Marc Klaw Portrait, ca. 1905

Marc Klaw Portrait, ca. 1905

Marc Klaw


Marc Klaw and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, children of Bavarian Jewish immigrants, began working in the lower echelons of the theatre business in the early 1880s. By the turn of the twentieth century, their firm, Klaw & Erlanger, ruled the American theatrical scene. It produced first-run plays and musicals in New York, and placed shows, both its own and others’, in hundreds of theatres nationwide.


By the turn of the twentieth century, one company ruled the American theatrical scene: the firm of Klaw & Erlanger. It produced first-run plays and musicals in New York, and placed shows, both its own and others’, in hundreds of theatres nationwide. Marc Klaw (born May 29, 1858 in Paducah, KY; died June 14, 1936 in Bracken Fell, Hassocks, Sussex, England), and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger (born May 4, 1859 in Buffalo, NY; died March 7, 1930 in New York, NY), children of Bavarian Jewish immigrants, began working in the lower echelons of the theatre business in the early 1880s. Astute and ambitious young men, they recognized a great opportunity and joined forces in 1887. In 1896, the already-powerful firm formed the so-called Theatrical Syndicate, whose avowed aim was to control the booking for attractions in cities large and small throughout the country. The Syndicate succeeded in its goal of near-monopoly for more than a decade, and made its members very wealthy. Eventually its dominion was challenged by other theatrical managers. Klaw & Erlanger continued to thrive nevertheless, but dissolved in 1919 after the partners quarreled bitterly. During their thirty years together, they revolutionized the previously chaotic theatre business, bringing such a degree of order that they could become the dominant figure in an oligopoly of theatrical management, controlling the production and distribution of attractions in the same manner that commodities and products like oil and automobiles were sold. Their example was followed by their successors in theatre, and notably by the impresarios of the new field of motion pictures. By the end of the firm’s life, Marc and Abe—as they were known to friends and enemies alike—had reached the top of their profession, fulfilling the immigrant’s dream, and producing a role model for contemporaries and descendants to follow.

Family Origins and Early Lives

Times were hard for the majority of nineteenth-century Germans, especially for German Jews. With few exceptions they occupied their customary position at or near the bottom of the heap. New laws were making life even worse for them, especially in the southern states. By the 1840s, much of Bavaria had severely limited the rights of Jews to marry, own property, travel freely and work in many occupations. A common response was to emigrate, and many of them made the arduous journey to the United States.

This early wave of Jewish immigrants, the first to bring substantial numbers to American shores, is not as well-documented as later arrivals. Early documents––ships’ passenger lists, census records, marriage licenses––show no trace of Leopold Klaw, Marc’s father. Records for Abe’s parents, Leopold Erlanger and Regina Liebenthal, are a little more complete, as we shall see. Neither Marc nor Abe publicly provided much information about their family backgrounds. At best, they avoided reminiscing about family matters. At worst, Abe in particular rewrote those parts of his past that he deemed unsuitable for the more exalted station he had attained. Many questions, therefore, will always remain. But by the time of the Civil War, both families were leaving more traces, and we can draw sketchy portraits of them.

Leopold Klaw (sometimes spelled “Klau”) may have come from the area around Harburg in Bavaria, and was born in 1818. His wife, Caroline Blumgart, was born in Harburg in 1816. They may have followed the route traveled by many Jews bound for the American South and Midwest, who would embark from the French port of Le Havre and then, after landing at New Orleans almost two months later, head upriver into the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. Leopold and Caroline Klaw first settled in Cincinnati, where their first child was born. They moved to Paducah, Kentucky, sometime in the late 1840s, and were among the earliest Jews to settle the town. Marc, the youngest of the four children, was born in Paducah.

Leopold Klaw was said to have started life in America as a peddler, like many other German Jewish immigrants. He did well enough to graduate relatively quickly from the traditional eighty-pound-plus pack to a horse and wagon, and then to a small store in Paducah. Most of the town’s commercial district, including his store, burned to the ground in 1853. Klaw and his partner lost $1000 worth of goods (almost $30,000 in 2010 dollars); they and their fellow shopkeepers (some of them also Jewish) were able to rebuild, erecting more solid buildings and contributing to the town’s continued economic growth. Paducah acquired its first rail connection in 1854, and by late in the decade it had parlayed its location on the Ohio River into thriving commercial activity.

