Without a theatre to manage, Roxy them embarked on the most curious venture. Teaming up with a promoter by the name of Frank Hall, he devised what became known as the “Rothafel Unit Programme.” Putting all of his theories and ideas into a package of filmed shorts for musical performances, Roxy hoped to use his name and reputation to give theatres the kind of presentations that only he could devise. But there were very few takers for musical shorts that were not “live” and Roxy’s partnership with Frank Hall was quickly dissolved.
Shrugging off that failure, Roxy was then recruited by Sam Goldwyn to go out to California and help prop up his company’s flagship theatre, the California Theatre in Los Angeles. Roxy had spent several months there revamping the playhouse’s format when he got a call from the new head of Goldwyn Pictures, Joe Godsol, to come home.
Roxy Rothafel seemed to be a perfect match for the trouble-prone Capitol Theatre. Perfect, that is, to everyone except for Major Edward J. Bowes. He had nothing but disdain from the start for Roxy, an ex-Marine and an uneducated son of immigrants. He believed that Rothafel lacked the class needed to run the Capitol. The man had neither formal schooling nor savoir-faire. His brand of stage shows would attract a lesser quality of patron into the hallowed halls of the world’s largest theatre. “He’ll bring in the kind of people that we don’t need,” he declared with righteous fury.
“He’s been successful at every theatre he has ever managed,” Jack Barrowman pointed out.
“And he’s nearly spent every theatre owner he’s every worked for into bankruptcy.” The Major had heard the story about Roxy’s impetuous resignation from the Rialto and Rivoli. “His management style is wasteful and extravagant…and Godsol plans to pay him $1000 a week? No one is worth that kind of money!”
“My record speaks for itself, gentlemen,” Roxy told the Board in his own defense. He was confident and entirely sure that he knew more about what attracted audiences to the theatre more than anyone else in the room. “I have no question that I can turn the Capitol’s fortunes around. Like Major Bowes, I’m an old military man and I strongly believe in leading, not following; even when there are great risks to leading.”
“We’re not looking to act recklessly,” one director declared.
“You have no other choice than to do whatever it takes to make this theatre profitable,” Roxy countered. He had studied the theatre’s situation and he was sure that he was right. “There are over eight hundred theatres in New York proper, thirty alone showing motion pictures within a three block radius of the Capitol. You don’t need to take that long a look at the losses you’ve suffered in the last few months to conclude that you have been unable to compete for business when you should, in fact, be dominating Broadway.”
Everyone seemed to agree with that assessment with the exception of the Major.
“It isn’t enough to simply offer motion pictures, gentlemen. Audiences have far too many choices these days. We must make people believe that they are missing out by missing out. It isn’t knowing what the audience wants that makes a theatre successful, it’s knowing how to tell the audience what they want to see that fills the seats.”
“Now I won’t lie to you, gentlemen. The changes that I’m proposing will be costly, but they should be viewed as an investment towards success. The Capitol Theatre should be set apart in the public’s mind as an absolutely unique showplace, with the most lavish interior; the cleanest facilities; the biggest and best stage shows; the largest symphony orchestra in the city…“
“What you are advocating will cost us a fortune!” the Major warned.
“…And the brightest marquee to be seen anywhere on Broadway. But when I am done, the Capitol will stand as its own best advertisement. I can promise you that we will fill every seat in the house and I’m willing to wager my salary on the Capitol becoming the leading motion picture theatre in New York within six months.”
During Roxy’s enthusiastic sermon, Godsol, Messmore Kendall, and the Board of Directors hung on his every word. More than anything, they wanted their money-losing theatre to be profitable and Rothafel was promising them that and more. His methods would be expensive and somewhat risky, but he had yet to fail and, realistically, the Capitol had nothing to lose by trying things his way.
With a show of hands, the Board of Director voted to approve Rothafel’s contractual demands and despite one strenuously vociferous objection, Roxy Rothafel was hired to save the Capitol Theatre.