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Theater Owner/Movie Critic Larry Thomas Dies At 73

Courtesy E.C. Nurre Funeral Home
Larry Thomas, film booker and movie historian, has died at 73.

Larry Thomas was born to love movies. Thomas, the former owner of The Movies Repertory Cinema in downtown Cincinnati and Cincinnati Public Radio film critic, was the son of West Virginia parents who owned several drive-ins and theaters.

Credit WVXU file
Larry Thomas owned and operated the The Movies Repertory Cinema, 719 Race St., downtown, in the 1980s.

Thomas, who died Sept. 9 at age 73, liked to say his first babysitter was the theater where his parents would plop him into a seat to watch films for hours. By age 8, he was "a child prodigy with his in-depth knowledge of all aspects of film" and his parents "allowed him to assist with creating film playlists for their movie bookings," says his obituary at E.C. Nurre Funeral Homes.

Thomas moved to Cincinnati in his early 20s after making weekly trips here with his father to pick up movie reels, and seeing this city's vibrant film community.

He first worked as a film booker at the 20th Century Fox Cincinnati office. That led to a lifelong career in film booking and distribution for drive-ins and independent theaters throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. He retired from that business last year.

In the 1980s, Thomas ran The Movies Repertory Cinema Theatre at 719 Race St., and did part-time announcing at classical station (and WVXU sister station) WGUC. He was promoted in 1992 to a full-time member of the WGUC marketing and communications team, where he edited the monthly Artscape magazine for members and did on-air movie reviews.

Credit WGUC file
WGUC staffers gathering for Myron Bennett's retirement in 1991 included (back row from left) Lisa Ledin, Oscar Treadwell, John Birge, Larry Thomas (front row from left) Gary Barton, Myron Bennett, Dietrich Dejong and Peggy Schmidt.

"He had a joy that he brought to whatever he was doing – on the air, interacting with listeners or being out in the public," says Chris Phelps, Cincinnati Public Radio vice president for content. "He always made you laugh. He had a joke or a pun for everything. He was a joy to have around."

Tim Swallow, who operates the Cincinnati World Cinema at Thomas' former Garfield Park theater location, called Thomas "a Cincinnati cinema legend." In addition to owning and programming the Movies Repertory Cinema, Thomas also was a principal in the early days of Neon, the art cinema in Dayton, Ohio, he says.

Credit WGUC file
Larry with his wife, Charlotte.

Longtime friend Joe Busam Sr., who was a projectionist at Thomas' theater, says that "Larry's accomplishments are vast. Theatre owner, film booker, film critic, radio personality, and then some. After his retirement from WGUC, he continued to book films all around the country, until his health would no longer permit it," Busam said on his Facebook tribute.

His friends will never forget his encyclopedic film knowledge, or his hearty laugh.

"I wish I could come close to describing what it felt like to make Larry laugh. He had a great big genuine laugh and it's one of the things I'll miss most of all," says Sherri Mancini, Cincinnati Public Radio vice president for development. "Ironically, I used to go to his theater as a teenager to watch Harold and Maude and Quadrophenia. Years later we both end up at WGUC."

Thomas was a versatile team player at Cincinnati Public Radio, which operates classic WGUC and NPR affiliates WVXU and WMUB. He was often was the first to volunteer for station projects. During fund drives, he'd pick up coffee at 6 a.m. on his way in to take pledges.  

He kept in touch with his former coworkers after leaving the station in 2014. Last month, Thomas and Mancini chatted on the phone while watching Sunset Boulevard "together." (His favorite movie was  King Kong. You can read why here.)

Credit Courtesy Tim Swallow

"He knew so much about film, that it made watching movies with him a next-level experience," Mancini says. "I would say, 'Hey that guy at the bar played so-and-so in It's a Wonderful Life!' And then he'd tell me his name, 10 other films he was in, who he was married to, his favorite sandwich and why he got out of the business. He was the master, but not in a showy way. I love that - all of it. Larry was a wonderful friend, and life will not be nearly as fun without him."

Thomas is survived by his wife, Charlotte Reed Thomas; his brother John Thomas; his brother-in-law Doug Reed (Frances Dickson); and nieces Grace and Vivianne Reed. His obituary did not mention any services or memorial gatherings.

Friends may post a tribute to Thomas at our Remembering Larry Thomas website.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to Cincinnati Public Radio, 1223 Central Parkway, Cincinnati, 45214, or the National Film Preservation Foundation, 145 Ninth St., Suite 260, San Francisco, CA 94103.

John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent and has only been edited for style and grammar. 

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.