In 1859, when Marc was one year old, Leopold moved the family to Louisville, and died the following year. The next firm record of the Klaws is not until 1867. That year, the eldest son, Louis, was supporting the family, working in the Louisville office of J.P. Joyce, head clerk of the Kentucky lottery, an occupation he held until moving to New York more than twenty years later. Brother Marc joined him in the office when in his late teens, then went on to earn his law degree at Louisville Law School, passing his bar exam in 1879. To supplement his income, he became a reporter and drama critic for three Louisville newspapers.[1]

Leopold Erlanger was born in 1823 in Baden and immigrated to New York in 1848. His wife, Regina Liebenthal, was a Bavarian born in 1831 who came to America in 1853. After marrying, they settled in Buffalo. Leopold, sometimes known as Levi, worked as a cigar maker. There were four Erlanger girls and two boys. Mitchell––originally Michael––was born in 1857, and Abe followed in 1859. Within a year or so the family moved to Cleveland. Leopold appeared in the 1861 Cleveland city directory as a peddler, mostly of patent medicines, a profession he maintained until his death from “exhaustion” in 1884.

Cleveland was a small city, industrializing rapidly though its position in Ohio was still far overshadowed by Cincinnati. In 1864 an estimated 1500 Jews lived in Cleveland, and Leopold was said by sons Abe and Mitchell to have been active in the Jewish community’s religious and intellectual life.[2]

By the mid-1870s, the male Erlanger children had jobs to help keep the family afloat. Mitchell worked as a clerk for a military claims and insurance agent, then got a job as a copyist with the Superior Court of Cleveland. One year later he was clerking in the Cuyahoga County Clerk’s office. He then moved to New York and began studying law at Columbia University, paying his tuition by tutoring some of his fellow students, and opened an office in New York after matriculation.[3] Abe worked in a variety of jobs, as we shall see, doing whatever was needed to help put food on the table for the large family.

Early Employment

Considering their family backgrounds, it is surprising that Marc and Abe assumed such prominent roles in the theatre business. Nobody in either family had shown the slightest interest in the theatre. In fact, both families may well have held the popular view of the time that the theatre was a thoroughly disreputable profession, where actresses were akin to “fallen women” and actors were often classed with itinerant gamblers or petty criminals.[4] Marc’s family already contained one shady character, his older brother Aaron, commonly known as “Red,” a gambler, political fixer and all-around scoundrel, and his parents would certainly not welcome an actor. Abe, a breadwinner since the age of twelve or so, was presumably forgiven for working in theatres as one of his moneymaking activities. Both the Erlanger and Klaw families would have subscribed to the immigrant’s belief that, at least starting out, a person had to make a living however one could. Once the riches began pouring in, one could always leave shameful beginnings behind.

The Young Abe Erlanger: Standing on a Box

Biographical pieces in newspapers and magazines always mention Abe’s humble start in the theatre, beginning with his application to Cleveland theatre manager John Ellsler for whatever work Ellsler could give him. Ellsler saw Abe’s energy and potential, it is said, and soon Abe had become the “opera-glass boy” who also ran the cloak room.[5] A heartwarming anecdote, certainly, though it can’t be definitely corroborated. And, in any case, theatre was only one of the irons Abe had in the fire.

At fifteen, he clerked for a coal merchant. By eighteen he had become a bookkeeper for the Rosenblatt Brothers, clothing manufacturers who had as many as three hundred workers producing piecework. At twenty he was listed in the census as a tailor, partners with one Henry Sloss in a shirt manufacturing business. It was not until 1883, when he was 24, that his occupational listing in the Cleveland city directory made mention of the theatre.

After he had established himself in the theatre business, Abe never breathed a word about his early life in the clothing industry. His theatrical work might have begun as moonlighting, with the added bonus of giving him an outlet for the energy he was blessed with throughout his life. But by 1883 he was well-enough established in the theatre––he had risen to be treasurer of the new Euclid Avenue Opera House––to give up his other employment. He never looked back. Eliminating his work in the clothing business from his life was one more way to rewrite his own history.

