[Text of stories is below this image] - From the ARN, Tuesday December 3, 2019
Paramount Theatre champion dies at 79
Robert Holladay ‘voice for several generations of movie buffs’
Brian Bethel Abilene Reporter-News USA TODAY NETWORK – TEXAS
Legend has it, said Betty Hukill, former executive director of the Paramount Theatre, that Robert Holladay was taken to the downtown Abilene showplace when he was about a week or so old.
He saw the flickering lights of the theater screen “propped up in the front row,” she said.
“And he never left,” Hukill said of the venue’s longtime champion, beloved for his evening talks before classic movies.
Holladay, a former Cooper High School teacher, died early Monday. He was 79.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount, with visitation scheduled from 5-7 p.m. Saturday at Hamily Family Funeral 体彩app官方网站.
From screening 16 mm prints of his favorite films at his north-side 体彩app官方网站 to invited friends, Holladay’s passion eventually grew into the Paramount’s well-loved Film Series.
Paramount Theatre Executive Director George Levesque said Holladay was and remains an integral part of the venue’s history.
He was among a group of Abilenians, along with philanthropist Judy Matthews, that pushed for saving the Paramount, then closed, in the 1980s.
Holladay and his friends formed the nucleus of the current Abilene Preservation League. The theater was renovated and restored and reopened in 1986.
“He was going to make sure that the Paramount would be a lot of things, but first it was a movie house,” Levesque said. “He was involved to the very end.”
Known for championing showings of the Metropolitan Opera and other special events at local theaters, Holladay was honored in September 2018 at the APL’s annual Heritage Stewardship Awards luncheon. Over the years, numerous other recognition came his way.
In October, a commissioned painting was presented to him at the Paramount. In a wheelchair, Holladay beamed. The painting has been placed on the east wall of the theater’s second-floor mezzanine.
When the portrait was unveiled, earlier than planned because of Holladay’s declining health, many called the honor a fitting, lasting tribute.
Jay Lester, president of the Paramount Theatre’s board and a former student, said one cannot think about the venue without thinking of Holladay, and vice versa.
“We had more than 100 people in the lobby. It was wonderful,” Lester said.
That was the last time, Theron Holladay said, his uncle visited the theater.
He recalled his own first visit to the venue with his uncle shortly after
the theater’s salvation to see “That’s Entertainment, Part II,” when he was 6 or 7.
“He was just going on and on about how amazing the Paramount Theatre is,” he said. “... He was telling me how his first day at the Paramount was when he was just three days old. And of course, his last day at the Paramount was just a few months ago, when they did the portrait unveiling.”
It comforts him, he said, to know that the portrait will hang in the Paramount “forever” in honor of his uncle’s life and legacy.
Man of many passions
Theron Holladay described his uncle as a man of many passions, from his deep love of family and British literature to history and film.
He had great passion and devotion to family, he said, and was close to his parents and to “all of us.”
Among Robert Holladay’s other loves was collecting vinyl albums, something he started doing when he was 16, Theron Holladay said.
But teaching, he would always say, was “his first true love,” his nephew said.
“That’s what he derived the greatest pleasure from, his teaching and helping provide knowledge to all (his) students over the years,” Theron Holladay said. “It’s amazing how so many people he taught for, 42-plus years that are still are in contact with him. Everywhere I go, someone tells me that my uncle was absolutely the best teacher they had, or that he completely changed their life.”
His uncle’s knowledge was “unbe-lievable,” he said. “He never, ever had a negative thought about a person,” Theron Holladay said. “It was always what could he help someone learn, and how could he pass that on, and he was just amazing at it. He had that brilliance from an early age. ... I can’t describe the things that I learned from him and how much everyone else has learned from him.”
Holladay remained close with many students throughout his life.
Lester was one such student.
“There was just a culture that he created in this class that was unique because he tied in cultural literacy, history, historical relevance, all tied into the literature that we were studying,” he said. “I thought the the world of him.”
Levesque, too, took a class from Holladay, a 3-hour literature course through McMurry University that he found so enthralling that he went on to take the second half.
“It was not tedious,” he said. “He kept us riveted.”
Hukill, who retired in June 2018, first met Holladay in 1989, when she was hired as artistic director at the Paramount.
The theater only recently had been restored, remembered Hukill, speaking via telephone from Kentucky on Monday.
“He had a significant impact and voice for several generations of movie buffs,” she said, providing great “insight and knowledge into Hollywood’s Golden Era, about the people, the industry, the trends and what worked and what didn’t work.”
Holladay had specific ideas about what made a fine film and what was mere fodder.
His favorite era was the decade of the 1950s and into the early years of the 1960s, Hukill said.
His favorite movie was “Raintree County,” a movie he admitted in October isn’t the best Hollywood has produced. But the 1957 melodrama starred his favorite actress, Elizabeth Taylor, and represents a specific era in the history of film that Holladay adored.
“He appreciated all aspects of film, but this is era he appreciated most,” Hukill said. “He identified with them,” she said. “People were happy and good and nice to each other. Those movies personified who he was.”
