I lived on 54th street at 7th Avenue in New York City for many years. I love to romanticize that time of my life, I was a struggling actor, pursuing my dream, sharing an illegal sublet with 2 of my brothers. We split the rent 3 ways and it was fun..!
Despite the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, or maybe because of it, I enjoyed the neighborhood. During the day I walked to my auditions and to acting classes. In the evening, I jogged around the loop in Central Park. Late at night, on the way home from a crappy stand up gig or from waiting tables, I would pass by and say hello to the hookers that worked the corner near the Stage Deli.
My room in the 2 bedroom apartment faced 7th avenue (yes I had my own room!), and as I lay in bed, drifting off to sleep, the cacophony of New York sounds would fade away until those last sounds of the night - the clippity-clop, clop, clop of the horse drawn carriages trotting down 7th avenue, on their way back to the stables on the west side highway. This is what it sounded like to live on 54th street in Midtown Manhattan in the early 90's...
Maybe the most quintessential New York part about living on 54th street was that I was on the same street as the Ziegfeld theatre. Built in 1969, a few hundred feet away from the original Ziegfeld theatre (1927 -1966), the Ziegfeld was an iconic movie palace - Art Deco, Red velvet curtains, Chandeliers in the Lobby, 1131 seats! It was a place not just to see a film, but to have a collective experience with over 1000 people.
In 1995 my girlfriend and I went to see Braveheart at the Ziegfeld theatre. Now I have seen Braveheart many times on TV since then, but to see it that first time, in that theatre, with 1000 people, was one of the most memorable movie experiences of my life. (Even more powerful than the first time I saw Jaws or Animal House). It was an incredible movie, it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Best Directing, Best everything - and forget everything you think you know about Mel Gibson in real life today. Back then he was Mel Gibson. And this was Braveheart. To this day, watching the Freedom Speech, reminds me of that evening 20 years ago, it gives me goose bumps and makes me want to jump out of my seat and fight!
After the movie, we left the theatre in stunned silence. We stood out front, and my girlfriend broke the silence; she looked at me, shook her head and said: “And you call yourself a man…” She laughed, then I laughed, I guess, but I said nothing, I knew what she meant. At that moment, after that experience, in front of the Ziegfeld, on a hot summer night, no man could compete with Mel Gibson. We walked up 54th street and headed home...
It was announced that the Ziegfeld Theatre will close next month. It will be renovated and transformed into a “high-end” event space for corporate events. The largest single movie screen in Manhattan, 1131 seats, but it just doesn’t make money anymore, because people just don’t go see movies like that anymore - the end of an era.
Tonight, as I lay in bed, after I finish streaming a few episodes of Jessica Jones from the Netflix account on my iPhone, I will drift off to sleep and dream about that period of my life, those sounds of New York, and the time I went to see Braveheart at the Ziegfeld.
“And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” William Wallace - Mel Gibson.