He is known to movie buffs as the Milwaukee Movie Man. His quirky vignettes air before every showing in Marcus movie theaters.
He is Greg Marcus, the President and CEO of the Marcus Corporation. And he is about much more than just movies.
He overseas an empire that also includes hotels, restaurants, and a generous philanthropic foundation.
I sat down with Greg in one of his state of the art theaters for the latest installment of “Mercurious.”
In 1935 the Marcus family opened their first theater in Ripon. The family pride is apparent when you talk to Greg.
He lights up as he discusses his father and grandfather.
“They taught me about working hard and making good decisions. My father taught me what it means to stay true to your word,” said Marcus.
As we settled into one of the Marcus Cinema’s prime selling points, the DreamLounger reclining seats, Greg introduced me to his favorite movie snack.
I have to admit it caught me a little off guard.
“This is my secret,” he told me as he took out a large bag of M&Ms.
“I like to sprinkle the bag on a large popcorn. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and salty.”
It’s readily apparent he has spent a lot of time thinking about this.
“I like that that the chocolate doesn’t get too sticky. The candy coating makes it perfect. A couple of M&Ms with a handful of popcorn feeds my sweet tooth and popcorn addictions simultaneously,” he tells me.
This is a guy who knows his way around a movie theater concession stand.
I ask him about the DreamLoungers that we are kicking back in.
“They transformed the industry,” Greg tells me.
“We took out half the seats in our theaters, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the excess capacity we had. We don’t even need sloped floors in the theater anymore. Everyone can get the perfect angle with the recliner. We do have stadium seating. People love being able to recline.”
I ask Greg about his all-time favorite movie. He looks genuinely uncomfortable as he protests that it’s like asking a father to name his favorite child.
He will only answer the question if I amend it to allow him to choose more than one. I acquiesce.
“North By Northwest by Hitchcock,” he tells me.
“It has it all. Great cinematography, wonderful story. I also really like Animal House. I’ve seen it 100 times and can recite every line.”
“I would have to put Blazing Saddles on the list,” he continues.
“A day doesn’t go by without me reciting a line or two. It is still relevant today.”
Greg sees more than 50 movies a year, almost always with his wife.
He claims that he has never gotten up and walked out of a movie.
“It’s not how good or bad the movie is. It’s about the experience that movies present,” he tells me.
“Plus my wife would really look down on me getting up and walking out of one of our theaters,” he chuckles.
He turns serious when I ask him about his biggest competition.
“It’s the sofa,” he says with a quiet intensity.
“We need to motivate people to get off their couch. That’s why we create experiences. Things like the reclining chairs, pizza and full service bars.”
He’s now in full salesman mode.
“At home there’s the dog and the phone and the light streaming in. We take all of that out of the equation.”
While we are on serious topics, I ask him if movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime should be eligible for Oscars.
“No. Movies are shared experiences. They are made for the really big screen. If you want to be a movie on TV, then you should compete for Emmys,” he says.
Greg tells me that he is a night guy. He is never the first guy at the office but is often the last one to leave.
Those who work closest to Greg say that it’s not unusual to get emails from him well after midnight.
I ask Greg about it and he laughs as he tells me that it’s actually more like 2am.
One of those things Greg works early and late on is the Marcus Corporation Foundation. He is passionate when discussing the foundation’s work.
“We have a responsibility to make a difference where we can,” he tells me.
“My mom told me, ‘Don’t be a taker in the world.’ I try to live that. But it’s not all altruistic. Our businesses are not moveable. We need to have a strong community. If we don’t care of the community, people won’t want to visit. People won’t want to work here. That’s not good for anyone.”
Greg loves the Milwaukee community.
“I can’t think of another place I would rather live. I can think of places I would like to visit in the winter. But there is no where else I would rather live,” he told me.
“Life is a series of tradeoffs. The trade off here is winter, but I get to love in a place where I can have a real impact. People here are genuinely nice. I have lived on both coasts. THIS is the best place to raise a family. There are values and hard work here. And we punch above our weight when it comes to culture and professional sports. And it’s easy to get around. I love the lack of traffic.”
Then Marcus sighs and leans back as if he’s reflecting on the serious love he has for our city. It’s apparent that he adores Milwaukee.
He’s a successful business leader. He’s an accomplished pianist. He’s a doting husband and father. He’s a man who likes to sprinkle M&Ms on his popcorn.
He is Marcus Corporation President and CEO Greg Marcus.