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.


  1. They did good for a depression. We hardly licking our wounds for a long running recession. The difference between a recession and depression is who is unemployed. Recession if you are employed and depression if you are unemployed. People are scared to hear depression but it is right up in our faces. Good job Karen. Look forward to Friday.

    1. I'm glad you are enjoying this series Lee