Tony Rudman, founder of Utah’s Westates Theatres chain, has died. He was 84.
The cinema chain was once the largest in the West and continues to operate more than 70 screens in four states.
Rudman died Aug. 6, six days short of his 85th birthday, after suffering a fall outside his home, said his son, T.J. Rudman.
“He’s a self-made man, and extremely successful, and he worked very, very hard,” the younger Rudman said of his father.
Rudman was born Aug. 12, 1925, in Scofield, Utah. He started working at age 12, herding sheep. He made enough money to pay for his own tuition at Wasatch Academy when he was 15.
At 17, he enlisted with four other Carbon County boys in the United States Marine Corps. They served in the Pacific in World War II, in the first wave of troops in Tarawa and Saipan. Rudman was wounded, taking shell fragments in his legs that remained for the rest of his life. He was the only one of that Carbon County group to survive the war.
Rudman got into the movie business in the 1950s as a film runner, getting paid $25 a week. He then worked as a film buyer for RKO Pictures and later started his own film buying and booking service. In 1958, he bought his first theater, the Davis Drive-In in Layton.
Among the theaters Rudman had a hand in opening were the Water Gardens Cinema in Pleasant Grove, the Tooele Cinema 6 in Tooele and the now-defunct Trolley Theatres and Trolley Corners multiplexes near downtown Salt Lake City.
The Westates chain now operates the Holladay Cinema 6 in Salt Lake City, the Tooele theater, three multiplexes in Logan, two in Cedar City and five in St. George — as well as theaters in Page, Ariz., Elko and Mesquite, Nev., and Montpelier, Idaho.
Rudman was a hands-on business owner. “He knew every nail, he knew every projector, he knew every sound system,” his son said. “He never missed a paycheck, never missed paying one of his employees.”
Rudman married Shirley Ernstsen in 1946, and they had two children: Shonnie Kay and Tony Jay. Shirley died in 1964.
Besides his children, Rudman is survived by eight grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, his longtime companion Leone Clyde, and his only sibling, his brother Joseph Rudman.
A memorial service is set for 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, what would have been his 85th birthday, at the Holladay Cinema 6, 1945 E. Murray-Holladay Road (4795 South), Salt Lake City. A graveside service is scheduled for noon at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park, 3401 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City.