Lee Po-lam (李寶林,1909-2002) – Theatre Owner in the 1950s to 1970s

York Lo:  Lee Po-lam (李寶林,1909-2002) – Theatre Owner in the 1950s to 1970s

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Lee Po-lam and his wife (center) with actor Ng Chor-fan (left) and his eldest son Lee Pui-wan at the wedding of his second son in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-25)

In the 1950s through the 1970s, Lee Po-lam was one of the major theatre owners in HK and Macau as the owner/operator of Paramount, Golden, Golden Gate and Golden Crown theatresand was elected vice chairman of the HK Theatres Association in 1965. (WKYP, 1965-4-21)

Lee started his career as a theatre operator in Macau where he was the operator of the 1000 seat Victoria Theatre (域多利戲院,Teatro Vitoria in Portugese), which was Macau’s first when it was launched in 1910 and operated fromAvenida Almeida Rebeiro from 1921 onwards. It showed its first sound movie in 1931 and continued to operate throughout the War and showed Cantonese opera when the supply of films from HK was discontinued. Together with Fung Ching, another prominent figure in the theater business (to be covered), Lee operated the Victoria and Roxy theaters in Macau during the War. Victoria operated until 1971 after which it was demolished and became a branch for Tai Fung Bank while Roxy operated from 1940 until 1970 and was re-developed into a residential building of the same name.

After the War, Lee came to HK where he built his theater empire with two principal companies -World Entertainment Co (新世界娛樂) and Universe Investment Co (宇宙企業). World Entertainment was originally incorporated in 1935 as World Theatre Co as the operator of World Theatre (新世界戲院) at Queen’s Road Central (now Vicwood Plaza) and was renamed World Entertainment in 1952.Universe was incorporated in 1953 with HK$1 million in capital to operate theatres, music halls and ballrooms with registered address at 181 Queen’s Road Central and Lee and Poon Kam-chuen of 148A Queen’s Road Central as shareholders. (FEER, 1953)

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Left: Teatro Vitoria (Victoria Theatre) in Macau; Right: Paramount Theatre in Mongkok

In 1954, Lee through Universe Investment opened the 1003 seat Paramount Theatre (百樂門戲院)at 74 Shantung Street in Mongkok district with the first movie shown being a re-run of the English language film “Desert Legion”. The Paramount primarily showed second run English language films in the 1950s and 1960s.In 1957, a former staff member at the Paramount Theater by the name of Lam Wai-sun took one of the company’s checks and cashed out HK$20,200 from the Hang Seng Bank by forging Lee Po-lam’s signature. Lam was arrested by the police near Temple Street after Lee reported the fraud.  (KSEN, 1957-11-26)

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Left: Golden Theatre in Sham Shui Po in the 1980s; Right: ad for the first film shown at the Golden Theatre in 1962 – Shaw Brothers’ “When Fortune Smiles” in 1962 (KSDN, 1962-11-27)

In the early 1960s, Lee formed Shun Fat Amusement Enterprises (incorporated in 1962, dissolved in 1980) with movie producer and hotelier Ho Chapman (to be covered) and acquired the site of the torchlight manufacturer Nam Jam Factory (南針製造廠, see article)at 94 Yen Chow Street in Sham Shui Po, on which they developed theGolden Theatre (黃金戲院) with total investments of over HK$6 million.The theatre opened to business in November 1962 with the premiere of the Shaw studio’s “When Fortune Smiles” (喜事重重) and Shaw studio chief Run Run Shaw along with two dozen Shaw stars including Ling Bo, Betty Loh and Lin Dai attended the opening ceremony which was followed by a banquet with over 100 tables at the King Wah restaurant in Mongkok. The theater had a 1,397-seat auditorium with a 40-feet wide screen on the first floor while the spacious air-conditioned lobby and a mini shopping arcade was on the ground floor. Golden became one of the major theaters showing Chinese language films and Lee and Ho also operated the Golden Restaurant (黃金酒家, as a firm incorporated in 1963 and dissolved in 1980)in the theatre building.

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Scenes from the opening ceremony of the Golden Gate Theatre in 1966. Left: Hari Harilela as chairman of the theatre delivering a speech; Right: Shaw stars at the ceremony (Right to left): Cheung Kwong-chiu, Kam Fei, Fong Ying, Lily Ho, Chuk Ching, Leung Ka-bo. (WKYP, 1966-9-29)

In 1965, Lee teamed up with Ho Chapman and Hari Harilela (see article), tailor king and Ho’s partner in Imperial Hotel and established Holly Securities in Vancouver.In September 1966, Lee, Hoand Harilelaopened the 1209 seat Golden Gate Theatre (金門戲院)at 5 San Lau Street in Hunghom at the cost of $10 million after three years of work.

