Undoubtedly the most powerful person in Canadian movie theatre history, Nathan L. Nathanson founded the country’s two most important movie theatre chains and claimed to have spearheaded the move toward larger, more luxurious movie palaces.
Born in 1886 in Minneapolis, Nathanson began his career by supervising refreshment stands in amusement parks such as Montreal’s Dominion Park. In 1916, he participated in the opening of the Regent Theatre in Toronto. The Regent was the first theatre in the Famous Players Canadian Corporation chain, officially launched in 1920 with Nathanson as president. By this time, Nathanson also controlled Regal Films, the distribution outfit that acquired Léo-Ernest Ouimet ’s Specialty Film Import in 1922.
Nathanson twice resigned from Famous Players to fight for Canadian ownership (naturally benefiting his own interests), but his Hollywood partner, Paramount Pictures, asserted its authority each time. In a counter move, Nathanson fostered the launching of Canadian Odeon Theatres in 1941, which was officially headed by his son Paul. As with Famous Players, Canadian Odeon relied heavily on foreign investment, in this case British Odeon’s J. Arthur Rank. After Nathanson’s death in 1943, Rank assumed control of both Canadian Odeon and Paramount of Famous Players, leaving most downtown Canadian movie theatres foreign-owned. Galaxy-Onex’s takeover of Cineplex Odeon and Famous Players in 2005 marked the first time since Nathanson’s death that a Canadian-based company controlled a majority of Canada’s movie theatres.