University Theatre

100 Bloor Street W,
Toronto, ON M5S 1M4

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m00se1111 on January 19, 2022 at 12:41 pm

Exterior & Interior photos of this theatre in a YouTube video “Top 10 Lost Toronto Movie Theatres” Watch entire video here

MSC77 on December 25, 2021 at 11:21 pm

Here’s a new 4-page 50th anniversary FIDDLER ON THE ROOF retrospective featuring a roadshow playdate chronology and historian Q&A. The University’s 57-week run is mentioned in the piece.

Trolleyguy on August 12, 2019 at 2:48 pm

1959 picture added to Photos section

DavidZornig on November 10, 2018 at 4:47 am

1962 photo added via below link.

Chris1982 on January 7, 2016 at 5:20 am

Why not publish a book with the accurate information and make sure its in the libraries mentioned. That way the accurate information will be out there.

robboehm on January 6, 2016 at 8:23 pm

If you really want inaccurate information go to any historical society.

chuckkahn on January 6, 2016 at 6:55 pm

GilG, this is really disturbing that our libraries are being used to disseminate inaccurate information. What was your count for the number of errors in Mr. Taylor’s book?

GilG on January 6, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Oh, and Chuck, I forgot to mention something about your comment about this book being on library shelves. The Toronto Public Library has 19 print copies in branches across their system (including one in the Reference Library), and e-book downloads. And the University of Toronto has 5 copies (one each located in Innis College, St. Michael’s College, Victoria and University Colleges, and The Robarts Library, the University’s main humanities and social sciences research facility. So this is why I’m so concerned about the dissemination of inaccurate information.

GilG on January 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Chuck, Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated. I was surprised by jerryross’s post. I would have thought that anyone using this site would want the most accurate details possible. But in this particular case, I guess not. Very puzzling.

chuckkahn on January 6, 2016 at 4:42 pm

To the taunting jerryross: Why should Mr. Taylor get a break for putting out a book full of errors? If there is a more suitable medium for addressing the errors in Mr. Taylor’s book, please point the way. Otherwise, let’s applaud GiLG’s efforts at documenting them.

jerryross on January 5, 2016 at 10:22 pm

To both GiLG and chuckkahn: Come on people, get a life. Give Mr. Taylor and us a break.

chuckkahn on January 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I don’t think you’re being too hard on Doug Taylor’s book. Mistakes are mistakes, and it’s frustrating to see inaccuracies serve as ingredients in something people might use as an information resource. I wonder how many libraries are putting this book on their shelves for the consumption of poor unwitting readers. Mr. Taylor should have checked this website for clippings such as this ad for Lawrence of Arabia that lists the Carlton as the theatre:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm

Also, here’s some link rot re-repair:

Main floor lounge of the University Theatre as depicted on the cover of the July 2, 1949, issue of Boxoffice.

The illustrated article about the University in the “Modern Theatre” section of the same issue:

first page

second page

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 4, 2016 at 8:56 pm

The History Press is part of the Arcadia Publishing Company, which publishes mostly books of vintage photos with a little bit of text to pad them out. In my experience, most of their books do have at least a few inaccuracies, and some of them have many, and there are probably many more errors that I didn’t even notice.

Between them the two divisions of the company publish about 900 books a year, and their primary focus is not history but nostalgia, for which there is huge market. I don’t think their books will ever provide the degree of historical accuracy that one would expect from, say, a University press, though some are clearly better researched than others. Still, the pictures are nice to have, so I’m glad the company is publishing them.

GilG on January 4, 2016 at 7:32 pm

I just finished reading “Toronto Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen” by Doug Taylor, published in 2014.

This book is filled with many errors, and this is going to be a long review because I am going rebut some of the most egregious ones individually.

(I am posting under the University, as I couldn’t seem to find a place to post generic info on Toronto theatres other than under a specific theatre).

My reason for doing so is that this book is In Print, and the mistakes herein could very easily be perpetuated by unsuspecting researchers in the future and I cannot stand by and let them go unchallenged. I am going to inform the publisher of these errors and hopefully changes can be made in upcoming editions, but this review is a forewarning to anyone who might read this imprint in the meantime. This is a highly specific topic, likely to be of most interest to Torontonians in particular, and movie theatre and history buffs in general, therefore the specificity of the details are bound to be of considerable importance to them.

My guard was immediately up when I read this on the page 3 flyleaf:

“Notice: The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantee on the part of the author or The History Press. The author and The History Press disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this book.”