The movies were beautifully shot, in glorious technicolor. Typical of the era, which loved a good musical, characters would often burst into song.
Grittier fare, even if praised, such as “Schindler’s List,” didn’t appeal as much, Hukill recalled.
“He didn’t want to see that on film,” she said.
Beyond the sea
Rose Williams, also a longtime and favorite Cooper teacher, was close friends with Holladay.
It was a bond that formed in both the hallways of the 体彩app官方网站 and also during multiple 体彩app官方网站 trips, including airplane rides across the Atlantic Ocean. The two would take CHS students to Europe 10 times throughout their joint tenure at the 体彩app官方网站.
Williams, a Latin teacher, was at Cooper first. Holladay joined the faculty in 1963.
They formed a quick bond over their shared love of opera, world travel and “wonderful movies,” Williams said.
“I sang in operas and Robert always came to support me,” Williams said. “We liked the sights and sounds of Europe.”
On their trips abroad, which included a stop in Rome every time, the
pair found themselves always standing in the Villa Borghese gardens in one of Rome’s largest public parks.
Except one time, Williams said. And it nearly brought Holladay to tears.
“We got there one summer and the gardens were closed for renovation,” Williams said. “I cried and Robert almost cried. To us, that was a major tragedy, not being able to take in those statues.”
Other memories, of which there are many, she joked, include going with Holladay to see his favorite actress on stage in London.
“Robert worshiped Liz Taylor his entire life,” Williams said. “We got to Lon- don to see Liz on stage in ‘Little Foxes,’ and Robert had this thing he’d do when he got excited. He would choke and he would need to leave. He told me ‘I know I’m going to choke.’ “So I talked to him about everything he hated, from country体彩app官方网站 music on down, before the show started. By the time it began, he was fine.”
One of a kind
Though he is gone, Robert Holladay’s legacy will endure at the Paramount, in some ways still tangible, at least for a while.
He had a leading role in determining the 体彩app官方网站 film series, wanting an Alfred Hitchcock film and a John Wayne picture to be among the offerings, as always.
Audiences next year will therefore enjoy “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
The final film for which Holladay did a Friday evening presentation was “The Searchers,” which happens to be his nephew’s favorite film.
Theron Holladay’s daughter was the last person to whom Robert Holladay taught English, he said.
On Saturday, his uncle was awake and alert, Theron Holladay said.
And he still had things to teach.
“All of our family was here, and my daughter was in from college,” he said. “... She was in there asking him all these important questions in her mind, like what books does she to have to read, and why does ‘Raintree County’ mean so much to him. So they talked for several hours, him just explaining things to her. And so that’s something that touched me, her having that opportunity, right before he passed away.
“Uncle’s favorite quote was from his favorite comedy, ‘Auntie Mame,’” a 1955 novel made into a film in 1958.
It was so resonant a statement that Robert Holladay wanted it his tombstone.
And so, it is.
“It says, ‘Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death,’” Theron Holladay said. “That was kind of his philosophy on life. No matter what position you’re in, there’s so much beauty, there’s so much knowledge. There’s so much out there.”
Timothy Chipp, Nathaniel Ellsworth and Greg Jaklewicz contributed to this report.
Mr. Holladay opened world to students
Jess Cagle Guest columnist
Editor’s Note: Jess Cagle, former editor in chief of People magazine, currently is host of “The Jess Cagle Show” and chief entertainment anchor for SiriusXM.
If Robert Holladay hadn’t been a great teacher, he probably could’ve been a great actor.
When he read passages of Shakespeare to his British lit classes, he brought the words to life, rendering them not just understandable, but powerful. And just as he made Shakespeare (and Chaucer and Yeats and Shelley and on and on) accessible, he opened the world to his students.
When I took his classes in the early ‘80s, he brought theater and film and music into his teachings. He introduced us to the writings of Pauline Kael, the great film critic of The New Yorker magazine, which set me on a path to become a critic and a journalist.
Like so many students before and after, I owe my life to Mr. Holladay.
He loved and adored his family (and the Paramount, of course) but seemed to devote the rest of his life to his students. We didn’t want to leave his classroom — some of us even joined the Cooper yearbook staff (which he oversaw during my high 体彩app官方网站 years) and Film Society just so we could spend more time in his
brilliant, funny company.
We spent our lunch breaks in his classroom (he always ate the same thing: Tab and M& Ms) and spent our Friday nights at his house watching movies and eating Chinese takeout.
He collected thousands of films on VHS (and eventually DVD) — such an extravagant indulgence — and by doing so gave us implicit permission to follow our brains and passions, no matter how impractical.
Some of us, if we were lucky enough, joined one of his summer tours of Europe. Being responsible for a couple dozen teenagers in foreign lands would have taken a toll on lesser men. But he rushed into each new city and site with joy and curiosity, no matter how many times he had been there before.
We happily followed. His love of art and beauty and history was infectious.
Learning from Mr. Holladay never felt like a chore. It felt like he was setting us free.
— Jess Cagle, Cooper High School Class of ‘83