Growing up, my favorite Fox films were the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, all but one of which were distributed by Fox (and Magna).
When I was 8 years old, my parents took me to see a live performance of The King and I with Yul Brynner. I was enchanted by this musical, especially the way the songs told the story. I later saw the film versions of Oklahoma!, The King and I, and of course South Pacific, my favorite musical to this day.
I saw road-company productions of Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music, the latter with Florence Henderson. While I loved Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music's play version didn't quite work for me. Since I had been listening to the album, I was disappointed.
By 1963, I was in college and working as a union projectionist, and was very into exhibition technology, special processes and stereophonic sound. I remember that Fox had a screening room downtown, equipped with very nice 4-track stereo. The branch manager, Dave Gold, loved South Pacific, and kept a 35mm magnetic print of the film in the booth. So, occasionally the screening room would not be in use, and the union projectionist would run South Pacific. I remember sitting in the room with Dave several times watching with only the two of us in attendance.
In April of 1965, The Sound of Music opened at the Capri Theatre in Des Moines, IA in Todd AO/70mm.
Let me tell you about the Capri. It was a great "60's roadshow house" built to exhibit Ben-Hur in 1960. By 1965 it had acquired the reputation of being the finest theatre in Iowa, and drew from all around the state. It was superbly equipped and operated by a showman named Robert Fridley, who is still in business and owns over 100 theatres in the state. I saw him last summer and he is still going strong in his 90's.
On the night before opening, a group of the theatre people gathered at midnight to watch The Sound of Music to make final adjustments to the sound mix. The theatre was equipped with Norelco DP-70's, the finest projectors ever made, and the matching Norelco 6-channel amplifiers. These amplifiers were very touchy requiring adjustment of the bias and many tube and capacitor replacements, but they were marvelous when they worked properly.
The film itself was a revelation. The great changes made to the screenplay by Earnest Lehman together with Rodgers' new songs completely changed my view of the show. It was wonderful.
Bob Fridley was however not sure certain. He loved the film personally, but wondered if contemporary audiences would connect to it. As an exhibitor, he had his doubts. These doubts seemed to be confirmed as business was a bit light in the next several weeks.
Finally, Bob went to New York and asked Fox distribution executives to let him out of the long-term roadshow contract. It was difficult to make money on a roadshow because you basically were giving 90% of the proceeds to the film company, although there were overhead and advertising allowances. Fox countered with an offer to provide more money for advertising and made some overhead adjustments. They said that they had faith in the picture, and sensed a growing interest in many cities.
With little choice, Fridley persevered. The film did pick up interest, and became a phenomenon throughout the state. A year later it won the Best Picture Oscar. Buses were chartered to bring crowds from every city. Special matinees were scheduled. The Sound of Music ran 2 years and 2 months at the Capri, setting the record for longest run in the state at that time (and probably since).
As for myself, I never was able to project the film. Obviously, I had no "seniority" in the union, and the projectionists who did run the film were extraordinarily competent. They also knew film and the business inside/out, and had many stories. I was just lucky to know them. Since The Sound of Music opened when I was a sophomore and ended just as I was graduating, I saw it many times. I remember impressing girls on a first-date by taking them and getting comp tickets!
At the end of the run, the print looked as good as it had originally. A small piece of one reel did have to be replaced, which Fox did. In those days, the studios really cared about roadshow exhibition. Fox sent out technical and marketing reps to help, and if our projection had been deficient, we would have heard about it.
Postscript: while I think that digital projection is good and certainly better than the "average" 35mm presentation used to be, there is still nothing to compare to 70mm exhibition with excellent equipment, competent and committed union projectionists, and the fine theatres of the era. Just as it takes a lot of effort to make a quality film, there are many ingredients to proper exhibition. Fox had more 70mm-filmed movies than any other studio, and from Oklahoma! through Hello Dolly! did the best job of supporting roadshow exhibition of any studio.