Under John Ellsler, Abe by his own account progressed from opera glasses and coats to head usher, box office worker, call boy and assistant stage manager, even occasionally substituting on stage for absent actors (a newspaper noted his performance as the First Player in Hamlet at age eighteen).[6] He was later remembered as “a tough little husky, a scrapper and a hustler.”[7] During his shifts in the box office, he was laying the foundation for his future in the theatre business: learning the ins and outs of financial transactions, assessing the talent that came through town, talking to actors and, most importantly, becoming acquainted with company managers from all over the country. He would by some reports stand on a box at the ticket window to add to his small stature (he was five feet four inches tall as an adult). His ability to do sleight-of-hand tricks with silver dollars at age eighteen was later noted by one of his early acquaintances, Charles Frohman, who came through Cleveland with Haverly’s Mastodon Minstrel Show, a good example of the popular entertainment of the day, with sketches about baseball and burlesques of circus acts, in which some minstrels appeared in elephant costumes. The Mastodon Minstrel show (with its well-known tag line “Forty—Count ’Em—Forty” performers) was a step up for young Frohman, though he had to wear a silk top hat that he hated and lavender trousers. He arranged the elaborate parades, gave interviews to local newspapermen, handled all the box office receipts, and headed off to England with the company. Frohman, the same age as Abe and also a son of German Jewish immigrants, was to become the pre-eminent producer of the American theatre; his career would be closely intertwined with Abe’s.[8] But, even at this tender age, Frohman had already worked as an advance agent and bill-poster all over the country, stranded when companies failed, but always landing back on his feet. It became all the rage in London.

In 1883, Abe managed his first client, who was participating in a Fourth of July balloon ascent as part of a patriotic military gala. He quickly “dispatched” a competitor by shooting his balloon with an air gun.[9] The following month, realizing he had gone as far as he could in Cleveland, he headed for Union Square in New York, the nerve center of the American amusement business. The neighborhood was crowded with theatres and agents’ offices, and the streets teemed with actors seeking work, playwrights looking for buyers, theatre owners from all over the country trying to connect with managers of attractions, producing a summer-long frenzy of deal-making. It was the perfect atmosphere for a popular and ambitious young man on his way up, like Abe.

Almost immediately, he got a job working for a troupe specializing in fake German dialect skits, whose act badly needed a helping hand. He energetically hit the road as its advance man, much as Charles Frohman was doing, visiting locations a week or two ahead of the troupe to arrange publicity, help put up billboards, and sweet-talk local critics and newspapermen. Soon he joined the troupe and “played it to the coast,” theatrical slang for handling a tour going overland to San Francisco. Once there, business was poor, so he developed an innovative advertising ploy: a “souvenir night” during which the auditorium would be electrically lit, the audience photographed, and each member of the audience presented with a copy. One critic derided the stunt: “The light thus produced was almost too fierce to be borne by ordinary optics, and the effect produced was garish and unpleasant.”[10] Even this couldn’t improve prospects for the poor “Dutch act,” as such German-flavored attractions were called by the trade, and it limped its way to Minneapolis to close its season to merely “fair” houses.[11]

Abe built on his reputation as a tough little scrapper as he moved from one mediocre attraction to another. He began carrying a pistol, common at the time for those handling money on the road. And he took up with British actress Louise Balfe, a bigamist with several well-known extra-marital liaisons to her credit, who likely offered Abe “favors” to find work for her and her actor husband. Her husband protested, and he and Abe had a fistfight on Union Square in New York in the summer of 1885.[12] That fall, in a Philadelphia hotel room, Abe shot the husband, claiming self-defense, though the details that emerged were murky. Because of Balfe’s celebrity, New York and Philadelphia newspapers gleefully followed the trial. Abe was convicted but this was soon overruled by a judge widely assumed to have been bought off. Abe continued to be Balfe’s protector, in spite of her “scandalous” conduct, finding her work when he could (though by many accounts she was a mediocre actress) and continuing their relationship. They finally married in 1891, and divorced in 1912.

