Irwin Robert Cohen, an attorney who owned a chain of movie theaters and had been in the entertainment business for more than seven decades, died of Alzheimer's disease complications Thursday at the Jewish Convalescent and Nursing Home. The Pikesville resident was 82.
Born in Baltimore and raised near Druid Hill Park, he got into the movie exhibition business at the age of 8, when his father began running the old Leader Theater on South Broadway.
"My husband started watching the back door so no one could sneak in," said his wife of 56 years, the former Betty Wagner. "At 14 he started booking movies at the theater. Years ago, he was a terrific judge of movies. We did our own screenings and he could pick a winner most of the time. Sometimes he missed."
A 1942 graduate of Forest Park High School, he worked for the Navy as a cost estimator during World War II while taking classes at the University of Baltimore for the law degree he received in 1948.
In a 1999 UB alumni magazine article, Mr. Cohen said, "The movie house business is always changing. If you aren't moving forward, you are going backward." He recalled in that article that his father's purchase of an early Carrier air-conditioning system helped fill the old Lexway Theater, on downtown Lexington Street, during summer months.
"He actually only put it in the lobby so that when you walked it, it felt very cool," his wife said.
Mr. Cohen, who practiced law in the old Tower Building in downtown Baltimore, went on to found R/C Theatres Management Corp., which operated film houses and drive-ins in small towns in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania. The business remains in family hands.
He bought the old Fulton and Madison movie houses in the 1950s and also owned the Hollywood theater in Arbutus. He supported reconstruction of the Hollywood, an art deco landmark that was destroyed in a 1995 fire.
Mr. Cohen was a co-founder of the old National City Bank and Key Federal Savings and Loan Association, now known as K Bank.
Services were held Friday in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Scott Cohen of Owings Mills; two daughters, Jan Feldman of Chevy Chase and Ilene McCaffrey of Bala Cynwyd, Pa; and nine grandchildren.