Vale Robert Ward - David Kilderry writes on the life of an adventurous showman in the Australian movie business,
David Kilderry is a member of the Cinema Pioneers. This is
a note he sent out to his fellow members. I thank him for permission to reprint
Sadly, industry doyen,
and former Victorian branch president of the Cinema Pioneers, Robert Ward OAM
passed away this morning after bravely battling illness for some
time. Robert was a giant in both the cinema exhibition and cinema distribution
to the cinema industry in Australia cannot be overstated.
working with his father Bert at a young age in their family’s cinemas in
Brighton; the Prince George and beautiful Dendy. Over the years Robert learnt
all aspects of the cinema business, from front-of-house to projection and, in
time, programming innovative films and even live performances.
The Dendy Brighton
became a showplace for international film and cult Hollywood product. Robert’s
success in screening adventurous and trailblazing product later led to the
foundation of Filmways Distributors with partner Mark Josem. Before long the
Dendy cinema brand spread into the city, across the suburbs and interstate.
His interest in cinema
technology led to the Dendy Collins St cinema operating the first non-rewind
platter film system paired with xenon lamp and automation. This led to a
local distributorship of Christie cinema equipment. Robert later partnered with
Village in modern suburban twin cinemas and even more recently involvement with
Reading Country Cinemas. He also operated the CMAX Devonport Cinemas, Filmways
Digital and Filmways multmedia.
Robert served two
terms as the Cinema Pioneers Victorian branch president, was a former National
Pioneer of the year and was a long time board member of ICA (Independent
We send our deepest
condolences to his wife, Helen, and family.
Funeral details are
not available at this time, but details will be sent out when they are at hand.
David Kilderry has also sent me some further information about
Robert's life and I am delighted to publish it here: His career encompassed
everything cinema. From his childhood working under father Bert at the old
Brighton Prince George and Dendy theatres he learnt showmanship. His later
programming of the Dendy made it a landmark for independent and foreign films
and also forgotten or passed over films like Zorba The Greek. He ran a lot of 70mm films and had a giant 70mm
neon sign atop the Dendy. Many live shows ran at the Dendy in the 60s too
including Tony Hancock.
He moved into distribution with partner Mark Josem (Sandringham
Drive-in) and forged the largest independent film distributor in the country.
Filmways (later Filmpac Holdings) supplied product for Hoyts hardtops and
drive-ins in the 70s on almost a weekly basis. For every True Story Of Eskimo Nell or Roar,
there were blinding successes like The
Language Of Love (ran over a year in Melbourne city) and of course Dirty Dancing.
Robert was executive producer on many Australian films, often on
good friend Antony I Ginnane productions. Outside of the three majors, Robert
was perhaps the only person to produce films, distribute them and run them in
his own theatres. He expanded the Dendy cinemas chain to Collins
St and Lonsdale St Melbourne city, to Crows Nest in Sydney and Malvern and
Forest Hill in Melbourne. Filmways HQ was at the rear of the old Dendy Malvern.
HQ later moved to City Rd Sth Melbourne. Robert was a great futurist always
looking for innovation. The Dendy Collins St was the first cinema to run on a
platter system with xenon lamp and automation. From this pursuit of technology
he became the Australian agent for Christie Projection equipment.Robert then partnered
Village in modern suburban twin cinemas. These Vill-Den theatres lifted the
standard of suburban venue in the late 70s and included Village Doncaster,
Village Boronia etcHe later ran the Trak cinema Toorak and was instrumental
in bringing Reading Cinemas to Australia. His relationship with Jim Cotter
developed as a partnership in Reading Country Cinemas the first being
Townsville and later Dubbo etc.
operated the CMax Cinemas in Devonport and formerly Darwin.
Editor’s Note: Robert
Ward belonged to a family of adventurous showmen. They put up their own money
and got involved in lots of bits of business relating to film production,
distribution and exhibition. Their powerhouse Dendy Brighton was a notable
fixture on Melbourne's art house scene for many years and I recall early
youthful adventures going all the way across town to see among others Orson
Welles The Trial. For that film, on a Saturday night. The place was
packed and only the front row was left by the time I got there. The Ward family
took more than a few independent paths. Their Filmways distribution and
production company was very quixotic indeed. Someone else will have the details
of just what they acquired and tried to foist on the public with mixed success.
Their independent thinking was manifest in a lot of
ways. My favourite story, received second hand I must add, was of the Dendy
retrieving Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way back in 1965. They rejigged
the ads that Paramount supplied, maybe removing the emphasis on John Wayne.
When the figures got back to Otto, a shining light in a world-wide sea of red
ink, he rang the Dendy, "Preminger here. Just what have you done to make
my film a success in your cinema when it's a failure everywhere else?"
The Dendy experimented with lots of program ideas.
One of them was to go back to the days of mixing live acts and movies. Among
the small number of artists they presented before abandoning the idea was the
late Tony Hancock doing a standup routine. Hancock died while on that visit to
Australia leaving behind a three ep (of a projected 13) TV series of his East Cheam character down
under. Regrettably the series seem to be lost.
There are few adventurous spirits left in the business. The Dendy brand
lives on as a quality exhibition chain. Robert Ward would surely have liked