After two more years of rigorous touring, much of it in the South, Abe was offered a position to co-manage the comeback of Effie Ellsler, formerly a big star who had fallen on hard times, who was the daughter of Cleveland theatre man John Ellsler, his first boss. He was to assist the young manager Marc Klaw, who was directing the tour from New York and had more work than he could handle. Abe headed to the Deep South in advance of Ellsler. Not long afterwards, Abe and Marc teamed up and began their partnership.

The Young Marc Klaw: Lawyer, Critic, Theatrical Denizen

Marc’s early life was similar to Abe’s. After graduating from public school, he worked as a bookkeeper for A. Rosenthal, a cigar wholesaler, and soon began working alongside his brother Louis in the Kentucky lottery office. But Marc’s life diverged from Abe’s when, barely twenty years old, he entered the law school of the University of Louisville. Studying law was not the ordeal it is today; scarcely a year later, after his graduation in 1879, he was a full-fledged lawyer with his own office. To supplement his income, he became a newspaperman and critic, working at various times for three Louisville newspapers. Being a critic was a natural outgrowth of his longtime passion for the theatre. He was a frequent performer with the Mayo Club, a local amateur theatrical company, from the age of eighteen onward, and the finest theatre in Louisville, Macauley’s, had been built two blocks from the family home when he was fifteen. He was likely hanging around by the time he finished public school, drinking in the lives led by the actors in the local “stock” company that provided support for traveling stars who came to perform. And he would have been all ears listening to the talk about the business end of the theatre. Barney Macauley ranted frequently about the greed of those traveling stars, who demanded and got such high percentages of the box office receipts that little was left for the theatre manager to meet his payroll, much less make a meager profit. Like Abe, Marc would have met advance men and managers coming through town, and absorbed all the gossip of theatrical affairs on the road and in New York. From all accounts, he was well-liked. Tall and slim, already possessing the courtly Southern manners that would eventually contrast so favorably with Abe’s brusqueness, he bided his time, wrote his newspaper pieces, spent time with his cronies, and waited.

Somehow, word got to New York about this articulate, soft-spoken, energetic young lawyer who hung around Macauley’s Theatre. The New York Dramatic Mirror ran an item in September 1881: “Marc Klaer [sic] of Louisville, who will act in a business capacity with one of the Madison Square travelling companies this season, is in town.”[13] The Madison Square Theatre was being managed by Charles Frohman and his brothers Daniel and Gustave, also young hustlers in the theatre business. Charles had quickly come up in the world since hanging posters for Haverly’s Mastodon Minstrels. Now that he was in the big time, he had to confront the vexation of play piracy. The Madison Square’s hit play Hazel Kirke, a domestic melodrama just finishing almost 500 performances on Broadway, was being pirated nationwide, a serious problem since copyright law was still primitive and difficult to enforce; each case of piracy had to be dealt with locally. Marc hit the road in hot pursuit.

Many years later, Marc recounted a typical stop in his travels: the little town of Canton, Mississippi. It was advertised that the local fire brigade was to receive the proceeds from a benefit performance of Hazel Kirke, featuring the star of the New York cast, a whopper of a lie. Marc filed papers with the local court enjoining the performance for copyright violation, and had “a bad half-hour,” as he put it, while fire axes were shaken under his nose, and it was vociferously suggested that he get out of town if he knew what was good for him. If he was to be believed, he faced down the brigade, did his job, and moved on to the next town.[14] After a couple of months like this, he returned to New York. He mounted an elaborate sting operation, playing the part of a fictitious theatrical business manager and using trusted confederates, and closed down a large operation furnishing bootlegged scripts to theatre companies nationwide.[15] Soon Charles Frohman sent him to Boston as an agent for an unusual production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus mounted at Harvard University, in which the lead part was declaimed in classical Greek while the supporting players delivered their lines in English. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t save it. He then hit the road again for the Frohman brothers, chasing more play pirates, and acting as an advance man or road manager for some of their many attractions, including a “number two” company of Hazel Kirke, in which he once went on for an indisposed actor. The Frohmans had many irons in the fire. In the summer of 1882 Gus was on the West Coast moving east, Dan was holding down the fort in New York, while Charles was in England heading back to America; they were juggling a total of six troupes at once. They had dozens of men working for them, and Marc was one of their favorites. Although working in cities nationwide, he spent a good deal of time in the South, which became the focal point of his future partnership with Abe.

