Hur­ray for Hol­lyw ... uh, Hamil­ton! And the West­dale

Os­car-nom­i­nated pro­ducer has found a home in Dun­das

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF MA­HONEY

There was a time when some of the big­gest stars — Al Pa­cino comes to mind — sought out Fred Fuchs’s au­to­graph, not the other way around. Of course they did. As ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, he signed the cheque.

Now he’s your neigh­bour. He’s been hang­ing his hat in Hamil­ton since 2014, and he’d like noth­ing more than to sus­pend his dis­be­lief here as well, watch­ing movies in the sprawl­ing am­bi­ence of an old-style cin­ema. Ide­ally, with a packed house around him.

It’s what “the movies” are all about, right? To that ef­fect, he and a team of oth­ers, with the back­ing of In­cite Foun­da­tion, have pur­chased his­toric West­dale The­atre. It re­minds him of Ra­dio City and the old Ziegfeld, grow­ing up in

New York City.

The West­dale Cin­ema Group (non-profit) is our last gasp at pre­serv­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that is oxy­gen to our mem­o­ries but in nearde­pleted sup­ply, the movie houses all but gone.

As our city be­comes more and more of a destination, I like watch­ing to see who turns up on our shores. In Fred we’ve got a ti­tan, by way of NYC, L.A. and San Fran­cisco, then a four-year cup of tea in Toronto, as head of arts and en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram­ming at CBC.

He comes with four Emmy Awards, Golden Globe and Os­car nom­i­na­tions. But he’s just as ap­proach­able and down-to-earth as the gofer he started out as for cult film di­rec­tor Roger Cor­man; an im­pres­sion for­ti­fied by the charm of a lin­ger­ing New York ac­cent.

Fred, pro­ducer of many TV shows and movies like “The God­fa­ther: Part III” and “Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula” (Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola), was pres­i­dent of Zoetrope Stu­dios for 12 years.

“I grew up in New York City and Long Is­land, went to Wes­leyan, but I ran away to join the cir­cus,” Fred says, of his flight to Cal­i­for­nia in 1977, mad for film. “Most of my fam­ily is in academia but I didn’t want to be a civil­ian.”

He fetched up in L.A. and some­how got on with a Cor­man project, driv­ing cast and crew in a mo­torhome.

“I’d never driven a mo­torhome, but in the movies you al­ways say yes, then fig­ure it out. It was $50 a week. I was so ex­cited. “Soon af­ter they said, ‘Sorry, kid, you’re fired.’” They were low on money, and his salary an easy cut.

“I said, ‘You can’t fire me. I’ll work for free!’”

He ended up driv­ing ac­tress Clau­dia Jen­nings from home to set, for Cor­man’s “Moon­shine County Ex­press” (1977).

Then he got bumped up to props, $75 a week. Then props mas­ter and so on.

Fred was keen, learned quickly, had a way of get­ting things done and a touch with peo­ple. He worked up to line pro­ducer, on Shel­ley Du­vall’s “Faerie Tale The­atre” se­ries, a kids’ show with an adult wink. Big stars were drawn to it.

Robin Wil­liams, Mick Jag­ger, Ber­nadette Peters and oth­ers. Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola di­rected an episode, Fred met him and they got along.

Two years later, a mes­sage. From Cop­pola. Could they meet? Next thing, Fred was flown to Sky­walker Ranch, where he found him­self sit­ting be­tween Cop­pola and Ge­orge Lu­cas. One thing fol­lowed an­other, and he was even­tu­ally brought on as pres­i­dent of their com­pany, Zoetrope.

By now it was the late ’80s. Mean­time, Fred had met – and mar­ried – Mary Pat, from the Hamil­ton-area Fo­rani fam­ily. She was work­ing in film and TV in Van­cou­ver. They have four chil­dren, and as some of them started grav­i­tat­ing back to the Fo­rani roots in this area, so did Fred and his wife, mov­ing to Toronto in the early 2000s (Fred helped bring along “Lit­tle Mosque on the Prairie,” among other shows), then Dun­das in 2014.

He tells me he loves it here. I be­lieve him. He’s wo­ven him­self into the fab­ric, sit­ting on, among other things, the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity

board. He re­cently pro­duced “Mil­ton’s Se­cret,” shot here, star­ring Don­ald Suther­land.

In­side the West­dale, he stretches out his arms. “Look,” he says to me, see­ing not only what is – the oys­ter shell ceil­ing, the decor – but what will be, with ren­o­va­tion. His ex­cite­ment seems to raise the tem­per­a­ture of the space around us.

It doesn’t mat­ter that it’s Hamil­ton, not Cal­i­for­nia, and he’s work­ing with Graham Craw­ford, not Cop­pola. It’s a new fron­tier, up­graded bottle for vin­tage wine, thrilling as any­thing he ever did. It’s the movies.


Fred Fuchs has set­tled in Hamil­ton, fi­nally — his wife is from an old Hamil­ton fam­ily — af­ter an amaz­ing ca­reer in film. He’s part of a group buy­ing the West­dale The­atre.

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