In 1930, Baltimore hosted the East Coast premiere of 'The King of Jazz' with Paul Whiteman. Unfortunately, the film was a flop.

Only the façade and a portion of rear walls remain on the shell of Howard Street’s Mayfair Theater.

In 1930, when it was called the Auditorium, the theater landed a major booking. The old Auditorium hosted the East Coast premiere of “The King of Jazz,” a big budget film featuring band leader Paul Whiteman and a young Bing Crosby.

Nearly six months earlier, the Auditorium had been fitted with a screen and speakers for sound films after years as a live stage show house.

The Sun’s Donald Kirkley praised the “King of Jazz” as “one of the most beautiful and spectacular of the color films to date. … A capacity audience applauded the film at intervals.”

Universal Studios sent Whiteman to share the Auditorium stage with the film’s other star, singer John Boles on April 24, 1930. The film’s lavish production number “Rhapsody in Blue” (which Whiteman’s band premiered in 1924 in New York) proved a hit, but the film’s length proved ponderous.

Soon the film became known as “Rhapsody in Red.”

“King of Jazz” grossed only $3,630 for a week in Baltimore, less than half of the Auditorium’s next attraction, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which drew large Baltimore audiences.

Despite high hopes and its investment, “King of Jazz” was forgotten and prints of the film deteriorated. NBCUniversal’s painstaking restoration premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in 2016.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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