Interview: Toby Talbot Grieves as Lincoln Plaza Cinemas’ Future Hangs in the Balance

By Carol Tannenhauser

Toby Talbot knows as little about the future of Lincoln Plaza Cinemas as the rest of us. The theater’s landlord, Howard Milstein, informed her and her late husband Dan Talbot that their lease would not be renewed when it expires at the end of January, ending a 37-year-run for the beloved movie house. But since then Milstein has been unreachable, she said.

“He simply said, ‘We’ve had a great 37-year run,’ and then didn’t return any calls,” Talbot, 89, told WSR in a phone interview last week. “I haven’t heard from him since Dan died. I’m not surprised. We weren’t friends; we were just business associates. He was a financial partner in the theater. He didn’t have anything to do with booking.

“In my view, he has either decided that he can get a greater rent on the theater — though he never proposed that we pay a greater rent — or he has some project in mind and I’m not in his confidence, so I don’t know what that is or who it includes or incorporates. I sincerely hope that some commercial chain doesn’t enter and play run-of-the-mill movies, because we devoted our lives to playing special movies there.”

A spokesperson for Milstein Properties maintained that the only “project” at hand is renovations — and that Talbot’s fears are unfounded.

“There is vital structural work needed to repair and waterproof the plaza surrounding the building that cannot be completed while the space is in use and will begin now that the cinema’s lease has expired. At the completion of this work, we expect to re-open the space as a cinema that will maintain its cultural legacy far into the future.”

The representative expressed Milstein’s “profound sadness” at Dan Talbot’s death, but didn’t say anything about Talbot’s other contentions, or answer a question about whether Toby Talbot and rest of the Lincoln Plaza team will be part of the new theater.

“Of course I would like to continue running it,” Toby Talbot said. “And one of the things that grieves me — grieves is hardly even a strong enough word — is that the people who’ve been working with us — and I say not ‘for’ us, but ‘with’ us, some for 35 years — are so devoted, I just hate to think of them suddenly being out of jobs. The people on our staff come from all over the globe. It’s a United Nations down there. It’s a harmonious place, run with a very hands-on perspective. I’ve been the one who has chosen everything at the confection stand. Almost every pastry comes from a different place.”

“I’m hesitant to go there now,” she revealed, “because I’m flooded with people who come to the theater upset, protesting, frustrated. What else can I say? I have no recourse, as far as I know. He is the landlord and he has the legal right to do with his property what he wishes to do. He’s a very, very wealthy man. I don’t know what’s on his mind.”

According to IndieWire, it could be Lincoln Center.

“IndieWire learned from multiple sources that, a year ago, Milstein spoke with at least one party as a future credible operator: the nonprofit Film Society of Lincoln Center. That might suggest his company maintained real interest in continuing the theater, with similar programming.”

“It may very well be Lincoln Center,” Talbot said. “Lincoln Center is a nonprofit organization with a very wealthy board. A nonprofit could pay a greater amount of rent and just factor it in. I don’t know what conversations he has had with them, or how far it has gone.”

A spokesperson for The Film Society said, “Regarding reports that we have met with Mr. Milstein about Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, our response is ‘no comment.’”

Lesli Klainberg, Executive Director of the Film Society, added that “What [the Talbots] have accomplished here on the Upper West Side has been an inspiration to us and to movie exhibitors across the city and the U.S. Their belief in the importance of cinema as an art form has been clearly put into practice at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for decades. And it’s a principle we will continue to prize here at the Film Society.”

Talbot is now pinning her hopes to run the theater on politicians and petitions.

“The only thing that could possibly be done,” she said, “is if significant political pressure is exerted by our elected officials, saying this isn’t a matter of just economics, but of a cinema culture that has been established for three-and-a-half decades in that spot, with people who are very bereft to be deprived of it.” A petition to save the theater was started last month.

Is there any chance Talbot would open in a new location?

“I don’t know,” she responded. “Someone would have to spearhead that. There is a cinema we used to own, the Metro, and that seems to still be vacant. But half of the tenants at Mr. Milstein’s building virtually live at our theater. I don’t know how eager they’d be to go up to 100th Street. And major art film distributors have always come to us with their films. I don’t know if they would want to be up on 100th Street.

“I’m sorry I can’t be more definitive,” she concluded, “but this is how it is. I’m grieving over my husband. We knew each other for 70 years and were married for 68. I’m happy to give you any information, but I’m not in the mood for much else.”

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser. Toby Talbot photo via The New School.

NEWS | 43 comments | permalink
    1. Ground Control says:

      Call Helen Rosenthal’s office 212) 873-0282 and ask her to contact Mr. Milstein’s office to discuss how important this wonderful theater is to the residents of the UWS and all NYC.

    2. Carlin Meyer says:

      Let’s let Milstein know there’ll be a boycott by “Grey Boomers” if it’s anything but a renewal of the Talbot lease or an equivalent type of movie house!

