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Prisoner Garth Drabinsky Returns to Work on Day-Parole

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 21, 2013 at 4:13PM

Garth Drabinsky, the Canadian entertainment mogul whose acquisition of American movie theaters in the 1980s sparked the consolidation of exhibition that continues to this day, has been granted day-parole after serving 17 months of a five-year prison sentence in Ontario. The 63-year old Drabinsky, a larger-than-life impresario who also produced movies and Broadway shows as well as restoring theaters, had been convicted along with partner Myron Gottlieb of fraud in relation to the loss of hundreds of millions of investors' money at their public company Livent. That included fleecing former uber-agent Michael Ovitz by cooking the Livent books before selling him the comnpany, which he eventually had to take into bankruptcy.
Cineplex Odeon
Cineplex Odeon

Drabinsky's tenure at Cineplex Odeon, which included a partnership with Universal, led to his ouster in 1989. But he rebounded with new ventures in live theater through his company Livent, including the Toronto presentation of "Phantom of the Opera." Livent later bought several classic theaters in other cities, including New York and Chicago (the Apollo among them) and backed several productions (including "Ragtime," which combined won 19 Tonys).

But by 1998 the massive overspending and lack of success equal to the outlays led to seeking out bankruptcy protection. While examining the books, both American and Canadian agencies found serious issues, leading eventually to a 2009 conviction on fraud charges for Drabinsky and partner Gottlieb. He began his reduced sentence in 2011 (the original term was for seven years), and served 17 months mostly at a minimum security Ontario prison before his release to a Toronto half-way house this weekend. Gottlieb received a lesser sentence and began day-parole last year.

Drabinsky was in many ways a throwback to the personalities who created the Hollywood movie studios, and in turn paved the way for the Weinstein brothers and others in the specialized world. His ambition, taste, drive, energy and vision as well as interest in independent film and related fields have been surpassed, but he livened up what had been a corporate, hidebound and static industry. His entry into exhibition played a major role in changing the mold.

His future will be limited by the terms of his conviction and other settlements. He is prohibited from running a public company and otherwise controlling a financial company involving others' investments, which will certainly limit his abilities to return to his earlier status. But even in the middle of his legal troubles, he was able to back one final film -- "Barrymore," starring Christopher Plummer, based on his one-man stage show -which premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival days before Drabinsky started his prison term. He also will be limited by unresolved legal issues in the United States (he can't be extradited because of Canadian double jeopardy laws).

If anyone can return after such calamities, it's Garth Drabinsky.

This article is related to: Exhibition, News

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.