Who is this Roxy fellow and why are so many theaters names after him?

Samuel L. Rothapfel was the famous American dance/theatre/vaudeville and cinema entrepreneur whose famous nickname was "Roxy". Rothapfel was born in Stillwater Minnesota on July 9, 1882. He was responsible for the great appeal of spectacular movie palaces. He presided over his theaters and instituted the practices of affordable low admissions so "the common man" could repeatedly come to his theaters and unreserved seating. Rothapfel spoke thus on the secret of his success: "Giving the people what they want is fundamentally and disastrously wrong. The people don't know what they want. They want to be entertained, that's all. Don't give the people what they want--give 'em something better."

Like advertisers of the age, Roxy excelled in creating demand for environments and amenities customers didn't know they wanted. Each theater he opened had to be more lavish than the last; advertisements lured patrons with promises of "the biggest," "the grandest," "most expensive." Because of the popularity of his theaters, other exhibitioners were forced to adopt his methods and his name became synomimous with incredible theaters and great performances. 

Roxy also made a name for himself on network radio, where he began broadcasting in mid-November 1922. Through 1926, live broadcasts of his weekly variety show Roxy and His Gang from the Capitol Theatre in New York became increasingly popular. One estimate from 1924 placed his typical radio audience at about five million listeners, and he was said to receive thousands of pieces of fan mail weekly. After Rothafel left the Capitol, his radio show, now known as The Roxy Hour, was broadcast from the new Roxy Theatre on the NBC Blue network from 1927 to 1932.

By 1926 Rothapfel was arguably the greatest showman of his time and his name alone had become a valuable marketing tool. When William Fox opened his Washington DC theater, the banners proclaimed "Operated under the personal direction of Roxy". Rothafel has been credited with many movie presentation innovations including syncing orchestral music to movies (in the silent screen era) and having multiple projectors to effect seamless reel changes.  In 1927 he built the huge 6500 seat Roxy Theatre in New York as the largest and flashiest movie theatre in the world that even exceeded his own legend. In 1932, his own Radio City Music Hall in New York was even larger. Radio CIty was the last grand movie palace ever built. 

"Roxy" Rothapfel gave his nickname to 'The Roxyettes", which was later changed to "The Rockettes" at Radio City. The names he gave his theaters: the Strand, Rialto, Regent, as well as Roxy all live on as other showmen and women have chosen to use these names for their theaters and cinemas around the world. Of all these names "Roxy" became the most popular name for theatres, cinemas, and performance halls across the United States because of Rothapfel's personal reputation as "The Premiere Showman". That name spread like wildfire throughout the nation, onto many theatres. The tradition continues to this day with many other businesses continuing to use the moniker! In Atlanta, the Georgia Theater was later renamed to the Roxy and continued with that name until its razing in the 1970s. In the 1990s, the Buckhead Theater that had been renamed the Capri was renovated and opened as the Coca-Cola Roxy. It continues to use that name to this day.

The almost all the theaters he built are now legend. Only Radio City still exists today and it still remains as the pinnacle of Movie Palaces. Roxy Rothapfel died on January 13, 1936 at the relatively young age of  54 in New York City. He is buried in Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Return to the Biographies Menu