And it was further heightened by this passage in the Preface:

“I have attempted to verify the information and consulted multiple sources wherever feasible, but this was often impossible. However, every effort has been made to ensure that the information is as accurate as possible. I also found that sometimes the information I discovered did not agree with my personal memories. This created difficulties when writing about the theatres. Some of the discrepancies I never resolved, leading me to think that my memory is not as accurate as I had previously thought. However, I must accept the blame for any errors contained in this book”. (Page 8)

The first example of an error that could have been very easily researched occurs in the Introduction. In describing a typical Saturday matinee schedule for kids he says:

“….Next they showed a serial, which was a short film that required five or six episodes, one shown each week, before the entire tale was completed. Serials were also referred to as “movie-chapter plays” or “cliff hangers,"…. (page 12)

Serials of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s were never that short. They were always between twelve and fifteen episodes:

“Each company turned out four to five serials per year, of 12 to 15 episodes each, a pace they all kept up until the end of World War II when, in 1946, Universal dropped its serial unit… Republic and Columbia continued, Republic fixing theirs at 12 chapters each while Columbia fixed at fifteen”. The Great Movie Serials; authors; Glut, Harmon. Publisher; Routledge (2013)

On page 33, in talking about the Loews Downtown theatre located at Queen and Yonge he states:

“In 1960, the theatre was converted to “Cinerama,” which required three projectors. To accommodate the expansive curved screen, the opera boxes and the proscenium arch were removed. This greatly diminished the appearance of the theatre ’s auditorium”.

This is incorrect. There were only two theatres in Toronto that ever converted to three projector Cinerama; The University and The Eglinton

The University began with “This Is Cinerama” on Oct 24,1957 (not in 1958 as the author states on page 110) and permanently ceased with the Cinerama format on November 25, 1959 with “South Seas Adventure”(to make way for Ben Hur, projected in 70mm).

The Eglinton began three projector screenings on Dec 23,1960 with a rival process called Cinamiracle. The film was called “Windjammer”, but this was the only film ever made in Cinamiracle. The company went bankrupt, and was bought out by Cinerama. The Eglinton then converted to Cinerama, and continued with it until December 15, 1963 with the screening of “How The West Was Won”. This was the last three projector Cinerama film shown in Toronto.

Three projector Cinerama had an immersive 146 degree curved screen, but it also had many problems. Where the images from the three projectors connected on the screen, visible join lines were perceptible. And occasionally there were focus issues and synchronization issues. There were only two fiction films ever made in true Cinerama; “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm’ (1963) and “How the West Was Won”. Three projector Cinerama was much more conducive to the documentary travelogues it made from 1954-1962. The audience was less forgiving with dramas.

But the Cinerama designation did not disappear in 1963. Cinerama continued producing films under this banner with “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World”, which premiered Dec 20,1963 at the Carlton Cinema. But this was no longer the three projector system. It was a new single projector 70mm Cinerama format (in reality anamorphic Ultra Panavision 70), which also had a curved screen, but only 120 degrees as opposed to Cinerama’s 146 degrees. This was followed by the single projector Super Panavision 70mm spherical lens process, which commenced with showings of “Grand Prix” in 1966. The last film presented under the Cinerama logo in Canada was “The Song of Norway (1970)

Also in Mr. Taylor’s description of the University Theatre he says the following.

“In 1962, the film Ben Hur played at the University. Because of the movies I saw in the theatre, in my mind, Charlton Heston was forever the towering hero-Moses or Judah Ben Hur. In 1962, I also saw Lawrence of Arabia, a lengthy film that almost gave me camel sores. Fortunately, the plush maroon theatre seats compensated, as they were soft and comfortable. However, the desert scenes dehydrated me, and at intermission, I gulped two containers of Vernor’s Ginger Ale” (p 110-111)

Well, I know this to be categorically incorrect because in high school I worked every weekend at the University (and fulltime in the summer) from 1962-1964.

Before I started working there, “Ben Hur” played at the University from Dec 23, 1959 to May 5, 1961. It won 11 Academy awards on April 4 1960. It did not play at the University in 1962. Nor did Lawrence of Arabia ever play at the University. That played exclusively at the Carlton Cinema from Jan 31,1963 to July3,1963. The only 70mm roadshow film to play at the University in 1962 was “Mutiny on the Bounty”, followed by “Cleopatra” in 1963. I know. I was there.

I’m afraid the only thing the authour got right in that paragraph was the fact that we served Vernor’s Ginger Ale instead of the usual Canada Dry.

There are other errors that could have been resolved by more careful proofreading. For example, in referring to Shea’s Hippodrome on page 38 he says

“ In 1957, as the attendance at theatres began to lag, they demolished the great theatre.”

But on the previous page (37) there is a photo of the intact theatre, and the caption reads:

“The Shea’s Hippodrome, view looking northward on Bay, in 1959”. The author also states on page 35 that:

“On the evening the Hippodrome opened, the feature film was” Run for Cover, starring James Cagney”.

