Old Vic Saviour ‘Honest Ed’ Mirvish Dies at Age 92Date: 12 July 2007
Edwin ‘Honest Ed’ Mirvish (pictured), the Canadian businessman, arts patron and former owner of London’s Old Vic, passed away yesterday (11 July 2007) at St Michael’s Hospital in his home town of Toronto. He was two weeks away from his 93rd birthday.
Ed and his son David Mirvish purchased the Old Vic in 1982, outbidding a £500,000 offer from Andrew Lloyd Webber by £50,000. They spent £2.5 million refurbishing the theatrical landmark, birthplace to the National Theatre and Sadler's Wells Opera and Ballet (later the Royal Opera and Ballet). During building work, Mirvish hung a banner outside emblazoned with a message to the theatre’s legendary producer-manager: “Lilian Baylis, you’re going to love this”, signed “Honest Ed”.
But the Mirvishes never made any money from the Old Vic. When the philanthropic pair announced in December 1997 their intention to sell the Grade II-listed building, it was estimated that they had lost up to £30 million during their 16-year stewardship. They received various commercial bids – including, it was rumoured, from parties intent on turning it into a lap-dancing club or bingo hall – near the asking price of £7.5 million.
However, Mirvish was intent on preserving the venue as a reputable theatre. In the end, the Old Vic was sold to the specially established charity the Old Vic Theatre Trust for £3.5 million (See News, 3 Jul 1998). The Trust later relaunched the 1,000-seater as the home of the Old Vic Theatre Company, presenting its own in-house productions under the artistic directorship of Hollywood’s Kevin Spacey, who continues to run it.
For his part in saving the Old Vic, Mirvish was awarded an OBE in 1989, and in 1996, he was presented with an honorary Laurence Olivier Award for his services to British theatre.
Ed Mirvish made his fortune in retail. He launched his flagship business Honest Ed’s, a bargain-basement department store that expanded to occupy an entire block in Toronto, in 1948. The store became as famous for its assortment of odd merchandise, displayed in orange crates, and its no-frills customer service as for Mirvish’s flamboyant publicity stunts including parading elephants, mock protests and an annual birthday bash at which he laid on free food, amusement park rides and other entertainments.
In 1962, Mirvish purchased his first theatre, Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, which was due to be demolished. He revitalised both the Edwardian theatre and the surrounding neighbourhood, going so far as opening a string of restaurants nearby so that theatregoers had somewhere to go before and after performances. The Mirvishes’ other Toronto theatres are the Princess of Wales (which they built in 1993) and the Canon Theatre (which they manage on behalf of Live Nation).
Father and son also established Mirvish Productions to present Canadian runs of Broadway and West End hits, such as Saturday Night Fever, The Lion King, Hairspray and Mamma Mia!. Their other co-producing credits include the musical adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Prior to its current run at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the epic had its world premiere in Toronto in March 2006 at their Princess of Wales theatre (See News, 15 Mar 2005).
Born on 24 July 1914 in Colonial Beach, Virginia, Ed Mirvish moved with his family to Toronto as a child. He died on 11 July 2007 and is survived by his wife Anna, whom he married in 1941, and his son David.
- by Terri Paddock