David Gleeson

'Tolkien' film penned by Nenagh cinema founder's son

‘Tolkien’ writer David Gleeson on his cinema background


On my birth certificate, my father’s occupation is listed as ‘harness maker’, despite the fact that
by the time I came along he hadn’t worked as a harness maker for years (if he ever did at all). I
was in fact born into the cinema business.


Ironically enough, my grandfather who opened the Regal Cinema in Cappamore, Co. Limerick,
never cared much for movies. Scourge of the Black and Tans in east Limerick, Willie Gleeson
was an entrepreneur always on the lookout for a new opportunity. The harness making shop he
owned and operated was one of three in Cappamore in the 1940s and he was keen to branch
out.


Opportunity presented itself with the rural electrification scheme when Grandfather found
himself the proud owner of a structure which the ESB constructed at the top of the village to
house the German engineers and workers bringing electricity to the parish.


Converting it into a hall, he rented it out for ceilidhs and other community events, but his best
customer was a traveling picture show called ‘Billy Walsh’s Talkies’. Every Wednesday night,
they rolled into town with their own generator, screen and projector, delighting country people
starved of entertainment with a programme of ‘3 Stooges’ and ‘Little Rascals’ shorts.
It didn’t take long before Grandfather saw the money ‘Billy Walsh’s Talkies’ was pulling in and
decided to go into the cinema business himself.


The Regal Cinema, Cappamore, was a haphazard operation from the start. The single projector
broke down constantly, films were hard to come by, shows were limited to 3 nights a week, and
the hall was unheated with no proper seating.


Soon enough, my grandfather lost interest. Moving onto his next scheme, he delegated the
running of the cinema to my father, Eddie Gleeson, who at the age of 14 left school to manage
the business full-time.


My father had found his calling. He adored movies and was fascinated by the projection
equipment. He took great pride in the cinema but was constantly frustrated by the poor quality of
films he could source.


None of the film distributors wanted to deal with a tiny cinema in rural Ireland and it was an
ongoing struggle to get bookings. When the films did arrive, they were usually in ribbons, worn
out from use in countless other cinemas. Often, they had whole scenes missing, sometimes
even the movie’s ending wasn’t included.


The attitude in Dublin to my father’s entreaties for better films was cold and indifferent. When he
was trying to secure a print of ‘Shane, one film executive said to him; ‘Your little cinema is hardly
the Savoy’.


My father’s response; ‘Maybe not to you, but to me it is the Savoy’.

He got the print. One show. One night only. It was in ribbons.


As times improved, my father and my uncle Willie Joe, partners by now, opened a second
cinema. ‘Luxury Cinema of the 70s’ ran the advertising blurb for the Curzon Cinema, Kilmallock,
which opened its doors in 1973 with ‘The Poseidon Adventure’.

The Curzon would be my alma mater and it was here where my film education was completed
at a very young and impressionable age. All through secondary school, I spent every spare hour
and all my weekends working there.


The programme was constantly changing and at one point I was seeing 14 different movies a
week on the big screen — the very best of world cinema, alongside the very worst. Often on the
same double bill.


Today, when I hear people say, ‘That was the worst film I ever saw’, I quietly shake my head.
They haven’t seen some of the movies we showed in Kilmallock. Ever seen ‘The Deerhunter
Part 2’? I have. We had it on a late show with ‘Blue Movie Blackmail’. We also had ‘Bruce Lee:
The Man the Myth’ on a double bill with ‘Bruce Lee, the True Story’ (two completely different
movies).


On the other hand, we had ‘Atlantic City’ on a double bill with ‘Breaker Morant’, ’The Last Picture
Show’ with ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Midnight Express’ with ‘Taxi Driver’, just a few of the
countless classic double bills we played over the years.


With the death of my uncle in the mid-80s, the partnership dissolved and the Gleeson families
went their separate ways. The Regal and the Curzon continued in business for another few
years but by then the rural cinema scene was in decline and both cinemas were eventually
shuttered.


In 1986, my father began a new chapter with the Ormond Twin Cinemas opening its doors in
Nenagh with ‘Rocky IV’ and ‘Spies Like Us’. 34 years later, the cinema is still going strong.
Today, it’s a thriving 5-screen cineplex which my sister, Helen, runs with him.


Now in his 7th decade in the business, Mr. Eddie Gleeson holds the distinction of being the
most senior member of the film industry in Ireland. A stalwart among exhibitors, and a film buff
without peer, his knowledge and appreciation of all things cinema is breathtaking.


He has known all the Ireland heads of Columbia, Disney, Fox, Warners and Universal since they
began as office assistants. Over the years, they became his close friends, and he was there too
when all they retired. He has seen so many legends of the industry come and go, and still he
carries on, an institution in Nenagh where he is to be found most nights of the week, always
immaculately attired in a suit and tie, greeting customers in the foyer.


My mother has long resigned herself to the fact that he will never retire, sustained as he is by a
passion for movies. A passion which he passed onto me.


My own journey in this industry can be traced back to one drizzling Monday night in March,
1981, when I saw ‘Gone With the Wind’ on the big screen in Cappamore and was blown away
by the sheer romance and epic sweep of it all. Walking home, I had an epiphany — I could
combine what I loved with what my teachers told me I had a talent for; writing. I COULD MAKE
MOVIES!


And so began a quest which has taken me all over the world and through a succession of
careers, including 5 years in the North Sea oil industry followed by another 2 in the Arctic Circle
(hey, no one said it was supposed to be easy) to where I am now — in the privileged position
where I make a living doing what I love.


I now have films in development at nearly all of the major studios in Hollywood. My film, DON’T
GO recently played on screens across Ireland and another, TOLKIEN, which I wrote, opens
worldwide on May 3rd.



Recently, on a visit to Warner Brothers Studios, I took along a photo of my grandfather and
tucked it behind the name plaque on the wall of the famed Studio 7 soundstage where
‘Casablanca’ was filmed.


I did it because I wanted a part of Willie Gleeson to reside there. I know the gesture probably
wouldn’t have meant much to him, but it felt important to me.


David Gleeson
— TOLKIEN opens at the Ormond Cineplex on May 3rd.

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