Legendary film exhibitor Ted Mann, who built the largest independent movie theater chain in the United States and changed the name, amid protests, of Hollywood’s famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to Mann’s Chinese Theatre, died Monday at his Los Angeles home of complications from a stroke. He was 84.
Known as a shrewd entrepreneur, Mann had acquired more than two dozen theaters by the time he was 40 and rubbed elbows with movie stars, produced unique low-budget films, tried his hand at acting, and married actress Rhonda Fleming.
He was reviled by some, however, for renaming Hollywood’s most famous venue, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, founded by impresario Sid Grauman in 1927. The name change to his own occurred when he bought the venue in 1973 as part of a $67.5 million purchase of the troubled National General Theatre chain. Renaming the venerated Grauman’s, where starstruck fans still congregate to gape at stars’ handprints and footprints pressed into its cement courtyard, drew a series of protests.
Born in Wishick, N.D., to homesteader immigrant parents, Mann attended the U. of Minnesota and became smitten with the movies while working as a theater usher. He leased a troubled movie theater in St. Paul, Minn., and proceeded to run the place nearly single-handedly. He eventually bought the theater and continued expanding his holdings until his was the largest independent movie chain in the United States, with theaters from Minnesota to Washington, D.C.
In the late 1960s, Mann sold his chain and moved to Southern California to try his hand at moviemaking. Among the films he produced were Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” (1969), “Buster and Billie” with Jan-Michael Vincent (1974) and “Lifeguard” with Sam Elliott (1976). Later he helped produce the dungeons-and-dragons fantasy “Krull” (1983).
He also worked as a writer for TV during the 1980s and ’90s. In 1993 he even made a guest appearance on the ABC series “NYPD Blue,” playing a prisoner.
Despite these forays, Mann never completely abandoned entrepreneurship. Protests over Grauman’s notwithstanding, he built Mann Theaters from its original 276 screens to 360 by 1986, when he sold the chain to Gulf & Western for $220 million. He remained chairman of the Mann chain until 1991 when it boasted 500 screens. The landmark Chinese theater still bears his name.
In addition to his business ventures, Mann had a philanthropic spirit, creating the Ted Mann Foundation, which contributes to several charities. He was also a founder of the Boy’s Club of Minneapolis and the Landmark West School for children with dyslexia.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren and a sister.
In lieu of flowers, family suggests donations to the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center for Women with Cancer at UCLA or the Boys & Girls Club of Minneapolis.