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Orpheum Theatre: history

842 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

More Orpheum Theatre pages:  vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | backstage | lofts |

Opened: February 15, 1926 with two-a-day Orpheum circuit vaudeville on a reserved seat basis. Many famous acts such as the Marx Brothers, Sally Rand, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington and Jack Benny have performed at the Orpheum. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

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A 1925 drawing from the Herald Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. It made an appearance in the February 17, 1925 issue of the L.A. Evening Express under the heading "New Twelve-Story Building on Broadway Will Be Future Home of Orpheum Theatre." An adjacent story headed "Building Bond Issue Offered - Financing Made For New Orpheum Structure" noted that the theatre was to be leased to the Orpheum circuit. Thanks to Michelle Jacobson for locating the Express items. Check out all the windows on the left side that were not part of the final design. 
The drawing also appeared in the February 1925 issue of Los Angeles Realtor, a publication that's in the Special Collections division of the Library. The headline was "New Height Limit Home to Be Built For Orpheum Theater." The story: 
"Beautiful New Theater Is Projected. The business district of Los Angeles is expanding in all directions... preparations are being made at 838-842 South Broadway for the erection of the new $3,000,000 skyscraper home of the Orpheum Theatre... Work of removing the existing Mission Theatre, now on the site to be utilized for the Orpheum, already has been started and within the next week actual construction will be under way.
"Contract Awarded. A permit for the improvement has been issued and the contract for its erection has been awarded to J.V. McNeal Construction Company. Completed plans for the new combination playhouse, office and loft structure, prepared by G. Albert Lansburgh, show that the building will be of steeel and reinforced concrete construction, twelve stories in height. Fronting on Broadway a distance of 138.8 feet, the structure will have a depth of 148.8 feet to a twenty-foot paved alley. The auditorium portion of the theatre, to occupy the entire ground floor, will have a seating capacity of 2,300 people. 

"Finest of Circuit. Officials of the Orpheum Theatre Circuit declare that the new showhouse will be the finest of their entire chain, which extends from Coast to Coast. Financing of the project is being done by the Broadway Properties Company, a $3,000,000 holding syndicate, headed by Joe Toplitzky, Realtor, and made up of prominent property owners in the South Broadway distriuct. The board of directors of the corporation are Marco Hellman, Joe Toplitzky, Irving Hellman, D.A. Hamburger, M.A. Hamburger, I. Eisner, Hyman Harrison, A. Sieroty, George J. Kuhrts, Harry Singer, Joseph M. Schenck, Benjamin C. Platt, Benjamin Fink and Robert H. Parker."


"Elegance Without Jazz is Keynote of Interior." This drawing by L.A. Times staff artist Charles H. Owens appeared in the paper's February 14, 1926 issue with "Orpheum is Magnificent Addition to Los Angeles Theaters," a florid article by Times drama critic Edwin Schallert. He noted that it was "the culmination of more than thirty years progress in vaudeville" and the decor could be best described by the term "quiet resplendence." Among the many features he admired was "a crystal curtain that under illumination will become a shimmering mass of gem-like brilliance."

The theatre's initial bill was listed in this L.A. Times ad that appeared February 14. On opening day, the 15th, there was a full page ad offering congratulations by various merchants and suppliers. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Times items. Don't miss the page about the Orpheum on his Historic Theatre Photography site. 

In a Times article on the 15th headed "Theater On Hop Keeping Up With City" they noted the circuit's moves reflected the rapid growth of the city. Marcus Helman, head of the circuit, commented: 

"A theater has to keep pace with the progress of the city where it is located. Our new theater here was built because the old one was not in keeping with what such an institution should be in a city that has the size and importance of Los Angeles. This the fourth time the Los Angeles Orpheum has made such a move and, for similar reasons, during the thirty-two years we have been established here. It is a trend unique in theater history. The average life of a theater is about twenty years. In Los Angeles it's eight years."

An L.A. Evening Express article the day of the opening picked up on the same theme and was headed "Growth of L.A. Reflected In Fine Theater." The Orpheum circuit, at the time with 55 theatres, had three earlier homes in Los Angeles for their shows. From 1894 until 1903 they were at the Grand Opera House, 110 S. Main St. In 1903 the Los Angeles Theatre at 227 S. Spring St. was renamed the Orpheum. Later it was known as the Lyceum. In 1911 the circuit moved to a new building at 630 S. Broadway, the theatre now known as the Palace. In 1922 the circuit had also built the Hillstreet Theatre at 8th and Hill for their "Orpheum Junior" policy of continuous films and vaudeville throughout the day.

Architect: G. Albert Lansburgh, one of the country's most successful theatre architects. He had earlier designed the 1911 Orpheum (now the Palace) and the 1922 Hillstreet Theatre for the Orpheum circuit. His other work in Los Angeles includes the Warner Hollywood and the auditoria of the Wiltern Theatre, the El Capitan Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium.

This French baroque fantasia was one of Lansburgh's most elaborate theatres and is one of the best preserved Los Angeles movie palaces. The Orpheum went wild with lots of marble in the lobby, huge crystal chandeliers, and plush furnishings. The "Orpheum style" we see in this house appeared in theatres for the circuit in other cities, sometimes replicated by other architects.

A drawing of the interior is seen in this ad appearing in the January 1, 1926 L.A. Times Annual Midwinter Number. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for spotting it on the site Ad Sausage where they have has archived several hundred ads from the Midwinter editions from the 20s to the 60s. That "Hollywood Dramatic Theatre" also on the Lansburgh drawing boards at the same time is the El Capitan, although it didn't turn out as we see here.

