Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ivan and the Famous Players

It was around 1926 that the Langer circuit of suburban theatres began. “Joseph Langer,” Ivan recalled, “was an English gentleman who rode in a big maroon Daimler, seated grandly behind a maroon-liveried chauffeur.”

Langer had come to Vancouver a few years before. He was responsible for building several suburban theatres including the Victoria Road Theatre, the Kitsilano, the Windsor, the Alma and the Kerrisdale. And, course, the Orpheum.

In 1927, when the Orpheum was built, Ackery managed a rival theatre - the Victoria on Victoria Drive near East 43rd. The 28-year old would go downtown and thumb his nose at the grand new theatre. Literally.

“And I remember going down Granville Street that year, and I thumbed my nose at the Orpheum. Oh, I was so jealous.” Ivan once said. How was he to know  how much things were going to change for him and within a decade, he would be running this theatre.

In 1928, Famous Players bought the Langer circuit, which included the Orpheum and the Victoria so although Ackery was managing a rival theatre; it was still in the same parent company.

“I got a promotion to mark the change,” said Ivan. “I don’t know why—God was with me, I guess. All the big shots’ sons were promoted to the management of these new theatres we owned and I was the only ‘little’ fellow promoted from the ranks. I had been made doorman at the Capitol earlier in the year, but now was to manage the newly-acquired Victoria Road Theatre at Victoria and 43rd at a salary of something in the neighborhood of $25 a week.”

Ivan wasted no time placing his mark on the theatre but more on that another time.

In 1931, Ackery was promoted to a new theatre, the more prestigious Dominion on Granville Street. It was a plush movie house, built in 1907 by J.R. Muir to accommodate 1,000 patrons. When Ivan took over it was showing first and second run movies, some of those silent. 

Ivan specifically mentions showing Wings at the Dominion, the first movie to win an Oscar. Wings was a 1927 movie, so this was an instance of a second-run film being shown. Remember that because two of its performers, Buddy Rogers and Gary Cooper, would play a part in Ivan’s—and the Orpheum’s—future.

Things seemed to be going well but then the Great Depression hit and it was felt in Canada. The staff at the Famous Players were put on half pay. "I heard that some of the Hollywood studio executives took salary cuts, too," Ivan commented wryly, “from $2,500 a week all the way down to $1,250, the poor beggars!”

But like a true trooper, Ivan didn't let the depressed economy slow down his promotional efforts and I will tell you more on Friday. I hope you are enjoying this look at one of my city's favourite theatre men because I have lots more to tell you!

Thanks goes to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Legend is Formed

When I left off on Friday, Ivan Ackery was working for the Capitol Theatre in Calgary, part of the Pantages circuit. It was here that he began to be influenced by the traits that would later mark his career - lavish surroundings, elegantly attired staff, personal attention and, of course, spectacular events.

“I got to meet many of the old vaudeville performers and was fascinated by them. I became acquainted with the two stage hands who’d prepare the scenery for each week, and the projectionist, and to understand a little about their work. I was so interested in it all.”

In 1923, Ackery and a friend had enough of cow town and travelled to Vancouver in a cattle car. They had gotten jobs feeding and watering the animals.

When the young Ivan got to Vancouver, he got a job at the Capital Theatre here as an usher. And he appeared in the city directories in 1924 for the first time. “I Ackery.” He’s an usher at the Capitol Theatre and he lives at Apartment 5, 1123 Barclay Street.

However, Ackery had a wander's soul. In April of 1924, he saw an ad by a man driving to Los Angeles who was looking for passengers to help pay expenses. Ivan took a six-month leave of absence from his job and went to the City of Angels. There he got a job as a bellboy at a Los Angeles Athletic club. His warm personality and smile worked for him. By the time he left, six months later,  he was head bellboy.

But after the six months were up - the longest he could stay under U.S. law - Ivan was happy to return to Vancouver. Some may say that he went to get a peek at Hollywood and that may be. Either way, it was a lark for him. Fortunately, Ralph Ruffner, the manager of the Capitol Theatre, hired Ackery back and not long after, he was named head usher.

At this time, the Capitol Theatre was the most prestigious theatre in town. Much more elegant than it's younger cousin, the Orpheum.  The Capitol had its own orchestra - Orpheum—with its own orchestra, Calvin Winter and his Capitolians, and the pick of the best films. Some 1924 titles: Sherlock, Jr., counted by some as Buster Keaton’s greatest comedy; The Last Laugh with Emil Jannings, a classic German drama and one of the great silent films; The Thief of Baghdad, with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Lon Chaney’s He Who Gets Slapped. Those were all silent films, the 'talkies' weren't here yet.

Ivan entered a Charleston contest at the Capitol and with the help of the orchestra, he won. He was then asked to organize and emcee a city-wide Charleston contest. He was nervous about the emceeing but he got over that and became quite good at it. This was a talent that would serve him well in the future.

Thanks goes, once again, to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Friday, August 22, 2014

After the Great War

The photos today, and on Monday, are from Tuesday's visit to the PNE.

Ivor/Ivan Ackery was back in B.C. after his stint in the military. He took a course in railroad telegraphy but didn't do anything with that. He got a job cleaning a restaurant in Mission, then went to work in a logging camp. He also went to Anyox, B.C. to work for Granby Copper Mines and Smelter. (My father worked for Granisle Copper on Babine Lake in the 1970s. Granby was Granisle's parent company.) 

From the mine, Ackery went to Kingcome Inlet on the B.C. coast where he worked as a flunky in the camp dining room of a logging camp. After that, it was back to Vancouver where he and some friends hopped on a CPR train headed east. They were kicked off the train in Lake Louise but the young men immediately got jobs “in the dining room at the big hotel there, a classy place where all the big shots came to vacation.”

This is a 1911 photo of Anyox, BC, 37 miles southwest of Stewart, B.C. It is now a ghost town Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Ackery had not decided what he wanted to do with his life. However, he had noticed an important feature in himself. “I don’t mean to be egotistical, you see, but I’d noticed that people liked me, y’ know? I’d always had a smile and the military bearing from being in the army. I began to discover that a warm personality and a smile could go a long way toward making people happy and pleasant.”

He went to Calgary where he got a job as a busboy in the exclusive Ranchmen's Club. It was in Calgary where his life in show business began.

“Famous Players opened a new theatre in Calgary on May 7, 1921, the Capitol Theatre, and I was there. It was the talk of the town and everybody was so excited about it—1,800 seats in one theatre! . . . ‘Boy!’ I thought, ‘I’d love to get a job there,’ so when the call came for hiring I lined up with my best smile and my sharpest military attention, and I got picked to be an usher, at $5 a week. That was the beginning of my show business career.” Ivan (I'll start calling him that now) was 21.

“Opening night was spectacular. There were bands in the street and, because I was an old soldier, they put me out front to beat on the drum. I was always more than willing to do anything like that, just a born ham!”

One of the major vaudeville circuits of the day was the Pantages Circuit and the Capitol was part of that chain. Like many others, the Capitol was an elaborately decorated and opulent show house. “The manager,” Ivan recalled, “wore a tuxedo and the assistant manager a frock-tail coat; the cloakroom attendant wore a white uniform as did the matron of the ladies’ rest room. Everything was spotless.”

Thanks goes to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.