Friday, September 19, 2014

And So It Ends

Everything look so bright for Ivan Ackery. That was until 1969. By then, Famous Players was controlled by the U.S. Corporation, Gulf and Western Industries. Gulf and Western introduced a policy of compulsory retirement by the age of 65. Ackery had turned 65 five years earlier, on October 30, 1964.

What a shock. This man spent 48 years in the business and had an unparalleled record of getting people into the theatre. Now it was all over just because of a number.

“For me,” he reflected eleven years later, “it came as a sorry and sudden end to the career I’d devoted my life to and expected to carry on in until old age and ill health rendered me incapable . . . There’s no justice and little sense in putting a healthy, experienced individual to pasture just because he’s had a birthday . . . Still, the company had been wonderfully good to me, and I was always proud to be associated with it and with the fine men I worked with over the years, who gave me so much encouragement . . . Over the years Famous Players grew to be Canada’s largest operator of motion picture theatres and one of the largest in the world. I’m as proud of them now as I always was of being associated with them.”

His final day was December 28, 1969 - two months past his 70th birthday.

“On my very last evening as manager of the Orpheum,” Ivan recalled, “when the final audience had left, I sat down to have a drink with my replacement, Ted Bielby. Later, I walked onto the stage in the empty theatre and looked up into the balcony and said out loud, “Goodbye, old friend. I’ve sure loved working with you all these years.”

From the dark at the top of the balcony came a reply like the voice of a ghost. “We all loved you too, Mr. Ackery.” It was the night watchman.

But forced retirement couldn't keep Ivan down. He kept in the business by doing freelance promotion work but it wasn't the same as the daily excitement of promoting new pictures.

Vancouver hadn't forgotten Mr. Ackery. On October 30, 1985, in honour of Ivan's 86th birthday, a celebration was held at the Orpheum. The event was emceed by Red Robinson and Mayor Mike Harcourt was there to declare it Ivan Ackery Day. A standing ovation brought tears to Ivan's eyes. “I want to thank most of all the public. The public of Vancouver has been so great to me.”

On October 29, 1989 - a day before his 90th birthday - Ivan Ackery died at St. Paul's hospital. The next day, Denny Boyd of the Vancouver Sun wrote a beautiful column dedicated to Ackery.

“He was a lonely man the past few years after his retirement. He had never married and had no family. He walked around the neighborhood in his checked pants, looking for someone he could talk to about the old days when he was the show business king of Granville Street. The man who once partied with Gary Cooper now made an adventure of buying a single pork chop at Safeway . . .

“Back in 1963 he told an interviewer his secret fear was retirement. It was a well-grounded fear. He gave 35 years of his life to promoting the Orpheum and when he was retired he had nothing to fall back on, no loved ones, no hobbies, only the past.

“One day, on a bench on the seawalk, as we soaked our bones in sun warmth, I tried to tell him exactly what I have said in this column, that he saved a generation of us from sadness and hopelessness, what an exhilaration it was to swing off the streetcar and see the flashing lights on the massive marquee and know that they were beckoning each one of us individually. He gave us beauty and adventure and wonder, and took only our dimes.

“I don’t know if what I said stayed with him. I hope it did, because I owed him something. My whole generation did.”

I hope you have enjoyed this look at Ivan Ackery. Until I started researching Vancouver history, I had never heard of the man and until I started this series, he was just the name of a promoter. However, in the last three weeks that I have been writing on Ivan, I feel like I have come to know and admire him. I admit that my  tears have flown freely writing this entry.

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

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Thanks Ivan Ackrery for your decades of service to the Vancouver people and the Orpheum Theatre. I have enjoyed learning about a sweet and most positive man in history. Thanks Karen for bringing him to life for us to get to know.

    1. I am so happy you enjoyed this series Lee. I brought him to life for me as well.