The theatre is discussed in "Life o' the Show-House: Light," an article by Nellie Barnard Parker from the publication "Light" that was reprinted in the February 19, 1927 issue of Exhibitors Herald. The article also discusses the Egyptian, Carthay Circle and Forum theatres. Along with a photo looking into the house from the Orpheum's stage Ms. Parker comments:

"Another of the gorgeous theatres [in L.A.] is the new $1,500,000 Orpheum. Over 9,000 lamps outside give promise of a brilliant performance within where 17,000 lamps, reflected by the gold ceiling, copper finished doors, and copper fixtures presents a spectacle of brilliant colorfulness. A thousand cove lights around the dome, changing from color to color, contrast or blend with the various set-ups which transfigure the auditorium. The ceiling is of gold and tan with walls of the same effect. Care has been taken not to have the coloring in the drapes or decorations conflict with the lighting effects. By kaleidoscopic changes of colored light countless combinations are secured making of this theatre a splendid example of the electrician's art and technique. By the use of mirrored reflectors on the border and foot lights, the Orpheum claims to obtain twenty percent more useful light for the wattage than any other stage on the coast."

A proscenium photo of the theatre appeared in the October 1, 1927 issue of Exhibitors Herald with the article "Fabrics Used For Decorative Effects." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Exhibitors Herald articles on Internet Archive.

Main floor and balcony plans appearing in "American Theatres of Today" by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts. The two volumes of the book were published in 1927 and 1930 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co, New York. It was reprinted in one volume in 1977 by the Vestal Press, New York. Thanks to Mike Hume for including a pdf of the four pages of Orpheum material from the book on his Historic Theatre Photography page about the theatre.

A longitudinal section of the building from "American Theatres of Today."

A transverse section of the Orpheum from "American Theatres of Today"

Seating: 2,350 originally. Later down to 2,190. Currently it's 1,976 seats with 1,019 of that on the main floor, 146 in the lower section of the balcony, 781 in the upper section of the balcony and 30 in the boxes.

"Another Orpheum Theatre Installs H-W Seating." The ad promoting Heywood-Wakefield's "Special Opera Chair" installed at the New Orpheum appeared in the July 10, 1926 Motion Picture News as well as the August 7, 1926 Motion Picture News. The ad also appeared in the July 10, 1926 Exhibitors Herald. The pages are on Internet Archive.

"Making Patrons Comfortable at the Los Angeles Orpheum" was the headline in this Heywood-Wakefield ad that featured a view across the back of the main floor. It appeared in the October 1, 1927 Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Herald ads. They may have done a good job on the seats but Heywood-Wakefield didn't get the architect's name right. It's different in both ads and neither one is correct. 

Pipe Organ: It's a 3/14 Wurlitzer Style 240 that was installed in 1928. The theatre didn't have an organ until then. The Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society has a page on the instrument.

An April 5, 1928 L.A. Times article about the Wurlitzer's debut that Mike Hume located. The N.V.A. referred to in the article was the National Vaudeville Artists, a puppet union started by Edward Albee, the head of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit, to fight off a real union that was nicknamed The White Rats. 

Stage specifications: The proscenium is 50' wide and 28'6" high. The stage depth is 29' from the smoke pocket to the back wall. See the backstage page for more details.


This c.1928 ad has Jack Benny playing the Orpheum in the next to last spot. 

Page one of the program for the week of July 22, 1928 discovered by Danni Bayles-Yeager of the Performing Arts Archive. Vaudeville programs are scarce -- people tended not to save them as they did legit programs. A Mr. Frankenstein is heading the orchestra. And they were running film this week -- a newsreel instead of an intermission. See the full program on the PAA website. 

In 1927 the Orpheum circuit (with theatres mostly in the west) merged with the Keith-Albee circuit in the east forming KAO - Keith-Albee-Orpheum. In October 1928 KAO was folded into a new entity called RKO. The R stood for Radio Corporation of America. RCA had just entered the business of manufacturing sound-on-film recording and reproducing equipment earlier that year. The mergers were the brainchild of Joe Kennedy who recognized that sound films were the thing of the future and he needed theatres for the films the new entity would produce. And RCA needed theatres in which to install their equipment as they fought the near-monopoly of Western Electric. There's more about RKO down at the bottom of the page.

A September 1929 ad located by Ken McIntyre.

On November 16, 1929 the L.A. Times ran a story by Muriel Babcock noting that the Orpheum, one of the last strongholds of vaudeville west of the Rockies, was installing film projection equipment and would be of offering films as of January 1, 1930. By that she actually meant sound film equipment with the intent of running features. The theatre had been equipped with a full size booth when it was constructed and had silent film equipment for occasional use during the vaudeville programs.

The cover for the program for the week of November 30, 1929 from the American Vaudeville Museum Collection at the University of Arizona. Their site also has all the program's inside pages online as well. The orchestra at the time was called the R-K-Olians.

A message from the management in the November 30, 1929 program.

The end of two-a-day vaudeville, a notice in the November 30, 1929 program. The theatre was closing December 6 for installation of RCA sound equipment. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the program for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group. The engagement of "Rio Rita" they were promising wouldn't even be first run. In the same program was an ad for it playing at the Carthay Circle.

While the Orpheum went to a film only policy (for a while anyway) in late 1929, the RKO Hillstreet Theatre at 8th and Hill continued with vaudeville and revues. The copy in the Orpheum's November  program was a bit out of date. That "Street Girl" booking for the Orpheum had gone to the Hillstreet instead, being the first film to play the house when it reopened September 10 after being renamed the RKO Theatre.


