Meet Bruce Corwin, ‘We’re All in This Together’
Ask Metropolitan Theatres CEO and longtime philanthropist Bruce Corwin why he joined the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Health Foundation board of directors—and why he’s given so much of his time and energy to the establishment of the new hospital—and he’ll search for a photo among the extensive collection of entertainment industry, professional baseball, and Democratic Party memorabilia in his Westside Los Angeles office.
“I am involved because of this man,” Corwin will say, as he brings up a picture of former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. “Everything I do in the South Los Angeles area is to pay Tom back for what he did for me, for what he did for this city, and also what he did for our country.”
A Century of Family History in Los Angeles
Bruce Corwin’s grandfather founded Metropolitan in 1923 with one theater on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. The company grew until it was the dominant motion picture exhibitor in downtown LA in the 1940s, and soon expanded to Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. In the 1960s and 1970s, Metropolitan was the largest Spanish-language exhibitor in the US, with 25 theaters running Spanish-speaking films across southern California, including every theater on Broadway in downtown LA.
“It is very important to care about all communities because we are really just one community… We are all in this together. Our job is to make the world a better place.”—Bruce Corwin
After the Watts Riots in 1965, Tom Bradley and others called for the building of a movie theater in the Watts area, something that had never been done before. Bruce, who had been arrested for attempting to integrate a Baltimore, Maryland lunch counter in 1960, jumped on board.
“With Tom’s help, we were able to encourage all of the theater exhibitors to contribute in some way,” Corwin explains. “We went to Markham Junior High at 103rd and Compton and we organized and staged a film program in their 850-seat auditorium.” The back wall of the room was painted white to serve as a screen, and on July 16, 1966, the first Watts ‘movie theater’ opened, running weekend evenings with an admission price of 25 cents per ticket. It continued doing so for six years.
“We received permission from the major motion picture companies to run their first-run films,” he says, citing such titles as “Harper,” with Paul Newman, “Lilies of the Field,” with Sidney Portier, “Thunderball,” “A Thousand Clowns,” and “Born Free,” to mention a few.
When Bradley ran for mayor in 1969, Corwin became president of the Young Professionals for Bradley, and later the campaign treasurer, a job he kept through all of Bradley’s mayoral and California gubernatorial campaigns.
“Everything Tom did, in at least a small way, paved the way for Obama,” Corwin explains. “Heretofore, there had been no African American presence in politics. Tom was the tall, distinguished Black man who finally made it.”
The Importance of Cross-Cultural Ties
Corwin also cites Bradley as the first politician to forge a Black-Jewish coalition. Honoring the memory of that partnership is another reason why he became involved with MLKCH.
“When the MLKCHF opportunity came up, I just grabbed it. I felt there needed to be a Jewish presence on the foundation board, just as there needs to be a presence from as many communities as possible,” says Corwin, the president and longtime board member of both Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood. “My role, once we start reaching out to independent donors, will be to make a compelling case to the Jewish community as to why there should be support of a hospital that’s not close to the Jewish population.”
“It is very important to care about all communities because we are really just one community,” Corwin elaborates. “We are all in this together. Our job is to make the world a better place.”
Preventive Health Measures are Key
A major hope of Corwin’s when it comes to the hospital is that “We have a responsibility to promote healthy living right from the beginning,” he says, citing the need for quality prenatal and maternity care, as well as nutritional and wellness guidance.
“This is a new kind of care that we’re preaching here,” says Corwin, who has himself battled multiple sclerosis for many years and who is a major supporter of both the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the MS Hope Foundation. “We are trying to create a healthy community from day one. We have to treat the parents, the grandparents, the new child… everyone.”
“My hope is that the community embraces it as theirs,” Corwin concludes. “It is their hospital. It is their doctors, their patients. I am just delighted to be able to serve.”