University Theatre

100 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, ON M5S 1M4

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Coate on November 12, 2014 at 10:24 am

Here’s an article from a few days ago published in the Toronto Star that some may find of interest. The University and other Toronto cinemas are mentioned (and some might recognize a Cinema Treasures contributor quoted in the piece).

Find Toronto’s favourite movies

We Torontonians like to think of ourselves as visionary sophisticates, the kind of people who would prefer to boldly reach for the stars, rather than doggedly climb every mountain.

Our choice of favourite movies suggests otherwise. I thought I was on safe ground last week when I declared 2001: A Space Odyssey to be T.O.’s all-time most popular cinematic experience, going by what two sources (and personal memory) indicated was a four-year run at the old Glendale theatre on Avenue Rd. I believed that to be the longest a movie has ever played in one theatre in the city for a continuous run.

Tim Elliott, a Toronto movie buff and collector, contacted me with a contrary assertion: The Sound of Music edged 2001for popularity honours. The Sound of Music, a musical in which Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer climb every mountain that love, geography and the Nazis hurl at them, played for 144 weeks at the Eglinton Theatre, which still stands but no longer operates as a movie house. The film made toes tap and tugged at heartstrings at the Eglinton from March 10, 1965 to Dec. 21, 1967.

A few months after The Sound of Music closed, 2001: A Space Odyssey opened at the Glendale theatre on Avenue Rd. The outer space adventure billed as “the ultimate trip” seared eyeballs and dazzled brains there for a total of 127 weeks, roughly 2.5 years, from May 30, 1968 to Nov. 3, 1970 — and it screened in the widescreen marvel known as Cinerama, no less. The Glendale no longer exists, sadly, having been demolished in the 1970s and replaced by a car dealership.

“These were both the longest single engagements in the city, as far as I know,” Elliott, 62, told me via email.

He bases this on his study of movie ads in the Toronto Star and other newspapers, “a hobby of mine since seeing my first grown-up film Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 as a kid and falling in love with Audrey Hepburn and the movies and movie theatres.

“In my basement I have file drawers filled with the movie ads from all of the Toronto newspapers from the ’60s on. I also used to keep lists of most of the theatres of Toronto and write down each movie that played in each one and how long they played. Unfortunately, I misplaced those lists during a move and haven’t seen them in years.”

But he managed to keep a lot of stats on movie engagements, including these other long runs in Toronto:

Ben-Hur (77 weeks): Dec. 23, 1959 to May 4, 1961 at the University.

Funny Girl (68 weeks): Oct. 3, 1968 to Jan. 22, 1970 at the Odeon Fairlawn.

Doctor Zhivago (61 weeks): Oct. 16, 1966 to Dec. 21, 1967 at the Nortown (it followed a 28-week run at the University, for a total of 89 weeks).

My Fair Lady (60 weeks): Oct. 28, 1964 to Dec. 21, 1965 at the University (it moved to the Nortown on Dec. 25 for a seven-week run that continued to Feb. 9, 1966).

Fiddler on the Roof (57 weeks): Nov. 10, 1971 until Dec. 12, 1972 at the University.

MAS*H (53 weeks): March 27, 1970 to April 8, 1971 at the Hollywood.

There have also been long engagements of close to a year or more for the original Star Wars, Oliver!, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, The Gods Must Be Crazy and La Cage Aux Folles, among others. Note that these achievements were all notched mainly during the 1960s and ’70s, before the widespread adoption of colour TV, multiplex theatres and home video. Then came the Internet and VOD (video on demand), which changed things further still. Most of these records also precede the blockbuster era, where it became commonplace to open a movie at many theatres at once, rather than have it take up residence in a single prestigious theatre for a “road show” run. It’s almost impossible now to think of movies having a lengthy run in a single Toronto theatre, although there are exceptions. Avatar ran in the Scotiabank theatre for nearly six months, from Dec. 18, 2009 to May 27, 2010, and it remained in the Toronto market at least until June of that year, says Cineplex spokesman Mike Langdon. He adds there’s nothing to stop a film from setting a record. “For us, we will leave a film on screen as long as there is demand from the guests to see it. Our guests determine how long a run actually is.” I recall that Titanic also had a very lengthy run in Toronto, perhaps as long as Avatar, both films having been directed by Ontario-born James Cameron. Cineplex doesn’t have ready access to screening stats, and neither does Paramount, the studio that released Titanic. But the intrepid Astrid Lange in the Star’s library found that it played at the Uptown theatre from Dec. 19, 1997 to June 30, 1998. It moved from the Uptown to the Uptown Backstage on July 1 for another few weeks. Sad to think that most of the single-screen theatres where records were set are now demolished or otherwise unavailable: Uptown, University, Odeon Fairlawn, Nortown, Hollywood, Eglinton. All gone. It comes as no surprise that all of these movies are mainstream crowd-pleasers, although 2001: A Space Odyssey also qualifies as an art house head-scratcher. But three of Toronto’s all-time favourites are space movies: 2001, Avatar and Stars Wars. So maybe we’re visionaries after all.

Coate on August 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Thirty-five years ago today, Toronto’s University was among three North American theaters to open Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” in a reserved-performance, guaranteed-seat exclusive engagement. A 35th anniversary retrospective article was posted today at The Digital Bits.

telliott on March 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

…and David I still miss it to this day. All these years later.

