Love & history

a winning double bill for the Hollywood Theatre

by Mackenzie Gray

Reginald and Margret Fairleigh

Passion, movies, romance in the dark! Love has been present in the cinema since the famous “Rice-Irwin Kiss” in Edison’s short film, The Kiss, which first screened in 1896. People have been kissing in the movies, at the movies and watching the movies ever since. Love has been shown, nurtured, developed and inspired by movies. And since the beginning of cinema, people, in turn, have loved the movies and the magical places they are shown.

On October 24, one of Vancouver’s best-loved theatres – the Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway in Kitsilano – celebrates 75 years of flickering love. Owned by the same family, at the same location, since it was built, the Hollywood Theatre is a movie-lover’s favourite haunt. Since opening to great fanfare in 1935, with the showing of Will Rogers’ film Life Begins at Forty, the Hollywood has changed very little. To celebrate this remarkable milestone, The Hollywood hosts its 75th anniversary celebration in similar fashion. (See sidebar.)

hollywood exterior night

The Hollywood Theatre began as an idea. The current owner David Fairleigh’s great-grandmother, Margret Fairleigh, in the early years of the Great Depression was aware that one of the businesses that seemed to thrive was the cinema, despite the harsh economic situation, Margret pressured her husband Reginald to build a “Movie House” to ensure their sons would have steady jobs during the depression. Reginald traded his house on Dundee Street in Vancouver for the vacant lot where the Hollywood Theatre now stands and he began work immediately. The building itself began as a labour of love and in those days, things were built to last.

Lots of love planned for the Hollywood Theatre’s 75th anniversary celebration

Oct 22-24
Gala parties begin
5:30pm each night
showtime: 7:30pm

Step back in history at the Hollywood, with candy and cigarette girls, 1930s ushers, a star-studded opening and big klieg-lights lighting up the sky; the original Hollywood Theatre sign will be fully lit in all its glory. Hosted by Mackenzie Gray with Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell making an appearance. Celebrations presented by the wines of the Languedoc region in the South of France. Wine flows for $4/glass (4 free wine samplers). Treats include the Hollywood’s famous real popcorn. Free catered food: Oct 22 by master restaurateur Harry Kambolis (C Restaurant, Nu and Raincity Grill). Oct. 23/24: by The New Bohemian. First feature: The American. Second feature (in the works): Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 masterpiece. Come out and enjoy live music in a vibrant mix of actors, directors and producers and, of course, movie lovers. And there will be love. Lots of it.

Hollywood Theatre
3123 West Broadway,
Minimum donation $8/adults, $6/seniors. (Oct. 27: A lo-fi, short video celebrates Harry Kambolis’ induction into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame.)

Reginald met Margret in a dentist’s office, where she was so scared, he offered to hold her hand. They held hands for the next 50 years, building a theatre that became an institution. Margret was always the owner of the Hollywood, right up to her death in the mid 1960s. Reginald oversaw it, always dapper in a suit and tie. He came from a strong Catholic background and while he had a no-nonsense demeanour, he also had an adventurous spirit and a warm heart. His son David Fairleigh was the theatre’s first projectionist and he managed the theatre from 1935 to 1998. David actually had to learn how to be a projectionist and he was not a member of the Union. The Projectionists’ Union, belligerently active due to the fact that it was the Depression and union members needed work, picketed the Hollywood Theatre. At one point, 300 projectionists, waving signs and wearing cardboard sandwich boards, stood outside the theatre, blocking the entrance. Reginald, determined to clear the picketers from the theatre, hired and paid a dozen women to walk among the protesters, with “Just Married” signs on their backs. The protest quickly dispersed. Reginald and David joined the Projectionists’ Union after defeating it in court, and, in a strange turn of fate, Reginald became the business agent for the Projectionists’ Union 348 because he was so popular with the rank and file and had such good business sense. Ironically, he shared his love of cinema with his former adversaries and continued to lead them for many years.

Love and cinema go hand in hand. Young couples have used the flickering darkness of cinemas for many amorous adventures and the Hollywood was no exception. The kissing and petting from the back rows drowned out many a film’s dialogue and Reginald, who was not a fan of this behaviour, would walk around with a sign reading, “Please show respect to your date as you would your mother and sister.” Once, standing next to a couple playing an intense game of tonsil hockey, Reginald raised the sign and the young man exploded in shrieks of laughter. The sign disappeared at some point; no one is quite sure when. Couples have been found in flagrante in the balcony, in the back row and even behind the screen itself, where the lovers could see the audience, but the audience couldn’t see them because of the film being projected. Talk about a Hollywood kiss.

And true love has blossomed at the Hollywood. Couples have met there for the first time or gone there on their first date. Some have even gotten married there. One of the Farleigh’s met her husband there when he short-changed her buying a ticket. She pursued him to settle the money and ended up with a ring on her finger soon afterwards. Current owner David Fairleigh, grandson of Reginald, met his wife Thelma while apprenticing in Prince Rupert as a projectionist. Their son, Vince, met his wife when she worked at the candy counter in the Hollywood. Alice Fairleigh, David senior’s wife, is in her 80s and still works the box-office a few days a week. She’s been a part of the Hollywood since the 1940s. Love is in evidence everywhere in that theatre.

For over 75 years, the Hollywood Theatre has been a vital part of Kitsilano life, and indeed, Vancouver life. It is still the cheapest theatre in town, with double bills costing $8 or $6 on Mondays. The theatre has screened every Oscar-winning and nominated film since 1935, along with every Genie award-winning film. It has shown European films, Japanese classics and independent films and it is a favourite location for special screenings and events.

With the same décor from 1935, its unique period feel is a favourite with filmmakers and it has been a “set” for many Hollywood films and TV series. When I have a film playing in town, I love seeing it at the Hollywood. It feels like I’m watching it at home.

This month, come out and join the Hollywood Theatre’s celebration of 75 wonderful years. Bring your hearts and feel the love in Canada’s oldest, independently owned and operated theatre. I’ll be there, hosting the big party, helping the grand old lady of Kitsilano light up the silver screen once again. With love.

Mackenzie Gray was born and raised in Toronto. A professional actor for over 30 years, he has appeared in over 120 films and television shows. Mackenzie was recently seen in director Terry Gilliam’s feature film fantasy The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the Lifetime film Storm Seekers as well as the Hallmark mini-series Knights of Bloodsteel.

Since moving to Vancouver as a series lead for the television series The Net, he has appeared as a recurring guest star on Human Target, Young Blades, The Collector, Da Vinci’s Inquest, First Wave, So Weird and will star as the new Lex Luthor on Smallville.