In 1883, Marc became business manager for Fanny Davenport (1850–1898), a formidable actress who was attempting a comeback. She was born into a family of actors, and had appeared in The Black Crook––a combination of melodrama, dance and “leg show” that scandalized and titillated audiences of the 1860s––when she was fourteen. She was hired by theatrical giant Augustin Daly before she was twenty, remaining with him almost ten years while she appeared in Shakespeare, new plays, and classics like The School for Scandal. In 1876 Daly wrote a play for her, Pique, that became a hit, running almost 250 performances in New York. She was so popular that she had even outdrawn Sarah Bernhardt, the world-famous French tragedienne, when both played Detroit in Camille the same week, a notorious example of poorly-planned booking.[16] By the late 1870s, she was heading her own troupe, but entered the 1880s in a serious slump. A tour of England was an abject failure, and in disgust she took a vacation from the stage. While in Paris, she stumbled across the opportunity to invest in the American rights for Victorien Sardou’s play Fedora, the overwrought story of a passionate young widow betrothed to a libertine rumored to be a “nihilist,” which Bernhardt was playing to immense Parisian crowds. As it turned out, Davenport would play Fedora all over America for five seasons, grossing the staggering sum of a million and a half dollars ($33 million in 2010 dollars). She was to buy the rights to three more Sardou plays, all of them written for Bernhardt. In fact, eventually Davenport would sometimes be labeled––rightly or wrongly––“the American Bernhardt.”

Associated with such a hugely-popular actress, Marc was riding high, and he stayed with Davenport until mid-1885. At that point, he was ready to move even higher. Perhaps he chafed at remaining a “business manager,” a common euphemism for an ordinary advance man. When offered the opportunity to be a full-scale manager for longtime star Effie Ellsler, he accepted. As it happened, her father was Cleveland theatre manager John Ellsler, Abe’s first boss, and she had been onstage since childhood. At twenty-five she was cast in the blockbuster Hazel Kirke, under the direction of the Frohman brothers, and played the role for three seasons on Broadway while Marc was chasing pirate companies around the country. But then her career stalled, and by 1885, like Fanny Davenport, she was trying to rebound from the doldrums that poor management could bring.

Marc’s first order of business in his new job was to find a starring vehicle for her. His old Louisville friend Will Price, a newspaperman, had recently written The Old Kentucky Home, “a comedy-drama… possess[ing] little in common with the usual Western play.”[17] Marc hired up-and-coming director Ben Teal to stage the production, set to open in Philadelphia in early May, and to make a brief tour. It did fairly well, but rather than remounting it in the fall, Marc encouraged Ellsler to buy a play he believed to be stronger, Woman Against Woman, and laid out a route for the 1885–86 season. It was a rough life, vividly illustrated when Ellsler gave birth the morning after a performance in Troy, New York, and made plans to rejoin the tour in St. Louis after a scant two weeks off. Reviews and houses were sometimes poor, but Marc and the company soldiered on, and he signed for another season. Meat-and-potatoes touring would constitute the bulk of the following season, but a big change was in the offing. In the spring of 1887, Abe joined the organization, beginning his work with Marc that soon led to the founding of their great firm.

Business Development: Klaw and Erlanger’s First Association

The new association had the makings of a powerhouse. Impresario Robert Grau, writing in 1910, explained “Words fail the writer in his desire to convey…just exactly what type of an ‘agent’ Erlanger was. There is no standard [for] comparison. It was a combination of tireless toil with an ingratiating personality which impressed in every city.”[18] And Marc’s Southern charm was already combining well with Abe’s aggressive energy. The Ellsler season ended strongly; she roared through Texas, dazzled New Orleans, then headed north into Memphis, where she opened to a full house.[19] Flush with their success, the two young hustlers headed for New York as soon as the tour had closed.

