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There are the wealthy and there are the truly rich.

People who admire only the former, and judge them by looks alone, might walk right past the drab, Sixties-era apartment building near the foot of Indian Road, where an old man named Danny Mullin is mowing the lawn.

Those who appreciate the latter would do well to stop and say hello.

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And those who don't know the difference probably will, once Mr. Mullin, a 79-year-old millionaire in beige coveralls, gets finished with them.

Last week, Mr. Mullin and his wife, Letty, stepped forward with $954,000 to save the Revue Cinema, a cherished, 96-year-old landmark in their west-end Roncesvalles Village neighbourhood that was closed and put up for sale a year ago.

In the process, they stepped past all the stereotypes about philanthropy, and proved that while money can indeed buy happiness (their neighbours are tickled), the reverse - that happiness produces wealth - is also true.

How else to explain the success of Mr. Mullin, a former garbage man, bartender, cleaner, sandwich-maker, construction labourer and dockworker, and his 67-year-old wife, a retired bookkeeper?

Despite these modest occupations, their 39-year marriage has yielded millions worth of real estate - their 21-unit building on Indian Road, a rental house in Riverdale, an apartment and retail building in Port Credit, a condo unit in Florida and now, the Revue.

They also put their lone child, a doctor who is now 37 and living in New York, through private schools and an American university.

All the while, they have gotten by without a car, and have always lived in a building shared with others, instead of the detached, single-family home coveted by so many.

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The key, says Mr. Mullin, is liking what you do, not just doing what you like.

"I don't run away from work, I run towards it," he says in an accent still blooming from Liverpudlian roots. "All my jobs were good."

His favourite was his last: a garbage collector for the city, in the same neighbourhood where the couple's utterly ordinary apartment and the cinema sit.

"If God made a better job than the garbage, he kept it for Himself," says Mr. Mullin, who will happily talk the ear off of anyone he believes could use some wisdom. "I used to say, on Friday, 'I wish it was Monday.'

"It's a hard job like everything else, but you've got to make it easy," he continues. "You've got to psych yourself, then it becomes easy and you enjoy your job."

This ethos came early to Mr. Mullin, the fourth of eight children, whose father ferried goods to and from the Liverpool docks on a two-horse cart.

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His dad would awaken at 4 a.m. and spend two hours feeding the horses before he rode off, "and then two hours at night bedding them down" at 8 or 9 p.m.

The Mullin children landed odd jobs as young adolescents. For Danny, who was 11 when the Second World War broke out, it meant an end to formal education at Grade 6 and an early introduction to working life.

Still, "I always remembered that two and two made four and did not make five," he says, "and that's enough when you're buying property."

He also recalls war-time air-raid sirens interrupting the movies at his local cinema, which often sent others scurrying for shelter, but he "mostly stayed" until the danger passed.

"It was a rough time, but we made it a good time," Mr. Mullin says. "We didn't have much money, but we had a lot of laughs."

After a series of jobs, including a stevedoring stint, Mr. Mullin followed a brother to Toronto in 1959, and landed a couple of months' work loading trains at the long-gone Massey Ferguson farm equipment plant on King Street West.

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He then travelled around Ontario as a foreman for a prestressed concrete company, before a friend found him something easier on his middle-aged bones: a bartending gig at the Royal York Hotel. From there, he jumped to serving drinks at the University of Toronto Faculty Club.

There, in May of 1966, he met Letty, a young Filipino woman who was hired as a bookkeeper the day after she landed in Toronto.

They married in '68, and five years later, plunked down $54,500 for a house in Riverdale. They moved in, rented out several rooms and paid down their mortgage in three years.

The rest is history - they kept working and saving, then took out a line of credit, secured against the house, to buy the Port Credit property, where they lived from 1979 to 1986, then bought the building on Indian Road.

Loath to displace any tenants, they moved into a small, vacant basement unit, then gradually moved up, one storey at a time, as others moved on.

They now live on the top floor (the fifth), where Mr. Mullin was at work converting two apartments into one for themselves when the Revue deal came along last winter.

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No sentimental fool, he knows the property, listed at $1.275-million, could have been had cheaper. He also knows that while it's still about $200,000 higher than he thinks is right, its value will likely double in a decade. Perched on a prime spot on Roncesvalles, a vibrant and evolving neighbourhood, it certainly won't go down.

"I've always wanted to buy a movie house," says Mr. Mullin, who will hand over the cinema's operation to the Revue Film Society, a non-profit group of neighbours who joined in a bid to save the theatre. Smiles on the faces of neighbourhood kids, he says, are what he looks forward to most - that, and "me and my wife sitting there and cuddling.

"We want a couple of special seats there when we do go."

areinhart@globeandmail.com

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