[Photo: Wayne Chose, Business Edge)
In 1977 Leonard Schein decided to buy a movie theatre.
Schein has made himself part of Vancouver's entertainment history
with his years-long dedication to bringing us good movies. He arrived
here in 1973 from Los Angeles after a two-year detour through Saskatchewan,
where he studied at the University of Saskatchewan in Regina. (He's
a graduate in psychology.) While he was at that university he started
a film club, showing movies on Thursday and Friday nights. He had
remembered his earlier days at Stanford University, where they showed
films every day of the week.
Right from the beginning at U Sask he featured classic
films (like Casablanca) and good foreign films like King
of Hearts (if 'foreign' can include the UK) and Wild Strawberries.
He'd rent the films, usually for a base fee of $100, and show them
in a 200-seat auditorium. Sometimes he would talk to the audience
about the significance of the film. Movies were a big, big part
of his life. (The first movie Leonard remembers seeing, by the way,
is 1958's The Vikings. And 1958 was also the year for the
early Steve McQueen horror flick, The Blob. That one made
ten-year-old Leonard go home and hide under his mother's bed.)
After he came to Vancouver with a Master of Arts in Psychology
and became a Registered Psychologist here, he also started to teach
psychology at Capilano College . . . and Douglas College . . . and
Vancouver Community College . . . and Fraser Valley College. At
one time he was teaching at three colleges coterminously. But that
interest in movies burned as hotly as ever.
So in 1977 he decided to buy a theatre. He liked
the Ridge a lot. It was in a good location in Kitsilano and not
that far from UBC. (College students are an important part of the
audience for the kinds of movies Leonard likes.) Alf Knowles
had the lease, Leonard told me, and he was about to
retire. We talked for many months, and finally came to an agreement.
I took over the Ridge March 30, 1978. The first movie I showed was
Qualen in Casablanca
From that point on, whenever he took over a theatre,
he always showed Casablanca first. (I was able to tell him
that one of the characters in the movie, Berger, is played by John
Qualen, who was born in Vancouver December 8, 1899, a son of the
local Lutheran minister. Berger's the little guy who approaches
Victor Lazlo in Rick's Cafe, and pretends he wants to sell him a
In 1980, he bought the Vancouver East Cinema, then he bought the
Park, then the Varsity, next the Starlight, then the Fifth Avenue
Cinemas. Somewhere in there, 1982 actually, he started the Vancouver
International Film Festival. He sold them all off in 2001. In rebuying
the Park (it re-opened under his stewardship May 24, 2005), he was
back with an old friend. He opened with Casablanca, of course, but
added a new wrinkle: admission was free.
It isn't just good movies that mark Leonard Schein's
theatres: the confectionery counters offer healthy choices,
and there are cookies and juices and energy bars. Andand this
is very importantno commercials. There is a very nice Georgia
Straight piece on Schein by Pieta Woolley here.
Leonard Schein has had a major influence on our cultural lives
for nearly 30 years. He loves watching movies, he loves showing
movies, and he loves having us come to the movies he shows.
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