Leonard Schein
Leonard Schein
[Photo: Wayne Chose, Business Edge)

Leonard Schein

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 Casablanca.”

John Qualen in Casablanca
[Photo: Wikipedia]

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 ring.)

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. And—and this is very important—no 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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