Times Square in the 1950’s
By Bob Pakes
It must have been quite a spectacle to walk around on New York’s TIMES SQUARE in the 1950’s. The billboards and neon signs were very colorful and extremely huge. The many theatres all had screaming marquee signs in order to attract their audiences, while the premieres of their movies in turn attracted the big stars of Hollywood. ‘See’ and ‘be seen’, on The Great White Way.
This topic will hopefully serve as a chronological and visual account of the glory days and impact of Times Square as The Crossroads Of The World during the 1950’s.
The first two parts, 1954 and 1955, are being presented here. While the rest of the decade will follow in due time.
So, jump into the timemachine, set the year for either 1954 or 1955, and enjoy your stroll on Times Square!
Elvis Presley overlooking New York City.
(Warwick Hotel, January 6, 1957)
In this nice photo (from April 1954) we can see the Times Square streetsign to the left, while below the sign we see that Elephant Walk is currently on the menu at the Astor Theatre.
To the right we have the extremely large advertisement on top of the Bond Clothes store. This advertisement is so large, it actually takes up the complete block.
Pigeons In Times Square.
Andrew Lopez, May 1954.
Here is Elephant Walk again (at the Astor), but this time viewed from the south.
The neighbouring theatre, the Victoria, shows a Charlton Heston epic: Secret Of The Incas. While across the street Gone With The Wind is in yet another of it’s re-runs.
But the main attraction in this wonderful photo are, of course, the pigeons.
To help put the buildings and theatres on Times Square in a clearer perspective, notice how Secret Of The Incas can also be seen in the photo below (to the right).
Something interesting, also from May 1954. This cowboy is actually a walking and singing advertisement for the new movie at the Mayfair Theatre (visible in the background).
And below we can see the eyecatching billboard for Johnny Guitar in ’TRUCOLOR’.
This photo, together with the above Johnny Guitar color shot, plus the following 7 photos, were all taken on the same day, in June 1954. They present us with the unique opportunity to take a look around on Times Square in the 50’s.
Be sure to click the images for an enlargment, and notice the action that is going on in virtually each of these awesome signs of the times.
We’re starting our stroll with the already mentioned Gone With The Wind, the classic movie that was in it’s 3rd re-run by 1954, playing at Loew’s State.
The the left we have Gone With The Wind again.
In the middle we see the building that gave Times Square it’s name: the Times Building.
And to the right we can see the very recognizable (and very large) billboards for both the Astor and Victoria theatres.
In more detail, the Astor showing Indiscretion Of An American Wife, starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift.
Notice how one billboard was built on top of another.
Keep an eye on Echoes if you are interested in Monty Clift. Soon we will have an article about this troubled but very gifted actor.
To the right of the Astor we have the Victoria.
Shirley Booth and Robert Ryan star in About Mrs. Leslie.
This just like with Indiscretion, this movie also centers around a female main character, and on both occasions the (very strong) male lead is only second billed.
Also on the bill a name that will sound familiar to the Elvis fans on this website: Hal Wallis.
This billboard appears to be placed over the windows of the apartment building. One can assume the Victoria billboards look much less spectacular from inside the apartments …
In the above photo we see the Dutch Masters Cigars storefront.
The image to the right gives us a view of this street (to the left is the same cigar store again).
Plenty of wellknown stageplays are being advertised here.
Most noticeable are two titles that will be turned into a movie within 2 years: The Seven Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe, and Teahouse Of The August Moon, starring Marlon Brando.
A close-up of the Pepsi sign that has been here for nearly 15 years (at that time replacing the Coca Cola neon-sign).
The following year (1955) the Pepsi company will leave this spot and find a new home for their advertisement on top of the Bond building (where two incredibly large Pepsi bottles will be placed on each side of an even larger bottlecap).
The Pepsi sign from a bit more distance. In this photo we are now also able to see the statue of Father Duffy (of The Fighting 69th) after whom the northern part of Times Square was named: Duffy Square.
Notice the huge Budweiser sign in the middle of the image.
Here we have that Budweiser sign again, but this time from the back.
Humphrey Bogart (by 1954 in the autumn of his career, but brilliant as always) is headlining the cast of The Caine Mutiny over at the Capitol Theatre.
Here again something very interesting, from July 1954.
The the left we see the Duffy statue, but to the right we can actually see one of the incredibly large billboards at the Mayfair theatre come to life as the advertisement for their latest movie, Apache!, is being put in it’s place.
