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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Former film buyer Richard Walls and his granddaughter Emily Walls have strengthened their bond by watching movies together every Friday.

  • Emily Walls sits next to her grandfather Richard Walls while recently watching a movie. “... he's seen them all, like, 50 times,” Emily says.

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:00 am

Senior portraits

Sharing love of Hollywood

Movies bond ex-film buyer, granddaughter

Austin Candor | For The Journal Gazette

Senior Portraits

“Senior Portraits” profiles area residents who are age 70 and older. The feature publishes once a month.

Richard Walls has sat across from John Wayne in Los Angeles, had a conversation with Ingrid Bergman in New York City and had dinner with Chuck Norris at his home in Fort Wayne.

While all that is amazing to many, for Walls, it was simply part of the job.

For 20 years, the former film buyer filtered productions in and out of Fort Wayne's Holiday movie theaters. When the now 80-year old wasn't in the box office, he was wining and dining with film industry executives, along with some of Hollywood's biggest stars.

“I just loved the whole thing. I couldn't wait to get to work each day,” Walls said of his time with Holiday theaters, which have long been replaced by such franchise powerhouses as Regal Cinemas and AMC.

Interactions with his high-profile companions came easily to Walls, who grew up working as a caddy at the French Lick Springs Hotel golf course.

During that time the hotel was a draw for stars, many who enjoyed the golf courses. That gave Walls a chance to caddy for some of them, such as champion boxer Joe Lewis.

After high school, Walls married Doreatha Brown, whom he has been married to for 60 years. They moved to Indianapolis where Walls went to college to get a degree in theology and join the ministry. But that career wasn't in the script.

It wasn't until his wife got him a job at an Indianapolis theater as an office manager that he found his true passion – film.

“My wife actually got me in the business,” says the father of three and grandfather of seven.

He later began working for Warner Bros. until the company closed its film branch in Indianapolis. It was then that he was offered a job with Holiday theaters, bringing him and his wife to Fort Wayne.

When it came to the film industry, it seemed Walls had a sixth sense for movie selection. But getting the films to Fort Wayne was one thing; keeping them there was another.

“You think you just go and order the picture,” Walls says of his former profession. “The pictures had to be contracted.”

If the film buyer had grown fond of a production that was approaching the end of its tenure, he would have to work his charm with film companies to extend its showing in Fort Wayne.

His love for movies eventually carried over to the classroom. Outside of work, Walls taught a film course at IPFW, hosting his students for a screening at the theaters before leading a discussion on the movie the next day. He did that for 20 years.

Apart from college kids, the course attracted doctors, lawyers and supposed “film buffs” whose unwavering confidence in interpreting movies often made them easy targets for Walls' ridicule.

“It'd just tickle me to tell them how wrong they were. The kids just loved it,” Walls remembers.

It seems that Walls caught the tail end of what was seen as the golden age for film buying. Thanks to the arrival of computers and the internet, business nowadays is done online.

“These guys who buy the film now sit at the desk and never go outside. All at the computer. You're going to be brain dead,” Walls remarks in disbelief.

Walls hasn't lost his love of films. And while a recent diagnosis of fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs, has ultimately kept him out of the theaters, he has found a happy ending – as well as a partner – for viewing movies at home.

Walls' granddaughter Emily Walls, who lives down the street from him, has since come over every Friday to watch some of his favorite movies.

It's their version of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” explains Emily, referring to a book by Mitch Albom about his Tuesday meetings with his old professor and mentor to discuss the meaning of life.

Initially, Emily Walls, a freshman at IPFW who is studying to become a teacher, wasn't sold on older films. But the 19-year-old has begun to develop an appreciation for them.

“And then I get the added benefit of him being like, 'Now pay attention.' Because he's seen them all, like, 50 times,” says Emily, who lists “Casablanca,” “The Third Man” and “Marty” as classic examples.

The two recently finished Clint Eastwood's “Gran Torino,” whose rough-natured protagonist reminds Walls of himself.

“I've got a great sense of humor, but it all depends on whom I'm talking to,” he explains matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, sometimes you're just plain mean,” Emily adds with a stifled laugh.

It's interactions like these that bring a smile to Walls' face.

Just like his former work, he always looks forward to afternoons with his granddaughter to relive those golden days of films. Fridays can never come soon enough for the two.