NATHAN L. NATHANSON INTRODUCES CANADIAN ODEON: Producing National Competition in Film Exhibition

By Moore, Paul S. | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

NATHAN L. NATHANSON INTRODUCES CANADIAN ODEON: Producing National Competition in Film Exhibition


Moore, Paul S., Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Resume : A partir de documents publies dans les journaux locaux ainsi que dans les revues professionnelles comme le Canadian Moving Picture Digest et le Canadian Film Weekly, l'auteur examine la carriere de Nathan L. Nathanson et son role crucial dans la creation du Canadian Odeon en 1941. Les affiliations et l'identite meme du Canadian Odeon changeaient selon le lieu geographique des sous-chaines implantees a Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal et ailleurs au pays. En s'attardant plus a la construction des salles de cinema qu'aux questions de distribution, cette etude depasse les simples parametres du control qu'a toujours exerce Hollywood sur le cinema canadien pour offrir un cadre de recherche permettant de comprendre la specificite locale de l'enthousiasme des foules pour le cinema.

When the Canadian Odeon theatre chain was created in 1941, it competed with long-dominant Famous Players theatres by localizing and regionalizing the Odeon identity. This was partly because its business origins varied among cities and regions. Vancouver Odeons, the original stronghold, were an independent hometown success story. They were largely suburban and architecturally modern. Montreal Odeons were French in focus and located mainly in predominantly francophone areas in eastern and north-end neighbourhoods. In Toronto and urban Ontario, Odeons were newly built, international-style versions of the British Odeons that were iconic for the "home country," which was especially important during and after World War II. In addition to establishing itself in Canada's three largest cities, Odeon affiliated with regional entrepreneurs and business people across the country. Relying on its independent roots, the new national exhibitor positioned itself as a patriotic alternative to Famous Players.

Despite its regional variations and affiliations, Odeon was created from its Toronto head office run by Nathan L. Nathanson and his son, Paul. Furthermore, noting Odeon's ability to compete against Famous Players does not mean that this was originally its only purpose. First headed by Paul Nathanson, Odeon was created as leverage while his father, still president of Famous Players, was trying to take Canadian control (his own, that is) away from his Hollywood partner, Adolph Zukor's Paramount Pictures Corporation. Headed, at that point, by Barney Balaban, Paramount was not yet outright owner of the company; it was one of three partners, along with N.L. Nathanson and Isaac Walter Killam, in a voting trust that held the majority of the shares. The voting trust had expired in 1939, and for two years its re-negotiation was stalled, until the issue was finally resolved by dissolving the trust. Leaving Famous Players, a company he helped create, Nathanson claimed he intended to establish Canadian control of film exhibition in Canada. Although Odeon was initially Canadian-owned, it seems British interests were always implied, if unofficially at first. In the years after the senior Nathanson's death in 1943, son Paul officially partnered with J. Arthur Rank, owner of British Odeon, then in 1946 sold out completely to him.1 Nathan L. Nathanson's last great venture before his death was to gain personal control over the Canadian theatre industry and independence from Paramount. But that synopsis glosses over the risks Nathanson took and makes his success seem predetermined.

Nathanson was undeniably the most important showman in the history of Canadian exhibition. The intention here is not only to sketch his career, but also to detail the local variations and the range of deals that created Odeon. In the end, introducing Odeon allowed both it and Famous Players to become one hundred per cent foreign-owned, so that a British and American duopoly split the market between two giants who quickly set up mutually exclusive, informal relations with Hollywood distributors, a status quo that lasted into the 1990s. Previous synopses of the creation of Canadian Odeon lament the lack of Canadian control in exhibition and treat Nathan L. …

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