As the Hippodrome, which originated as a Vaudeville house,but later started showing films, this of course is patently impossible as “Run For Cover” was released in 1955. So (presumably) what the author was indicting is that this was the closing film at the Hippodrome.

On page 77 he quotes Mae West as follows:

“When I’m good I’m good, but when I’m bad I’m really good.”(sic)

Whew. Poor Mae. The actual quote is:

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ”

There are other areas, while not technically incorrect, that are nonetheless misleading.

For example, on Page 17, he talks about the Auditorium Theatre, which was renovated in 1913 and then called The Avenue Theatre. And then he says:

“ The theatre was renamed the Pickford in 1915 in honour of Mary Pickford. Born in Toronto, by 1915 she had become a rising star on the Hollywood scene.”

In 1915, she was hardly a rising star; she was already a world-wide phenomenon.

“In 1916, Pickford signed a new contract with Zukor that granted her full authority over production of the films in which she starred, and a record-breaking salary of $10,000 a week.” (or any Pickford biography).

$10,000 a week in 1916 dollars would be the equivalent of $223,620.00 a week now. Only Charlie Chaplin made more money at the time, (and not that much more).

There are more factual errors and debatable premises but I will leave those for now and turn my attention to the author’s style.

On page 11, describing Saturday afternoon matinee’s of his youth he writes:

“It was unlike any other event in the week, akin to a hallowed ritual. Through the magic of movies, I was exposed to faraway, exotic worlds, as well heroes of the past, superheroes of the present and space adventurers of the future. Cowboys, crime-stoppers, criminals and pirates all raced across the screen”.

I find this to be an example of the very uninspired, cliché-ridden writing that unfortunately permeates the book.

The author is also prone to digressions. For example on page 21:

“In the 1940’s,The Ace on Queen Street was owned by Sam Ulster, who also owned The Broadway on Queen St and The Rio on Yonge St. He was also the owner of the Town and Country restaurant on Mutual Street. I remember this eatery very well. It was famous for it’s buffet, which featured roast beef and lobster. Its main rival on the 1940’s was the Savarin Tavern on Bay Street… In the 1940’s, to the west of the theatre was a restaurant named Bowles lunch, the space later occupied by Scotts Chicken Villa.”

And in referring to the Tivoli on page 38, he states:

“ During the years of silent films, Luigi’s Romanelli’s orchestral (sic) often provided the music at the theatre. He also performed at the King Edward hotel and throughout the years played 27 organ concerts in Varsity Arena, the city’s main sports arena at that time”.

These digressions, and there are others like them, are irrelevant and tedious in a book about the history of Toronto theatres.

Which brings up the central question about this book. What kind of book is this exactly? Is it a history of Toronto’s Theatres?, or is it a personal memoir? The problem is that it can’t make up its mind and is trying to be both at the same time, and it simply doesn’t work.

That is not to say that there isn’t much interesting and useful information to be found here. On page 15, he talks about the first projected screening in Toronto having taken place August 31,1896 at the Robinson Musee located at Yonge and Adelaide.

That was new information to me, and Lord, oh, Lord I wish he had listed a reference for that. It took a while, but I eventually tracked it down as coming from the Toronto Historical Board.

And that’s the biggest problem with this book. There is no bibliography whatsoever, no index, no source notes, nor any footnotes.

Am I being too hard here? I don’t think so. To date, there is only one other book on the history of Toronto Film Theatres, called “The Nabes” by John Sebert, published in 2001. So “Toronto Theatres in the Golden Age of the Silver Screen” will undoubtedly be consulted as an additional historical reference.

In the flyleaf on p.154, the author’s bio states:

“Doug Taylor has researched, studied and taught the history of Toronto for several decades. This is his seventh book that employs his native city as the background for his writing. Having taught history at the high school level, Doug was a member of the faculty of Lakeshore Teachers' College (York University) and the Ontario Teacher Education College”

And this book is published by The Historical Press in South Carolina.

So I hold the author (and the publisher) to a higher professional standard than I would a casual volume of reminiscences . The most worrisome part is that because of the errors that I have easily discovered, it has unfortunately created uncertainty about other facts in the book. Can I trust them? I want to, I really do; but I’m not sure I can. The seeds of doubt have been firmly planted, and that is a shame.

It is my sincerest wish that these and any other errors in this book can be rectified in future editions, and source notes for factual information supplied.

Then it would be a truly useful volume.

A note on pagination: I read this book in an on-line copy borrowed from the Toronto Public Library and it is 154 pages long. The hard copy print version is listed as being 160 pages. So there may be a slight discrepancy with the print version pagination.

Coate on November 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm

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 10:46 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 7:05 pm

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

DavidDymond on March 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm

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 9:04 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 3:55 pm

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 11:35 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 4:19 pm

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

View link

socal09 on January 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

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 12:17 pm

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.