A March 1930 ad for the second-run engagement of "Rio Rita" that was located by Ken McIntyre for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group. "Ladies of Leisure" was an April 5 release. At this time the Orpheum was on a film-only policy and the RKO Theatre, formerly the Hillstreet, was advertising "the only RKO vaudeville in Southern California."

Lettering from the front of the RKO deco marquee redo of 1930. It's a detail from a great 1932 photo in the USC Digital Library collection.

An ad for the 1932 run of "Frankenstein" from DLZ1277's LA Spook Show collection on Flickr. In addition to the film, on Saturday nights of the run you got a late night Spook Show. One ad promised that "ghosts will walk." An ad for the 5th week noted that there would be "Two Hours of Terror. Do you dare?"  

"Big Time RKO Vaudeville" was back with the films by August 1932 as seen in this ad. Thanks to Scott Pitzer for posting it on the Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles

RKO in neon on the front of the Orpheum's marquee. It's a detail from a 1932 photo in the USC Digital Library collection.

RKO defaults: Business remained so so bad at the Orpheum, despite the reintroduction of vaudeville programs, that RKO closed the theatre at the end of 1932, defaulting on their lease.
Joseph H. Corwin (née Cohen) and Morris Schulkin of Metropolitan Theatres, in conjunction with Principal Theatres (aka Principal Pictures Corp., a partnership of Sol Lesser and Mike Rosenberg) reopened the venue September 2, 1933 with vaudeville and a double feature. The earlier L.A. theatre operations of the Cohen and Schulkin families included opening the Broadway in 1925 and taking over the Rialto in 1926. It's unknown when or under what circumstances the Schulkin family was eased out of the business.

"VODVIL." The big Times ad on the day of the reopening. Later there were big band shows, personal appearances and more. They kept the stage in use until 1947 when the circuit moved their vaudeville shows to the Million Dollar. 

"How To Undress." The Orpheum was going after the burlesque house trade in 1937. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad.

Sally Rand and her fans as part of the show in 1940. Thanks again to Scott Pitzer for the detective work. 

The marquee currently on the building was installed in early 1941. RKO had done a deco update on the original one in 1930. A February 1931 USC photo shows the deco redo. An early 40s photo from the Sean Ault collection appears to be the earliest look at the new marquee. The vertical sign on the building is the one RKO put up in 1930.
Big time vaudeville still at the Orpheum in February 1943 with the Ritz Brothers onstage plus "Mug Town" on the screen and the Andrews sisters up next. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad for a post on the private Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles.  

A 1943 Los Angeles Orpheum usher photo that popped up on eBay. Thanks to both Michelle Gerdes and Sean Ault for spotting it.  

When we get closer we can see what he's advertising on his lapel: "Hollywood Pinup Girls." Starting Wednesday -- not a movie but a stage show with a cast of 40 and 12 big scenes! Presumably we got a feature film as well. 

Lena Horne appearing in 1944. Thanks to Scott Pitzer for posting the ad on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.  

Want to be an Orpheum pin-up girl? Go around to the alley and see the guy at the stage door. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for spotting this November 2, 1944 ad in the Times. Visit his site about the Chinese:
Billie Holiday at the Orpheum in February 1945. Thanks to Scott Pitzer for posting this ad and a brief February 5 Examiner article about the engagement on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group. 

Josephine Baker onstage at the Orpheum in 1947. It's a photo by Arnold Hylen and appears courtesy of his grand niece Greta Gustafsson. For more of Hylen's work, visit the Arnold Hylen- Photographer Facebook page. This particular photo can also be seen on the California State Library website.

Vaudeville took a break and was then was back with a heavily promoted return in 1949. It continued intermittently, along with rock and roll, big bands and personal appearances into the early 50s.

A 1950 ad for vaudeville at the Orpheum. Yes, you got a film too: "The Pirates of Capri." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad for a post on the Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles.

Another ad for another vaudeville + film show in 1950. Again thanks to Ken McIntyre for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.  

Closing as a film house: The Orpheum continued to be operated by Metropolitan Theatres until closing as a film house in 2000. 

Status: Since 1964 the building has been owned by the Needleman family. The company, Anjac Fashion Properties, is now headed by Steve Needleman. The theatre is open for for film shoots, business meetings, award shows and other special events after a $4 million refurbishment. The office building is now residential and known as the Orpheum Lofts.

The Orpheum regularly hosts many concerts and other events plus there are occasional film screenings sponsored by the L.A. Conservancy. The theatre has events over 120 days per year, all rentals. They don't promote any events themselves.

The Orpheum in the Movies:

The theatre is seen briefly at the beginning and end of the 51 second downtown clip that Ken Murray shot in 1927. That's his name on the marquee. Thanks to David Doherty for locating this on the site Shutterstock


This view of the Orpheum's marquee advertising Duke Ellington and his orchestra is seen at the beginning of the 3 minute Soundie titled "Hot Chocolate" (Soundies Distributing Corporation, 1941). This shot is followed by a look at a poster on display advertising the performers as being from the revue "Jump For Joy" that had played the Mayan. It's on YouTube: post #1 | post # 2 | post #3 | post #4 | Thanks to Mark Cantor for spotting the theatre. He's the author of "The Soundies: A History and Catalog of Jukebox Film Shorts of the 1940s."

