Legends of Exhibition: Saluting the pioneers of the movie theatre business
In just over a century, the art of film—and of the way we view it—has taken huge leaps forward. Early moviegoers had nickelodeons; we have multiplexes with large-format screens, immersive audio, luxury recliner chairs and just about every food or beverage option you could dream up. In this, our final issue, FJI takes a look back at some of the icons who got us from point A to point B.
Born in 1893, Spyros Skouras (d. 1971) served as the president of 20th Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. Before those years of high-flying success, young Spyros—together with brothers Charles and George—purchased a small nickelodeon theatre in St. Louis, Missouri; by 1926, they had acquired dozens of theatres across St. Louis, Kansas City and Indianapolis. Spyros was subsequently hired as the general manager of Warner Bros.’ theatre circuit. Following a stint at Paramount, he ended up at Fox Metropolitan Theaters, which he was key in helping to turn into a media empire. Skouras was also instrumental in the introduction of CinemaScope, investing millions in the format and co-producing The Robe, the first CinemaScope release.
Born in 1916, Ted Mann (d. 2001) started off in the exhibition business as an usher before eventually moving on to co-found (with brother Marvin) Mann Theatres in 1935. In 1973, Mann purchased the National General Theatre chain, which included the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; from 1973 to 2001, the theatre bore Mann’s name. At the time of Mann’s retirement in 1991, the circuit he founded boasted approximately 500 screens. Mann served as the founder and president of the Boys’ Club of Minneapolis and, with actress wife Rhonda Fleming, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation.
Born in the Bronx, exhibition pioneer Bernard Myerson worked with Loews Corp. starting in 1963, when he was hired to operate the theatre side of the business after its acquisition from MGM by Larry and Bob Tisch. During Myerson’s time at Loews he was one of the first exhibition heads to see the wisdom of turning older theatres into multiplexes, as well as building new multiplexes in suburban shopping malls. Myerson worked extensively with Variety The Children’s Charity, the Will Rogers Memorial Fund and Motion Picture Pioneers until his death in 2002 at the age of 84.
Born in 1920 in Kansas City, Stanley Durwood took over a ten-theatre movie chain started by his father, Edward Dubinsky, in Kansas City, Missouri. Fast-forward to 1968, and Durwood Theatres was American Multi-Cinema, Inc.—or, as it’s now known, AMC. It was Durwood who, in 1962, had a brainwave that would shake the theatre industry: What if you put two screens in one theatre? Later, Durwood would open the first giant multiplex in the United States: Dallas’ AMC Grand 25. An aggressive and innovative businessman, he expanded AMC and the exhibition industry as a whole. (His New York Times obituary credits Durwood with inventing the armrest cupholder.) Durwood was named “Pioneer of the Year” by the Foundation of Motion Picture Pioneers in 1993; later that decade, in 1999, he passed away at the age of 78.
As the founder of Pacific Theatres, the late William Forman gave over six decades’ worth of movie magic to California moviegoers. Though that movie magic is currently of the indoor variety—the chain boasts nearly 100 screens across Southern California—Pacific Theatres, with Forman at its head, was initially known for popularizing the drive-in movie theatre. An international exhibitor as well, Forman owned Spain’s Cinesa circuit. Forward-thinking, Forman was interested in emerging technologies; in addition to being Pacific Theatres’ chairman, he served as the chief executive at Cinerama Inc., set up in the ’60s as an independent distributor of films produced by widescreen pioneer Cinerama.
Salah M. Hassanein
Born in Egypt in 1921, Salah M. Hassanein is the namesake of ShowEast’s Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award, given each year to an individual in the exhibition industry who has bettered the world through their philanthropic efforts. President of Warner Bros. International Theatres Co. from 1988 to 1994 and a leading executive at United Artists Theatres for decades, Hassanein held various other positions within the film industry over the years. Outside of the film industry, he founded nonprofit organization Children’s Lifeline International and has worked extensively with Variety The Children’s Charity and the Will Rogers Foundation.
John and Robert Kirby
Robert (executive chairman, executive director) and John Kirby (deputy chairman), through their work with Village Roadshow, have become key figures in the Australian exhibition market. Under the pair, Village Roadshow—founded in 1954 by their father, Roscoe “Roc” Kirby—expanded to include theme parks and a production and distribution outfit in addition to an extensive array of theatres across Australia and internationally. Village Roadshow was one of the first Australian chains to introduce the multiplex concept and stadium seating.
Vee King Shaw
Born in 1944, Vee King Shaw (d. 2017) was the longtime director of the Singapore-based Shaw Organization, a driving force in cinema exhibition and distribution alike. A family business from the start, Shaw was founded by brothers Runme Shaw (Vee King Shaw’s father) and Run Run Shaw in 1924. In the 1960s, Vee King Shaw joined the business; in subsequent years, he would oversee its expansion, specifically transitioning Shaw into the age of the multiplex throughout the ’80s and ’90s. The Shaw Organization under Vee King Shaw has also been active in charity, with its Shaw Foundation distributing over $150 million to various causes.
In 1936, a man named Michael Rothstein founded a movie theatre chain called Northeast Theater Corporation. Just over three decades later, his son Sumner took over at CEO—but there were some changed names in the mix. Sumner Rothstein was now Sumner Redstone, and Northeast Theater Corporation was now National Amusements. Over the subsequent decades, Redstone would turn National Amusements into an entertainment behemoth. It became the parent company of the CBS Corporation and Viacom, the latter itself the parent company of Paramount.
