Elliman, Maurice (Moshe, Moses) (1872–1952), businessman, cinema and theatre impresario, was born 9 March 1872 into a Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania, then part of the Russian empire. His father, Moshe Hellman, died before his second son was born and named after him. His mother remarried and had two further sons. His stepfather also died and the family survived on the modest income of its small shop. Forced to emigrate (1894), Moshe walked to Hamburg, Germany, and sailed for America via Liverpool. Persuaded by fellow emigrants to choose Ireland instead of America, he registered in Dublin as Moses Helman and was absorbed into the suburban Jewish quarter around South Circular Road between Dolphin's Barn and Portobello, where poverty was disguised by the respectability of its better streets.
Moses lived at Lennox St. with the Smullen family, also Jewish immigrants, and worked as a houseware salesman. He married 16-year-old Leah Smullen (1896) and altered his name to Maurice Elliman, taking citizenship in 1905. Leah bore him nine sons and three daughters. About 1914 they adopted Rosie Kynoch, orphaned child of Leah's sister. Keeping orthodox values, Maurice built his business life around the Jewish calendar. Circumstances had improved by 1907 when he hired a restaurant at Dalkey on the south Dublin coast, employing all his family in the business. When the restaurant failed, Maurice rented a live-in city greengrocery in Aungier St., Dublin. He urged his sons into business while assigning their sisters a more domestic role. Although Abraham (‘Abe’) was the eldest son, his brothers Louis and Max (see below) became the most renowned, following Maurice into his latest venture: public entertainment.
The Ellimans were followers of theatre and music, but Maurice was intrigued by the novelty and commercial possibilities of the cinematograph in Ireland. Ever resourceful, he began a travelling cinema show with primitive equipment and fittings, assisted by Abe and supported by a boxing booth where the public were challenged to compete. Two years after the Cinematograph Act, 1909, regulated licensing and the aspiring writer James Joyce (qv) had opened the Volta, Mary St., Dublin's first (but unsuccessful) dedicated cinema, Maurice hired and converted an empty garage on Great Brunswick (Pearse) St. In 1912 he established a properly fitted cinema, the Coliseum, at Redmond's Hill adjacent to Kevin St. in the Liberties. He disposed of the greengrocery and found a better home address on the South Circular Road. Despite competition, especially from the Grafton and Sackville Theatres, and a devastating fire at Redmond's Hill, Maurice Elliman had fatalistic confidence in himself. Trading as the Dublin Kinematograph Co. Ltd, he opened the Theatre De Luxe cinema on Camden St. (1913), staffed again by his family.
By 1913 Elliman's business associates included his older brother Jacob, who opened a theatrical supplies outlet (J. M. Elliman & Sons) in Dublin, and his two half-brothers, who had entered the English entertainment industry. Notwithstanding the dubious respectability of show business and ‘sensation’, the Ellimans, firmly ruled by Maurice and Leah, were valued members of Dublin's commercial world and likewise of the Irish-Jewish community, a significant historical presence in national life, from arts to business, medicine, and the law, built around a since-depleted number of synagogues.
About 1916 Maurice became a founder of the modest terraced house synagogue at Walworth Road, Portobello (since 1985 the Irish Jewish Museum). He served as its president and was cantor for over thirty years. The Easter rising of 1916 devastated Dublin city centre and from its ashes Maurice purchased the site of the Hotel Metropole on Lower O'Connell St. He built the landmark Metropole cinema and restaurant, designed by Aubrey O'Rourke (1921), incorporating one of Ireland's finest ballrooms. Maurice was managing director and Abe general manager. By now Louis and Max were old enough to take an executive role in the business. In 1932 Maurice acquired a third cinema, the Corinthian on Eden Quay, and in 1934 the Queen's Theatre, a live variety venue on Pearse St., the family's first direct entry into live entertainment. When Leah suffered a severe stroke in 1932, she and Maurice relied largely on daughters Hennie and Queenie, who, although married, cared for their domestic needs, Rose the eldest having married and settled in England. Although Maurice remained centrally involved in the family business, his sons – except for Hymie (a doctor in London) and Edward (‘Teddy’) who died in 1940 only months after his mother – gradually replaced him in running his expanding empire. When on Louis's advice Maurice acquired the Gaiety Theatre on South King St. (1936) and the Theatre Royal on Hawkins St. (1939), he relied on Louis and Max to develop the central role these theatres played in Dublin's world of entertainment. He took more professional interest in the Savoy cinemas in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick (Irish Cinemas Ltd), acquired in 1939. The restrictions of the 1939–45 period failed to halt the Ellimans; six more cinemas around Dublin were added in 1944 and managed by Geoffrey Elliman (b. 1920) who shared in Louis's film rental business and made bookings for the Theatre Royal. Family tragedy, however, dogged these years. Leah died in 1940 as a result of her stroke in 1932. Three months later, Edward (b. 1922) died after lifelong illness. Bennie (b. 1907), manager of the Theatre De Luxe, died in 1941, and Max (b. 1905) in 1945. All were buried in the Jewish cemetery, Dolphin's Barn.