The Orpheum and the Warner Downtown are seen in the 11 minute 1946 short film "Your Traffic Officer" from the L.A. City Clerk's office. "Suspense" was a June 1946 release with Barry Sullivan and ice skater Belita. The film is on YouTube. Thanks to Eitan Alexander for the screenshot. And to Torr Leonard, Michelle Gerdes and Hunter Kerhart for also spotting the theatres in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Warner from the film.

The opening of "Three Daring Daughters" (MGM, 1948) is set in New York but about 10 minutes in we're seeing the Orpheum, the vertical of the United Artists and, a moment later, a bit of the Rialto out the back of a cab. Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue as the daughters. Jeanette MacDonald is the mother and Jose Iturbi plays himself as a new husband. Fred M. Wilcox directed. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the film. 

Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A" (Cardinal Pictures/United Artists, 1950) starts in San Francisco but about an hour in we come to L.A. and get a ride down Broadway with views of the Orpheum, Tower and Million Dollar. Edmond O'Brien is trying to track down the guy who gave him a lethal dose of radium. In the distance note the UA building with two lit verticals -- one for the theatre and one for Texaco. This footage also appears as part of the title sequence in Thom Andersen's "Los Angeles Plays Itself." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Tower and Million Dollar from the film.

We get a lot of action at the Orpheum in Billy Wilder's "The Front Page" (Universal, 1974) with the theatre's interior doubling as a Chicago Balaban & Katz house in the 20s. Susan Sarandon is seen here playing the organ. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for six more shots of the Orpheum. The post also includes two shots of the Regent on Main St. We see lots of Main St. while the police are chasing all over Chicago looking for an escaped prisoner.

The Orpheum is used in Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love" (20th Century Fox, 1975) when Burt Reynolds, Cybil Shepard and Duilio Del Prete are supposedly at a New York theatre to see Madeline Kahn in a Cole Porter show. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Orpheum shots as well as several at the Pantages from later in the film.

The Tower, Rialto and Orpheum appear briefly in Sidney Poitier's "Let's Do It Again" (Warner Bros./First Artists, 1975) although we're supposedly cruising around New Orleans.

The Orpheum is standing in for the New Amsterdam in New York in Herbert Ross's "Funny Lady" (Columbia, 1975). Here Barbra Streisand and Roddy McDowell take a walk through the house after the closing night of a Ziegfeld Follies show. See the post on Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies for more Orpheum views from the film. We also go to the Los Angeles Theatre and the Pan Pacific Auditorium.

The Orpheum makes an appearance in Arthur Hiller's "W.C. Fields and Me" (Universal, 1976) as a New York theatre where Rod Steiger, as Fields, has seen a Chaplin film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Cameo and Arcade theatres seen later in the film.  

The Orpheum marquee is used in the opening credits of "Coming Attractions" (Cinema Finance Associates, 1978). Ira Miller directed the film, retitled "Loose Shoes" for a 1982 reissue. It's a comedy structured as a series of skits and trailers. Featured are Bill Murray, Buddy Hackett, Royce D. Applegate, Lewis Arquette, Tom Baker and Dorothy Van. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for marquee shots of the Whittier, Wiltern, Palace, La Reina and Rivoli in Long Beach. The Gilmore Drive-In is seen at the film's end.

We see lots of downtown Los Angeles including the Rialto and the Orpheum while Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy are supposedly driving around San Francisco in Walter Hill's film "48 Hrs." (Paramount, 1982).

John Travolta walks off the Orpheum stage after not making the cut in an audition seen during the opening credits of Sylvester Stallone's "Staying Alive" (Paramount, 1983). We're supposed to be in New York with Travolta's Saturday Night Fever character trying to make it as a Broadway dancer. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots as well as many from scenes done at the Philharmonic Auditorium.

We take a drive down Broadway for a look at the Orpheum's marquee as Harry Dean Stanton explains the code of the "Repo Man" (Universal, 1984) to Emilio Estevez. "Staying Alive" (1983) is playing.

Ryan O'Neal and Shelley Long write a hit film called "An American Romance" that shows up as playing the theatre in "Irreconcilable Differences" (Warner Bros., 1984). Drew Barrymore plays their kid, who's in court asking to be emancipated from them and their endless fighting. Charles Shyer directed with cinematography by William A. Fraker. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Palace, Rialto, Globe and La Reina theatres from the film. 

A fine view off left from Nick Castle's film "Tap" (TriStar, 1989). It's set in New York with Gregory Hines as a tap dancer just out of prison who is auditioning for a Broadway show that his ex-girlfriend Suzzanne Dougles is helping to cast. Also featured are Sammy Davis, Jr., Savion Glover, Joe Morton, Dick Anthony Williams, Howard 'Sandman' Sims, Etta James and Terrance E. McNally. The cinematography was by David Gribble. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen more views at the Orpheum plus seven of a jewel heist at the the Warner, 7th & Hill.  

We're at the Orpheum as playwright John Turturro is taking a curtain call for his play at the Belasco in New York City at the beginning of Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink" (Fox, 1991). The playwright moves to L.A. and goes to a hotel whose lobby looks suspiciously like that of the Wiltern. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three shots at the "Earle Hotel" as well as two more backstage shots at the Orpheum.

The Orpheum is a New Haven concert venue in Oliver Stone's "The Doors" (TriStar Pictures, 1991). That's Bill Graham onstage telling the audience to sit down. The film stars Val Kilmer, Kathleen Quinlan, Meg Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Orpheum shots as well as a view of the 5th floor loft at the Palace as a New York apartment.

