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An Iconic Home of Cinema

Cameo Cinema

Cameo Cinemas has been an iconic home of cinema in the Dandenongs since it opened with MGM’s David Copperfield in 1935. It continues to offer an eclectic range of content, a sophisticated food menu and boasts an outdoor cinema blessed with natural beauty.

The Cameo was built by Alex Jaensch, who came to the Hills with his family in the early 1920s. An industrial chemist by trade, Jaensch later became a “picture show man”, touring the area showing silent films in halls and sometimes tents. In 1934 he commissioned the architects Scarborough, Robertson & Love to design a cinema for Belgrave.

When the Cameo opened, it was a true “picture palace” of its time, embellished with ornate Art Deco features and distinctive silhouetted trees on the cinema’s interior walls. The renowned foot warmers in cinema 1 are still in place to this day.

From the time of its opening and through the 1940s and ‘50s, the Cameo remained a hub of social activity for the local community and beyond, as the Dandenong Ranges became a popular holiday destination.

Cameo Outside

In 1961 Jaensch retired after nearly 40 years in the cinema business, and the Cameo simply closed. It was resurrected in 1964 by Don and Elaine McWhirter, who renovated the cinema with luxe red leather chairs, red and gold flock wallpaper, and a gold curtain across the newly installed wider screen. The McWhirters dedicated themselves tirelessly to the cinema’s rejuvenation, both in décor and audience loyalty, but eventually left for a warmer climate in 1977.

Partners John McKenzie and Leong Lim took over the cinema and continued with upgrades, including a Dolby sound system, a curved brick façade, and two new cinema auditoriums.

Palace Cinemas took over the lease at the Cameo in 1991 and continued to screen movies at the site until mid-2003 when the building was bought by Eddie Tamir, who had previously renovated and rejuvenated Elsternwick’s Classic Cinemas, and promised to bring some pizzazz to the Hills.

In 2010 an additional two cinemas were added to the rear of cinema 1, plus a bar and a deck overlooking the outdoor cinema. Today, Cameo Cinemas retains its finest Art Deco features, together with decorative flourishes from its post-1970s revival.

The Cameo remains one of the few architecturally notable cinemas still operating in Victoria, and has been embraced by the community since 1935. Tamir intends to uphold this tradition – “The hills are alive, and the Cameo is absolutely a part of it!”