Mirvish made his fortune with a discount store ironically dubbed Honest Ed's, and then branched into theater, restoring the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto and a fringe space, the Poor Alex, and building the Princess of Wales theater. He expanded the possibilities for touring shows and with his son, David, eventually oversaw the creation and casting of shows in Toronto.
Mirvish also steered the development of restaurants, shops and galleries near his theaters and store, creating two entertainment districts in Toronto. With his open-to-all birthday parties -- he would have been 93 on July 24 -- his promotional stunts, and discount-store giveaways, he was an essential and much-loved part of the life of Toronto.
Born in Virginia, Mirvish moved to Canada at the age of nine. When he was 15, his father died and he dropped out of school to take over the family's failing grocery store. In the 1940s, he and his wife, Anne (an accomplished sculptor) opened a women's clothing store that, in 1948, became a general store offering bargain prices. The store became known for its jokey signs -- "Don't just stand there! Buy something!" -- as well as its turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving and Christmas and huge, Las Vegas-style lighting along its block-wide exterior.
In 1962, Mirvish saved the historic Royal Alexandra Theater from the wrecking ball and this year, it celebrates its 100th anniversary. It offered a 1, 500-seat alternate venue to the then-new 3,000-seat O'Keefe Centre. By 1988, the Royal Alex had 52,000 subscribers for its four- or five-show seasons.In 1993, he built the Princess of Wales theater in Toronto to house Miss Saigon, which ran for two years.
In recent years, Mirvish encountered setbacks with Lord of the Rings, The Producers and Hairspray, none of which ran as long as expected. However, We Will Rock You is a current hit at the Royal Alex and Dirty Dancing has generated record advance sales for the fall of 2007.
In 1982, Mirvish bought an icon of British theater, the Old Vic, refurbished it , and handed it to such renowned directors as Peter Hall and Jonathan Miller. However, the theater was never a moneymaker and Mirvish sold it 16 years later to a theatrical trust, now headed by Sir Elton John.
"There has never been anyone like him in the theater," recalled producer Cameron Mackintosh. "He was completely down to earth and one of the only people in this business you never needed to sign a contract with. Win or lose, he stood by his deal."
Broadway marquees will be dimmed for one minute on Friday, June 13 in honor of Miivish.