Monday, October 04, 2004

Mae West on Willoughby Street

Loew's Royal Theatre
in Brooklyn, NY
Pearl & Willoughby Streets, Brooklyn, NY [closed/ demolished]

The Royal was the very first Loew's theatre in Brooklyn and one of the circuit's earliest anywhere. It started life around 1901-02 as Watson's Cozy Corner, which included a vaudeville theatre and a downstairs drinking saloon. It rapidly deteriorated into a notorious burlesque house and place for gents to meet hookers.

In 1907, Marcus Loew wanted to expand into Brooklyn and found the Cozy Corner's downtown location ideal for his purposes. He purchased it cheaply, renovated the interior, increased the seating capcity to about 2,000 seats, and re-named it the Royal. Because of the site's bad reputation, Loew feared that "nice people" might stay away, so he first leased the theatre to an Italian opera company for a short season. It opened in October, 1907, as Teatro Italiano Royal, featuring a company of 25 under the management of Antonio Maiori. In those three months, the theatre became regarded as classy and respectable.

In January, 1908, it emerged as Loew's Royal, with so-called "family vaudeville" and movies at a ten-cent admission. In its first year, the Royal earned $60,000 in profits and helped Marcus Loew to expand rapidly in Brooklyn.
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Is this the Royal Theatre where the young Mae West once performed? It probably was since it had presented vaudeville and it opened in 1908.
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According to Emily Wortis Leider in "Becoming Mae West" (Farrar Straus Giroux,1997), "Baby Mae" made her debut at the age of seven (1900) at "The Royal, on Willoughby Street, near Fulton" (p. 32). Leider goes on to describe it: "The theater ... was no great shakes, though large. It seated about seven hundred people. One vaudevillian characterized it as a 'dingy spot,' but Mae upgraded it in her fond recollection to a well-appointed house with two balconies, boxes, and its own twelve-piece orchestra" (pp. 32-33).

Leider's source is John E. Di Meglio, "Vaudeville USA" (Bowling Green Univ Press, 1973), p. 132.

By around 1920, however, Loew's Royal had out-lived its usefulness and was closed forever, eventually to be demolished.
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- - Contributed by Warren G. Harris

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