They rented desk space at a theatrical exchange near Union Square, where they had all the resources they needed close at hand. They sewed up Ellsler’s succeeding season in just a week, and other opportunities fell into their laps right away. Abe quickly did a season’s booking for a Brooklyn theatre; then together they took on the management of two road companies, one crisscrossing the South. As if all that weren’t enough, Abe was offered a job with Joseph Jefferson, America’s long-beloved actor. Jefferson, born in 1829, started on the stage at the age of four, singing and dancing the early “darkie” song “Jump Jim Crow.” He and his parents barnstormed the frontier for many years before he established himself as a leading man in the eastern cities and England. In 1865 he began performing his one-man version of Rip Van Winkle, which he played many thousands of times until his death in 1905. In 1886 he was already a giant among actors, getting top dollar wherever he appeared. It said a lot about Abe’s reputation that Jefferson chose him to be the principal advance man on his 1888 Southern tour, at the unheard-of salary of $300 a week (more than $7000 in 2010 dollars). Marc quickly agreed that Abe would be excused from his duties for Ellsler when it was time to work for Jefferson. When fall came, they both hit the road. Marc accompanied Effie Ellsler and Abe traveled in advance of her, but Abe’s activities became almost bewilderingly complex, doing double- or even triple-duty in some cities since he was also laying groundwork for the two other attractions they were handling. As Ellsler headed south, Abe was hopping around Texas, and occasionally crossed paths with Marc. It was during one of these meetings that they may have had a conversation which resulted in an enduring legend of their humble beginnings as partners.

Klaw & Erlanger: The Partnership Begins

The details are vague. Marc reminisced in 1914 that “Mr. Erlanger and I were down in Texas … [with] Effie Ellsler… We each had about $30 [less than $700 in 2010 dollars], and as we sat in the depot at Waco we discussed the troubles of traveling companies.”[20] Another version stated that the partnership was indeed born in Waco, over a single bottle of beer split between them, at a time when each had about two dollars in his pocket. Then there was showman George Tyler’s version, told while reminiscing shortly after Abe’s death in 1930:

The firm of Klaw & Erlanger was started in San Antonio, Texas. At that time A.L. Erlanger was advance man for Joseph Jefferson, and Marc Klaw was ahead of Effie Ellsler. Both were sick of being advance agents, so they decided to shoot dice to see whether or not they should come to New York… The dice told them to come…[21]

According to the routes noted in the theatrical trade papers, the meeting could in fact have occurred in either Waco or San Antonio. But Tyler’s account is problematical. For one thing, neither Marc nor Abe was an advance man pure and simple. Marc was Ellsler’s manager, and Abe’s career had already included managerial work. Nevertheless, there’s more than a grain of truth in the story. They both were well aware of the ups and downs of the business. Ellsler had been suffering from poor health; trouper that she was, she could decide to retire at any time. Two years earlier Jefferson had announced that he might soon quit the stage. Working for star performers, though steadier than small-time barnstorming, clearly entailed a good deal of risk, and in theory they could lose their jobs at any time. If their fortunes in the theatre business turned sour, Abe could be forced back to the tailor shop and Marc to the law office.

Beyond trying to diminish their chances of failure, ambition certainly was part of the picture. Abe had it in spades, Marc seemingly less so. Sometimes it seems as if Marc was swept along in Abe’s wake. But Marc brought to the new partnership a quiet dignity utterly lacking in his partner. They must have known instinctively that, as a team, they would go far (sometimes using the gambit now referred to as “good cop, bad cop.”) Perhaps it was during that month in Texas that they realized they had to move quickly, or risk stalling or even losing their careers. Surely they knew that there could be no success without the occasional gamble.

Although they were now partners, their lives didn’t change radically. They continued on the road with Ellsler and did the business for the other tours. Following rumors of a bitter turf war in New Orleans, they turned it to their own advantage and were hired to do the booking for the two choicest theatres in New Orleans. What’s more, the exchange in New York where they had their desk space was bought by the owner of the New Orleans theatres, who gave it to them outright as an expression of his belief in them. Thus they were able to establish a booking agency, based in New York, which could play attractions throughout the South, using their New Orleans theatres as linchpins, where acts could play at least a week and break up the grind of mostly one-night stands through the small towns and cities of the South. This was heady stuff indeed for a brand-new firm.