 We see the Orpheum very briefly in Kenneth Branagh's "Dead Again" (Paramount, 1991) as Branagh conducts the Los Angeles Symphony. The film is all about karma, past lives, gender switching, and many pairs of scissors. It features Branagh and Emma Thompson in dual roles (past lives, you know) along with Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, Christine Ebersole and Campbell Scott. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several shots from the Orpheum scene. 

The Orpheum is used as Minsky's Burlesque Theatre in the 1993 TV movie version of "Gypsy" with Bette Midler. Here Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy is on the runway. Mama Rose is lurking around there somewhere. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots from the film as well as views of the State and the Palace.

The Orpheum is the star of John McTiernan's "Last Action Hero" (Columbia, 1993) -- well, after Arnold anyway. On the street we're on 42nd St. in NYC. Inside, it's the Orpheum in Los Angeles. All but the booth (that's a set). The film is surprisingly funny and what's not to like? It's all about the joy of going to the movies in run-down old theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for many more Orpheum interior shots, several views of the set built for the projection booth scenes, and shots of the Olympic, Globe and Tower theatres that are used in a nighttime New York chase. The cinematography was by Dean Semler. Eugenio Zanetti was the production designer.

In Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" (Touchstone Pictures, 1994) we head to a premiere of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" at the Pantages in Hollywood but when we go inside we're in the Orpheum. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots as well as views of the Pantages, the Warner Hollywood and the Stadium Theatre in Torrance.

A band from Erie, PA heads to Pittsburgh for a show in 1964 in Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do" (20th Century Fox, 1996). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots of the Orpheum from the film. Featured in addition to Hanks are Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Steve Zahn, Giovanni Ribisi and Tom Everett Scott.

Rene Russo and two apes she brought to the show have a brief scene in the balcony at the beginning of Caroline Thompson's film "Buddy" (Columbia Pictures, 1997). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two shots from the scene.

Men from an unknown agency are looking for Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory" (Warner Bros., 1997). It's set in New York where Mel is a cab driver obsessed with multiple conspiracy theories. When one of them turns out to be true, he's a target. Richard Donner's film also features Julia Roberts and Patrick Stewart. The cinematography was by John Schwartzman. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for seven more shots at the Orpheum plus one of the Warner at 7th & Hill.

Policeman Michael Rooker goes to a Cartoon Festival at the Tower. But when we're inside it's the Orpheum. The bad guys are waiting but here comes Chow Yun-Fat down the aisle to save the evening in Antoine Fuqua's "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum views from the film as well as shots of the Mayan, Tower and the Million Dollar.

Demi Moore, who really wants to bomb a movie premiere, tries to shake off Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore in McG's "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (Columbia, 2003). The cinematography was by Russell Carpenter. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for 28 more theatre shots from the film including several more of the Orpheum plus some of the Tower, Rialto, Chinese, El Capitan, the Hollywood and a fake "Los Angeles Theatre" in Hollywood.

All the interiors were done at the Orpheum for a folk music concert supposedly at Town Hall in New York City in Christopher Guest's folk music satire "A Mighty Wind" (Warner Bros., 2003). The film features Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Eugene Levy. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for many more Orpheum views.

Bill Condon's film "Dreamgirls" (Dreamworks, 2006) used the Orpheum for several musical numbers. The film stars Eddie Murphy, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Sharon Leal and Danny Glover. The cinematography was by Tobias A. Schliessler. It's based on the Broadway musical with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Kreiger. See the Historic L.A.Theatres in Movies post for over 50 additional shots of theatres used in the film including the Tower and the Palace.

In David Lynch's "Inland Empire" (Studio Canal, 2006) Laura Dern has all sorts of unfathomable adventures including coming into the Orpheum and seeing herself on the screen doing a tour of the theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Orpheum auditorium view.

Looking north on Broadway in Michael Bay's "Transformers" (Dreamworks SKG/Paramount, 2007). Thanks to the Cinema Heritage Group for the screenshot, from their Cinemas in the Movies Facebook album. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Orpheum views as well as a shot of the Rialto.

The Orpheum is used for the interiors of a Broadway theatre in Sam Raimi's "Spider Man 3" (Columbia/Sony, 2007). Tobey Maguire goes to see a show that his girl friend, Kirsten Dunst, is appearing in. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more Orpheum shots from the film. 

We see lots of the Orpheum in Tim Hill's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (20th Century Fox, 2007). The theatre, of course, is where the Chipmunks' world tour is scheduled to start. In addition to the chipmunks, the film stars Jason Lee, David Cross and Cameron Richardson. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for nine more shots of the Orpheum from the film -- plus a few pretending to be the Orpheum. We also see Disney Hall at the end.

In David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Warner Bros., 2008), the Orpheum interior doubles as New York City''s Majestic Theatre with Cate Blanchett onstage for the ballet in a performance of "Carousel." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another shot from onstage at the Orpheum as well as several at the Los Angeles Theatre. It's standing in for the Opera House in Paris.
The Orpheum is one of seventeen theatres we see in Alex Holdridge's "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (IFC First Take, 2008). Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds meet via a Craigslist ad and are wandering the city on New Year's Eve. Also featured are Brian McGuire, Kathleen Luong, Robert Murphy, Twink Caplan, Bret Roberts and Stephanie Feury. The cinematography was by Robert Murphy. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for thirty-two more shots of the theatres appearing in the film.

