Rialto Theatre program for the Broadway premiere of "The Border Wireless," September 29, 1918.
An Artcraft picture, "The Border Wireless" is co-produced by Thomas H. Ince and by its star, William S. Hart. It is directed by Hart from
a story by Howard C. Morton and a screenplay (scenario) by C. Gardner Sullivan. Rounding out the cast are Wanda Hawley, Charles Arling,
James Mason (uncredited), Erich von Ritzau (shown here as Von Ritzen), Bert Sprotte and Marcia Manon.
With the world at war in real life, Hart portrays a cowhand who discovers that German spies are operating along Mexican border and transmitting "wireless"
messages back to the Kaiser.
The spies learn that Hart's character is a fugitive from justice and try to use the information to their advantage, but Hart manages to
foil their plot to kill Gen. John J. Pershing.
The Rialto Theatre presentation is directed by S.L. "Roxy" Rothapfel and includes, in addition to orchestral and organ numbers and singing,
an educational or travel short ("Tales of the Tall Timber"), an "animated magazine" short and a comedic short (Happy Hooligan
in "A Bold, Bold Man").
About the Rialto and Rivoli Theatres.
The Rialto and Rivoli theaters were sister movie palaces on Broadway that used a full orchestra and grand pipe organ to provide audiences with a complete program including a first-run feature film (often a premiere) plus comedic shorts and newsreels interspersed with musical performances. A new program, initially built around the latest Famous-Players Lasky (Paramount) release, debuted every Sunday.
The 1,960-seat Rialto opened April 21, 1916, on the site of Oscar Hammerstein's former Victora Theater, a vaudeville venue, at 1481 Broadway (corner 42nd Street). With its success, on December 28, 1917, owners Crawford Livingston and Felix Kahn opened a second theater, the 2,270-seat Rivoli, a Greek revival building designed by Thomas W. Lamb at 1620 Broadway (corner 49th). Its first show featured the Douglas Fairbanks film, "A Modern Musketeer."
Livingston and Kahn hired S.L. "Roxy" Rothapfel (of later Roxy Theatre chain fame) to run both palaces. Shows ran five times daily. Loge seating was 60 cents at the Rialto and $1 at the Rivoli; general admission was 60 cents; 30 cents for evening performances and matinees (prices include War Tax). The Rivoli had a 50-piece orchestra, and once a week, the show featured the combined orchestras from both theaters.
Music was considered central to the program. The Rialto initially used a grand pipe organ built in 1916 by the Austin Organ Co. of Hartford, Conn., Opus 611, which was billed as the largest organ ever installed in a motion picture theater. It was replaced with a 1922 Wurlitzer Opus 520. The Rivoli started with a 1917 Ausin, Opus 709, and replaced it with a 1924 Wurlitzer, Opus 839.
In 1926, Paramount built its own eponymous theater on Broadway, and it also controlled the Criterion. There wasn't enough Paramount product to sustain four theaters, so the Rialto and Rivoli started to run films from other distributors.
The Great Depression killed the Criterion and the Rialto; the latter closed in 1935 and was rebuilt on a smaller scale. In the 1970s it became an adult movie theater, then switched to live theater in the 1980s and was used as a TV studio before being demolished in 2002 to make way for a high-rise office building.
Meanwhile, the Rivoli remained one of New York's finest roadshow theaters (a theater that shows limited-release films prior to the general release). In 1955 the Rivoli was converted to a 70mm Todd-AO cinema with a deeply curved screen and six-track stereo sound for the world premiere of Michael Todd's "Oklahoma!" Some of the other 70mm films to premiere there were "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), "West Side Story" (1961), "The Sound of Music" (1965), "Hello Dolly" (1969) and "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971).
In 1963, an Egyptian façade was added to the building for the premiere of "Cleopatra." The façade stayed until the 1980s when it was altered to prevent the building from being designated a landmark. In 1981 the curved screen was removed, and in 1984 it became a United Artists Twin theater. UA closed it in June 1987 and the building was demolished in favor of a black glass skyscraper.