful way to experience New York City, a Whitman's Sampler of our city's past.



Chop Suey USA
The Story of Chinese Food in America
Yong Chen

America's love for Chinese food predated America's love for its Chinese residents. The original Chinese settlers from the West produced a variation of their homeland cuisine that was easily prepared and extraordinarily flavorful, allowing immigrants to make strides in urban areas and, eventually, throughout America.  Chen carefully places America's craving for dishes like chow mein into the context of racial prejudices against Asians in the 20th century.  And if this makes you a little hungry, you're in luck -- the author presents some of his favorite recipes for steamed fish, Kung Fuo chicken and moon cakes.



Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells
The Best of Early Vanity Fair
Various Authors; Edited by Graydon Carter with David Friend

For the one hundredth anniversary of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter has put together a collection of stories from the magazine's first incarnation, from P.G. Wodehouse's take on the fitness craze of 1914 to Allene Talmey's survey of New York nighclubs in 1936. The entirety of the Jazz Age in contained between them -- the fashion, the reverie, the amusement, the agony. But most of all -- the modernity. If anything defines most of these spectacular entries, it's the coy observations of change, how America left the Gilded Age to became something awkward but none the less brilliant.



The Race Underground
Boston, New York and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway
Doug Most

The subway is one of the defining creations of New York's Gilded Age, but it was hardly a foregone conclusion.  Both the underground systems in Boston and New York benefited from great genius and even greater wealth. As Boston Globe editor Doug Most notes in his captivating read, the systems even shared wealthy benefactors -- the brothers Henry and William Whitney, one in each city, negotiating a host of political and technical speed bumps on their quest to build the country's first subterranean route. Most's story is especially fascinating in outlining the difficulties of these ambitious projects. What seems an absolutely sound decision today was deemed highly risky and politically fraught in its day.




Supreme City
How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America
Donald L. Miller

This snappy, crowded tale, among the most entertaining books on New York City history I've read in the past couple years, is indeed an epic about New York City in the Jazz Age, but it's a wildly different tune than the one in which you're familiar. This is a tale of architecture and invention, of a boldness and proportion that New Yorkers take for granted today. Miller recounts the invention of Midtown Manhattan, but it's also about a spiritual shift in urban life. Industrial visions and personal journeys alike culminate in the year 1927, a watershed date for New York, and arrive within the Manhattan grid system, mostly along 42nd Street between Eighth Avenue and Lexington Avenue, the nucleus of a new urban vision. The story ventures out through the entire city of course but always to the beat of this new Midtown.



Tomorrow-Land
The 1964-65 World's Fair And The Transformation Of America
Joseph Tirella

The United States experienced an incredible social transformation in the mid-1960s. Unfortunately for Robert Moses, these soaring changes to American life clashed with the rosy and naive vision of his second World's Fair in Flushing-Meadows, Queens.  You may have read about the fair before in other books, but Tirella takes care to place it within a larger context, allowing you to marvel at the strangeness of the fair's futuristic visions. Embarked upon as the launching pad for progress and modern technologies, Moses' pet project became a symbol for forgotten and outdated values.


Liberty's Torch
The Great Adventure To Build The Statue of Liberty
Elizabeth Mitchell
Lady Liberty represents so many lofty sentiments that we forget what she actually was almost 140 years ago -- an impetuously complex enterprise by a group of French thinkers to embody a way of thinking onto an edifice of copper.  As ridiculous as it is monumental, Liberty was the product of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's extraordinary vision, a production process borrowing from centuries of French metallurgy and the tireless efforts of fund-raisers on both sides of the Atlantic to convince the people of America of the statue's noble intent. In essence, by the end of Mitchell's narrative, you'll be impressed that the Statue of Liberty was even created at all!


And here's one that comes out on December 23 and I haven't even read it! So let me just merely call it to your attention...


Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City
Pierre Christin, Olivier Balez

Will a graphic novel about the life of Robert Moses that's less than 1/10th the length of The Power Broker adequately convey the ambitions, the motivations and the sheer destructive force of his legacy? Probably not. But Chilean illustrator Oliver Balez brings a bold and stylized luster to the landscape of New York skyscrapers and highways. And the graphic representation of Moses brings him one step closer to being an outright comic-book villain (or anti-hero, depending on you read it).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

History In the Making 12/16: Miss Average Rockette Edition


Hmmm. The ludicrous graphic above ran in the New York Times Magazine, November 12, 1967. Keep in mind the word 'topographically' is most often used when describing places.  When I mentioned this graphic to a friend, he said, "They probably ran it so that admirers would know what size jewelry and furs to buy their favorite Rockettes."  That is literally the best case scenario for a graphic like this.

