Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Dan Harkins: A Life in the Movies

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Dan Harkins: A Life in the Movies

Article excerpt

It seems Dan Harkins has lived all of his 51 years in the dark. He inherited the family business at 21, a chain of five Arizona movie theaters his father started in 1933. It was a business he already knew well, and he's been at the forefront of industry revolution ever since.

From the very beginning, Harkins was inside a movie theater. He was even conceived in one. His parents lived in an apartment adjacent to the projection room in the College Theatre in Tempe, Ariz., a domicile they gave up in favor of a house when Harkins was a baby.

My mom insisted we move into a house, Harkins said.

His parents met at that original theater, where his mother, then 16 years old, got a job working for Harkins' father, then 25. They married when she turned 18.

Harkins - who was the paperboy to Steven Spielberg's family - worked in the family business as a teenager, first as a doorman in 1968, and later selling tickets and threading film into projectors. He was a junior at Arizona State University when his father died in 1974, making him the company's boss.

When he married, it was in the last theater his father built, the Camelview.

It always made sense to me, Harkins said. Much to the chagrin of my mother in law. I hope my kids get married in a movie theater also.

Harkins struggled to keep the business afloat after his father died, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for nine years until Fantasia - the film he still considers his all-time favorite - turned things around in 1982.

It was, in it's time, a major milestone in the movie business, he said. Every time Fantasia plays, it plays like a symphony.

Harkins showed Fantasia with flourish, a marketing spree that earned him both a reputation and awards as one of the industry's great showmen. The movie tripled its prior gross in a single week and drew more customers in Tempe than anywhere in the country except Los Angeles and New York.

That was a good time for me because I was broke, Harkins said. I didn't know if I was going to stay in business or not. I couldn't cash my own paycheck and I was driving an old beat-up car. I was taking quarters out of my video games so I could eat. It was a nine- year struggle that I wouldn't want to do again.

There doesn't appear to be much risk that will happen. Harkins owns 23 theaters in Arizona and the Bricktown 16 in Oklahoma City, scheduled to open Oct. 1, will be his company's first venture in another state. It will be as high-tech as movie venues can get, each auditorium booth equipped with both film and digital projection systems.

Because the large chains grew a lot in the '90s when there was a lot of money and debt to be had, they got entrenched in an auditorium design that became antiquated, Harkins said.

That led to a flurry of bankruptcies - six of the nation's 10 largest theater chains becoming insolvent between 1999 and 2001. …

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