Eighty-five years ago this week, Radio City Music Hall opened, as the entertainment centerpiece of NYC’s Rockefeller Center (see video, below). But all its fab history and Art Deco glitz can’t hide its ugly legacy of racism and bigotry.
Some highlights—or rather lowlights!—of the past 85 years:
1. The Rockette Ethnostate. Richard Spencer would love the pre-1989 criteria for becoming a chorine in the Rockettes. Because Radio City Music Hall’s famous dance line were all white-white-white!
Management always lied about why this was so. They said it was because uniformity in complexion and makeup was part of the uniform!
Of course the real reason was that they didn’t want to alienate white suburbanites who made up most of their audience and would get squirmy if they saw a negro on stage!
2. “Ni**er Heaven.” Right from its opening in December 1932, it was clear that People of Color were not welcome in Radio City.
In those days, African-Americans were expected to sit in the upper tiers of the movie-house balconies. Incredibly, this was called “ni**er heaven”!
Radio City put its movie-house seats really far up, with hardly any view of the stage or screen, and with their own back stairway and lavatories!
3. Racist, white-people movies. Even though African-Americans seldom ventured south of Harlem before the 1970s, they were made to feel especially unwelcome by the cinematic and stage-show offerings at the Radio City theaters.
These consisted mostly of racist Disney cartoons, whitebread comedies with Irene Dunne and Van Johnson, and insipid Eurocentric fare, such as Lili with Leslie Caron.
Many of these films were amazingly hateful. We only have room to list a few of them here:
4. King Kong. The biggest money-maker of Radio City Music Hall’s first year (1933), this is a shameless allegory about racial fear, rape of white women, and the destruction of New York City (particularly its transport system) by People of Color.
Incredibly enough, when your parents first saw this back in the ‘Thirties—or later on, on Million Dollar Movie on the television—they missed the subtext entirely, and thought it was all about a giant stop-motion gorilla!
5. The Three Little Pigs. This “Silly Symphonies” animated short from Walt Disney opened at the Music Hall in May 1933, shortly after the burning of the Reichstag. It originally featured an extreme anti-semitic stereotype, in which the wolf dresses as a Jewish pedlar!
This animated cartoon and its music were particular favorites of Adolf Hitler, even though his nickname was “Wolf.”
6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Premiering at Radio City Music Hall at Christmas 1938, Disney’s Snow White featured another anti-semitic pedlar caricature: an old hook-nosed crone selling poison apples! (The symbolism is app-palling!)
The ugly old crone is actually a vain and wicked queen, based on the King of Romania’s Jewish mistress, who at that time was a leading opponent of fascism.
How much more extreme could Disney and Radio City get, you ask? Well…
7. Pinnochio, which opened in early 1940 at Radio City’s Center Theatre, is simply one of the most racist, fascist, pro-nazi films ever made. Disney’s story of a Tyrolean marionette in red Lederhosen was based upon a moralistic kiddie book by proto-blackshirt Italian journalist Carlo Collodi. The book is a scarcely concealed fascist-Christian allegory about God-bothering and eugenics.
In Collodi’s fable, lazy, low-intelligence children are transported to an island where they are turned into donkeys and sold for their hides. Meanwhile wooden puppets—i.e., robots—are transformed into human beings by a Blue Fairy (disgusting Christian imagery is everywhere), but only if they follow the reactionary party-line!
Insidious, outdated obsessions about personal “conscience” and private beliefs are continually being thrown at us by a little green grasshopper who is dressed as a capitalist appeaser in a top hat, frock coat, and umbrella.
8. Bambi opened at the Music Hall in late summer 1942 while the Battle of Stalingrad was raging most desperately. There is surely something wrong with this movie, somewhere, since the book had been translated from German by the renegade Whittaker Chambers, who even now in 1942 was scribbling anti-progressive invective at Time magazine down the street.
What we do know is that Bambi so frightened the little ones that they peed in their pants, and Radio City needed to replace all their lovely velvet seat cushions.The only positive thing one can say about Bambi is that its long run at the Music Hall meant that Disney’s next feature, the ultra-racist Dumbo with its shuck-and-jive-talkin’ crows, had to open in a different movie house.
9. The Bells of St. Mary’s appears to have been the Christmas offering at Radio City Music Hall in 1945, if we go by the first Godfather movie. And a nasty, racist piece of work it is too!
Set in the wonderfully diverse and many-hued pageant of New York City, it does not contain a single Person of Color. The unreality is heightened further when we are asked to believe that Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are a celibate priest and nun, when any normal, healthy, sex-positive people would be hopping in the sack with each other!
10. The Jolson Story (1946). World premiere at Radio City Music Hall. We don’t really have to explain what’s wrong with this one, do we?
11. The Odd Couple. In 1968, while the tiny Guild 50th movie house down the street took on difficult racial issues by running Planet of the Apes all summer, RCMH gave its patrons The Odd Couple, a vapid Neil Simon comedy about divorced men on the Upper West Side.
Hardly family fare, even with ur-goy Jack Lemmon pretending to be a neurotic Jew. The presumed Jewishness of the characters “Felix Unger” and “Oscar Madison [?]” was never dealt with. Neither was homosexuality, despite the clear suggestion in the title. (Unless you count a rather obscure Oscar Wilde reference in the script.)
And need we add that there were no People of Color in this dystopic urban fantasy?
Radio City Music Hall Opens 1932