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Ben Kopelow was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 10, 1927. The family was raised in Central Winnipeg where his parents operated a chain of grocery stores. The close-knit Kopelow family was comprised of four sons and one daughter. From the age of six, Ben was interested in theatre and he appeared in a number of school and amateur theatrical productions, writing, directing and producing skits and plays from a young age. Ben also worked at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) as a group worker in charge of teen town activities.
Ben worked in the family grocery until his father decided to move the family to Vancouver in April, 1948. Upon arrival his father opened a Super Market on West Broadway; Ben managed this store for two years. In 1950, Ben returned to Winnipeg to be a group worker with teenagers at the YMHA, writing and directing amateur musicals. He returned to Vancouver in 1951 to assist his ailing father. In 1957 it was discovered that his father was too sick to continue working, forcing the closure of the grocery store.
In 1954 Ben married Dolly Halpern. Before long, they had two children: Gordon and Bryna.
From his earliest days in Vancouver Ben became involved with the local theater scene. He joined Repertoire Productions and Vancouver Little Theater Association, where he met his long-time associate Max Power. Both were aspiring actors and producers. Ben’s first appearance was in Three Men on a Horse followed by Vancouver Little Theatre Association’s production of Room Service (1953). He also played Harry Shapiro in Vancouver Little Theatre Association’s 1954 production of “Stalag 17” at the York Theatre.
In 1956 Ben Kopelow, Max Power, and Doug Hellier formed The Barnstormers Theatre Company which produced a number of professional stage plays in the Georgia Auditorium and Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Among these productions were Stalag 17 (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (1958), Once More, With Feeling (1959), plus a number of other stage productions including fashion shows, revues and melodramas, including A Night in the Nineties (1960) at the Cave Theatre Restaurant.
The Barnstormers disbanded around 1960, but Ben and Max continued to work as a comedy act, successfully auditioning as actors for Theatre Under the Starts (TUTS). The two appeared in four TUTS productions Annie Get Your Gun (1955 and 1960), Kiss Me Kate (1957), and Guys and Dolls (1961).
Ben was also involved with Totem Theatre, Vancouver Repertory Players, Burnaby Clef Society, CBC Radio, and CBUT Television. Ben was also well-known in business circles; he was associated with Roc Ventures Limited, managing the New La Salle Bowling Alleys and was a member of the Vancouver Tourist Bureau and the Vancouver Board of Trade.
In 1959 Ben was appointed the Public Relations and Advertising Director and Promotions Manager for The Cave Theatre Restaurant and during the course of the next couple of years worked with such stars as the Mills Bros., Tony Martin, Jane Russell, Marie McDonald, Dennis Day, Tommy Sands, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Ford and Hines, plus many other showbiz personalities.
In September 1961 Ben established Pacific Show Productions Limited – an agency involving all aspects of stage and theatre production. Ben was the managing director with Max as his partner. Ben received the first franchise in British Columbia to book and produce entertainment using American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) performers and also, a franchise from the American Federation of Musicians. Ben produced and booked the following noteworthy productions: IBM Sales Conference – Vancouver (1968) Nassau (1969); Dawson City Gaslight Follies (3 years); Kelowna Regatta (4 years); Penticton Summer Theatre (3 years); Golden Garter Saloon Entertainment (Expo 67 Montreal); Kitimat July 1st Celebration (3 years); P.N.E. Water Safety Show; Victoria Exhibition (3 years); Rolf Harris shows (7 years); New Westminster May Festival (3 years); and over 500 major conventions in Vancouver.
While working to get Pacific Show Productions Limited of the ground, Ben continued on as Publicity and Public Relations Director for The Cave and doing publicity for Theatre Under the Stars.
After his retirement in 1992, Ben decided to nourish his interest in art. He enrolled in classes with watercolour artist Mona Goldman. Goldman commented on Ben’s love of colour and encouraged him to pursue more formal studies. He took an 8 week beginners’ art course at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The professor was impressed by Ben’s passion for art and encouraged him to continue his studies. Ben then enrolled in part time studies at Emily Carr University and, over the course of four years, received two years’ worth of credits in the study of art.
While painting, Ben shard studio space in the Dominion Bank Building on Hastings Street with his daughter-in-law and her friends. All of them were capable artists in their own right and Ben learned from them.
Ben’s passion for art took him beyond Vancouver. He travelled to Florence, Italy to attend a drawing course. He also travelled to an estate outside Lyon, France, where a Capilano College professor teaches painting and drawing. In both cases, his wife Dolly came along to enjoy everything these cities had to offer.
Ben was forced to stop painting in 2010 when he was diagnosed with macular degeneration. Since then, he has volunteered as a practice patient for medical students at UBC. He also enjoys listening to audio books from the local library.
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