    3. Bob Lamm says:

      The “no comment” from the Film Society of Lincoln Center (about reports that they’ve met with Mr. Milstein) certainly says a lot. If he’s not going to rent the reopened property to Toby Talbot (I hope he will), then I suspect the Film Society of Lincoln Center is the best second choice we can get.

    4. Doug Garr says:

      People will travel to an art house! Open at the old Metro site on 100th Street. Please. When I moved to Greenwich Village after college in 1972, I regularly took a subway to the old Thalia on the UWS, which isn’t too far from where the Metro is.

      • lynn says:

        I used to go to the Thalia too, but I much prefer to walk to Lincoln Plaza, considering I’m now 46 years older than I was in 1972, lol. In all seriousness, this theater is a neighborhood institution and it needs to stay in THIS neighborhood.

    5. Vera Silverman says:

      My deepest condolences to you . Dan was known to be a wonderful person. Is there anything I can do to help with the theatre continuing?

    6. Ken says:

      What can we do to help exert political pressure? Is there a link to a petition?

    7. Susan Kagan says:

      Lincoln Plaza is a cultural treasure in NYC. It would be a tragic loss to all cinemaphiles if it is forced to close.

    8. Jamie says:

      I would be thrilled if they moved up to the still vacant Metro!

      • Jim says:

        Vacant and gutted so that will never happen. Apparently, nothing else will ever occupy the Metro with the current fickle owner.

    9. Nancy says:

      I loved the theatre because of its superb films. I went there in spite of the unfriendly and downright nasty attitudes of the majority of the employees. Please please keep this place open and continue to show extraordinary films.

      • lynn says:

        Unfriendly and nasty would describe the employees at Loews but I’ve always had a much more positive experience at Lincoln Plaza (spanning 20+ years) because they recognize their patrons and they’ve always gone out of their way to be helpful. The ‘only’ time I ever witnessed a problem was when they corralled off a group to wait for a Woody Allen movie and then forgot to release them in to the theater, lol. 😉

    10. Joyce Silver says:

      So sorry for your loss. However, if you keep paying the rent and Milstein accepts it, you’re in business. Acceptance means you still have a contractual agreement to stay.

    11. Elizabeth Sachs says:

      There is a petition going on with currently almost 11 k signatures. It can be found here:

      http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/save-lincoln-plaza-cinemas?source=s.icn.em.mt&r_by=18481545

      Please, sign it and pass on to others. It would be great if West Side Rag could mention it as it would reach more readers than just my comment. There is also a letter to Milstein from our elected officials that can be found on Helen Rosenthal’s facebook, that could be reprinted here.

    12. West88 says:

      It’s clear the Film Society of Lincoln Center will take over. He gets higher rent, UWSiders still get films, and a much needed upgrade will most likely occur taking the venue out of the 80s. The New York Film Festival (run by Lincoln Center) has become a prominent fixture in the area and receives more and more highly anticipated premieres. Cinema venues are few and far between so grabbing one across the street is a no brainer.

    13. Bishop says:

      The Metro would seem a good possible alternative, but this require extensive work as its interior was reportedly gutted several years ago.

    14. Marissa Shedd says:

      My heart goes out to you for the great loss of your husband and partner in every way. My husband and I had owned and ran our small business on the upper west side for 35 years when he died in 2010. Your cinema meant so much to us and I truly thank you for enriching our lives.

    15. Glen says:

      If Lincoln Center is interested there will be no amount of “political pressure” exerted. If anything, the skids will be greased to make it even easier for the FSLC to take over the theaters.

    16. E. V. del Alamo says:

      It would be so wonderful to re-open the Metro as an art-film house. I used to be there all the time, even when there was no heat. Such a beautiful Art Deco theatre too. Our neighborhood used to be a little cinema heaven with the Metro, the old Thalia, and the movie house on 110th street, which name I have forgotten.

    17. Rebecca says:

      Would love if they opened at The Metro on 100th! We’re in desperate need for an indie cinema above 68th Street! Plus you have all the Columbia students/professors nearby as your audience as well. Please come further uptown!

    18. Jean says:

      Perhaps she can open elsewhere in the city?
      I’m sure she’d have followers.

    19. Janice says:

      We would definitely go up to 100th !!

    20. Talbots were terrific programmers at various locations for many years and deserve all the praise they have received.
      But the theater is a dump. Tiny screens, lousy seats,often indifferent projection, sound, sync,
      Needs a complete re-do which probably only non-profit
      Lincoln Center could provide.

    21. JS says:

      Very good article. Hope they can stay open.

    22. Sarah says:

      I’d be thrilled if they moved to the Metro. The neighborhood opposition that sunk the proposed Alamo Drafthouse there (apparently) might well be overcome by a familiar name and culture. And since the building’s been vacant for years, maybe the landlord won’t be quite so ridiculous about rent? (Ha.)

    23. I live on 97th Street and love Lincoln Plaza Cinema. I grieve it’s closing, but I don’t think you should make 100th Street some kind of outpost. There’s a lot of new building here and I think there would be an audience for an art movie house. I know I would love it!

