Ben M. Hall
Ben M. Hall (1921-1970) was an American author and theater historian. His 1960 book, The Best Remaining Seats, was a seminal work in the history of theaters. It was the first to survey the origins and architecture of America's movie palaces, the palatial cinemas built between the 1910s and the 1940s to showcase the films of Hollywood's major studios.
In 1969, Hall founded the Theatre Historical Society of America.
Born and raised in the South, Hall resided in Manhattan, near the Hudson River, at 181 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. He lived in the upper two floors of a former steamship company. He was murdered there in December, 1970, just short of his 49th birthday.
Hall founded the Theatre Historical Society of America by circulating the following letter:
- February 10, 1969
- Dear Friend,
- Does this letterhead appeal to you? Well, let me tell you more!
- For a long time some of us have talked about forming a club that would foster our interest in the fast-vanishing motion picture theatre and all the wonderful things that used to happen in it. I am delighted to be able to report that someone is finally doing something about it. My longtime friend, Brother Andrew Corsini Fowler, has decided that it is time for action and he, together with a bunch of hard-core theatre buffs from all parts of the country, have had our heads together (perhaps it would be more honest to say that Andy has knocked them together) and come up with an idea.
- We are forming the Theatre Historical Society. The name is purposely all-purpose; though we all love movie palaces best, deep down we share an appreciation for any place where people are entertained in rows of seats - from nickelodeons to the newest Kultur Komplexes - in other words, all kinds of theatres and auditoriums. But in case you have misgivings, our main concern will be those picture pagodas of fragrant memory with the jeweled curtains the fountained goldfish, the rising orchestras (and falling organists), the tinkling tap shoes, the gold-braided ushers, the rose-budded cashiers, the yapping wonder dogs, the chirping Sunkist Beauties, the Antarctic air conditioning (and the frost-bitten marquees),the clouds in the ceiling, and the silvery Magnascope screens where "The End" used to ripple on the peanut curtain as it closed in for the organlogue. Remember...?
- The Theatre Historical Society will have a magazine called Marquee (that's the logo Lester Glassner has designed for us at the top of this page) which will be published six times a year ... on a modest scale at first., more lavishly and more frequently as we get rolling. It will be filled with pictures and articles on every phase of movie palace lore -- portfolios of tantalizing newspaper ads, articles on everything from how to build your own model movie palace, how a Publix seat indicator works, how to operate the Brenkert F-7 Master Brenograph, to what to do in case of a stink bomb attack; picture stories on leading theatre architects (maybe special issues devoted to the work of one man); reports on everything from the animal rooms on the Keith Circuit to the hospital facilities in the super-palaces. The possibilities are endless.
- The editor of MARQUEE will be Brother Andrew, and there is no one in the country more dedicated or more knowledgeable when it comes to our favorite subject. Frank Cronican has volunteered to be treasurer of the Society; Frank is one of the nation's most skillful model builders and is presently re-creating Chicago's Avalon Theatre in his basement (besides, he has an honest face). A board of directors will be elected later; meanwhile we need lots of help from people like you. For my part, I will sit on a side aisle and give lots of free advice to everybody, and contribute a regular column called "Around The Circuit" as well as an article from time to time. Your contributions, in the form of stories, photographs, "memorabilia" and suggestions will always be welcome.
- For those of us who are members of A.T.O.E., membership in T.H.S. should entail no conflict of interest -- simply an extension of a special enthusiasm. MARQUEE plans to limit its concern with theatre organs to their consoles, grilles, players and presentation -- all externals in a manner of speaking - and at the same time hopes THEATRE ORGAN BOMBARDE will continue with its wonderful "Acre of Seats in a Palace of Splendor" feature. And subscribers to the CONSOLE need have no fear of cross-purposes in the pages of MARQUEE; there is enough material on theatres to keep everybody fascinated for years to come.
- I would like to invite you to join with us in this interesting and worthwhile venture by becoming a Founding Member of The Theatre Historical Society. In return, we need three things from you: (1) A check for $10.00. (2) A list of names and addresses of people you think would like to join the Society as regular members (dues are $5.00 which includes the first six issues of MARQUEE). (3) Your comments, ideas and suggestions on how the Society and MARQUEE can best serve us all in our mutual and rather unique interest. This last request is very important as it gives you a chance to help guide the club in its formative period.
- I hope you will join in the fun. Send your check for $10.00 made out to The Theatre Historical Society, your prospective-member list, and your comments to me at 181 Christopher Street, New York, N.Y. 10014. Please do it this week. We want to get the first issue of MARQUEE out as soon as possible, and we need your support before that can happen.
- With best remaining wishes,
- Ben M. Hall