April 20, 2024

Cyrus Harvey, an Extravagant Entrepreneur, Dies at 85

The cause was a stroke he suffered four days earlier, his wife, Rebecca, said.

Mr. Harvey was a man of vibrant, extravagant enthusiasms — he was an opera lover, a fanatical gardener and a devoted caretaker of Welsh corgis, generations of which he owned over more than 50 years — and some of his fervid interests evolved into businesses.

Janus Films, founded in 1956, grew from his part ownership of the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., which he and a partner, the actor Bryant Haliday, had transformed from a live-theater venue to a movie house that showed the art films Mr. Harvey had grown to love as a Fulbright scholar in Paris.

“Instead of spending two years at the Sorbonne, he spent two years at the cinémathèque,” his wife said.

Mr. Harvey and Mr. Haliday showed Janus films at the Brattle and at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York. They had named the company for a Roman god usually depicted with two heads facing in different directions.

“They named it that because they themselves were opposites,” Ms. Harvey said. “Bryant was gay and Catholic. Cy was straight and Jewish. They really liked that.”

Before they sold the company in 1966, Janus helped introduce American audiences to dozens of films that have since been accepted as masterpieces of world cinema: Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” Fellini’s “La Strada,” and Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” and “Virgin Spring,” which won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1960, among many others.

The Brattle Theater still stands and is still a symbol of Harvard intellectual hip. In the 1960s, Mr. Harvey expanded that notion by developing an underground arcade constructed beneath it. There, a series of boutiques dispensed toys, clothes, kitchen implements and other items that were reflective of the antiwar culture of the time and place. One of the boutiques sold exotic soaps, and when Mr. Harvey and his wife, whom he married in 1967, moved to Woodstock, Conn., in the early 1970s, partly to expand their gardening interests, the idea of the soap store came with them. Melded with their interest in growing flowers, herbs and other botanicals, it eventually became Crabtree Evelyn.

Beginning as a small business run out of their home and specializing in exotic soaps from around the world — it was basically a soap distribution company, enhanced by an English-sounding name and sophisticated marketing — Crabtree Evelyn grew to become a retail chain that sells fragrances, foods and toiletries as luxury items. By the time they sold the company in 1996, Ms. Harvey said, there were 160 stores in the United States alone.

“They made a world thing out of soap,” said George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, who had been a friend of Mr. Harvey’s since they were both toddlers. “It was amazing. I’ve tried to do the same thing out of jazz, but I haven’t done as well.”

Cyrus Isadore Harvey Jr. was born in Cambridge on Oct. 14, 1925. His parents were Jews who came to this country to escape persecution. His father, who sold baby furniture and toys, was from Lithuania; his mother, who died when her son was a boy, was from Poland. Young Cyrus was a navigator in the Army Air Forces at the end of World War II, though he never went overseas, and then graduated from Harvard, where he studied history and literature before going to Paris.

Mr. Harvey’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Rebecca Miller, he is survived by a sister, Marjorie Harvey, of Brookline, Mass.; three daughters, Natasha Swann, of Atlanta, Tanya Harvey of Lowell, Ore., and Viviane Ockenga of Ipswich, Mass.; and five grandchildren.

“He had these passions for things,” Ms. Harvey said. “He’d get a passion for a genus of plant. He’d go, “I have to get every Daphne!’ ”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=37518fa93eb94a1bbd0294a58a41a748

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