On the theatrical exhibition side, National Amusements operates over 950 screens across the U.S., U.K. and Latin America. Redstone contributed the word “multiplex” to the vernacular. And that’s not his only contribution: Over the years, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation has given millions of dollars to a variety of causes, among them education and medical research.
The second winner of ShowEast’s Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award—second only to Hassanein himself—Carmike Cinemas founder Carl Patrick, Sr. is noted for his philanthropy as well as for his pioneering work in the exhibition space. Patrick was initially an executive at Columbus, Georgia-based Martin Theatres, which in 1969 was brought into the Fuqua Industries fold. The father-and-son team of Carl and Martin Patrick became heavily involved in Fuqua’s movie theatre operations; when Fuqua decided to move away from theatrical exhibition, it only made sense that the two would acquire that corner of the business and go out in search of their own success. (The name “Carmike” comes from the names of Carl Patrick Sr.’s two sons, Carl Jr. and Michael.) It was the ’80s, a time when the industry was particularly worried about the coming advent of home cinema. But Carl Patrick remained bold, said boldness leading to the growth of the chain, particularly in smaller markets underserved by larger companies. Prior to his death in 2007, Patrick was active in charitable organizations, including Variety International and the Will Rogers Foundation.
In 1935, Ben Marcus founded what would become one of North America’s pre-eminent family-owned theatre chains: Marcus Theatres. Based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Marcus Corporation boasts not just theatres but hotels, resorts and restaurants. Ben Marcus passed down his love for the business he created to son Steve and grandson Gregory, chairman and president/CEO of The Marcus Corporation, respectively. A willingness to innovate made Marcus Theatres one of the first chains to embrace dine-in theatres. Ben Marcus passed away in 2000 at the age of 89.
Lee Roy Mitchell
Longtime exhibition executive Lee Roy Mitchell is the founder of Plano, Texas-based Cinemark, the third-largest theatre chain in the United States. In addition to founding Cinemark, Mitchell served as its CEO from 1987 to 2006. During that time, he oversaw Cinemark’s expansion to underserved markets in America as well as Latin America and South America. In 1997, Lee Roy Mitchell and Cinemark’s executive VP Tandy Mitchell were honored with the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award at ShowEast, a reflection of their work with a variety of charities, among them Variety Clubs of North Texas-The Children’s Charity and SPCA of Texas.
Robert and Marshall Naify
Brothers Robert and Marshall Naify worked their way up the exhibition ladder from the bottom, busying themselves as ushers and projectionists at their father’s theatres before eventually building theatres of their own—including San Francisco’s oldest cinema, the New Fillmore. In the late ’40s, the Naify brothers merged their family theatres with United Artists Theatres, eventually building UA into an exhibition powerhouse that would also prove a pioneer in the growing cable-television industry. The pair sold their controlling interest in United Artists Theatres in 1986; it is now part of Regal Entertainment Group.
Cathay Organsation’s Raymond Chow (1927-2018) is best known for his work in the ’70s popularizing Hong Kong cinema, bringing it international attention thanks in large part to one of Chow’s discoveries: Bruce Lee. Chow started off at Shaw Brothers, striking out on his own in 1970 to found his own company, Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest dominated Hong Kong cinema throughout the ’70s and the ’80s, helping to kick-start the careers not just of Lee but of fellow kung fu cinema icons Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
French exhibition titan Jerôme Seydoux started off working in banking in the ’60s; by 1990, he was the long-serving CEO of French conglomerate Chargeurs, which that year acquired Pathé. Eleven years later, Pathé merged with distributor/producer Gaumont to form Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé. Under Seydoux’s leadership, Gaumont Pathé has become France’s largest exhibitor and one of the leading exhibition forces in Europe, boasting screens in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and more.
Alejandro Ramírez Magaña
In 1996, Alejandro Ramírez Magaña joined the company that had been founded by his grandfather: Mexico-based Cinépolis. At that time, per Ramírez Magaña, the chain boasted “only a handful of multiplexes,” which allowed the executive to “put many new ideas into action and see about rebuilding the executive leadership of the company.” With Ramírez Magaña at the helm, Cinépolis expanded in a big way, eventually becoming the largest theatre chain in Mexico and expanding to Guatemala, El Salvador, India, Costa Rica and more.
Born in 1934, Isao Matsuoka joined Japan’s Toho Co. Ltd. in 1957. He served as the company’s president starting in 1997 and chairman from 1995 until his retirement in 2009. It is under Matsuoka’s leadership that Toho rose to the position of Japan’s pre-eminent production, distribution and exhibition company; he is credited with creating Toho’s film-programming department and consolidating its marketing, distribution and exhibition components, streamlining operations and thus maximizing profit.
Benny Suherman & Harris Lasmana
Co-founded in 1985 by Benny Suherman and Harris Lasmana, Century 21 Group is currently the largest exhibitor in the fast-growing movie marketplace of Indonesia. The two have proven their business savvy many times over, Lasmana helping to secure exclusive Indonesian rights for MPAA studio films and Suherman working on the theatrical operations side to bring multiplexes to Indonesia. Now, the company consists of three separate brands: Cinema 21, Cinema XXI and The Premiere. Between them, those brands boast over 1,000 screens, including seven IMAX screens and 50 screens with Dolby Atmos technology.
Film Journal International would also like to tip our hats to our industry’s Legends of the Future: Mooky Greidinger (Cineworld), Tim Richards (Vue International), Joe Chang (Ambassador Theatres), Miky Lee and Jung Seo (CJ Group), Vicha Poolvaraluck (Major Cineplex), and Suvit and Suwat Thongrompo (SF Group).