We're in Cincinnati with Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt in "The Great Buck Howard" (Magnolia Pictures, 2008). He's the road manager and she's a publicist for John Malkovich, playing a mentalist with fading career prospects. The film, directed by Sean McGinley, also features Adam Scott, Tom Hanks, Ricky Jay, Steve Zahn, Debra Monk and Jonathan Ames. The cinematography was by Tak Fujimoto. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for 40 images of the theatres used in the film including eight more Orpheum shots plus views of the Wadsworth, the Crenshaw, the Leimert/Vision Theatre and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  

Sarah Silverman is onstage in what is supposed to be the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in Judd Apatow's "Funny People" (Universal, 2009). The film also stars Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen, Eric Bana, Aubrey Plaza and Jonah Hill. The cinematography was by Janusz Kaminski. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a view of the Curran plus two more Orpheum shots.

We get a trip to New York in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" (Warner Bros., 2011) and are treated to this fancifully imagined theatre district. Leo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Judy Dench are at the "Strand" to see "G-Men." The film also features Naomi Watts, Josh Hamilton, Geoff Pierson, Gunner Wright, David A. Cooper and Jessica Hecht. James J. Murakami was the production designer. The cinematography was by Tom Stern. Edgar gets to meet Shirley Temple in the lobby. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots.

We have a situation in Tim Hill's "Hop" (Universal, 2011) with a bunny who's designated to be the year's Easter Bunny but decides to skip his duties and run away to be a drummer. He shows up at the Orpheum for an audition conducted by David Hasselhoff. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more views of the Orpheum from the film as well as shots of the Pantages and the La Reina.

The Orpheum makes a glorious black and white appearance during the opening of Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" (The Weinstein Co., 2011). It's nice to see a band in the pit! Too bad they didn't reinstall those first few rows of seats for the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Orpheum shot as well as one at the Los Angeles Theatre.

The Orpheum is featured in Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight, 2012), a drama about the director's relationship with his wife Alma during the making of "Psycho." It stars Anthony Hopkins (seen here on the Orpheum stage) and Helen Mirren. The Suzanne Tenner photo is from the Fox Searchlight Facebook page. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for an Orpheum marquee view as well as several shots of the Palace.

Olivia Wilde, Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi are on the Orpheum's stage in Don Scardino's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (New Line/Warner Bros. 2013), a strange comedy about magic that's set in Las Vegas. The film also stars James Gandolfini and Jim Carrey. The Orpheum stands in for the showroom at a hotel called "Doug." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four more shots of the Orpheum from the film.

We're backstage at the Orpheum, doubling for the Ed Sullivan Theatre, in Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" (Warner Bros., 2014). The film also uses the Palace and Belasco theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for some of those shots as well as more Orpheum views.

The Orpheum puts in an appearance in Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash" (Sony Classics, 2014), set in New York City. We get a nice exterior shot of Carnegie Hall near the end but we're at the Orpheum when we go backstage, check out the lobby, and view the auditorium. The film stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four additional Orpheum shots as well as a dozen views of various areas at the Palace Theatre that were used for the film.

The Orpheum is one of a half dozen theatres to get a marquee shot included in the title sequence of "Entourage" (Warner Bros., 2015). The film, directed by Doug Ellin, stars Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Connolly plus many others doing cameos. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more screenshots. 

Aspiring model Elle Fanning and her new friend Jena Malone head to a party in the Orpheum lobby in Nicholas Winding Refn's "The Neon Demon" (Broad Green Pictures, 2016). See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a balcony lobby shot and several of the restroom -- but the one they use turns out to be at the Los Angeles Theatre.

We're outside the Orpheum near the end of Dan Gilroy's "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (Columbia/Sony, 2017). The film features Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo in a story of a brilliant, idealistic lawyer who makes a serious misstep. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots from the sequence where we also get brief glimpses of the Rialto, Warner Downtown and the Los Angeles.

The Orpheum dressed up nicely in April 2018 for a TV reboot of "L.A. Confidential." Thanks to David Johnson for catching the action on Broadway and posting this photo on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. He also has a display case closeup and another street view.

The Orpheum appears in Craig Brewer's "Dolemite is My Name" (Netflix, 2019) as the site of the premiere of "Dolemite," a 1975 blaxploitation epic. The film stars Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen more photos. 
Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha go to a Nancy Wilson concert at the Orpheum in Eugene Ashe's "Sylvie's Love" (Amazon, 2020). The film is set in New York in the 50s and 60s and the Orpheum is standing in for Town Hall. The film also stars Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Lance Reddick. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Orpheum views from the film. 

The Orpheum is standing in for New York's Shubert Theatre in Ryan Murphy's "The Prom" (Netflix, 2020). The Los Angeles and the Palace are used for scenes in the lobby and auditorium of the Imperial Theatre. Keegan-Michael Key, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Cordon star. Matthew Libatique did the cinematography. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for 15 more shots from the film.  

A shot of a youth poetry festival held at the Orpheum. Carlos Lopez Estrada's film "Summertime" (Good Deed Entertainment, 2021) is about 27 young Angelenos and how their lives intersect on a hot summer day. Much of the material for the "spoken word poetry musical" was written by the young stars of the film. The cinematography is by John Schmidt. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Chinese, Vista, Los Angeles and United Artists from the film. 

Adam Driver is an unfunny standup comedian performing at the Orpheum in "Annette" (Amazon, 2021). All we get is the exterior as the interiors were done in Europe. It's a film by Leos Carax also starring Marion Cotillard as an opera singer and Simon Helberg as her accompanist. Marion and Adam have a very unusual daughter, Annette, who develops a curious gift. The music and screenplay were by Sparks and the cinematography was by Caroline Champetier. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Royal, the Rialto, Disney Hall and the Palace and Los Angeles from the film. 

