Richard A. Szanyi was born on December 25, 1945, in Hammond, Indiana—one of the factory towns which lie along the southern bank of Lake Michigan, adjacent to Chicago.
He was the youngest of six children—younger than his siblings by thirteen to twenty years. His father and brothers all found steady work in the steel mills and chemical plants of the region, and no doubt expected that Rich would do the same.
When Rich was twelve years old, however, the local grocery store began offering LP records of “The World’s Greatest Music” and his father brought home a different record every week. The introduction to classical music was life-changing for Richard, who said that listening to Beethoven and Bach convinced him that there was a wider world outside of Hammond. He began taking piano lessons soon after, and continued to play the piano avidly for the rest of his life. He became the first person in his family to go to college, working in steel mills every summer to pay his way through Indiana University in Bloomington, where he got a BA and MA in English literature.
In 1973, he met Lynne Cohen, and the two became lifelong partners. Some of their earliest conversations were silly debates about whether cinema or music was the greatest art form. They moved together to Santa Fe, New Mexico where with another couple they built a tiny movie theater, “The Collective Fantasy,” which showed a mixture of new foreign films and classics. In 1983, after seven years, the partners sold the theater. (It is now called “The Jean Cocteau,” and is owned by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.)
Rich and Lynne moved to the Ithaca area in 1984 and bought an old farmhouse in Candor. In 1986 they built a new movie theater, Cinemapolis, in the basement of Center Ithaca, and later bought Fall Creek Pictures as well. In 2000, they converted their corporation to a non-profit. As co-Executive Directors, they supervised the planning and construction of the new five-screen Cinemapolis on Green Street, which opened in 2009. Richard and Lynne retired in 2012.
Everyone who knew Rich well remembers his quick wit and his delight in telling stories from the Russian Orthodox church of his youth and his time working in the factories of Hammond. Unlike many wits, he was kind as well as funny.
Richard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1994, but continued to enjoy life for many years after that–listening to and playing classical music and jazz, reading, traveling and of course going to the movies.
In the last year of his life, Richard suffered a series of health challenges made more difficult by Parkinson’s. He died after a bout of pneumonia on December 27th, two days after his 75th birthday.
He is survived by his partner Lynne, by many nephews and nieces, and by dear friends from throughout his life.
Cinemapolitans are encouraged to share their favorite memories of Rich in the comments section below.