Sixty years ago today — March 2, 1951 — the 535-seat Dryden Theatre welcomed its first audience and film screening.
The Greek Revival Dryden Theatre.
The theatre is named for, and built with donated funds from, Ellen Dryden and her husband, George, to honor the film legacy of George Eastman, the founder of Kodak and father of motion picture film. Ellen Dryden was Eastman’s niece, but was as close to him as a daughter. Her descendants remain friends and supporters of the museum to this day.
George Eastman with his niece Ellen Dryden, as well s his mother, Maria, and Ellen’s young son George Eastman Dryden.
Six decades later the Greek-Revival theater continues to screen films seven days a week, with nightly films Tuesday through Saturday and senior matinees on Monday afternoon.
The featured films are from the Eastman House’s extensive archive as well as fellow archives and major studios. Titles include classics, silent films, international films, cult favorites, and Rochester premieres. The Dryden offerings also include series honoring actors, filmmakers, and genres.
The long list of visiting artists and award recipients who have graced the Dryden include Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Tony Curtis, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra, Fred Astaire, and Mary Pickford,
While the Dryden Theatre was being constructed in 1950, seven rolls of acetate microfilm recording the life of George Eastman were deposited inside the cornerstone. Unique interior features of the Dryden include the lobby floor made from Italian-imported marble.
And while the state-of-the-art projection and sound were recently upgraded in the theater, its interior looks very much as it did on opening night.
The first film screened at the Dryden was Jean Renoir’s silent film Nana (1926). Other films screened during the first series included Don Juan starring John Barrymore; The Docks of New York, directed by Josef von Sternberg; and The White Hell of Pitz Palu, directed by G.W. Pabst.
At various points throughout 2011, the Dryden’s 60th anniversary will be celebrated via special screenings.
Dresden Engle is the Public Relations Manager for George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.