Wed | Aug 31, 2016

Palace - amusing Jamaicans for almost a century

Published:Wednesday | January 23, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Today, we continue to profile companies that have been nominated for the prestigious 2012 Gleaner Honour Award. Palace Amusement Limited has been nominated in the category of Entertainment.

For the better part of 90 years, the eye-catching structure that is the Carib Cinema has commanded the foci of Jamaicans in every walk of life.

Having shot to prominence on the entertainment stage very early in its inception, Carib has been such a showpiece in Jamaican life that when the white structure in the heart of Cross Roads, St Andrew, was engulfed by fire in 1996, a part of fun-loving Jamaica was scorched in the inferno.

But like the film stars who were showcased on the huge screen in the massive cinema for so many decades, the operators of Carib were not about to play dead.

Like the stars of old, the indomitable spirit of the principals of the Palace Amusement Company, under which Carib has operated for many years, were not to be seared by the blaze. For, like the proverbial phoenix, Carib rose triumphantly from the ashes.

So, Carib resurfaced in spectacular fashion. The cinema that was so revered - as one of Jamaica's entertainment showpieces - once again came to life.

In fact, out of the tragedy emerged something bigger and better. Instead of a single giant screen flaunting a single flick, Carib would now be able to expose five movies all at once.

Today, by their pronouncements, members of the Carib cast are quite pleased with the starring roles they have played on Jamaica's entertainment scene. And, they are particularly pleased that their performances have not gone unnoticed.

"Palace Amusement Company (1921) Limited is pleased to have been nominated by The Gleaner Honour Awards Committee in the category of entertainment," said communications specialist, Coleen Brown Jackson.

Brand has evolved

Brown Jackson noted with point-blank focus that the Palace Amusement brand has evolved over more than nine decades.

Under the watchful eyes of Douglas Graham, the modern facility has won pride of place in the hearts of all film-loving Jamaicans, utilising state-of-the-art audio visual technologies, including cable and digital.

When the Palace Amusement Company Limited emerged on the entertainment scene in 1921, thanks to the vision of Audley Morais, it was in the halcyon era of silent movies.

Over the years, the company operated movies, rose gardens, as well as the Palace Cinemas which elicited more than a passing glance in the past.

The movie magnate later acquired the Gaiety and Majestic cinemas, followed by the leasing of Odeon in Mandeville, Manchester. Other cinemas (urban and rural) were also constructed by the owners of Carib.

Palace Amusement has operated cinemas and distributed films to many of the independent cinemas that have existed in Jamaica and Grand Cayman, becoming a household name on this side of the globe.

Brown Jackson noted that Carib, in the past, doubled as a concert hall showcasing international greats such as Sammy Davis Jr, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Marion Anderson.

Then came the digital age on screen, where 'alternative content' made it possible to show live events such as sports and concerts - pop, opera and classical, some in 3D.

"The Carib of 1938 was said to be acoustically the best hall in Jamaica, as it allowed a speaker to project his normal voice to someone located at the back of the balcony, some 180 feet away, without amplification," declared Brown Jackson.

She noted that Carib also had the distinction of being a cultural cradle during the 1940s when the cinema became famous for the staging of the finals of a talent contest organised by promoter Vere Johns.

Then came colourfully entertaining Jamaicans to the mix. The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour became the breeding ground for many aspiring Jamaican performers such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Tucker, Charles Hyatt and Buddy Pouyatt.

Palace Amusement also played a significant role in the making of Jamaica's first 'big screen' movie, The Harder They Come, by lending its expertise to the production of the film.

"Palace Amusement also led the charge against piracy and for copyright recognition in Jamaica, as far back as the 1990s," asserted Brown Jackson.

She noted that the company has employed strategies such as public education campaigns targeting cinema goers, schools, churches, professional bodies and the wider population; the company also worked with interest groups, legislative bodies, the US Embassy and the Copyright Unit of the Organised Crime Investigation Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

"We remain committed to our mission to ensure that cinema remains a preferred option and that the audience enjoys the ultimate movie experience," Brown Jackson said.

Rank's involvement

It was in 1947 that J. Arthur Rank, from the United Kingdom, acquired control of Palace Amusement Company. The Rank organisation then bought out Cinema Company of Jamaica Ltd, which owned Carib before bringing the curtains down on movies, built Odeon in Mandeville in 1951, and Odeon in Half-Way Tree in 1952.

In l949, Russell Graham built the Tropical Cinema Company, and used it as a centrepiece of the competition that he mounted for the movie audience against Palace.

Then in 1962, Russgram Investments Limited - a company owned by Russell Graham - bought the controlling interest in Palace Amusement Company from Rank, and his son Douglas Graham was appointed managing director.

The new regime purchased the Majestic Cinema on Spanish Town Road, built the Harbour View Drive-In and took control of Tropical Cinema Company, which was a two-cinema company - Tropical and Rialto.

In 1989, Russell Graham sold Russgram Investments Company to Douglas Graham.

"Since 1989, we have fought against the contraction of the circuit by expanding," said Brown Jackson.

Russgram Investments Limited is also in the film distribution business, and represents Warner Bros, Sony, and 20th Century Fox.

Patrons were delighted in the 1980s when the Dolby Surround Sound Stereo eliminated hissing and crackling in the sound that plagued previous systems. Today, Digital Sound is used alongside Dolby.