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Article about the upcoming opening of the Golden Crown Theatre with an architectural sketch of the building (KSEN, 1967-6-21)

In 1965, Lee Po-lam partnered up with the construction mogul Chung Kam-chuen (鍾錦泉)to build the Golden Crown Theatre (金冠戲院) at 74 Bedford Roadin Tai KokTsui. The 1075 seat theater was equipped with Sinulex projectors and was completed at a total cost of over HK$10 million in 2 years. To operate the theater, Lee incorporated Golden Crown Entertainment which secured contractsto show movies from major American studios Paramount, Universal, Warner and UA andthe theatre opened to business on 2nd September 1967 with the Italian/Spanish film “TargetGoldseven”.

Lee Po-lam and his wife Chiu Wun-man (趙煥文) have at least two sons and two daughters. Their eldest son Lee Pui-wan (李佩雲) joined the family business after graduation from the University of Michigan and served as manager of the various theaters operated by the family. Pui-wan and his younger brother Lee Pui-yu(李佩諭)both got married in 1964 – Pui-wan to Wu Yu-yuet (胡如月), a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in September (KSDN, 1964-9-18) and Pui-yu to Mui Yuk-kit (梅玉潔) in Kingston, Canada in February. For both of his sons, Lee Po-lam organized elaborate wedding banquets at the King Wah restaurant in Mongkok which were attended by movie industry figures such as actors Lam Ka-sing, Cheung Wood-yau and Ng Chor-fan and fellow theater owners Terry Leung of Central and Lo Kau of Ying King Theatre (see articles). (WKYP, 1964-2-26)

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Article and picture of the wedding of Lee Po-lam’s second son Lee Pui-yu in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-26)

Lee Po-lam’s fifth daughter Lee Pui-yiu (李佩瑤) graduated from the University of Toronto with a medical degree and married Lee Chun-suen, the nephew of Y.C. Chen of Ta Hing Cotton Mill in 1971 while his youngest daughter Lee Pui-han (李佩嫻) received her B.S. in biology from the University of Illinois and M.S. in bacteriology from the University of Toronto andmarried Chiu Cho-leung (趙祖亮), a PhD graduate from the University of Toronto in 1971.

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Article and picture of the wedding of Lee Po-lam’s fifth daughter Lee Pui-yiu in 1971 (WKYP, 1971-6-7)

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Left: the Golden Harvest Theatre in Toronto operated by the Lee family; Right: article and picture of the wedding of Lee Po-lam’s youngest daughter Lee Pui-han in Toronto in 1971 (KSEN, 1971-7-17)

In December 1972, Paramount Theatre closed its doors and a commercial building was built on the site of the theatre.

In 1975, the Lee family partnered with the movie studio Golden Harvest to establish Hang Hing Investments and acquired the 700-seat Victory Burlesque Theatre (originally opened as the Standard Yiddish theatre in 1921) at 287 Spadina Avenue in Toronto’s Chinatown which they renamed the Golden Harvest Theatre (嘉禾戲院) to show Chinese movies to the local Chinese community. They changed the entrance and added a basement restaurant and other shops.Lee Pui-wan flew to Canada to attend the opening ceremony in August 1976 and the first movie shown in the new theater was the comedy “The Last Message” (天才與白痴) starring the Hui brothers. After the opening, Lee spent more time in the US and Canada for business.(KSDN, 1976-8-17) The Golden Harvest Theatre operated for close to two decades and closed in 1994 and has since become a shopping center.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lee’s theaters in HK like many of its peers closed one by one. Golden Crown closed in 1988 and the site was re-developed into a residential building. Golden Theatre was one of main theatres showing Shaw movies but closed in 1991 and re-developed into Golden Building. Golden Gate closed in 1996 and became a church.

The two key holding companies for Lee Po-lam – World Entertainment Co Ltd was dissolved in 1993 and Universe Investment Co Ltd was dissolved in 1997.

Lee Po-lam himself died in Toronto in 2002 at the age of 93.

Sources (other than what’s cited above):

https://macaulifestyle.com/culture/heritage/cinema-in-macau-an-ode-to-films-back-in-the-day/

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/17617

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/27694

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/25256

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/34834384

This article was first posted on 16th November 2020.

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