It was clear that the new partnership was headed for the big time. Abe went out in advance of Joseph Jefferson as planned, and increased the ticket prices without telling his boss. Jefferson was worried that Abe had miscalculated his potential audience, until Abe informed him that the houses were selling out with the new higher prices.[22] Soon, Fanny Davenport was once again a client. She had been doing well, in the wake of her success with Fedora, and had bought Sardou’s scandalous new play, La Tosca, also a smash hit in Paris for Sarah Bernhardt as Fedora had been.[23] But Davenport’s husband/manager, sent to Paris to secure the rights, put the property in his own name, which enraged the independent-minded Davenport. She divorced him and approached Klaw & Erlanger to take over his managerial duties. They bent over backwards to accommodate her, promising that she would not receive short shrift from the up-and-coming company. Klaw was very specific when speaking to a reporter: “One of the firm will always be with Miss Davenport, while the other will direct the Exchange.”[24]

La Tosca had already done well in New York as well as on the road, including a hugely-successful twelve weeks on the Pacific Coast, and promised to continue strongly, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its controversial nature, including the sympathetic courtesan who was its central figure. The eminent drama critic William Winter flatly called La Tosca “disgusting”; other critics used phrases like “unvarnished nastiness” and “portraiture of all that is reprehensible in morals.” Sardou was described by one critic as “reaching deeper and deeper into the cesspool of ignoble motives and foul passions” and called a “vulgar necromancer” by another.[25] Hints of torture and mockery of Catholic rites didn’t help the play’s case, either. But, in time-honored fashion, theatregoers wanted to be titillated. The notoriety did not faze Klaw & Erlanger, and they jumped at the opportunity, this early in their careers, to hitch their wagon to such a star. After all, controversy sold lots of tickets.

By the spring of 1889, the Klaw & Erlanger Exchange had moved to a new five-story building, and was humming with activity. The firm was beginning its two-pronged approach to the theatre business that it would pursue so successfully: controlling the bookings for theatres nationwide, and putting companies on the road to fulfill those bookings. By late 1889, it boasted close to fifty troupes for the 1890–1891 season, and was building its stable of theatres, though it wasn’t yet close to Charles Frohman’s route of 300 theatres coast to coast. The upstart firm’s brash activities caused Abe and “C.F.,” as Frohman was widely known, to become bitter personal enemies, though they shared many business interests.[26] Through patient courting of theatre operators, and assiduous deal-making in the South, the firm was making inroads, acquiring diverse attractions with novel subject matter and stagecraft that would appeal to a wide variety of audiences. The partnership soon had many big successes that boosted its prestige and its bank account.

A few examples: in 1890, it beat out the competition to produce a road version of The County Fair, a slight but popular rural comedy that drew audiences largely to see its clever onstage horse race, prefiguring the thrilling centerpiece of the firm’s historic blockbuster hit a decade later, Ben-Hur. In 1891 came The Soudan, an English import from Drury Lane with a cast of hundreds, reenacting the rescue of General Charles Gordon, besieged in Khartoum in 1885 at the climax of an Islamic revolt against British rule. Many of the cast members appeared in the climactic scene of the returning troops being reviewed in London’s Trafalgar Square (complete with stone lions and the Nelson Monument) wearing authentic British military uniforms. The play was in many ways a classic melodrama, featuring an old-fashioned villain and villainess, adultery, a dying waif, and a couple labeled “baby farmers” in the local press, among other elements. 1892 brought The Country Circus, which tacked a dramatic plot (weak, according to many critics) onto an actual circus, complete with aerialists, clowns, and dozens of animals performing an onstage parade. In 1893, the firm took a financial interest in New York’s Casino Theatre, which produced The Passing Show. It was the first American revue, called by its producers a “topical extravaganza,” combining elements of burlesque (statuesque scantily-dressed women) with parodies of other shows and current events, threaded together with the skimpiest of plots.[27] The Brownies came in 1894, from Palmer Cox’s immensely popular elfin characters based on Scottish tales told to him by his grandmother. The show featured a shipwreck, a volcano, an old-fashioned fire engine and an aerial ballet imported from Paris. In one of the fantastic features of the show, “a huge bird seizes the Brownie Dude by his trousers seat, and carries him high up into the air.”[28] The trend of shows slanted toward children, or childlike adults, continued in 1896 with Jack and the Beanstalk, a pastiche of Mother Goose and Arabian Nights stories which oddly included “darkie” songs and an “electrical ballet” featuring fairies with rapidly spinning wheels of electric lights on their heads and blinking bulbs on their breasts. The fanciful show also included a ballet of the famous four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. In the meantime, the firm had a stake in the long-running comedy 1492 Up to Date, a spoof of the Columbus legend for the quadricentennial of the discovery of America, which was presented alongside Kilanyi’s Living Pictures, near-nudes arranged (“tastefully” according to the publicity) in the form of famous paintings, and rotated on- and off-stage by a six-ton apparatus.