DavidDymond on March 16, 2013 at 11:20 am

This theatre’s first Manager was the late A. E. “Bert” Brown and they desired to get this theatre open in time for President John J.Fitzgibbon’s birthday. This theatre was one of the first theatres to have the modern hanging urinals and the Famous Players Head of Purchasing Jules Wolfe called down to Chicago and asked them when they were going “to have the hanging pisspots ready.” This theatre had NO right angles in it and was Famous Players most prestige theatre in downtown Toronto!!

CSWalczak on May 22, 2012 at 1:04 am

Scroll down on this webpage to see a picture of the University during the run of “Cleopatra” in 1963.

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on June 10, 2011 at 7:55 am

In the early 60’s Richard Burton was in Toronto appearing onstage in the John Gielgud production of Hamlet. One morning Burton’s new movie Becket was being screened in 70mm at the University for the local critics. As the lights dimmed and the film began, Elizabeth Taylor quietly took her place at the back of the theatre to watch her new husband’s new movie. No one in the audience even knew she was there.

JohnnyCool on June 10, 2011 at 3:35 am

I’m writing an article about Apocalypse Now to coincide with the UK Blu-ray release on Monday (13th June). Anyone have or know where I might find a photo of the facade of the University from the initial run of Apocalypse Now there in August 1979?

William Mewes
William Mewes on March 21, 2011 at 9:19 am

I found this on “Flickr"
A night time photo from December 1969

View link

socal09 on January 16, 2011 at 7:55 am

How sad that this beautiful theatre was partially demolished, the remaining facade left to rot and then converted into a Pottery Barn.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 16, 2011 at 4:17 am

Here are fresh links for the July 2, 1949, Boxoffice items posted above by ken mc and Gerald A. DeLuca:

Cover photo of the main floor lounge.

Page one of the two-page article about the University Theatre in the Modern Theatre section of the same issue.

socal09 on December 11, 2010 at 10:21 pm

JerryR: You’re very perceptive and correct! The image in my Nov2/09 post is indeed the Imperial and not the University movie theatre. The image is mislabelled on the City of Toronto Archives website (scroll halfway down the page):
View link

jerryross on July 24, 2010 at 10:34 pm

re SoCal09’s posting of Nov 2/09: This isn’t the University. It’s the Imperial. The Henry Faber mens wear and haberdashery is seen clearly across Yonge St. Also the University’s box office was attached to the building, the Imperial’s was free standing as in the photo. Anyway I grew up with and loved both theatres…the Imperial was where I first saw a movie at night, taken by my older brother. I was 8 or 9. Samson and Delilah was the flick.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on July 3, 2010 at 8:23 am

Good Story IanG.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 24, 2010 at 7:03 am

…and a story with more photos, Boxoffice, July 2, 1949:
View link

kencmcintyre on February 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

There was a photo of the lounge on the cover of Boxoffice in July 1949:

JohnnyCool on January 9, 2010 at 9:04 pm

The University holds so many fond memories for me; I’m sad that I will never get to share the joy of watching a film there with my sons (both teenagers and both professional actors). Frederic Forrest sat in front of me when I saw ‘Apocalypse Now’ there; I saw ‘Alien’ there when I was 17 and looked about 12 (it was rated R…she wasn’t paying attention clearly). Saw at least onme of the original 3 ‘Star Wars’ there….had an advance ticket for ‘Heaven’s Gate’ but UA yanked it after one day so I didn’t get to use it!

I still go to the cinema at least once a week…but it isn’t the same, and never will be. When I took my oldest boy to the cinema for the first time (Holloway Road Odeon in north London to see ‘Lion King’ on its first run) I told him as we were going in (he was 2) ‘This is the closest this family gets to going to church; no talking!’. Sadly, we have no more St Pauls or Trinity of theatres…so goes the world.

Great site by the by, stumbled on it today while researching the Lyric/Century in Hamilton that is about to be torn down as it is very unsound…another great bloody shame.

chuckkahn on January 6, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I’ve started a list (working backwards) of movies that played here at View link

CSWalczak on January 6, 2010 at 1:46 am

Exterior shot when ‘The Return of the Jedi’ was playing: View link

chuckkahn on November 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm

“Strange Brew” (1983) featured the University Theatre quite prominently hosting the premiere of Bob & Doug’s “Mutants of 2051 A.D.”

View link

TLSLOEWS on November 2, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Adults at a University that would be something NEW!Thanks Tim E.

telliott on November 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm

No harm done. I think it’s funny….the University as an ADULT house….now THAT would have been something! LOL

TLSLOEWS on November 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Tim Thanks for the info.I did not mean any harm! I used to work for LOEWS THEATERS in the U.S.’s WE closed one house that started showing porno and the new owner did not take down the LOEWS SIGNS, it looked as if we were doing it,hope you have a good day!

telliott on November 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

LOL, the University was one of the most prestigious movie theatres ever in Toronto. Adult Entertainment in those days was Ontario’s version of today’s PG 13……we had 3 classification of films back then, General, Adult Entertainment and Restricted: To persons 18 and over. It looks like Forever Amber is on the marquee and that certainly wasn’t ADULT films in that sense.

TLSLOEWS on November 2, 2009 at 10:41 am


socal09 on November 2, 2009 at 8:06 am

A great shot of the University theatre lobby (inside looking out onto Bloor St.)
View link