Ira Kaplan, 91 years old from Clifton, came to County College of Morris (CCM) during the Fall 2014 Semester to take Dr. Matthew Jones’ Introduction to Film class. Kaplan was already well introduced to cinematography, given that his father had owned a chain of New Jersey movie theaters during the early 20th century, but he wanted to study early film in an academic setting.
“They called my father the ‘Movie King,’” said Kaplan. “He was a movie exhibitor and owned five movie houses that I knew of.”
Jones was thrilled to have Kaplan’s “depth and breadth” of knowledge on the subject of film enhancing the classroom experience for students. “He supplemented whatever subject was being discussed in class with his own personal experiences and things he had learned about movies through the years,” noted Jones.
Kaplan’s presence added an extra layer of richness to class discussions, especially when the class watched movies from the World War II era such as Citizen Kane
“When we watched Citizen Kane,
a quintessential ‘film class’ film that I am very familiar with, Ira knew very specific details about the careers of people who were in the film that I did not know,” said Jones.
“One day Dr. Jones asked if anybody knew who the cinematographer of Citizen Kane
was,” recalled Kaplan, who audited the class as a non-credit student. “I never put up my hand because I knew these kids were there for credit. No one knew the answer, so I raised my hand and said, ‘Gregg Toland.’ I think that impressed him,” said Kaplan.
Born in 1923, Kaplan learned about the film industry endeavors of his father, Ike Kaplan, largely through his sister, Ann, who was born in 1908. Ann, who lived to be 100 years old, was a cashier for the family theater business.
“After Ann died, I was going through her stuff and I found my father’s application for United States citizenship from the year 1914. He was from Lithuania. Under occupation, he wrote movie operator,” said Kaplan.
Among Ann’s other belongings, Kaplan came across a newspaper article from his father’s heyday. The document revealed that Ike’s acquisition of the Star Theater in Cliffside elevated him to new heights. It mentioned the installation of a $20,000 pipe organ and “other splendid features, including a handsomely redecorated” movie house. The article refers to him as the “Marcus Loew of New Jersey,” who was a motion picture theater magnate from New York and went on to create Metro-Goldwin-Mayer. Ike’s goal was to make sure his theaters featured, “… everything that Broadway affords with the exception of their high prices.”
“You have to remember that back in those days, there was no television or even radio,” said Kaplan. “The only real entertainment for the mass public, besides theater on Broadway, was the movies.”
Kaplan now plans to take the History of the Theatre course at CCM.
“The most essential function of a college is that it is an aggregator, or a place where people who wouldn’t normally interact are put into situations where they can react,” said Jones. “Out of this union comes creativity and new ideas.”
“The youngsters were very nice,” said Kaplan. “I think they accepted me.”Photos: CCM student Ira Kaplan poses with the newspaper article detailing his father’s success as a movie theater owner in the early 20th century.
A photo of Ike Kaplan as it appeared in the newspaper article describing his success as a “Movie King” during the early 20th century.
Photo Credit: Talia Smith