The history of Harkins Theatres began with an adventurous 16-year-old named Dwight "Red" Harkins.
In 1931, he rode out of his hometown of Cincinnati on a Harley Davidson determined to seek his fortune in Hollywood by landing a role in the exciting world of talking pictures. Lucky for Arizona movie lovers, Red never made it to Hollywood. After a brief stop in Flagstaff, he arrived in Tempe almost penniless, but eager to pursue a new Hollywood dream: opening his own movie house. It was 1933, the height of the Depression, when Red opened the first Harkins Theatre, The State Theatre in Tempe. He was just 18 and probably the youngest theater operator in the world.
In 1940, already a renowned showman, inventor and community leader at age 25, Red built his dream movie house, the College Theatre (today's Valley Art). The College was full of fantastic new innovations like glow-in-the-dark carpeting, headphones for the hearing impaired and electronically controlled drinking fountains. It set a new standard for theaters and established a Harkins tradition of employing the latest technology to constantly improve the movie-going experience.
Over the years, Red's eagerness to experiment with the latest technology led to other firsts. In the 1950's, Red helped revolutionize the broadcast industry by inventing FM multiplex radio and launching the first radio station to transmit multitrack sound. Later, Red pioneered the Valley's second television station, Channel 12.
When Red passed away in 1974, he left an enduring legacy of business and community service. The family theatre business was left in the hands of his eldest son Dan, a pre-law major at ASU. Dan was no newcomer to the business of running theatres, having spent most of his childhood helping out in his father's movie houses.
Using the same showmanship and innovative thinking his father was famous for, Dan immediately set about expanding the original chain of 5 theatres and upgrading every facility with a new generation of sound and projection technology. Today, the success Dan has brought to Harkins rivals that of his father. With over 80 years of colorful history, Harkins Theatres remains the Southwest's premier entertainment company.
Harkins' leadership and creativity goes beyond the world of movies.
Over the past 20 years, Harkins Theatres has helped set a new standard for charitable giving in the Western U.S. through charity benefit premieres and screenings, souvenir and holiday gift sales and public service announcements on the movie screens. The company has helped many schools and organizations raise millions of dollars. Harkins Theatres has worked with dozens of groups, including Boys & Girls Clubs in Metro Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Denver, March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Alzheimer's Association, Phoenix Children's Hospital, The Children's Center in Oklahoma City, The Humane Society and many more.