Ethel O’Leary (1905-2007)

The Redford Theatre recently lost one of its strongest supporters. Ethel O’Leary, familiar to many Redford visitors as an attendant of the ladies’ restroom, passed away in mid-January at the extraordinary age of 101.

Ethel helped introduce the Redford to many moviegoers and Redford volunteers through her phone calls to the Saturday radio show of WJR-AM host “Fat” Bob Taylor. I’ve talked my mother into visiting the Redford several times, and her visits always made her think of Ethel’s friendly voice on Saturday morning radio.

I’ll never forget an evening about five years ago when I was listening to some organ music near the front of the Redford auditorium. Ethel eased into a seat in front of me, introduced herself, and started a pleasant conversation. From her comments about the theater and its volunteers, you could tell she was a spirited, motivated person who was making the most of life.

It just won’t be the same without seeing Ethel slowly but persistently push herself towards the back of the Redford auditorium, using her walker. Ethel often would nod a greeting towards me as she passed.

I’ll also fondly remember the warm feeling of respect with which people greeted her in the outer lobby, especially after she reached the century mark on December 24, 2005. In an article about that impressive milestone, Detroit News columnist Neil Rubin wrote about Ethel’s remarkable life, which began in South Carolina and brought her to Detroit in 1925:

“Ethel O’Leary, it should be noted, is a delight—smart, funny and well past complaining about the pranks time has played on her physically.”

A solemn moment of respect was reserved for Ethel before showings of The Caine Mutiny at the Redford on January 19 and 20, 2007. David Martin of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society noted that Ethel was known as the “Redford Sweetheart”.

Ethel could easily symbolize all of the volunteers at the Redford, who provided another fun evening of entertainment with Humphrey Bogart’s dramatic performance in The Caine Mutiny, Dave Calendine’s dynamic organ performance, and tasty and reasonably priced concession stand snacks.

So Ethel’s work is done, but the Redford lives on, a legacy of her commitment.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

    This entry was posted in Redford Theatre. Bookmark the permalink.

    5 Responses to Ethel O’Leary (1905-2007)

    1. Sue Briese says:


      You wrote an excellent article about Ethel. She will be missed at the Redford. She was a hard worker! Thank you for taking the time to give tribute to her. Would you mind if Bob and I included the article in the Redford Theatre’s monthly newletter, The Blower? We are dedicating the next issue, which will be published in February, to her. Thank you, Bob and Sue (Concessions chairpersons and Blower editors)

    2. Administrator says:

      I’d be flattered to have you use this essay in your newsletter. Thanks for the great concession stand – it’s one of the best parts of the Redford. The selection is outstanding, and where else can you get a pop and popcorn for $2.50?

    3. Allan Ball says:

      Thanks for the story about a dear friend, Ethel. She was an angel to a lot of people. She was loving and devoted woman who helped change many of lives for the better. As a teenager i lived with the O’Learys for a while and called her Mom.
      I last talked to her on New Years Day, at shortly after midnight when I called to wish her son John a Happy New Year. I was not totally surprised when he told me Mom was still up, and I talked to her for a little while.
      She told me “Allan, I am one hundred and one years old, and I may never see another New Year.”
      Of course I promised to talk to her again next year… unfortunately that will not happen.
      Goodbye Mom, God Bless you!

    4. Administrator says:

      Your kind comments reminded me of the special remembrances I heard at the memorial tribute service for Ethel at the Redford on February 11, 2007. During the service, a vase of lovely flowers decorated the seat on the main floor that is dedicated to Ethel (H-110). After the service, in the inner lobby, everyone gave a toast to the Exit sign (#10) that has Ethel’s name underneath it. A nice picture of Ethel now sits at the left end of the concession stand.

    5. Administrator says:

      While attending the June 9, 2007 showing of Back to the Future, I noticed a poignant tribute to Ethel in the walkway on the lobby side of the balcony. Photographs show Ethel from childhood to her golden years. Her friendly, caring personality glows in these priceless photos.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.