The fortresslike walls of the auditorium are connected on the west side by a stately bridge lit by eight flickering lanterns. This imposing bridge forms the top of a seventy-nine-foot proscenium that frames the main house curtain, which depicts mosques and Moorish rulers in a mosaic of hand-sewn sequins and rhinestones.
Since the Great Depression, the Fox has dominated the performing arts scene in Atlanta. The Atlanta Opera (1995-2003) and Metropolitan Opera (1948-68), Mick Jagger, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Beverly Sills, among other performers, have appeared on the very wide (135 feet) yet very shallow (38 feet) stage. Many films have also been shown in the theater. Today the Fox is home to the Atlanta Ballet, the oldest professional dance company in the United States.
The controversial Disney film Song of the South, which originally premiered at the Fox in 1946, set a first-week record when it was rereleased in 1972. Although Gone With the Wind did not premiere at the Fox (that honor went to Loew's Grand), the theater celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the film by transforming its Peachtree façade into a reproduction of Tara.
What the Public Doesn't See
In addition, the Fox has a large freight elevator, a separate screening room, a broadcasting studio, a central vacuum system, and showers in its seven floors of backstage dressing rooms. It also has a clinic equipped with a hospital bed, an automatic sterilizer, and supplies to handle everything from a bruise to a broken leg.
Deep beneath the stage, the Fox seems even more massive and mysterious. A morass of boilers, fans, pipes, and ducts control the climate within the vast complex. The basement is a winding maze of corridors, passageways, and rehearsal rooms. Three distinct electric lines enter the main power room on the lowest level of the theater and furnish enough electricity to light a medium-sized city. An emergency generator assures that if all else fails, the emergency lighting system at the Fox will remain on. Until recently, the backstage walls were scratched with the names of New York City streets and avenues—a necessity for the language-diverse Metropolitan Opera cast who, through this ingenious system of "street signs," could quickly find the stage entrance in this underground labyrinth.
History of the Fox
Despite the grim economy, the Fox gave Atlanta a sprightly Christmas present. For tickets ranging from fifteen cents to seventy-five cents, the holiday gift included a concert on the mammoth organ, a performance by the Fox Grand Orchestra, the Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie, a sing-a-long, the Sunkist Beauties, Fox Movietone News, and the feature film Salute.
The Great Depression was not an auspicious time to launch such an ambitious project, however. By 1932 the Shriners were defaulting on their pledges, and William Fox was bankrupt. Late that year, the mortgage was foreclosed, and the theater was forced to shut down, after less than three years in operation. In the late 1930s, after passing through several hands, a new partnership bought the Fox and placed it on a sound financial footing.
During World War II (1941-45) the Fox remained open and became a popular escape route from reality to the world of make-believe. The Fox prospered as one of Atlanta's finest movie houses from the 1940s through the 1960s, but in the 1970s the heyday of American movie palaces came to a close. The Fox was reduced to showing second-rate films.
The mid-1970s was a time of explosive growth for Atlanta, and the relentless progress almost destroyed the Fox. The telephone giant Southern Bell (later BellSouth and AT&T) wanted the Fox's desirable corner lot for its world headquarters. The city of Atlanta did not want this prestigious company to move outside the city limits, taking their employees and their lucrative tax base with them. It looked as if the Fox would be sold and demolished to make way for Southern Bell's new corporate headquarters.
"Save the Fox"
The theater stands today as a fiercely protected landmark and a nationally acclaimed venue, having withstood economic depression, mortgage foreclosure, bankruptcy, competition, the advent of television, and real-estate development. The Fabulous Fox has enjoyed an operating surplus every year since 1975 and is now protected as a National Historic Landmark.
James C. Bryant, "Yaarab Temple and the Fox Theatre: The Survival of a Dream," Atlanta History 39 (summer 1995): 5-22.
Ben M. Hall, The Best Remaining Seats: The Story of the Golden Age of the Movie Palace (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988).
John Clark McCall, Atlanta Fox Album: Mecca at Peachtree Street (Atlanta: privately printed, 1975).
David Naylor, Great American Movie Theaters (Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1987).
William Schemmel, The Fabulous Fox at 50 (Atlanta: Perry Communications, 1979).
Joe McKaughan, Griffin
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