In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel, the impresario who was responsible for the legendary New York movie palace that bore his nickname.
Roxy also was one of the men behind Radio City Music Hall, a theatre he intended to be a live performance space but which quickly came to be used, for the next 47 years, as a grand and glorious movie palace. The Music Hall opened late in 1932, the year Skolsky’s book was published, which explains the fact that it isn’t mentioned in this profile.
He wanted a monument, so he built the Roxy Theatre and called it, with his usual simplicity, “The Cathedral of the Motion Picture.”
It is a living tribute to a great man. It oozes his personality. It is so great that it has even absorbed the man. He lives in his monument. Has an apartment adjacent to his business office on the sixth floor. The man—oh, yes, Samuel Lionel Rothafel. Everybody calls him what he calls his theater, Roxy.
He averages eighteen hours a day in the theater. When asked to make a speech on, “What I Do With My Leisure Time,” he was obliged to change the subject.
His favorite food is hamburger steak chopped very fine with onions. His favorite delicacy is hot dogs.
He has clothes in four places. At the theater, at home and at two golf clubs. Recently it took two men four weeks to make a complete inventory of his clothing.
In the motion picture industry his position is unique. He is the leader of presentations, the originator of the atmospheric prologue. Also, institutional movie houses, introducing staff uniforms and military ushers.
Has a habit of putting a final touch to a discussion by saying, “Applesauce. Bunk. Baloney.”
The first movie house he ever owned seated two hundred fifty people. The chairs were removable. Every time there was a big funeral there wasn’t any show. They needed the chairs.
Calls everybody by their first name or not at all.
His mascot is a black cat called “Lindy.” The cat walked in from the street the day Lindbergh hopped off for Paris. In has been there ever since.
He speaks with a lisp. Always has a sob in his throat. It’s a great radio voice. “Hello, everybody!”
His favorite eating place is a lunch wagon.
Every Thursday he spends the entire night rehearsing next week’s show. During rehearsals he is a fiery dynamo. Exhorting. Scolding. Unreasonable. Demanding the impossible and getting it. He always refers to his actors and stage crew as “My Children.”
In his apartment at the Roxy he has a valet, a chef and a butler.
His ushers are put through drills by a “Devil Dog” every morning.
His favorite exercise is handball. Is very proud of the fact that he plays well enough to beat Benny Leonard.
The orchestra pit is so large that Arthur Hopkins once remarked to him: “Don’t let the Shuberts see it or they’ll want to build a theatre there.