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Elmer Balaban, 92; Ran Chain of Movie Theaters in Midwest

November 10, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Elmer Balaban, 92, last surviving brother of a family of businessmen who dominated the movie theater business in Chicago and across the Midwest, died Nov. 2 at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago.

He was born in the Windy City, the youngest of eight children in a family heavily involved in the business of entertainment by the time he came of age. His eldest brother, Barney, ran Paramount Pictures. An uncle, Sam Katz, ran MGM.

Balaban graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and started his company, H&E Balaban, with his brother, Harry, in 1932. The two ran a chain of movie theaters in the Midwest. His flagship in Chicago, the Esquire, was modeled after Radio City Music Hall in New York.

With the advent of television, Balaban feared a downturn in theater attendance and sold his holdings in that business. He bought radio and television stations, again primarily in the Midwest, and later cable as well.

But for all his activity in the entertainment industry, Balaban was "anti-theatrical--very, very non-interested in anything showy," said his son, actor and director Bob Balaban.

"He was very quiet and read two books a week into his 90s," his son said.

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