Some links of interest:

"Disease Rumors Largely Unfounded": In my column for A24 Films and A Most Violent Year, I look at the New York Native, the newspaper which first reported on a mysterious affliction killing gay men in early 1981. And a rather startling article in New York Magazine which ran the very same day. [1981]

Troubled Wealth:  The lost Upper West Side mansion of Dom Eugenie Faria Ganzales de Teixeira, Marquis of Aguila Branca. [Daytonian In Manhattan]

The Crossroads:  Why has Union Square so important to protest movements throughout the centuries? [Off the Grid]

Stalled: An abandoned construction site on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border becomes a haven for cats and chaos.  [New York Times]

Traces of Opulence: Wandering around Lyndhurst, the mysterious old castle of Jay Gould. [Scouting New York]

Steampunk or Stupid:  What's going on with the advertising campaign behind an unusual condominium in lower Manhattan? [Gordon's Urban Morphology]

Frozen:  Did you know there was a Petrified Sea Garden in upstate New York? [Atlas Obscura]

That Bites:  A classic Greenwich Village bar has become a place to buy boutique hot dogs. [Jeremiah's Vanishing New York]

PLUS: Fifty years ago this week, the Rockettes were profiled in a cover story in Life Magazine.   The lead image in the prior post is from that photo spread. How about some more of their rehearsals? Photos are by Arthur Rickerby You can read the article online here.





Friday, December 12, 2014

American Kicks: A History of the Rockettes


Lifted spirits: The Rockettes practice for a 1964 productions. (Life/Arthur Rickerby)

PODCAST The Rockettes are America's best known dance troupe -- and a staple of the holiday season -- but you may not know the origin of this iconic New York City symbol. For one, they're not even from the Big Apple!

Formerly the Missouri Rockets, the dancers and their famed choreographer Russell Markert were noticed by theater impresario Samuel Rothafel, who installed them first as his theater The Roxy, then at one of the largest theaters in the world -- Radio City Music Hall.

The life of a Rockettes dancer was glamorous, but grueling; for many decades dancing not in isolated shows, but before the screenings of movies, several times a day, a different program each week.  There was a very, very specific look to the Rockettes, a look that changed -- and that was forced to change by cultural shifts -- over the decades.

This show is dedicated to the many thousands of women who have shuffled and kicked with the Rockettes over their many decades of entertainment, on the stage, the picket line or the Super Bowl halftime show.

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #174: American Kicks: A History of the Rockettes
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The first New York home of the Rockettes (as the Roxyettes) was the Roxy Theatre, almost as large as Radio City Music Hall and located just nearby. (MCNY)


Radio City Music Hall, which opened in 1932, was quickly transformed into the world's largest movie house after a notorious opening night.  It would be here that the Rockettes would perform a few times a day, seven days a week, for over fifty years. (NYPL)


The Rockettes, 1935, in a 'Cavalcade of Color', choreographed and directed by Leon Leonidoff. The constant high-kicking routines required great athleticism, precision and balance. (MCNY)



The Rockettes in 1937, beauty in duplication. (Courtesy the Rockettes)



In 1939, the Rockettes gave salute to the Gay Nineties in these extravagant costumes. (Courtesy the Rockettes)



Faces of the Rockettes: A few of the dancers from the 1935 configuration.. These photos are by the Wurts Brothers, from the Museum of the City of New York Collection. You can see the complete group here. Unfortunately there are no names attached to the portraits but if any of these women look familiar, drop me their names in the comments section!


 

The Rockettes in the 1950s



In 1967, many Rockettes went on strike for a month to demand better wages to compensate for their vigorous schedule and unpaid rehearsal time. Needless to say, they got everybody's attention. (Courtes Kheel Center).


Pam Palmer and Kim Heil, two Rockettes from the late 1970s. (Photo by Jay Heiser)


The Rockettes at a Fleet Week event in 2006. (Photo by Gabriela Hurtado)


Various newsreel footage of the Rockettes, including images of the troupe rehearsing on the roof of Radio City!

 

 The Rockettes at the 1988 Super Bowl halftime show: