When the present Roxy Theatre opened as the Lyric in
early 1921, sound movies were still eight years away.
The early silent films required some sort of musical
accompaniment to help bring the action to life and to
set the proper mood. Various types of musical instruments
were utilized to provide the sound for those early movies.
A single piano player, organist, or a complete orchestra
was generally used.
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When the Lyric first opened, it was equipped with an American
Photoplayer pit organ. Photoplayers were part piano and
part organ. The photoplayer had two cabinets, one on either
side of the console. One contained several ranks of organ
pipes, including violin, violoncello, brass effects and
flute pipes, while the other housed all the percussions,
which included a bass drum, snare drum, tom-tom, tympani,
cymbal, tambourine and other whistles and bells that provided
sound effects for the action in the film. (Some theatre
organs, such as the Marr & Colton Symphonic Registrator
provided the Silent Movie organist with a catalog of built
in emotions. Some of the organ tablets (buttons) were
labeled "LOVE (Mother)", "LOVE (Romantic)"
and "LOVE (Passion)".) They were operated
either by a trained musician (who played the music from
a score provided with the film or improvised as best as
possible to coincide with the action of the picture.),
or by any individual (often a young boy) who peddled a
player unit that read paper rolls.
The photoplayer was equipped with two roll players so
that while one was being played, the operator could
change the other one with the type of music needed to
accompany the next scene. The theatre had a selection
of rolls that would cover every possible scene. Those
listed as HEAVY MUSIC was used for fights, fires, riots,
storms, etc. Other categories that were part of the
library were listed as PATHETIC, ORIENTAL, NOVELETTES,
PATRIOTIC, GALLOPS (used for chase scenes), MARCHES,
OPERATIC, DRAMATIC, SENTIMENTAL and many more.
Photoplayers served well during the early years of motion
pictures, but by the mid twenties they had been made obsolete
by the new "unit orchestras" that had been developed
by Robert Hope Jones. While Jones developed the unit orchestra
concept, which was essentially an organ re-voiced to reproduce
the sound of an entire orchestra, many other companies
copied his ideas. Jones sold his patents to the Rudolph
Wurlitzer Company which became the preeminent builder
of theatre organs. One of the other companies to use his
ideas was the Marr & Colton Organ Company. In 1924,
the Lyric management removed the photoplayer and replaced
it with a Marr and Colton theatre organ. This organ required
the installation of a pipe chamber to the right of the
stage. The console, however, remained in the orchestra
pit where the organist could view the action on the screen
in order to synchronize the music with the action of the
Virtually no information exists about that instrument
other than the fact that it had a two manual console.
The number of ranks of pipes is unknown as well. It is
believed to have been removed from the theatre shortly
after the renovation into the Roxy in 1933, as sound films
were sure to stay and vaudeville was discontinued after
the winter season of 1934.
The theatre remained without an organ until the mid
seventies when an electronic one was installed to accompany
some live shows during that period. Although the make
is unknown, it was a large three manual church organ
and was used only on rare occasions with various live
shows. It was removed in 1978 and again, the theatre
was without an organ.
In 1981, a local music store provided a demonstrator Lowery
electronic organ to the theatre. They also provided an
organist each Saturday evening as a way to showcase their
brand of organ. This organ was used by the theatre management
to determine whether the public had any interest in live
organ music before the show. It was decided that since
the patronage seemed to enjoy the organ prologues, that
a search would be made to acquire an original theatre
pipe organ and have it installed in the Roxy.
In September of 1987, the Roxy's management was informed
about a 2 manual, 6 rank Wurlitzer Theatre Organ that
was for sale in Morris Plains, New Jersey. After having
gone to inspect the instrument, it was decided that
it would be purchased and restored while being installed
in the theatre.
This particular instrument had made the rounds by this
time. It was originally installed in the Pastime-Osborne
Theatre in the Bronx in New York city on August 12,
1926. It was at that time a 4 rank instrument. Due to
financial problems at that theatre, it was repossessed
by the organ company, and set up as a demonstrator organ
at the 42nd Street showrooms of the Wurlitzer company,
where it was subsequently sold to the Fordham Skating
Rink. It was installed there on September 19, 1935.
On January 15, 1939, Dr. Quinby DeHart Gurney of Hawthorne,
New Jersey, purchased the organ, making him the instrument's
3rd owner. He removed it from the skating rink and installed
it into his private residence. The organ was later damaged
by a flood and abandoned by de Hart.
On November 11, 1976, the organ was purchased by organist
N. Francis Cimmino, of Wayne, NJ, who restored it, enlarged
it to 6 ranks and installed it in his home. Several
years later when Mr. Cimmino decided to relocate to
Florida, he put the instrument up for sale.
On February 15, 1979, the organ was purchased from Mr.
Cimmino by Mr. Harold Benz (now the instrument's 5th
owner), of Morris Plains, NJ. Mr. Benz, along with his
son, installed the organ into the basement of their
home. After Mr. Benz' son left home, the instrument again
fell into disuse, and was again put up
It was at this time that it was brought to the
attention of Richard Wolfe, that the organ was available.
It was the perfect size for the Roxy, as it had come out
of a 650 seat theatre originally, the exact same size
as the Roxy. In September of 1987, when the agreement
of sale was concluded, the organ made one more trip....this
time back to a theatre where it belonged.
A number of setbacks occurred during the installation of
the organ and it wasn't until 1995 that it was far enough
along to be ready to be used for public performance. Through
the efforts of crew chief Rusty King and Henry L. Appenzeller
and others, the organ was made usable and regular Saturday
evening pre-show concerts were begun with Henry T. Appenzeller
at the console. .
The organ is currently used only on special occasions as
a regular organist is not available at the present time.
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