A reader, Martin Butler, sent me an email about this story and I couldn’t resist sharing it. I felt it was especially relevant what with the recent aquisition of the 100 year old York theatre, and the recent demolition of the beautiful but neglected Pantages (the oldest living Vaudeville theatre). A little reminder of the history behind our aging walls:
the 1930s, two long-forgotten Vancouver theatre actors paved the way for the development of Hollywood North. They were husband and wife team of David Clyde and Gaby Fay, who became better known as Fay Holden, an MGM star during the 1930s/40s. Their extensive credits (over 120 movies) include some of the highest profile Oscar winning movies of their day: “The Philadelphia Story”, “Mrs. Miniver”, “Now Voyager”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, and they appeared with stars such as: W.C. Fields, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Greer Garson, Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, David Niven, Mickey Rooney and James Stewart. David Clyde appeared in the musical Rose-Marie, the first full-length talkie filmed in Vancouver in 1936.
In 1929, after a successful New York and London stage career, they moved to Vancouver, bought and refurbished the Empress Theatre and launched a theatre company which became Vancouver’s leading professional theatre company pre-WWII. Their Empress stood at the corner of Hastings and Gore Streets, and was the largest stage west of Chicago at the time. On the 1929 opening night of their first Vancouver show, telegrams of congratulations were received from key figures of the era, such as Laurel and Hardy, and J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The productions proved to be big hits, attracting mass audiences at the same time that talking pictures were revolutionizing cinema and Vancouverites were seeking an escape from the post-Wall Street crash and the subsequent Depression. A 1933 Vancouver Sun article on the Empress notes that, between the stage hands, electricians, designers and actors, the Empress Theatre had a payroll of $1,500 a week, which qualified it as a significant employer in Vancouver. The British Guild Players’ Vancouver productions were usually frothy, forget-the-depression comedies that had been hits in London and Broadway such as “Bunty Pulls The Strings”, “Innocent Ann” and “Almost a Honeymoon” or seasonal shows like “Peter Pan” and “Rip Vancouver Winkle”.
David and Fay lived on Ontario Street between 1930 and 1938 and insulated their home with theatre posters. Their role in the development of Vancouver theatre community and Hollywood North remained undiscovered until the posters were revealed during a house renovation more than 50 years later. Their theatrical legacy continues in their old Vancouver neighbourhood, as one of Canada’s leading theatre and film acting and production programs, Studio 58, is based at Langara College, located directly across from Fay and David’s old home.
Many Thanks to Martin Butler, the VIA reader who not only sent me the tip but is also the current owner of the 1928 house. He and his wife Jennifer discovered the story after beginning renovations in the basement, and finding the connection between their home’s previous owners, the empress, and Hollywood North.
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