In the photo below we can see the artist comparing his work with the image he is holding in his hand.
When Indian Chiefs ruled Times Square!
In October 1954 yet another Mayfair work of art dominated Times Square with this incredible billboard of Sitting Bull overlooking the crossroads of the world.
This is another one of those rare images that help put the largeness of the signs and billboards into the right perspective.
It must surely have been overwhelming, intimidating even, to walk around here without feeling very, very small.
From November 1954, a very cool Frank Oscar Larson photo.
Two of the all time greatest movies in their genres are on the billboard today at the Astor and Victoria theatres:
Marlon Brando stars in the movie that won him his first Oscar, On The Waterfront. While Judy Garland sings and dances her way to the top in A Star Is Born.
In early 1955, photographer Dennis Stock took these legendary shots of James Dean on a rainy day in Times Square.
We see that Dean has just walked passed the Astor Theatre (on the leftside of the photo) where Walt Disney’s 20.000 Leagues Under The Sea (starring Kirk Douglas) was playing at that moment.
It will be at that same theatre that Dean’s first major movie (East Of Eden) will have it’s premiere in the very near future.
One of the most eyecatching billboards on Times Square in the 50’s was the one for Underwater! (notice the exclamation mark) on the front of the Mayfair Theatre in March 1955.
The movie was Howard Hughes‘ excuse to show off Jane Russell in a bathing suit. And why not?
Underwater! was produced by RKO, and even though the RKO Palace is only two doors down, the movie played at the Mayfair.
One year later, Richard Egan (co-star in Underwater!) would head the cast of Elvis Presley’s first movie Love Me Tender.
Taken only moments apart from the above picture. To the left we can see a small part of the Underwater! sign.
These photos (including the following three) are from March 1955. The photographer of these historical shots is unknown.
The Palace Theatre (later re-named RKO Palace) was the major vaudeville theatre in the 30’s and 40’s. During one phase (starting in 1949) it combined vaudeville with the showing of a movie (as can be seen in the photo to the right), until it gave up on vaudeville altogether in 1957 and became a movie-theatre. From the mid 60’s unwards it again went through a change as it eventually became a musical theatre.
Just north of Times Square, on Broadway, the Winter Garden is located. In 1955 the comedy Plain And Fancy had a run of 8 months at this theatre.
Across the street, to the right of the photo, we see that The Long Gray Line is playing at the Capitol Theatre.
Underneath the banner that’s hanging over the street, advertising this Tyrone Power movie, and just below the words ‘JOIN THE U.S. ARMY’, we see the back of the CHEVROLET sign on Times Square. The front of this sign can be seen in the following photo.
A north view of Times Square.
To the right, on top of the Bond clothes store, we can see that the HUGE Pepsi-advertisement is being constructed.
Underneath the Admiral-sign, we now see an open space that is “For Rent”. This is where the old Pepsi neon-sign used to be.
East Of Eden premiered on the 9th of March, at the Astor Theatre, and Marilyn Monroe was one of the ushers this evening. Watch a broadcast of the premiere HERE.
James Dean did not attend the premiere, but he checked out the theatre when his first movie was the “next attraction”.
In the photo below he is accompanied by Eartha Kitt.
An interesting photo from June 1955.
The US government held a drill in 55 cities around the country, including New York City, in case the atomic bomb would be dropped on US soil.
Well, this is 1955. And learning to live with the atomic threat was part of everyday life.
More info on the Oparation Alert HERE.
Hollywood’s tough guys rule Times Square in this colorful photo from the summer of 1955:
Burt Lancaster stars as The Kentuckian at the Mayfair, while Kirk Douglas is Ulysses over at The Globe across the street.
James Dean did not attend the premiere of his first movie. And by the time Rebel Without A Cause hit the theatres (7 months later, in October 1955) he was already dead.
Rebel premiered at the same theatre as East Of Eden, the Astor.
Rebel co-star Natalie Wood dated Elvis in the following year.
Nick Adams, who had a minor role in the movie, became friends with both Dean and Presley.
“This litter belongs to YOU
– Keep N.Y. clean”
In December of 1955, a huge litter basket was placed in the middle of Times Square in order to show the people how much they polluted the city with their litter.
To the left of the photo we see the Pepsi sign, and to the right the Astor (that ran another Burt Lancaster movie: The Rose Tattoo).
Frank Oscar Larson
+ the MANY UNSUNG HEROES who’ve helped to bring the 50’s come to life in this article!