On March 29, 1979, my father, then a 40-year-old movie theater owner, escaped death.
It was the day after his 40th birthday, and my father, Roger Wedge, was in Copley Square with several other theater owners and Sumner Redstone, one of the biggest moguls in the business. Party at the hotel. The older Bostonians knew what happened next.
That night, Redstone held court in the hotel bar, and several other theater owners spent the night in rooms at the luxury hotel. My dad planned to stay but changed his mind and went back home in Brockton instead.
He woke up the next morning when he read the morning paper and learned that a horrific fire had destroyed the hotel and killed two people. Redstone—in one Boston legend—escaped through a third-floor window and clinging to the windowsill of the burning building until he was rescued by Boston firefighters. The 56-year-old entertainment mogul suffered third-degree burns and permanently disfigured his hands. 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.
This is just one of many fables I’ve gleaned from my father’s incredible life. He grew up in East Brockton, his son is French Canadian, and his parents moved to work in a shoe factory in Brockton. He was Rocky Marciano’s newsboy. He became a tandem roller skating champion at age 11, winning state and regional championships.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Brockton High School and served honorably as a machine gunner, including overseas assignments in Lebanon. After completing his service, he worked at the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory in Dorchester, while completing evening studies at Bentley University, earning a degree in accounting. He and his brother bought season tickets for the New England Patriots in their inaugural season in 1960 and kept them for decades, playing in hundreds of games. Those tickets are still in our house today.
He went to Brockton to work for a local accountant, but when his brother saw an ad in Brockton Enterprises seeking a franchisee for a movie theater chain owned by Hollywood star Jerry Lewis , fate intervenes and changes the trajectory of his life. My father invested and opened a Jerry Lewis Cinema in Brockton East. It was the beginning of an incredible entrepreneurial journey that would go on to own multiple movie theaters in New England, including Seconk, NH, Quincy, Salem, NH, Hookset, NH, and Pope, NH. Lesto. He later turned into a rock club called The Marquee. Aerosmith once practiced there on a tour.
He is a member of the National Association of Theater Owners and attends their annual conferences in Hollywood, Las Vegas, New Orleans and other cities. He took my sisters and I to many of these meetings where the stars came out to celebrate the release of their new movies. We saw Sammy Davis Jr. Performed with Angie Dickinson, Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Tom Hanks, Jon Candy, and the list goes on. At the 1980 Las Vegas convention, he won a car in the famous classic movie “Hollywood Riders,” featuring Tony Danza, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, Fran De Starring Reesher and Robert Wool. It’s a bright orange 1956 Chevrolet Nomad known as the “pie car.” That car became part of our home and has been a staple at parades and auto shows in Brockton and southeastern Massachusetts for years.
When Blockbuster video stores appeared in the 1980s, the movie industry changed the way movies were distributed to movie theaters. Due to new competition from video stores, only multiplexes can get blockbusters, leaving independent studios fighting for a second round of films, hoping they can show for a few weeks before they go to film. It’s an unsustainable model, and it’s destroying the mom-and-pop theater industry. My father sold his theaters one by one, and soon most of the independent theaters, including all of my father’s, disappeared.
Even though my dad employed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the 80s and 90s, it was a very bad experience. He continued his accounting practice, traveled, played a lot of golf, spent a lot of time betting on horses at Suffolk Downs, and traveled to Saratoga and other racetracks. He loves king sports and taught me everything he knows about horse racing. I remember when I was a little boy, in Saratoga, he sweetly walked into the paddock and we met Hall of Famer Willie Shoemaker.
When I worked for this newspaper in 1999, he was very proud. He was by my side when I was sent to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan in September. April 11, 2001. Once again, when I was assigned to cover the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, I was caught up in the chaos of the Watertown shootout a few nights later. He was with me when my co-author Casey Sherman and I were writing our first book about the Marathon bombing, and he was with me in Mark Wahlberg’s film based on that book, Patriotic Be with me at the premiere of the movie.
He’s my biggest cheerleader and has been at every book launch of mine. I’ll never forget him casually chatting about Bears great Ray Burke in French at Fenway Park’s star-studded launch for our book, The Ice Bucket Challenge, or with the former Boston mayor at LaScala in Randolph Marty Walsh chats, which is Dad’s second home in his later years.
One of my happiest memories, though, came from his trip to Phoenix with me, when I was assigned by the Herald to cover the Patriots-New York Giants game in the 2007 Super Bowl. The night before the game, we were at a Sports Illustrated party at a nightclub and met Questlove, the iconic drummer from The Roots and bandleader for Jimmy Fallon. Questlove was very nice, chatted with me about music for a few minutes and I introduced him to my dad. I walked away to my room and worked a bit, then went to the bathroom. I came back 20 minutes later and my dad and Questlove were drinking cocktails and laughing hysterically like they’d been friends for life.
That’s him. He has that effect on everyone. That’s him – the life of the party.
My last trip with him was to Saratoga last summer. He had a hard time getting around, but he hit a few winners and always had a smile on his face. I have a great photo of him playing drums with buskers in downtown Saratoga.
Father died Thursday at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in his hometown of Brockton at the age of 83, surrounded and in love by his family. , he was always happy and funny with a smile on his face – until the end.
Cheers to my best friend – a Marine, father, husband, grandfather, friend and true legend. You made the world a happier place for so many people.