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Browns Bay Classic Cinema

Browns Bay Classic Cinema


1a Beachfront Lane, Browns Bay

Beach Bistro, a small restaurant on the foreshore in Browns Bay that pays homage weekly to the old 555 Cinema & Cabaret that stood for many years where the restaurant is today.

Each month has a theme with classic films screened on Friday & Saturday nights at 8PM, you know, ones from your 'bucket list' of must-sees, while you enjoy a glass of wine & pizza.

Your ticket includes a glass of wine or beer so book early, seats will be limited to 20.

courtesy of ShoreLine Magazine
Bill Ellis remembers the “555’s” projectionists were Bob Mills, Graham Shaw and Gerald Billman. Bill says he “wormed his way in” to be Gerald’s assistant. Here is Bill (in photo 1) loading the 4” x 4” glass slides for the intermission advertisements.
The movies were often split across two reels. In photo 2, Bill is poised to switch the sound and movie across from one projector to another. It required precise timing and coordination! Both photos were taken in the early 1960s.
There’ll be more photos of the “555” Picture Theatre and Cabaret in future issues. We would love to hear your memories too.

Do you remember watching movies there? What was your favourite snack from the milk bar? Did you ever visit the cabaret?

Norman Biss was just 10 years old when he emigrated from the south of England to Rothesay Bay. The move seriously disrupted his education, but what became clear very quickly was that he could draw and was a gifted artist.
He and his family were regulars at the 555, which was owned by Olga Williams.

Norman says, "Olga was profoundly deaf. She worked in the ticket booth, lip-reading customers' requests. She told us we were the easiest people to understand. I think it was because our Englishness meant that we enunciated very clearly!"
Norman and his family developed a close friendship with Olga, and he soon started drawing movie posters for her. He and Olga would meet in her billiard room weekly or fortnightly, go through the new releases, and then he'd take the originals home to copy.

"She was an amazing lady, ahead of her time in many ways," he says. "The 555 was the first Auckland cinema outside Queen Street to have CinemaScope. That required significant upgrades. My dad helped to cut away about half the floor to install new seats, and I remember my mother making crêpe paper flowers to run along the light box at the bottom of the screen. They added to the ambience when the lights were raised or dimmed."

Norman remembers the first movie screened there in CinemaScope. "It was 'The Robe' starring Victor Mature and Richard Burton."

It wasn't just the locals who loved and respected Olga; she was known to some Hollywood royalty too. "I saw the birthday cards she received from Jack Warner and Samuel Goldwyn," smiles Norman. "I wish we'd had phones that could take photos back then; it'd be wonderful to have copies of those."

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