B&W Headshot of UWS Tour Guide Gary DennisBy Claudie Benjamin

About ten years ago, Gary Dennis and his wife Liz were walking on 96th Street and Broadway when a double-decker tour bus turned the corner in front of them. Gary heard the guide’s spiel and commented, “That sounds so stupid.” His wife responded, “If you think it sounds stupid, why don’t you do better?” And, with that, he was off and running to a career as a Certified NYC Tour Guide.

He had fairly recently closed the doors of The Movie Place, his video store business, for almost 20 years at 105th Street off Broadway. It was an event covered by The New York Times. Though hugely popular in the heyday of movie rentals, the evolution of technology and the dizzying rent hikes led to the ending of his business and the sale of 24,000 video titles to Columbia University.

Gary grew up on 103rd Street and West End Avenue. He has long lived on 104th Street and Riverside. “My friends make fun of me,” he said.

Which tours does he most enjoy hosting? He pinpointed the tours of the Upper West Side and those on NYC Subway History. Sometimes, he’s invited to give lectures, like one scheduled for February 22, 2024, (at 6:30 pm) on the past and present movie theaters of the Upper West Side by the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group.

Most participants on his tours are from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as English speakers from other countries. Often, what they are most curious about relates in some ways to New York they know from movies.

Movies and actors are Gary’s specialty, intertwined with his personal love of movies, movie stars, and the history of how his neighborhood connects with the cinema and his appreciation of the neighborhood’s history.

So, looking at the shell of the Metro (once Midtown) movie house at 2626 Broadway, for example, we’ve got multiple associations. The huge, round art deco medallion on the building’s facade depicts two sinuous figures. One is holding the mask of tragedy, and the other is holding the mask of comedy- these masks have symbolized theater for over 2000 years. More recent associations might be the recreation of a Metro movie night for the music video of Janet Jackson’s 1980s hit song Let’s Wait Awhile.” The sequence evokes a 1940s evening with the Metro’s marquee styled to announce the film Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Regarding Bogie, Gary has a lot to say, even beyond what was written in the media about how he spearheaded the secondary naming of West 103rd Street as Humphrey Bogart Place, along with having a plaque installed on the front of 245 West 103rd Street where the actor spent his childhood. Ingrid Bergman, Bogart’s widow, and the couple’s son Stephen attended. Gary had never met the famous actress but had been told she could be intimidating. “I armed myself with my daughter, who was then 7. She gave her a bouquet of flowers. What my daughter remembers is that she was a nice old lady.” Now an adult, that daughter is a Museum Educator at the NYC Transit Museum. “I’m immensely proud,” he said. His son is a Sophomore at SUNY Purchase.

Gary’s love of movie lore and neighborhood history in general first developed around his family’s dining room table. As adolescents, he and his siblings competed for their parent’s attention and approval, showing off their knowledge of historical neighborhood detail and familiarity with other topics that would interest them.

Gary became immersed in the complexities of theater craft while still in high school by way of a part-time after-school job at the Equity Library Theater. ELT was the first Actor’s Equity-approved showcase housed at the theater in the Master Building on Riverside Drive. “I was an usher and did carpentry and electrical work. I had hoped to paint scenery, and occasionally, I got the chance.”

Gary’s tours extend beyond what is strictly the Upper West Side to the Columbia area and underground to the subway “because of how they contributed to the development of the neighborhood and its residents.” His knowledge is broad and includes such varied things as the backgrounds of architects and details about an early group formed to protect the welfare of immigrants.

Gary tends to make statements that provoke questions. Consider, for example, that “Humphrey Bogart would never have been Bogart without the Upper West Side.” Why?

The answer has to do with chance and a series of connections. Take the Upper West Side Tour and, depending on your age, learn for the first time or remember who said the line “Here’s looking at you kid” and perhaps discuss what was so great about Bogart. As Gary told The New York Times, “He was the man we boys wanted to be.”

Gary’s Tours are listed on ToursbyLocals, Trip Advisor, Viator, and other sites.

Share This