In 1946 the monolithic London-based Rank Organisation pressed the Ellimans into a partnership called Odeon (Ireland) Ltd. Maurice was vice-chairman to Joseph Arthur Rank himself, preserving his family's executive positions and guaranteeing his employees their jobs. Age and illness necessitated treatment in London shortly before his death on 2 March 1952, at his Dublin home, 41 Cowper Road, Rathmines. The president of Ireland was represented at Maurice Elliman's funeral to Dolphin's Barn Jewish cemetery, and the lord mayor of Dublin attended. The Irish Jewish Museum has a sculpted relief and has dedicated its synagogue's restoration to his memory.
His third child, Louis Elliman (1903–65), cinema and theatre impresario, was born in Dublin and educated at nearby Synge St. CBS, where other Jewish children attended. His contemporary, the future actor Noel Purcell (qv), became a lifelong friend and associate. Louis joined his older brother Abe and sister Rose at the family's greengrocery in Aungier St., while his father's first essays into cinema were taking place. Although most of his siblings shared in the family business, Louis qualified as a pharmacist at NUI, served his time locally in Portobello with his maternal uncle William Smullen, and moved to Boots chemists in London (1923). In London he doubled as his father's film agent, building a network of industry contacts for Maurice's Dublin houses, the Theatre De Luxe and the Metropole. Abandoning pharmacy, he returned to Dublin, subsequently forming an ancillary film rental company with his brothers, part of a small and growing entertainment empire.
Louis Elliman, who had attended the Abbey Theatre since his youth, persuaded the family to risk promoting live entertainment. To him, show business included Mack Sennett, Shakespeare, Wagner, and variety. He and Max zealously promoted Irish talent, not only Noel Purcell and comedy actors such as Maureen Potter (qv), Jimmy O'Dea (qv), and Jack Cruise (qv), but the Gate Theatre's doyens of high drama, Micheál MacLiammóir (qv) and Hilton Edwards (qv), and the Dublin Grand Opera Society. International acts included the Bolshoi Ballet. Louis famously leased the Queen's to the Abbey Theatre for fifteen years after a destructive fire (15 July 1951).
As his father aged and family fortunes changed, Louis became a national figure. Though he seemed aloof and coldly businesslike, none could fault his personal integrity, his concern for the welfare of associates and employees, and a shared loyalty that connected him with leading people in Irish life and entertainment. Elliman respected his family's adoptive country and its institutions. He excluded contentious material from his shows and collaborated during the Emergency with Maj.-gen. Hugo MacNeill (qv) in the rousing military pageants ‘Tramp, tramp, tramp’ and ‘The roll of the drum’ at the Theatre Royal.
In the substantial take-over of his family's cinematic interests by the Rank Organisation, Louis became managing director of Odeon (Ireland) Ltd, and Abe general manager. Although this preserved employment in Ireland and much of the family's executive control, external forces inevitably increased. In 1952, the year of his father's death, Louis established the Variety Club of Ireland, the Dublin branch of its London parent organisation, fundraising for deprived children. He was its ‘chief barker’ for several years and became council chairman of the Cinema and Theatre Benevolent Society of Ireland in 1953.
Elliman campaigned next for an Irish-run film industry. He had produced two Gate Theatre films directed by Hilton Edwards, Return to Glennascaul (1951) and From time to time (1953). He joined the Cork Film Festival in 1954 as adviser and patron. After touring Hollywood (1950), meeting old friends and new contacts, he believed he could establish a domestic film business with chiefly Irish talent and ownership, engaging the best foreign artists; Ardmore Studios, Bray, Co. Wicklow, was the result. With Emmet Dalton (qv), Louis established the first Irish film studio in 1958, based on a company formed in 1955, Dublin Film Productions Management Ltd. With Abbey Theatre director Ernest Blythe (qv), he intended to make Irish films at Ardmore based on Abbey plays. They made Professor Tim (1957), a pilot film based on a play by George Shiels (qv), using Irish locations. Problems abounded: screened plays were ‘stagey’, native film talent was scarce, and labour disputes arose over employment of English technical staff. English studio opposition to Ardmore's intrusion in the market confounded Louis’ plans.
Abe Elliman died in 1961 and the Theatre Royal closed in June 1962, overshadowed by television and Rank's demand for closure and sale to developers. Ardmore failed in 1963; the Gaiety remained Louis's flagship property, but he himself died suddenly 15 November 1965 at his home, 50 Nutley Road, Donnybrook, Dublin. He was buried at Dolphin's Barn with state representation similar to that at his father's funeral. His wife Ettie (née Robinson) survived him; they had no children. Louis's brothers Jack, Bertie, and Geoffrey, themselves in poor health, eventually sold the Gaiety, ending the family's brief, legendary era in Irish popular culture.
Max (‘Maxie’) Elliman (1905–45), Louis's next younger brother, joined the family business on leaving school, a natural deputy to the dynamic Louis. A keen follower of sports and music at all levels, Max remained unmarried and devoted his short life to the business, as a projectionist before he became manager of the family's third Dublin cinema, the Corinthian. He assisted Louis as manager of the Theatre Royal from 1939, the third live venue since acquisition of the Queen's and Gaiety Theatres. Max Elliman died 24 April 1945, aged 39, of appendicitis and heart failure, at Portobello House, Rathmines. In 1947 his friends inaugurated a Max Elliman Award in memory of his ‘understanding, kindness, and friendship’ for the most promising pupil at the Municipal School of Music. An illuminated address at the Irish Jewish Museum (the former Walworth Road synagogue), Dublin, lists their names.