Although he’s on the sidelines these days, veteran exhib T. G. “Teddy” Solomon has never been more upbeat about the cinema biz.
Solomon feels that the embrace of stadium seating by moviegoers means that theaters built in rake-slope auditorium configuration will be successful for some time to come. “I predict stadium theaters will be good for at least 15 years,” he says.
Solomon, who is being honored with the ShoWester of the Year kudo this week, has experienced many twists and turns in exhibition, going back to 1947 when he opened drive-ins.
The New Orleans-based Solomon presided over the Gulf States chain, a Southeast regional circuit with 250 screens in its heyday. In 2002, he exited the exhibition biz, selling his five megaplexes (68 screens) to AMC Entertainment, mainly because of health problems at that time.
“I suppose you could say that I’m retired now,” says Solomon, who declines to give his age other than to say he is a WWII veteran. “But I still have quite a bit of real estate.”
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As a drive-in owner in the post-WWII boom, Solomon sold and then bought back his circuit in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he began replacing the outdoor theaters with enclosed venues in shopping malls. In the early 1990s, he watched as private equity financial companies plunged into the biz, igniting a ruinous building and spending boom. In the aftermath, he built the five megaplexes that he eventually sold to AMC.
Solomon is a part of the generation of close-knit exhibitors — which includes Carl Patrick of Carmike, Salah Hassanein of United Artists and the late Ted Mann — who ruled the sector from the 1950s to the 1970s as friendly rivals.
“I consider my association with Teddy Solomon one of the greatest privileges that I have had in this business,” says AMC chairman, president and CEO Peter Brown, who oversees 3,563 screens.
“Teddy’s passion, entrepreneurial spirit, and incredible business sense have made him a legend in our industry.”
Exhibition runs through the Solomon family’s veins. His father was an exhibitor dating back to 1927. The eldest of his three sons, George, owns a 12-screener in suburban New Orleans and is building two 14-screeners in Louisiana under the Grand Theaters banner.
Despite being out of the game, Solomon still follows exhibition. He’s fascinated by electronic digital film projection. “Digital is coming. The big problem, and everybody knows it, is who’s going to pay the bill — the distributor or the exhibitor. I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I wish I knew.”
The exhib vet shares his thoughts at key junctures in moviegoing over the last few decades:
- On drive-in theaters of the 1940s: “It was family entertainment. Kids would go in their pajamas” because they would be asleep when driven home by their parents.
- On mall-based theaters in 1970s: “The movies playing on all those screens was the death of the drive-ins.”
- On financial companies gobbling up theaters in the 1980s: “I met with some of them. They were smart investors but they were not theater operators.”
- On megaplexes of 1990s: “I couldn’t believe it when I heard there was a 20 screen theater. But when I saw the stadium seating, I thought, bingo, I’ve got to get into this.” (He built five.)