Woodhaven’s starring role in a critically acclaimed made-for-TV film: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Maureen Stapleton and Charles Durning starred in the 1975 TV movie "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom," much of which was filmed in Woodhaven.
Photo courtesy of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

“The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” debuted 43 years ago this month, on the evening of Feb. 13, 1975. It was a critical and ratings success and racked up 11 Emmy award nominations.

“Ballroom” stars Maureen Stapleton as Bea, a lonely widow who lives on Forest Parkway in Woodhaven 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 a local 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 are a few personal dramas the leads must experience.

Stapleton and Durning were nominated for Emmy awards for their outstanding performances, two of the 11 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.

“The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” is warmly remembered in Woodhaven because the CBS production filmed several scenes here, along Forest Parkway and on Jamaica Avenue, on July 17, 1974. The film shoot lasted until 4 a.m., with dozens of neighborhood kids staying up well past midnight to watch the action.

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.

This house on Forest Parkway in Woodhaven was featured in "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom." (photo via Google Maps)
This house on Forest Parkway in Woodhaven was featured in “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.” (Photo via Google Maps)

And if you look closely, you’ll spot the marquee for the long-gone Haven Theater standing in for the outside of the Stardust Ballroom. To non-residents of Woodhaven, Bea’s bus ride to the ballroom appears perfectly normal. But residents familiar with the area get a chuckle at a character taking a 15-minute bus ride to a spot less than 30 seconds away.

Residents of Woodhaven may also feel confused when they watch scenes of a bus running along Forest Parkway, and even a bus stop in front of the post office. For the record, Forest Parkway itself is only a quarter of a mile long, from Jamaica Avenue to Park Lane South, and has never hosted a bus line.

But through the magic of Hollywood, you can see what a bus line along one of Woodhaven’s most well-known streets would have looked like.

And if you watch the film, you’ll get several good looks at the steps to the elevated train at Forest Parkway, which were removed when that exit of the station was closed.

When word of the production spread through Woodhaven on that hot summer day, kids from all over the neighborhood came out to watch the scenes being filmed. By mid-afternoon, the crowds of kids had grown so large that the production assistants had to repeatedly ask the crowd to quiet down.

Estimates report that there were 30 to 40 kids on-site deep into the night. But if you talk to almost anyone who lived in Woodhaven in 1974, they’ll swear that they were there. Many of those who were actually at the shoot walked away with autographs from the two stars of the film, Durning and Stapleton.

The following year, when the film was shown on television, it was the talk of the town, and has been warmly remembered ever since.

Since then, many other productions have filmed scenes here in Woodhaven. The most famous of the bunch was Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” which filmed several scenes inside Neir’s Tavern on 78th Street and 88th Avenue.

Woodhaven has also played host to “The Flamingo Kid,” starring Matt Dillon; “Run All Night,” starring Liam Neeson; and, most recently, “Wonder Wheel,” a film by Woody Allen that transformed Jamaica Avenue into a neighborhood from the 1940s.

But it’s “The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” that older residents of Woodhaven remember the most, as it was the first and because it was received with such acclaim.

Editor’s note: You can see a compilation of exterior scenes in Woodhaven from the film on YouTube