At the end of "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" (Lionsgate, 2022) there's a premiere of a film written by "Nicholas Cage" and his collaborator, played by Pedro Pascal. If he looks a bit confused maybe it's because the scene started at Budapest's Urania Film Theatre. Tom Gormican directed the film, also featuring Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish, Lily Mo Sheen, Neil Patrick Harris, Paco León, Alessandra Mastronardi and Jacob Scipio. Nigel Bluck did the cinematography. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two shots at the beginning of the scene as well as two more Orpheum views. 


"Live Burlesk on Stage." The Orpheum was on the edge of a shoot with the block used as 42nd St. in New York in the early 1970s for "The Offer" (Paramount+, 2022). The ten-part epic is based on producer Albert S. Ruddy's experiences in making "The Godfather" (1972). Stars include Miles Teller, Juno Temple, Matthew Goode and Dan Fogler. Most of the action was farther up the block at the Wurlitzer Building and the Rialto Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for 20 more shots. 

The theatre got dressed up in August 2021 as if it were 1952 again, ready for Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth." The shoot was for "The Fabelmans," (Universal, 2022) a semi-autobiographical movie inspired by Steven Spielberg's childhood written by Tony Kushner and Spielberg. Stars include Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots from the film as well as the shoot. 
"The Jazz Singer" is on the screen and the audience is standing and cheering in Damien Chazelle's "Babylon" (Paramount, 2022). It's a story of early Hollywood and Diego Calva is sent east to see what all the fuss is about at the Warner Theatre in New York. The film also stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt. The cinematography was by Linus Sandgren. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the scene at the Orpheum as well as views of the film's scenes at the Los Angeles, Chinese, United Artists and Warner Grand theatres. 

The Orpheum on video: We get some early 1990s exterior views of the Orpheum, shots done inside the tower atop the United Artists, and views of other downtown locations in the All-4-One music video "I Swear." Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting it on YouTube. 
See Mike Rivest's 2006 "Orpheum Theatre Los Angeles" which features an interview with owner Steve Needleman.There's also the fine 12 minute 2007 video "Orpheum Theatre" by Hollywoodish on YouTube.

And don't miss "The Markham Collection," Don Solosan's wonderful video done in 2011 for the L.A. Conservancy. It's about the historic curtain collection of Steve Markham. Much of it was shot in the Orpheum. Stick around for Mr. Solosan's fine time lapse action sequence behind the final credits.

More Information on the Orpheum Theatre: The Cinema Treasures page on the Orpheum Theatre has a great discussion of the theatre's history and many photos. The Cinema Tour page on the Orpheum has many great photos by Adam Martin.

Visit Mike Hume's page on the Orpheum on his Historic Theatre Photography site for lots of tech data and many terrific photos.

Other surviving theatre buildings on the 800 block: Tower | Rialto |  Vanished theatres on the 800 block include: Arrow | GarrickTally's Broadway | Majestic | Woodley/Mission Theatre |

More information about the Orpheum Circuit and RKO: We get a brief history of the circuit on page 612 of Frank Cullen's "Vaudeville Old And New" (1,368 pages in 2 volumes, Routledge, 2006). It's on Google books. Cullen's comments about the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit:

"In 1927, after a score of years of rivalry and increasing accommodation through joint booking arrangements between the two big-time circuits, the Keith-Albee and the Orpheum circuits merged into a single corporation, Keith-Albee-Orpheum. The event should have been momentous, two giants combining and consolidating their power and reach, but it occurred late in December 1927, ten weeks after the part-sound movie 'The Jazz Singer' opened in New York City. By that time, any news that vaudeville could generate was relegated to the back pages; motion pictures that talked, sang and danced were the talk of the town.

"The stronger of the two circuits was Keith-Albee, and as E.F. Albee held a substantial block of voting shares of the combined stock, he became president of the corporation. His lieutenant, J.J. Murdock, whose holdings were about half that of Albee's, was made vice president. It was Murdock who brought Joseph P. Kennedy into the deal. Albee had assumed that Murdock was as loyal to him as Albee had been to B.F. Keith. Murdock had always made it seem that way, but J.J. was interested in getting into the movie business. He believed that Albee had failed to recognize the growing importance of motion pictures and the decline of vaudeville. Murdock looked to Kennedy to bring new energy and purpose into the Keith-Albee-Orpheum enterprise and to give Murdock a commanding role in the new order.

"In less than a year, Keith-Albee-Orpheum was no more. It had been recast as Radio-Keith-Orpheum, and its business refocused by the participation of Radio Corporation of America (RCA), founded by David Sarnoff, who also headed the first and most developed radio network, National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The new agenda included RCA's development of an improved system for sound motion pictures, the adaptation of the Keith-Orpheum operation to distribute and exhibit movies in their coast-to-coast network of theatres, and the utilization of Kennedy's FBO studios to produce talking pictures. Albee's power, along with his name, had vanished from the new corporation, RKO, yet Murdock did not win the top executive slot and replace Albee. The era of showmen was over, and not just in vaudeville. Show business had become an industry, and financiers wielded the power in industry."

