When the Beatles Played in Albany… their movies, that is…

There’s a store in Crossgates Mall where, if you’re feeling nostalgic about Albany’s past history, you can purchase an old photograph of Albany’s legacy, and hang it on your wall.  Want a picture of downtown from the early 20th century?  They’ve got it.  Want a picture of the Empire State Plaza’s Egg in mid-construction?  They’ve got it.

One of the pictures sold at this store is a photo of several very excited girls, all with their tickets to go see the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night at the Strand Theater in downtown Albany.

Which of course got me to thinking.  When the Beatles’ theatrical releases were shown in the Capital District, at which theaters did they play?  And of those theaters, how many of them are still around today?

Capital District theaters in the 1960’s were single-screen movie palaces.  They were not attached to malls – heck, Colonie Center was just being built, and Crossgates Mall was still a place for Karner Blue Butterflies to populate.  You could go see a film at the Strand on North Pearl Street, or walk up a block and see a film at the Palace.  The Madison Theater was around in the 1960’s, as was the Spectrum – only back then, the Spectrum was called the Delaware.  One could see a film in Latham at the Branche, or travel up to Scotia and see “exclusive European films” at the Scotia Art Theater.  Open-air drive-in theaters operated year-round – the Turnpike Drive-In, for example, offered in-car heaters so that their patrons didn’t freeze to death while they were making out in the back seat during the triple-features.

A Hard Day’s Night was the first motion picture for the Beatles, and it premiered in the Capital District on August 18, 1964, one week after the film’s American debut.  A Hard Day’s Night played in front of packed houses at the Strand Theater on North Pearl Street.  The Strand, advertised as “New York State’s Most Beautiful Theater,” was at that time part of the Stanley Warner chain of movie palaces.

In December 1964, A Hard Day’s Night returned to the Strand Theater for one weekend, as part of a double-bill with another classic 1960’s film, Bikini Beach.  Yes, it’s the Fab Four with Frankie and Annette.  But hey, the place did boffo box office and the Beatles’ loyal fans packed the place once again.

That might explain why when the Beatles’ second film, Help! was released on August 25, 1965, the Strand was once again the place to be for fans of the merry mop-tops.  One week after the film’s American debut, the Strand hosted Help! on September 1, 1965.  Capital Region theatergoers had their choice that week of seeing either Help! at the Strand, or they could have watched The Sandpiper with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at the Branche in Latham.  The Delaware was in the final weeks of showing Marcello Mastroianni in Casanova ’70, while one could attend a drive-in double-feature of Mary Poppins and Having a Wild Week-End at the Hollywood Drive-In in Averill Park.  So Mary Poppins did have a wild weekend at one point.  I wonder if Bert the chimneysweep knew about that.

Anyways…

As was customary for theaters at the time that were showing films that might have a youth-oriented bent, the Strand twinned Help! with a Three Stooges comedy.  The Three Stooges would also play that weekend at the Madison, as their full-length film The Outlaws IS Coming was part of a Saturday matinee show.

If you’re looking for the Strand Theater today, its original physical address was 110 North Pearl Street.  I say “was.”  That address is now a parking lot adjacent to several downtown brew pubs.

The Beatles’ third motion picture, the animated Yellow Submarine, premiered nationally on November 13, 1968.  However, the film did not reach Albany motion picture screens for more than a month, and when it did, it did not play at the Strand – that theater was showing Steve McQueen in Bullitt that week.  Instead, Yellow Submarine premiered in the newly-opened Cinema 7 at the Plaza Seven Shopping Center in Latham.  The film, which premiered in Albany a few days before Christmas 1968, was introduced in its first showing by radio personalities from Top 40 radio station WPTR.

If you’re looking for Cinema 7 today, the building was taken over by the old Community Health Plan health insurance program.  The building was gutted and converted into office space.  The building itself still stands, but very little remains of its original glory as a film palace.

As for Let It Be – this is a tricky one.  Although the film premiered in New York on May 13, 1970, it hadn’t reached Albany screens in the three months after that premiere date.  I know, because I went through oodles of Times-Union and Knickerbocker News microfilms and the film never came up.  I’ll keep looking, but so far I’ve had no luck.

But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief trip through Albany’s movie house past.  Maybe I’ll go back to the archives again and see what happened to some of these long-forgotten movie theaters and the films they used to show.