George Pauly 1933-2007

By Ted Friedman, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 18, 2007

Here’s looking at you kid: George Pauly, 74, founder of the “Tely Rep,” one of the last art-house cinemas on Telegraph Avenue’s “cinema row,” is dead. He died Aug. 27 at Summit Hospital after a two-month shoot-out with multiple organ failure. 

A noirist to the core, Pauly would have appreciated that he was almost D.O.A. (one of his favorite films) when he was shot by police during the 1967 protests over People’s Park. 

James Rector, standing next to Pauly, was killed and a man on his other side was blinded. Pauly, who escaped serious injury, lived on to introduce now acknowledged film masterpieces (in 16 mm; this was before “best of” lists) to Cal students and “the usual suspects” from the neighborhood for 30 years. 

According to the website “Cinema Treasures,” which tracks nearly 20,000 U.S. theaters, Tely Rep was “one of Berkeley’s notable venues of cinema during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Originally located several doors south of 2519 Telegraph, it moved to a former apartment building at 2519 where it remained into the ’80s.” 

A patron from the ’70s recalled that Tely Rep “played titles that no one else played: Jodorowski, documentaries, and assorted arthouse fare, Hitchcock (one of Pauly’s favorites, was art house then), and shorts. The Rep was less commercial than its competitors.” 

According to Cinema Treasures, “in the ’80s, the Rep popped its own popcorn in a hot air popper—real butter was available. The entrance was through a nondescript street-level door up a narrow staircase that had the feeling of an apartment house.” 

Probably because it was an apartment house, Pauly lived above the theaters in a penthouse apartment overlooking Telegraph. From across the street, you can still view the steps to the theaters and the apartment house. 

But he soon found the movie exhibition business to be what Bette Davis called “a bumpy ride.” 

As Pauly recalled recently, audiences often threatened to riot when films broke: “Sometimes I was drenched in sweat as the crowd noise invaded the projection booth as I struggled to restore the film.” 

He had gotten the theater bug some years earlier in North Beach, where he alighted in 1969 in a cherry-red Jaguar he had driven to Colorado on a ski trip. He temporarily settled in North Beach in its heyday. 

He never returned to his father’s architectural firm. Instead, he became a habitué at the old Gateway Cinema, south of Market, where he formed his early dreams of movie exhibition. 

An architect trained at Carnegie-Mellon, he lived for a few years in Reno where he contributed to the Reno library system and the Carson City jail. 

But Berkeley and the theater beckoned, eventually consuming him in the details of scheduling and showing more than six films weekly. Sometimes the price was high, as when he was severely beaten by a patron in a beef over a refund. He could not always get distributors to release the films he wanted to show. 

It was not always possible to make the rent on time (he was relentlessly pursued in that period by his landlady). 

Born in Manhattan in 1933 to a well-known architect, George Pauly, Sr., and art teacher mother, he moved with the family to Camp Hill, Pa. where he attended a Catholic boy’s high school. At the University of Pennsylvania he was president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu. He dated the actress Barbara Felton. 

After closing the theater, he drove east to visit his dying sister (his mother had died the previous year). When he returned, he had changed, according to his friends. For nearly a decade, he wandered the streets of Berkeley (eight to 10 miles a day), but avoided his friends. 

Just as mysteriously, he snapped out of it, returning to his long-time headquarters at the Caffe Mediterraneum, a block from the old theater. He continued to live above the theater, which he often said was still vacant for anyone to take up the challenge (no one did). 

Back at the Med, he lost no time re-establishing himself as a dashing avenue figure (tall dark and handsome), Bon Vivant, and coffee house wit with an encyclopedic knowledge of films. 

He could quote long dialogue from hundreds of films, with credits, and other trivia. He admitted that many of the films he mentioned he had never seen (those cranky distributors!). These films went into memory anyway. 

Although not as well known as Tom Luddy, Ed Landberg, or Pauline Kael, he launched the careers of Tom Luddy, first director at PFA, and Prof. Albert Johnson of the UC Berkeley Film Studies Department.  

He leaves no survivors except his gang at the Med, three MGB’s, a generation of film nuts, and broken-hearted women, all of whom loved him. 

His friends remember him as a gentle giant, who, when asked why he didn’t fight back when assaulted, he replied, “that’s the last thing I’d do.” 

A mass will be recited at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, Wed., Sept. 26 (7 p.m. 1640 Addison St.) and a memorial will be held at Caffe Mediterraneum, across from Moe’s.