Hurray for Hollyw ... uh, Hamilton! And the Westdale
Oscar-nominated producer has found a home in Dundas
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.