Friday, May 18, 2012

The Empress of Gore

To all you horror fans out there who were salivating at the thought that I was going to write on a mistress of horror, I am sorry to disappoint you. The Empress of Gore I am speaking of is the old Empress Theatre that was formerly located at Hastings and Gore Streets.
In 1929, the British Guild Players produced its first show. The leaders of the company - a husband and wife team of David Clyde and Dorothy Hammerton (better known as Fay Holden) - received congratulations telegrams from people such as Laurel and Hardy and J.M. Barrie who were key figures of the era.

The British Guild Players was Vancouver's leading professional theatre company before World War II and the two leaders were accomplished before arriving in our city. Both David and Fay had enjoyed successful stage careers in Scotland, England, Boston and New York in the 1920s.

In 1929 the two formed a partnership with playwright and actor, Norman Cannon. They moved to Vancouver, bought and refurbished the Empress Theatre, which had the largest stage west of Chicago.

The productions at the Empress Theatre were usually frothy comedies but that is what appealed to Vancouverites hoping for a bit of escape from the harshness of the Depression.

It should also be noted that the Empress Theatre was a significant employer in Vancouver. According to a 1933 Vancouver Sun article, between the electricians, stage hands, actors and designers the weekly payroll for the theatre was $1,500.

There was more to the couple than just their theatrical success though. Fay Holden and David Clyde helped establish Vancouver's early reputation as Hollywood North. They worked regularly in the local film industry and Hollywood itself from the mid-1930s on. In 1938, the Clyde's moved to Hollywood since their film careers had become more demanding and the Empress Theatre was torn down in 1940. (You may remember from an earlier post that workmen tearing down the theatre found a tiny powder puff with the words Pavlova stitched on it. Anna Pavlova had danced at the theatre in 1910.)

But that isn't the end of the story. There is a house at the corner of Ontario Street and East 51st, an older home built in 1928. One day the new owners decided to do some remodelling in the basement. When they looked behind the walls, the homeowners found fifty hand painted theatre posters that featured the British Guild Players. Dorothy Hammerton Clyde had bought the house in 1930.

And the Clyde legacy continues today. Across from the house they once owned is the Langara College and that institution offers Studio 58, one of Canada's leading theatre and film acting and production programs.

Thanks go to the book, The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver, and to the blog Every House Has a Story for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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