Hoyts Rialto Kew
218 High Street,
218 High Street,Melbourne, VIC 3101
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Previously operated by: Hoyts Theatres
Firms: Purchas & Teague
Previous Names: Rialto Theatre
Located in the east Melbourne district of Kew. The Rialto Theatre was opened on 31st August 1921 with Bert Lytell in “A Message From Mars”. It was taken over by Hoyts Theatres in 1926. It was closed on 17th May 1961.
It has since been demolished and a bank has been built on the site.
Contributed by Ken Roe
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Recent comments (view all 2 comments)
The bank is called Bank Australia.
For those who believe that old cinemas have souls, you could argue that there is much more to a theatre than just bricks and mortar. Should we consider the personalities of the owners & staff, along with the memories of a passing parade of countless movie fans, who over the years were cocooned in the mysterious darkness of the Rialto Theatre, while enjoying the transported screen images of time and place.
If memory permits the year is 1957 and Ken Neck (Hoyts Chief Engineer) sends this writer to The Rialto Theatre Kew, to take up the position of assistant to Bill Kerr (head projectionist). Up to this point I had been on the relief circuit, working at places such as The Lyceum & Athenaeum theatres in Melbourne City, and later at The Padua & Alhambra theatres in Bell Street Brunswick. The TV juggernaut had begun and Hollywood’s Golden Age was over. Broadcast television was free, except for the required Government TV Licence which was introduced in 1957, costing a whopping five pounds per year. For those in the cinema industry television was the enemy, which was to be bad mouthed at every opportunity, as we watched in desperation as attendance’s slipped away.
Despite the slippery slope we found ourselves travelling, there were many great movies screened at “The Rialto” during the 50’s. It was during this period that Hoyts created “The Regency Release” – This referred to movies screened at The Regent Theatre in the city. There would be a delay of, say two weeks into the season, and then selected suburban theatres like “The Rialto” could participate day & date with the city release. Such an occasion was the Warner Brothers movie “Sayanora” starring Marlon Brando & Red Buttons. A Regency release was a most prestigious engagement and one of the weapons Hoyts were using to entice people back to the cinema.
My arrival at “The Rialto” coincided with the installation of a much needed improved exhaust system in the projection booth, along with “Calder Arcs” to replace the previous generation of antique light sources. The projectors were long working C&W’s. The theatre was an island, a place where the staff existed in mortal fear of a visit from head-office, or even worse a new theatre manager. Such a person was Vernon Rawlings, fresh from the UK, who arrived with many strange ideas on theatre presentation. Traditionally the news-reel opened the show, but no, Mr Rawlings insisted that we run the news straight after the first feature, then close for interval – this caused a lot of anxiety in the projection booth. Managers came and went at “The Rialto” on a regular basic. One that I had a lot of affection for was Stanley (Hamlet) Henry. He came to us from Hoyts “New Theatre Albury”. An older well preserved gentlemen who had a habit of eloquently quoting Shakespeare at the drop of a hankie. Every week we received a screening list from Hoyts Program Director, Lou Somprou . A beautiful man who’s greatest sin was to book Liberace’s “Sincerely Yours” with Rock Around The Clock. This caused a riot at “The Rialto” as the entire theatre gathered in the front foyer during “Sincerely Yours” waiting for “Rock Around The Clock” to start after interval. I was to remind him of this with a smile on my face, many times during his life-time.
As mentioned a visit from head-office was treated with great apprehension. There were two gentlemen who were greatly feared, namely Joe Walker and Alan McDowell. Both were theatre supervisors of extreme efficiency. If you looked sideways you were out the door with a boot up the backside. The only reason I survived is that I answered to Ken Neck (The Chief Engineer) This wonderful man saved me a number of times from the wrath of Joe. For those who don’t know Joe Walker was the father of the late Ron Walker, the former Australian Grand Prix boss and co-founder of Melbourne’s Crown Casino. The cleaning lady at “The Rialto” (for the sake of description) over a long period was Mrs Monks, a hard working woman, whose husband was the manager of the famous Collins Street store of Hillier Chocolates, located inside Hoyts Regent Theatre. The Monks went on to purchase and run an old style double story boarding house in Burnett Street, St Kilda. This writer was their first customer. Bill Kerr the senior projectionist moved on and was replaced by Frank Johnson. Frank was an extremely capable man who was employed by Hoyts in the daytime to strip out doomed theatres, while at night he showed pictures at The Rialto". As the 50’s moved along theatres were closing because of television, almost on a monthly basis. Every week we expected word to arrive of our demise. Many beautiful theatres were closed during that dark period, and usually a petrol station sprung up in it’s place. Frank and myself were an interesting combination, because by this time I was repairing Hoyts Neon signs in the daytime. and assisting nightly in “The Rialto” projection booth.
Over the years many interesting people passed through The Rialto. Roy Ramsey for one. Roy was a re-leaving projectionist who was elevated to Chief Engineer with Hoyts. This position had been previously held by Ken Neck and Syd Emerson. Dingy Bell, (the Hoyts carrier) was a memorable personality whom I had the pleasure of working with on numerous occasions. Dingy was a regular visitor to “The Rialto” delivering cleaning supplies and helping where needed.
Channel Nine celebrity, Philip Brady was a regular picture goer at “The Rialto” One night the theatre staff were agog as Philip walked in with John Landy, and the Bob Dyer quiz king, Barry Jones. From memory they had come to see “The King & I” in CinemaScope 55, and It kept the staff talking for a week. The Rialto theatre survived till 1961, until the lights went out and the theatre fell dark in High Street. For me “The Rialto Theatre Kew” will always be a special place. A place where a young projectionist met, romanced and wedded the girl in the milk bar opposite, 58 years and two daughters past. Ken Neck, always my savior transferred me to Hoyts Palace Theatre Glenferrie, 9 months before the closure of “The Rialto”, and the next stage of a 65 year career in the entertainment business began.
Projectionists are now a dying breed. Digital projection has replaced the screening of film. This means the projectionist of the past is no longer required. Cinema managers are now trained to operate the equipment and program the hard-drives … Contributed by Greg Lynch –