Producer and Theatre Owner Edwin Mirvish, Major Force in Canadian Theatre, Dies at 92

Obituaries   Producer and Theatre Owner Edwin Mirvish, Major Force in Canadian Theatre, Dies at 92 Edwin Mirvish, the patriarch of the powerful Mirvish producing and theatre-owning family of Canada and the man who saved the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto from the wrecking ball, died July 11 at St. Michael's Hospital, his family announced. He was 92.
Edwin Mirvish
Edwin Mirvish

At the time he bought the Royal Alexandra, Mr. Mirvish was known in Toronto as "Honest Ed," the owner of a bargain emporium that went by that name at the corner of Bloor and Bathhurst streets. It was stocked with odd lots of goods Mr. Mirvish bought at fire and bankruptcy sales. The store, which eventually filled an entire city block, was strictly no frills, displaying items on orange crates, but it earned Mr. Mirvish millions of dollars.

His theatre career began with his purchase of the Royal Alexandra, a 1,500-seat, beaux-arts-style, proscenium-stage theatre that was built in 1907. By the early '60s, it had been losing money for a decade. Mr. Mirvish bought it for $250,000. He said at the time that he knew nothing about theatre — indeed, he had never even been inside a theatre — but he recognized a bargain.

He closed the theatre for a year and refurbished it. It re-opened in September 1963, with the comedy Never Too Late, starring William Bendix. Mr. Mirvish produced it himself.

Inspired, Mr. Mirvish continued to buy up property along King Street. Hoping to draw people to the neighborhood, he opened the restaurants Ed's Warehouse, Ed's Folly and Old Ed's. It worked. As with his discount store, he kept things simple. Ed's Warehouse served only one meal: an English cut of roast beef, rolls, kosher dill pickles, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and canned peas. All the businesses have since closed, but the area remains vibrant.

Many touring shows and pre-Broadway shows were booked into the Royal Alexandra. It was also used by local companies — including the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Mr. Mirvish himself produced successful stagings of Hair in 1970, and Godspell in 1972. The family also expanded overseas. In 1982 Ed and David Mirvish bought London's Old Vic for a million dollars and spent four million renovating it. The venture never made money, however, and they sold it to its present owners, a theatre trust, in 1998.

In 1993 Mr. Mirvish and his son David built the Princess of Wales Theatre, the largest new theatre erected in North America in 30 years. In 2001, Mirvish Enterprises entered into a management contract to run the Pantages Theatre, now renamed the Canon Theatre.

Ed Mirvish retired from active participation in the theatres in 1987.

Edwin Mirvish was born July 25, 1914, in Colonial Beach, VA, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. The mohel at his bris was Rabbi Moshe Reuben Yoelson, the father of Al Jolson. Mr. Mirvish often joked that that coincidence was his introduction to show business.

The family later moved to Washington, D.C., where Mr. Mirvish's father David opened a grocery store. When the grocery store went bankrupt, the family moved to Toronto, where David Mirvish eventually opened another grocery in Toronto's Jewish community on Dundas Street.

David Mirvish died when Edwin was 15. His young son dropped out of school and became the sole support of his mother and brother Robert and sister Lorraine. The grocery did not fare well, and Mr. Mirvish switched to dry-cleaning. That shop, too, failed. Mr. Mirvish took a job as a produce manager and buyer for Toronto grocery store entrepreneur Leon Weinstein, founder of the Loblaw's supermarket chain.

In 1941, he married Anne Macklin in 1941. In 1945, their only child, David, was born. Ed and Anne Mirvish opened a dress shop known as "The Sport Bar." This business ran until 1948, when Mr. Mirvish cashed in his wife's insurance policy and opened "Honest Ed's." With this new venture, success finally came Ed Mirvish's way.

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