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March 25: The Shuberts of Broadway

March 24, 2016

shubert_b_pic2-300x232Lee (Levi) Shubert, the eldest of the three Shubert brothers who established Broadway as the center of theater in the U.S. and built the country’s largest theater chain, was born in Lithuania on this date in 1871. When they set out in theater, a powerful group called the Theatrical Syndicate had a lock on New York theaters, which drove the Shuberts to mount shows in rented circus tents and other odd venues. Ultimately they broke the Syndicate’s monopoly — and grew their own. Shubert’s holdings include the Winter Garden, Sam S. Shubert, Imperial, Belasco, the Ambassador, the Ethel Barrymore, the Lyceum, and the Majestic, as well as major theaters in Boston, Philadelphia, and London. They were producing a quarter of the plays in America (including some they wrote) and owned more than half of the “legitimate” theaters. Lee also sat on the board at MGM studios. Lee, Sam (who died in 1905), and Jacob had four sisters who were not involved in the business. Lee died in 1953 at age 82 — with 600 shows under his and his brothers’ belts.

“The Shubert brothers developed new theater districts all over the United States. They employed thousands of theater people over the years. They were partially responsible for the formation of Actor’s Equity (the actors needed a union in order to face their power). They had also turned theater into a large scale, commercial business which concerned itself with popular taste rather than art.” —PBS