    24. Jen says:

      Very sad. I am prepared to pay more for good cinema, but I guess it should take quite a few people to make it sustainable. I have no idea where else to go for the same excellent selection. Film Society is good but definitely not as good as Lincoln Plaza.

      Before somebody attacks me and makes judgements about my age and financials, I’m in my early 40s and own an apt on UWS. That’s in case Sherman “stalks” me or somebody sreams “ageism” again 🙂

      And thank you, Talbot family, for bringing excellent world and domestic cinema to us and expanding our horizons.

    25. David says:

      Leave her alone. She’s 89 and she just lost her husband of 70 years. She deserves a rest. If she wants to reopen at some point (I wouldn’t at 89), that’s up to her. We lost a great theater, but this 89-year-old is under not obligation to movie-goers. Give her some peace. I signed the petition; now I wish I hadn’t.

    26. Ronnie Tuft says:

      Dear Toby Talbot – You sound like a wonderful and bright woman who had the good fortune of having a loving partner/husband – (sorry for your loss) – and enriched us NYers’ lives through the films you chose to show. I hope this story has a happy ending for you and for all of us. And I wish you good health and continued vitality in all your pursuits.
      R Tuft

    27. Barbara Litt says:

      The closing of this theatre is a tragic loss, especially at a time when Ms. Talbot is processing a personal tragic loss. Godspeed…

    28. Beth says:

      First, my condolences to Toby Talbot and her family on the loss of husband Dan Talbot.
      I live near W 103rd and regularly travel to Lincoln Plaza. If the vacant Metro could be turned into an arthouse cinema again, avid movie goers would quickly realize they’d just need a Metrocard and not a passport to travel to 100th Street. What about a Kickstarter or Go Fund Me campaign to get this off the ground? I’d certainly contribute.
      Plus, we already have a prerequisite for a successful movie theater location—a great diner, the Metro, right
      across the street! Given LCFS’s silence on the subject, this could already be moot.

    29. robert says:

      Folks the theatre is gone.
      The whole thing needs work as it has large leaks regularly from the plaza above. The theaters are in bad shade i.e. peeling paint/wallpaper, holes in walls, broken seats throughout, not fixed properly etc. Don’t even get me started on the bathrooms, with multiple broken stalls on a regular basis. I used to work at the theater and had gone for years afterwards but stopped going for the reasons above.
      Also they were given a sweat heart deal to open the theater 35 years ago as underground retail was very hard to rent and draw customers to back then, now that the area has continued to improve rents are much higher.
      Re the Metro as I have said before here, it has been gutted for many years there are NO internal walls and or supports. It was in such bad shape that the city fined them and ordered them to and steel columns on the sidewalk to hold it up. The roof has huge wooden beans that stretch the span of the building, they and the roof are in disrepair and sag in a bow when which can bee seen with the naked eye from above. It is only a matter of time when it comes down. The current owns sold the air rights to the Ariel condo next door when the terra cotta façade was landmark. No other part of the theater was/is landmarked, and was gutted when Urban Outfitters was going to move in their. Remember that was stopped by UWS self appointed community leaders that put road blocks that delayed the project saying they wanted the city to fore it to become a theater again. They are why the façade was landmarked, all that/they did was drive up the cost and have Urban Outfitters abandon the project to open across the street. Since the air rights were sold the building is worthless as you can not build anything over 2 stories. When the Metro falls in on itself the city will condemn it and issue a demolition order in the public safety, then someone will by the site and build a 2 story store

    30. Jerry says:

      The closing of this wonderful complex echoes the closing of the revered Regency, just up the street, which programed wonderful revivals of classic films. There were protests from fervid supporters, petitions and appeals to political leaders. All for naught. The theater was replaced by a cheesy first-run that was eventually torn down. The Regency sputtered out at a couple of other locations.

    31. West 65 resident says:

      Milstein is a board member of the Lincoln Center so-called Business Improvement District. How about the staff and long time Executive Director speak up about the closing of another business in their district.

    32. Francesca Turchiano says:

      We, too, grieve the end of a very good man’s life, his grieving spouse, and the end of a remarkable run as Lincoln Plaza. We have no reason to think that another unwanted AMC-like theatre will be put in place. We are optimistic that the intentions and connections of Milstein will result in another first-rate cinematic venue. There’s something good in that in every way for everybody!
      🍀🍀

    33. Beverly Marshall says:

      Hoping that Lincoln Plaza Cinema will be open after the renovations. If it remains closed it will be unfortunate for all of who have loved going there for so many years. It would be my pleasure to sign the petition to have it reopen after any necessary renovations.

    34. Elizabeth Langer says:

      We’re dealing with Howard Milstein, also CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank, who was recently found guilty by a Brooklyn jury of discrimating against minority homeowners by marketing “highly abusive” loans with interest rates up to 18% according to the New York Times. Can this man be trusted? Upper West Siders: boycott Emigrant and all the rest of Milstein’s businesses. https://therealdeal.com/2016/06/29/emigrant-bank-targeted-minorities-with-predatory-mortgages-jury/