Melton Cinema Centre

43 McKenzie Street,
Melton, VIC 3337

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David Wayside past operator of The Melton Twin - Requiem for a Picture Showman.

Melton Twin 43 McKenzie Street, Melton, VIC

David Wayside past operator of The Melton Twin - Requiem for a Picture Showman.

It is with sadness that we advise you of the sudden passing of David Wayside at his home in Loch Sport on Dec 8, 2021. David, a qualified electrician and refrigeration mechanic began his cinema career in the bio box of the Regal theatre Rooty Hill in 1953 at the invitation of Fred Hawkins. The Regal was equipped with C & W P5s, adapted on to Peco heads, and was originally a partnership between Fred Hawkins and Doug Lindsay that had begun in 1940. By the time David had arrived Fred had moved on to the Glenfield Progress Hall at Glenfield, which he re-named the New Empire Theatre. In 1957 Fred took over the cinema at Gladstone which is downstream from Kempsey. There was an immediate name change to The Pacific Theatre, and David was installed as the permanent projectionist. That very same year after a long courtship he married Val Stephens. The Regal Theatre Rooty Hill ceased screening in 1959 with Smiley Gets a Gun. Television had now replaced many community activities, and the development of live entertainment and licensed clubs had begun.

The Orion theatre Canley Heights Fred Hawkins had won the right to build his own theatre at Canley Heights The Orion theatre at 282 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights opened on Monday March 31st 1958 to turn away crowds with a double bill from Universal Pictures, consisting of Thunder Bay starring James Stewart, and Bonzo Goes To College. The original projection equipment featured Minerva projectors and sound heads sitting on solid 12 inch concrete blocks. A Westrex amplifier and Paradise anamorphic lenses completed the installation. This was the culmination of nine months of back breaking work for Fred, and with the help of David and many friends the theatre was constructed over numerous weekends with hammer, nails and a welding torch. On the opening night local exhibitors Percy J. Weight and Joe Cook knocked on the door offering Fred the Mt Pritchard Theatre. Mt Pritchard was only 8 minutes from Canley Heights. The theatre was located on Meadows Road in an area prolific with market gardens. The building was clad in asbestos sheeting and the seating was arranged in a stadium format. Running Mt Pritchard would be a stretch, but in his mind he knew that the theatre would be perfect for David, and there were advantages to be had by switching film between the two cinemas.

Fred writes in his long lost 1989 book The Vanishing Cinema. “At the start of 1959 I passed Mt Pritchard over to David Wayside, who continued to operate the theatre for the next 5 years with a refit consisting of Gaumont British Projectors sitting on Racophone sound heads. Television eventually won the day and the theatre closed”. In 1964 the Mt Pritchard Theatre was the victim of an arsonist and it burnt to the ground. David continued his association with Fred and the Orion and would often fill in with relief projection and managerial support. In addition to operating the theatre Fred had established an agency for Stromberg-Carlson and would conduct business from the front theatre foyer of the Orion during daylight hours. Here he sold TVs, radios and record players. David worked alongside him and assisted with the installations, delivery and repairs. The Orion Cinema ran successfully for a five year period until attendances were reduced by the inroads of television to untenable levels. Fred’s theatre was demolished in the closing months of 1963. To David, Fred Hawkins was revered as a life long friend and mentor. During the following years David worked as a refrigeration mechanic for Frigidaire and Phillips, finishing the decade with a stint at the Dendy Theatre Crows Nest as projectionist, before finally moving to Melbourne to take up the management of The Dendy Theatre in Lonsdale Street.

David Wayside & The Mayfair Cinema

The MGM reign at “The Metro Collins Street” had come to an end with a re-run of Doctor Zhivago. The theatre went dark on June 30, 1971. The Greater Union Organisation moved in and ran the theatre until 1974, before handing over to Seven Keys, under the control of Andrew Gatty. The theatre was re-named “The Mayfair”. The opening program featured the premiere of Seven Keys The Wild Party, with an invited first night audience. The company struggled to find consistent numbers, finally offering the theatre to David Wayside who was now an industry identity of some considerable experience. This writer remembers David’s first impression of The Metro Collins Street as he entered from the circle. To quote: “Greg it’s beautiful, the screen is huge and curved, and the atmosphere is wonderful. So much tradition. I’m going to love this place”. The auditorium had been renovated in 1934 by Metro in the French Empire - Louis XVI style.

An extraordinary “Picture Show Man”

This is more than a story of success, it’s the story of an extraordinary “Picture Show Man”. The opening program on July 7, 1976 was The Great Spider Invasion. Box office was average, however David was encouraged. At the same time Hoyts released The Blue Bird in Sydney to miserable box office and dumped it immediately. 20th Century Fox then went looking for a house in Melbourne. The Blue Bird starred Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner & Jane Fonda and was made on location in Russia. The crits were really bad, however David in a moment of inspiration looked beyond the critiques and decided to give Blue Bird a go as the Mayfair Christmas attraction for 1976.

The Blue Bird campaign

David built his Blue Bird campaign around a series of personally produced radio & television commercials in an off peak deal supplied by Channel 9. From day one it was obvious that the film had been beautifully placed .The venue was perfect, and The Blue Bird would stand on equal footing against all major houses in Collins & Bourke Street. The kids and the mums loved The Blue Bird . Opening day and the queue stretched down to Swanston Street and beyond. Day after day every session was sold out. Ivan Hutchinson loved the movie and gave it many mentions on Channel 7, while David’s Blue Bird emblazoned Toyota van patrolled the city and the suburbs loudly extolling The Blue Bird message. The high end retailers around the theatre began to complain, and petitions were taken to the council in an attempt to stop the screening of the film which was disrupting their business. David was achieving something that no other exhibitor in the world had managed to do. He had made The Blue Bird work at the box office..

Top 20th Century Fox executives arrive in Melbourne

Four weeks into the season, three top film executives journeyed from 20th Century Fox’s Hollywood office and arrived on David’s doorstep to see why The Blue Bird was working at The Mayfair. There was no time for visitors, and all they could do was step back and take photographs of the milling crowds of kids & mums, and wonder about the chemistry of David’s campaign.. For eight weeks The Blue Bird reigned supreme, breaking records and filling the majority of sessions. The Mayfair was now the favored place to play holiday attractions, and in subsequent years David was to follow up with a Benji movie, and then the first release of Filmway’s Blue Fire Lady. Stage one of the Blue Fire campaign was to hire and decorate a city tram. The cost was $8000 dollars, unfortunately after two of weeks of cruising the city streets the tram was to crash and burn. The tramway invoice was never sent, while the box office at The Mayfair for Blue Fire Lady was massive. The story of David Wayside’s period at The Mayfair (1976 - 1982) is the stuff of cinema legend, and a fitting requiem for David and the beautiful Mayfair Theatre. (previously known as Taits Auditorium and The Metro Collins Street). One of Melbourne’s great heritage picture palaces.

The conclusion.

David continued to operate cinemas at Mornington and Melton, before finally retiring and moving to Loch Sport. David Wayside a past president of the Cinema Pioneers has died at the age of 85 years. He was the loving father of Terrie-Ellen and Peter, the father-in-law of Dennis and Robyn, former husband to Valerie and proud grandfather of Thomas and William. He will be sadly missed by Vickii and Lauren, along with his family and a vast army of industry friends. Vale David Wayside an extraordinary Picture Show Man - Contributed by Greg Lynch -

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