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June 16, 2013

Warner Theater Project: The man behind the scenes

NEW CASTLE — Jack Oberleitner has been involved in the movie business since 1959.

Beginning as an usher at the former Victor Theater in New Castle, he worked his way into management and theater chain ownership, participating in restoration and reopenings of more than a dozen theaters.

Returning from Vietnam, and aware he was losing his eyesight, Oberleitner resolved not to “let the government take care of me, but to be as independent and self-supporting as possible.”

He went back to school, earning degrees from Pitt and Penn State, and did postgraduate work at the University of London.

He began a theater chain of his own, which grew to 50 in eight years.

In 1979, he formed Oberleitner Associates, a business and theatrical consulting company, which he runs from his home near Dayton, Ohio.

He has designed and overseen renovations of more than a dozen classic theaters, served as a consultant for Associated Theaters in Pennsylvania and Chakeres Theaters in Ohio, and developed charitable fundraising programs, raising more than $3 million annually.

He is also an author, having published seven books aimed at young readers.

In 1972, Oberleitner’s Cinestage Group renovated and reopened the Capitol Theater in Milton, Pa.

“The theater is no longer there, but there is a mural honoring the project,” he said. The mural is part of a park created on the theater site. Pictures throughout the park honor the three theaters that once operated in Milton.

He said the New Castle project “is a worthy venture” and he is glad to do something for his hometown.

“I’d like to see more people get involved with the project as a member, on the advisory board or to make donations to this piece of hometown history,” he said. “I’d dearly love to see the city rejuvenated. There is a lot of potential here. I’d love to see the town bounce back.”

The Warner project envisioned by Warner Film Center “could make New Castle a tourist hub, without turning the downtown into a theme park.”

He added that the Warner name remains well known.

“If you ask people what they think of when they hear Warner Brothers, 75 percent of those polled say Bugs Bunny. But if you ask if there really were Warner brothers, 60 percent say no, that was made up by Hollywood. This project, which celebrates the brothers, will show them otherwise.”

 

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