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Appreciation: A Marine, father, husband, grandfather, friend and a true legend

Boston Herald 10/4/2022 Dave Wedge

On March 29, 1979, my father, then a 40-year-old movie theater owner, dodged death.

SEE THE PAGES: Boston Herald March 30 1979 Page 1

Boston Herald March 30 1979 Page 10

Boston Herald March 30 1979 Page 11

It was the day after his 40th birthday and my dad, Roger Wedge, was partying at the Copley Plaza Hotel with several other theater owners and one of the biggest moguls in the business, Sumner Redstone. Older Bostonians know what happened next.

Redstone was holding court in the hotel bar that night and several of the other theater owners had rooms in the opulent hotel and spent the night. My dad planned to stay over but had a change of heart and instead made the trip back home to Brockton.

The next morning, he was awakened in horror when he saw the morning newspaper and learned there was a horrible fire that tore through the hotel and killed two people. Redstone — in a legendary Boston story — escaped out a third-floor window and held onto the ledge of the burning building for dear life until he was rescued by Boston firefighters. The 56-year-old entertainment industry titan suffered third-degree burns and his hands were permanently disfigured. He was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital and later donated millions to the hospital to create what is today the Sumner M. Redstone Burn Center.

It was just one of many fabulist stories I’ve gleaned from my dad’s incredible life. He grew up very poor on Brockton’s East Side, the son of French Canadian parents who moved to Brockton to work in the city’s shoe factories. He was Rocky Marciano’s paperboy. He became a pairs rollerskating champion at age 11, winning state and regional titles.

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Brockton High School and served honorably as a machine gunner, including overseas in Lebanon. After finishing his service, he worked at the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory in Dorchester while putting himself through night school at Bentley University, earning an accounting degree. He and his brother bought season tickets to the New England Patriots in their inaugural season in 1960 and kept them throughout the decades, attending hundreds of games. Those tickets remain in our family today.

He went to work for a local accountant in Brockton but fate intervened and changed the course of his life when his brother saw an ad in the Brockton Enterprise seeking franchisees for a movie theater chain owned by Hollywood star Jerry Lewis. My dad invested and opened a Jerry Lewis Cinema on Brockton’s East Side. It was the start of a pretty incredible entrepreneurial run that grew to him owning several cinemas across New England, including in Seekonk, Quincy, Salem, N.H., Hooksett, N.H., and Plaistow, N.H. He also ran a second Brockton location in a majestic old theater downtown that he later turned into a rock club called The Marquee. Aerosmith practiced there for a tour once.

He joined the National Association of Theater Owners and attended their conferences every year in Hollywood, Las Vegas, New Orleans and other cities. He brought me and my sisters to many of those conferences, where the stars came out to celebrate releases of their new films. We saw Sammy Davis Jr. perform, met Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Tom Hanks, Jon Candy and the list goes on and on. At the Las Vegas convention in 1980, he famously won a car from the cult classic film “The Hollywood Knights,” starring Tony Danza, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, Fran Drescher and Robert Wuhl. It was a bright orange 1956 Chevy Nomad dubbed “The Pie Wagon.” That car became part of our family and was a staple for years in parades and car shows in Brockton and southeastern Massachusetts.

When Blockbuster video stores arrived in the 1980s, the film industry changed the way it distributed films to movie theaters. Because of the new competition from video stores, only the multiplexes were given the big films, leaving the independents to fight for second-run films in hopes they could show them for a few weeks before they went to video. It was an unsustainable model and it crushed the mom-and-pop theater industry. My dad sold off his theaters one-by-one and soon, most of the independents, including all my dad’s theaters, were gone.

It was a helluva run though as my dad employed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the ’80s and ’90s. He continued his accounting practice, traveled, played a lot of golf, and spent a lot of time betting the horses at Suffolk Downs and traveling to Saratoga and other racetracks. He loved the Sport of Kings and taught me everything he knew about horseracing. I remember once at Saratoga when I was a young boy he sweet-talked his way into the paddock and we met Hall of Famer Willie Shoemaker.

He was very proud when I went to work for this newspaper in 1999. He was there for me when I was sent to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. And again, when I was sent in to cover the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, and into the chaos of the Watertown shootout a few nights later. He was also there for me as I wrote my first book, with my co-author Casey Sherman, about the marathon bombings, and was by my side at the film premiere of “Patriots Day,” the Mark Wahlberg film based on that book.

He was my biggest cheerleader and was at every one of my book launches. I’ll never forget him casually chatting up Bruins great Ray Bourque — in French — at the star-studded release for our book “Ice Bucket Challenge” at Fenway Park or shooting the breeze with former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at LaScala in Randolph, which was dad’s second home in his later years.

One of my happiest memories though, happened when he traveled with me to Phoenix when I was assigned by the Herald to cover the Patriots at the Super Bowl in 2007 against the New York Giants. We attended a Sports Illustrated party a few nights before the game at a nightclub and ran into Questlove, the iconic drummer from The Roots who is Jimmy Fallon’s band leader. Questlove was more than kind, talked music with me for a few minutes and I introduced him to my dad. I walked away to work the room a bit and hit the restroom. I came back 20 minutes later and there was my dad and Questlove, sharing cocktails and laughing hysterically like they had been friends their whole lives.

That was him. He had that effect on everyone. That was who he was — the life of the party.

The last trip I took with him was last summer to Saratoga. He had a hard time getting around, but he hit a few winners and had a smile on his face the whole time. I have a great picture of him playing a drum with a street performer in downtown Saratoga.

Dad passed Thursday at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in his hometown of Brockton, surrounded by family and shrouded in love, at age 83. The incredible hospice nurses who cared for him in his final days all had stories about how when he was able to speak, he was always happy, funny and had a smile on his face — right up until the end.

Cheers to my best pal — a Marine, father, husband, grandfather, friend and a true legend. You made the world a happier place for so many.

Roger Wedge with actress Suzanne Somers. (Photo courtesy of Dave Wedge.) © Provided by Boston Herald Roger Wedge with actress Suzanne Somers. (Photo courtesy of Dave Wedge.)
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