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THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT Has The Ed Sullivan Theater Looking Like Its Old Self Again

When THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT made its television debut last week, it not only added a new chapter for the storied Ed Sullivan Theater, but a bit of the old showplace's grandeur was restored.

A recent New York Times article displays the breathtaking dome that caps the auditorium, hidden by light fixtures and other equipment during David Letterman's stint.

Using digital projections, late night television's newest host presented the dome to viewers with bit of tongue-in-cheek self-indulgence; newly "renovated" with the star's portrait and the CBS logo.

"I wanted to have Michelangelo paint it, but it turns out Ninja Turtles aren't real," he quipped.

The original dome had a more dignified, if still majestic, appearance, and was the feature attraction of architect Herbert J. Krapp's design for Hammerstein's Theater, as the 1927 structure was christened. Producer Arthur Hammerstein, uncle to musical theatre's revolutionary lyricist/bookwriter, Oscar Hammerstein II, had the cathedral-like structure built to honor his father, the great impresario, Oscar Hammerstein I, who passed away in 1910. The interior was also decorated with stained glass depictions of scenes from the many operas his father produced, which have been put back into place in time for Colbert's premiere.

While the Hammerstein's initial offering, GOLDEN DAWN, is best remembered for having a young actor named Archie Leach, later known in Hollywood as Carey Grant, within it's company of 100+, its sophomore tenant, a frothy musical called GOOD BOY, staged an iconic moment in American pop culture when Helen Kane introduced Herbert P. Stothart, Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby's classic tune "I Wanna Be Loved By You," batting her eyes and flirtatiously purring "boop-boop-a-doop" to the delight of audiences. Kane is considered the most likely model for the enormously popular cartoon character, Betty Boop, and sued Fleischer Studios for appropriating her persona. She lost the suit when the studio presented evidence that she may have herself appropriated the style from Cotton Club performer "Baby Esther" Jones. This recording of Helen Kane singing "I Wanna Be Loved By You" was waxed days after GOOD BOY's opening:

Hit hard by the stock market crash, Hammerstein lost the theatre due to bankruptcy in 1931. It reopened as the Manhattan Theatre, and then was purchased by the flamboyant producer Billy Rose who turned it into a nightclub dubbed as Billy Rose's Music Hall. The next owner brought back the Manhattan Theatre marquee, but a new era was ushered in when CBS bought the playhouse in 1936; first for radio broadcasts and eventually for television.

Ed Sullivan's TOAST OF THE TOWN, which was being broadcast on Sunday nights from the Maxine Elliott Theatre, move to what CBS simply referred to as Studio 50. His weekly variety hour was renamed THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW in 1955 and the theatre was named for him in 1967.

The amount of exposure Ed Sullivan gave to the Broadway community during its Golden Age helped create a historical archive of performances from both Broadway hits and from less successful productions. This video shows the entire broadcast from February 9th, 1964. While best known as the night American television audiences were introduced to The Beatles, you can also enjoy Georgia Brown and Davy Jones with the cast of OLIVER!, Tessie O'Shea, at the time starring in THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER, providing a taste of English music hall and Frank Gorshin with a hilarious routine about Hollywood stars being elected to the senate.

With Stephen Colbert expressing a commitment to making Broadway entertainment a part of his new show, it seems that once more the former Hammerstein, looking like its old self again, will become a showplace for musical theatre.


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From This Author Michael Dale