Where the stars ate

When Queens was a hotbed for the silent-film industry, its leading stars refueled in the Astor Room space. Here's a look back at the cafeteria's glitzy past.

Almost 80 years before its revamp as an Art Deco supper club, the Astor Room space served as a commissary for the silver screen's leading stars. The Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (a precursor to Paramount Pictures) built the facility—a series of studios with a caf downstairs—in 1920, and it became an epicenter for the silent-film industry. More than 100 movies, including classics like Gloria Swanson's Manhandled and the Marx Brothers' talkie The Cocoanuts, were produced here. During that period, Rudolph Valentino (pictured) and the cast of Monsieur Beaucaire used the restaurant to lunch between takes, and Monte Westmore—who would become the makeup designer for Gone with the Wind—bused tables. During World War II, the U.S. Army took over the place. The facility was renamed the Signal Corps Photographic Center and was used to make training and propaganda videos until 1971. The building was rechristened once more in 1980, when real-estate developer George Kaufman set upon revitalizing and expanding the landmark into the current 12-acre complex. These days the Kaufman Astoria Studios upholds its motion-picture legacy by filming movies (the soon-to-be-released Men in Black III), TV shows (Nurse Jackie, Sesame Street) and miniseries (Angels in America, Ron Howard's upcoming Dark Tower) on its seven stages. Musicians like Plcido Domingo and Alicia Keys, meanwhile, have sounded off in the recording studios—an ironic fate for what was once the headquarters of silent entertainment.

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