It was a quiet little film, the kind they seem to rarely make these days. It was called Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, and it was really big news in Woodhaven at the time. Residents still talk about it nearly 45 years after it aired, and take pride that such a production chose to film scenes in our neighborhood.
Queen of the Stardust Ballroom stars Maureen Stapleton as Bea, a lonely widow who lives on Forest Parkway and runs a small thrift shop on Jamaica Avenue. She’s encouraged by a friend, who tries to help her enjoy life a little more by taking her to the Stardust Ballroom to go dancing.
There she meets Al, played by Charles Durning, who asks her to dance. This begins a little romance between the two, and it turns Bea’s outlook on life around. Of course, being a movie, things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and there’s a few personal dramas the two leads must experience.
Stapleton and Durning were nominated for Emmy awards for their outstanding performances, two of the eleven nominations the film would receive. It ended up winning two Emmys: one for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography and another for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for a Special.
Those watching the film will be treated to several glimpses of Woodhaven circa 1974. For example, you’ll see the Post Office and you’ll see the long-since removed steps to the elevated train on Forest Parkway (and you’ll scratch your head wondering why it was ever removed).
Locals will also be scratching their heads watching a bus roll down Forest Parkway and stop in front of the Post Office. Of course, there was never a bus line that traveled along Forest Parkway, that was just some creative license taken by the filmmakers.
Locals will also be wondering why she even bothered taking a bus at all, considering that the Haven Theater was standing in as the ballroom and it was just around the corner, less than a two-minute walk away.
To viewers around the country it looks like she took a bus to a different part of the city, but eagle-eyed Woodhaven residents will recognize the Haven marquee instantly, even if the name isn’t visible.
The production was filmed on Wednesday, July 17, 1974, and lasted a little over 12 hours. As described by Kurt D. Shamberg in the Leader-Observer at the time:
“Starting in the late afternoon, the shooting session ended about 4 a.m. on Thursday,” wrote Kurt D. Shamberg in the Leader-Observer at the time. “It included a home on Forest Parkway, two business establishments on Jamaica Avenue, and the staircase leading to the Jamaica El.
“At one time, a bus-stop sign appeared in front of the Post Office, and a City bus pulled up,” the newspaper account continued. “Local youngsters were busy trying to obtain autographs from the stars, and the sound engineers had sometimes a rough time to keep the spectators quiet enough, so their comments would not get into the soundtrack.”
I remember a classmate telling me how he and his brother stayed out late watching the shoot. He told me how he’d gotten Maureen Stapleton’s autograph, and how weird it was to see a bus on Forest Parkway. I was so jealous that I missed it!
The following year, on February 13, 1975, the movie premiered on CBS, and I’m guessing it was watched in almost every household in Woodhaven that night.
I was 10 years old, so my ideas of romance between adults were pretty undeveloped. I was sort of bored throughout most of the film, but jumped up every time I saw a piece of the neighborhood I recognized.
Watching it again years later, I find myself enjoying the romantic parts of the story a little more. Yet I was surprised to read a description of the movie saying it was about two elderly people finding romance late in life.
I was surprised because both of the lead actors were younger in that film than I am today. Then I looked in the mirror and saw an old beard full of grey hair and realized that, yes, I am getting old.