C.W. Porter's website about Joe Kennedy and his ruthless business methods has a page on "The Robber Baron and the Film Industry." He quotes from "The Sins of the Father" by Ronald Kessler regarding Joe's adventures assembling what became RKO. Some excerpts from the page:

"After making his fortune on and off Wall Street, Joe was one of the first Eastern businessmen to grasp the potential of the movie business. By the mid-1920s, the American film industry was turning out 800 films a year and employed as many people as the auto industry. This was 'a gold mine,' Joe told several friends. After buying a chain of thirty-one small movie houses, Joe realized that the way to make real money was on the production side. Moreover, he was attracted to the glamour of Hollywood. Not only could he influence the way films were made, he could meet dazzling young women. While his wife Rose was in Boston, pregnant with their eighth child, Joe was in Hollywood engaged in his notorious liaison with the superstar Gloria Swanson.

"In 1926, Joe convinced a patron of his brokerage firm, named Guy Currier, to finance his plans to enter the movie business. Using insider information he received as a broker at Hayden, Stone, Joe bought the Film Booking Offices of America (FBO), sight unseen, from its British owners; and then received a commission of $75,000 from the trading company for the deal. Joe quickly changed the studio's focus to making cheap Westerns and dog pictures that could be turned out in a week for $30,000 to $50,000 each. Although they lacked artistic merit, the pictures sold, and FBO profits ballooned.

"The following year, Joe Kennedy used the profits from FBO to purchase the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) who had a new system for making motion pictures with sound. Now that Joe headed a studio, he wanted to buy a theater chain to distribute his pictures. This desire would eventually lead to the infamous 'Pantages Scandal.' [Note: Joe Kennedy may have had stock in RCA or its parent, General Electric, but he never "owned" RCA. - B.C.]

"Kennedy purchased KAO (Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theaters Corp), a chain with 700 movie theaters in the US and Canada, and more than 2 million patrons daily. Edward Albee, the founder of KAO, had initially refused to sell out, but when Joe promised that he would remain in control of the chain, Albee agreed to Kennedy's offer. But once the papers were signed and Joe was chairman, Joe said bluntly, 'Didn't you know, Ed? You're washed up. Through.'

"In 1928, Joe was asked to serve as a special adviser on the board of Pathe Exchange Inc., a production company who produced a weekly newsreel. Joe soon became chairman of Pathe and began implementing his own ideas, beginning by slashing the salaries of the employees. The cost-cutting applied to others, however, and not to himself - he was drawing a salary of $100,000 from Pathe. Later that year, Joe merged FBO with his chain of theaters (KAO) to form the famous RKO. Joe then had RCA trade its FBO stock for stock in the new company, a deal which brought him $2 million. [The acquisition of FBO and KAO by RCA, later to be known as RKO, happened in October 1928. - B.C.]

"In 1931, Joe Kennedy plundered Pathe Exchange. He arranged for RKO to pay Pathe insiders like himself $80 a share. The rest of the stockholders would receive just one dollar and fifty cents a share... Since Joe had acquired the stock for $30 a share, he more than doubled his investment in fewer than two years. Stockholders filed suit, but nothing came of it. Moreover, he took advantage of privileged information from the files of major stockholders in the movie companies who were clients of Guy Currier, his partner at RKO. While Currier was on vacation in Italy, Kennedy pillaged his files for inside information such as the size of holdings of other stockholders and their financial condition. He then used the information to further his own interests.

"When Currier returned, he discovered that RKO's value had plummeted, and he and his fellow investors had been betrayed. Years later, Wisconsin Congressman John Schafer took to the floor of the House to denounce Joe Kennedy as the 'chief racketeer in the RKO swindle.' Joe Kennedy had been chairman of FBO for two years and nine months, chairman of Keith-Albee-Orpheum for five months, special adviser to First National Pictures for six weeks, special adviser to RCA for two and a half months, and adviser to Paramount Pictures for seventy-four days. In all, Joe had made an estimated $5 million in the movie business."

Also see an October 27, 1928 Motion Picture News story on Internet Archive about the merger of RCA with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit. The combined circuit had about 700 theatres.

In 1929 RKO purchased six of the Pantages circuit's theatres to enhance their west coast holdings. Kennedy's initial offer was $15 million for the whole circuit. He ended up with just six of the theatres in a July 1929 deal for $4.5 to $5 million. The story is that after Alexander Pantages rebuffed Joe Kennedy's initial offers, he started finding product hard to obtain for his theatres. Pantages troubles deepened when one Eunice Pringle claimed she was raped by Pantages in August 1929 in a broom closet at the Pantages Theatre at 7th & Hill St. Pantages had agreed to sell the theatre to Warner Bros. two days before Eunice's visit. See the Warner Downtown pages for more salacious details.

Wikipedia has articles on Joe Kennedy's Film Booking Offices as well as RKO Pictures. For a history of vaudeville also see John Kenrick's "Vaudeville" on the site Musicals 101.

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  1. Unless I missed it, there is nothing here about the Orpheum being saved and restored by Steve Needleman, other than a link to an interview. What gives?

    1. Thanks for commenting. Let's see. This is in the text at the bottom of the recap of nearly 100 years of history, under the "Status" heading: "Since 1964 the building has been owned by the Needleman family. The company, Anjac Fashion Properties, is now headed by Steve Needleman. The theatre is open for for film shoots, business meetings, award shows and other special events after a $4 million refurbishment." Anything else you think should be included? There's obviously a lot to cover.

  2. Just for fun, there are many shots of the exterior (and obviously the interior) for many of the finales of "Rupaul's Drag Race" at the Orpheum. Similarly, over the decades, many episodes of "Hollywood Week" from various seasons of "American Idol" are held at the Orpheum.