October 28, 2020

Grand Cayman and its movie ‘theatres’


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I have to confess most of the early information comes from our Publisher, Joan (Watler) Wilson, who was born and bred here on Grand Cayman. Any problems with the ‘facts’ please complain (at your peril) to her.

Thomas Seymour was the first person publically to show movies here (apart from ones the USA troops showed who were stationed in George Town during World War II). This was in the 1950’s at the old Galleon Beach Hotel. Joan recalls the movies often would break down and/or be shown back to front. Mr. Seymour would always give a little speech before he showed the movie – announcing the title and a brief description. She particularly remembers him announcing the movie “I’m From Arkansas” phonetically including Arkansas.

Canadian Big Band leader, Moxie Whitney, when he was here in the 1970’s, draped a tablecloth over a tree branch and showed films in Matilda’s Corner, George Town near the Annex Field (that wasn’t there then).

The Everglow Drive-in Theatre at Peas Bay, near Bodden Town, commenced operations in the 1970’s by William “Buddy” Wood. He had an interest in films and during his time at sea used to show them to his fellow sailors from a 16mm film projector he had purchased. He even charged them a stipend.

The Drive-in theatre was very popular as he used to show the latest Hollywood blockbusters and at first the place was packed. But it didn’t last.

There was an open air theatre in North Church Street, George Town, owned by Berkley Bush, and that goes back to the 1950’s. It was still operating in the 80’s. There was a shop attached to the cinema and it had an upstairs balcony that had a roof. Joan remembers she had to walk through a field to get to it and one day when she sat down to watch the movie, there was a horrible ‘pong’ coming from her brand new shoes she was wearing. She had trodden in some dog poo. She said she took the shoes off and threw them away as far as she could throw them and stayed the rest of the evening in her bare feet.

All these movie theatres were to come to a fast halt when Moxie Whitney’s new air conditioned cinema opened mid 1970. Building had started at the end of 1972. Situated on the West Bay Road, opposite the Royal Palms, it had comfortable seating, a stage and a decent sound system. It was called “The Cinema”. A couple of years later they added a similar but slightly smaller addition housing another cinema without a stage. There was a nice foyer that had a confectionary counter for selling soft drinks, hot dogs, popcorn, etc. The name was changed to “Cinema’s 1 & 2”. Both cinemas had a sloping floor inclining from the foyer down to the raised screens to enable patrons to be able to view over the heads of the people in front of them. This didn’t always work when a particularly tall person sat down in this row!

Cinema 1 showed the newest Hollywood releases whilst Cinema 2 had the slightly older ‘blockbusters’. If a movie were very, very popular they would show it in both cinemas with a half hour time difference to allow the change over of the movie reels.

This was a death blow to both Berkley Bush’s and Buddy Wood’s movie theatres. They would carry on like two wounded soldiers unable to stop their bleeding for only a couple of years before expiring. It was a sad end but that is what is called progress.

“Cinemas 1 and 2” carried on their business and had a face lift after various ownership changes to become “The Marquee” in 2006/7. It was now part of a new shopping complex comprising of small restaurants, coffee houses and a variety of small shops. The Lawrence Thompson Boulevard leading up to the Cayman National Harquail Theatre provided the access from the West Bay Road. This Boulevard extended to the Esterley-Tibbets Highway where a new town was born called
Camana Bay.

Camana Bay was also home to Hollywood Theatres, Grand Cayman’s first six-screen cinema. It was state of the art with stadium seating, surround sound and giant wall to wall screens. All the very latest movies were shown at the same time they opened in the USA. Hollywood Theatres commenced business at the end of 2007.

“Progress” called again and on the 28th February, 2009 The Marquee Cinema closed its doors for good.

Rest in Peace you movie theatre pioneers – you will not be forgotten. Will “progress” happen again? I expect so.

We just have to keep up with it.

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