Brian Fox, a respected repertory cinema owner and programmer from the ’70s and ’80s and a longtime friend of mine, passed last Monday evening. A massive heart attack. Condolences to his wife Diane, whom I’ve also known for decades. HE commenters knew Brian as “Grandpappy Amos.”
I met Brian though the Westport Playhouse Cinema, which he began co-managing with partner Fred Kraushar, in late ’76 or early ’77. I wrote program notes for the WPC as a kind of warm-up exercise before becoming a columnist for the fledgling Fairfield County Morning News. Then I moved to Sullivan Street in Soho and began my miserable period of freelance struggling and living hand-to-mouth — easily the darkest chapter of my professional life.
Brian was a personable, soft-spoken guy with a certain dry, droll attitude. He could be blunt in his own deft and darting way. I distinctly recall Brian calling me “a failure” during my arduous freelance agony days in ’79 and ’80. He didn’t mean to hurt my feelings exactly — it just came out that way. His assessment may have helped me on some level. It may have lit a fire.
I also recall a late-afternoon moment in ’77 when a young Hispanic guy and his girlfriend came into the WPC to talk about movies and pick up a printed program. As they were leaving and wishing the business well, Brian said “adios.” Fred was laughing his ass off at Brian’s faux pas two seconds after they’d left. One of those momentary embarassments that was quickly brushed under the carpet. It’s okay to mention it now. (Or is it?)
Brian and Diane were married in ’79. They tied the knot in a temple in Fairfield or Bridgeport. I was invited to attend a large post-wedding reception that was thrown by Brian’s dad, Morris, who was a crafty, level-headed, well-connected businessman. That day I sampled my first taste of anti-WASP ethnic prejudice. The reception was all about Morris’s business pallies, and Brian’s WASP friends were not, shall we say, treated with a great deal of familial warmth. We were seated right next to the kitchen with the door swinging open every 20 or 30 seconds. The message was “as friends of Brian, you guys are welcome but that’s all.”
In early ’79 Brian leased a South Norwalk porn theatre and turned it into the Sono Cinema, a Thalia- or Nuart-like arthouse that helped launch a cultural urban renewal initiative. I became a licensed projectionist around this time and occasionally worked in the Sono booth. (This was when I learned about aspect ratios, aperture plates and headroom.) The Sono Cinema was a thriving business for three or four years but then the burgeoning home video business began to eat into revenues. In the mid ’80s Brian tried a fundraising campaign to get out of debt, but eventually had to throw in the towel.
Residents of Durham, Brian and Diane have lived for decades in a nice, well-tended home with a large deck and beautiful backyard landscaping. They also own a condo in Belize, on Ambergris Caye.
Diane called with the bad news last night, two or three days after some news outlets had reported it.
She and Brian had just finished a nice meat loaf dinner. Brian stood up and said he was feeling badly, and then he sat on the couch and recanted (“I’m okay”). Then he began to drift in and out in terms of verbal coherence. Diane called an ambulance, and they took Brian out on a stretcher. He either died on the way to the hospital or once he got there.
No warnings from his primary physician, no cholestoral concerns, and Brian took exercise walks three times weekly…it happened just like that. His biological father, whom Brian never had much contact with, also passed from a heart attack at around the same advanced age.
Brian was my idea of an excellent fellow. He knew movies backwards and forwards. A serious Fassbinder fan.