Visit Woodhaven 1974 through movie magic
by Ed Wendell
Feb 02, 2016 | 5874 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Judy Heckler, 12, collects an autograph from the film’s leading man, Charles Durning.
Judy Heckler, 12, collects an autograph from the film’s leading man, Charles Durning.
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Maureen Stapleton graciously signs autographs for the young residents of Woodhaven in the summer of 1974.
Maureen Stapleton graciously signs autographs for the young residents of Woodhaven in the summer of 1974.
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When word got out that they were filming a movie in Woodhaven, people from the neighborhood came out to watch deep into the night. Filming ended at 4 a.m. and many of the neighborhood youth stayed out late to watch it.
When word got out that they were filming a movie in Woodhaven, people from the neighborhood came out to watch deep into the night. Filming ended at 4 a.m. and many of the neighborhood youth stayed out late to watch it.
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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, over 40 years after it aired, and take pride that such a production chose to film scenes right here in Woodhaven.

The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with a party and a special showing of the Emmy award-winning film at noon on Saturday, February 13, at Emanuel United Church of Christ, located at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. Admission to the party is free and everyone is welcome.

There will be cupcakes and coffee and we’ll start the party with some ballroom music. And then we’ll watch the legendary film on a gigantic movie screen. Sadly, there aren’t any movie theaters left in our community, but for this one afternoon we’re going to bring the Saturday matinee back to Woodhaven.

“Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” starts 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 get out and 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. That 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 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, when it was filmed. For example, you’ll see the post office and you’ll see the long-since removed steps to the elevated train on Forest Parkway.

It was Wednesday, July 17, 1974, when the production filmed here in Woodhaven, and tthe shoot 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. 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. 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 Stapleton’s autograph and how weird it was to see a bus on Forest Parkway. I was so jealous that I’d missed it!

The following year, on February 13, 1975, the movie premiered on CBS, exactly 41 years ago to the date that we’ll be having our special showing of the film. We hope that you’ll come out and enjoy this piece of Woodhaven history and watch a truly special film on the big screen.

Speaking of Woodhaven history, we are just over eight weeks away from the first of three free walking tours presented by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society. At noon on Sunday, April 3, we will be giving a walking tour of Old Woodhaven Village.

All three of our tours will cover different locales and this first one will cover the area that was Woodhaven in the old days, much of which is today part of Ozone Park. It will take about two hours.

We will be visiting the area where George Washington allegedly spent the night, and where the cyclone struck Woodhaven and, of course, the LaLance-Grosjean factory.

We’ll publish more details as we get closer, but if you want to be kept up-to-date on the walking tour, email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com (no hyphen).

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