Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kicking Out The Rockettes Is One Dumb Idea

(This column first appeared in the August 15, 2002 edition of the Canarsie Courier)
Kick out the eye-high kicking Rockettes? Is that someone’s idea of a joke? When I first heard the news I couldn’t believe it. But now that the deadline is near, I’m really bummed out.
When Cablevision refused to work out a fair deal to carry New York Yankees games for its subscribers, it made me angry — very angry. In the overall scheme of things, however, it’s small potatoes.
But now, the Yankee-less media giant is proposing to unceremoniously dump the Rockettes. That really pisses me off!
Not only is the 77-year-old precision dance troupe a Radio City Music Hall staple, but the Rockettes are as much a landmark as the 70-year-old structure where they perform.
The Long Island-based conglomerate, whose stock has recently suffered an 80 percent drop in value, is looking to ease its cash woes and cut costs. Kicking out the world’s best known all-female dance company is one item on a list that includes slashing seven percent of its workforce, closing more than half of its The Wiz consumer electronics stores and selling off the Clearview Cinemas movie chain, the second largest in New York State.
I’m particularly upset about the leggy dancers because of my connection to the Rockettes and Radio City Music Hall.
After a stint at the Canarsie Courier, a Brooklyn weekly newspaper, I worked at the Music Hall from 1981-1984. Therefore, all this talk about the demise of the Rockettes affects me and stirs up many pleasant memories.
A few lasting highlights that readily came to mind include dancing on the magnificent stage with a Rockette during a private 1982 function, coaching a Rockettes’ softball team, planning and implementing the Art Deco palace’s 50th anniversary campaign, literally seeing hundreds of celebrities at the inaugural "Night of 100 Stars" actors’ fund benefit, accommodating Elizabeth Taylor and being rewarded for the gesture by meeting the violet-eyed beauty, having an office over the Sixth Avenue marquee, countless music concerts, and, last but not least, dating one of the leggy dancers.
I was working for an entertainment public relations firm when the 1981 Grammy Awards ceremony was held at Radio City Music Hall. I got to know the venue’s PR director, who subsequently contacted me about a job. Following an interview, I was offered the position on the spot and accepted.
At the time, the 5,600-seat Music Hall was being transformed from a movie theater that had presented live stage shows and first-run movies for 47 years, into a diverse entertainment and special events enterprise. I was hired to promote the growing number of pop music concerts that were being added to the venue’s schedule.
Universally acclaimed as an architectural triumph, Radio City opened on December 27, 1932. Initially intended for stage shows, the plan failed so the format was abruptly changed. For the next 46 years it was the world’s largest indoor movie theater, with five daily screenings, accompanied by lavish stage shows, highlighted by the unique style of the Rockettes, who were created in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1925.
Due to the expansion of multiplexes, among other economic factors, the Music Hall was slated to close in 1978. But a groundswell of local, national and international support saved the theater with its unique Art Deco architecture, when it was landmarked, forestalling the wrecker’s ball from destroying it.
In 1999, Cablevision signed a 25-year lease to operate the world-renowned theater and gave it a welcome $70 million restoration. The refurbished theater reopened in October, 1999 with a star-studded gala. While the Music Hall has flourished in the intervening years, Cablevision made some investments that have not been successful, which has led to its current economic woes.
Cablevision is currently buried under $8 billion in debt. But dumping Rockettes will hardly make a dent in solving the media company’s dire financial problems.
It’s a half-baked idea that could send the Rockettes, the quintessential American chorus line—to the unemployment line screaming and, no doubt, kicking.