All of these shows ran for several seasons, earning the firm a great deal of money. In the meantime, it was consolidating its position in the South, some seasons booking scores of attractions throughout the region and elsewhere (including minstrel shows, operas, melodramas, “Dutch acts” and other ethnic caricatures, as well as ordinary plays and musicals. Besides its attractions, it was making deals with theatre owners in New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis and many smaller cities. It was in 1896 that Marc and Abe sat down with four other important producers and theatre owners, and came up with a scheme that radically changed the entire face of the business. Klaw & Erlanger would come to be demonized widely for the next two decades. In many respects, the firm changed the business forever.

The Theatrical Syndicate

The four chosen by Marc and Abe were Charles Frohman, by far the predominant producer in the American theatre (and by the mid-1890s in the English theatre as well); Al Hayman, partner with Frohman in providing bookings for a large nationwide chain of theatres; and Samuel Nixon and J.F. Zimmerman, owners of several large theatres in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and other Northeastern cities. The six men quickly became known as the Theatrical Syndicate (or Trust), though they vociferously denied the existence of any such entity. In fact, as early as 1893, Klaw & Erlanger had specifically denied any intent to form a “combine” to present its attractions in the South. Soon the Syndicate members were trumpeting their qualifications to bring order to the business. They could help theatres coast to coast—both small-town theatre owners presenting one-nighters and big-city managers with full weeks to fill—by offering extensive routes that catered to the needs of both. Attractions could expect to be on the road for a full forty-week season, sensibly routed and without “dark” nights. Longtime theatre men like Abe, or “C.F.” Frohman, knew the minutiae of the road—transport, lodging, local support services—so intimately that they could plan several routes at a time from memory, seldom needing to refer to a railroad timetable or directory. Abe could still do this, almost as a parlor trick, much later in his career. During a visit to Cleveland in 1909, he answered reporters’ questions: “‘Where is Robert Mantell tonight?’ ‘In Indianapolis for three days,’ came the reply. ‘Where is George Cohan?’ ‘In Detroit on his way to Milwaukee,’ answered Erlanger without hesitation.”[29] Who better to take on the daunting challenge of reforming the theatre business, bringing rationality to a still-inefficient muddle only a decade removed from the chaos of Union Square?

That was the theory. For many theatres and attractions it worked as advertised, and many “provincial” theatregoers were able to see productions that otherwise might not have reached their cities and towns. But sharp-eyed insiders quickly labeled the theory as greed cloaked in false altruism. They claimed that the Syndicate partners were looking out for themselves first and foremost, with an organization akin to the trusts formed by the industrial barons. The Syndicate owned outright, or had interests in, many of the theatres and attractions it was booking, besides controlling the overall routing nationwide. It also controlled, often heavy-handedly, the network of theatre owners and managers operating “its” theatres, by forcing them to accept only Syndicate productions. Thus, favoritism was built into the structure at its very foundation. Certainly other attraction managers and theatre owners could take part in the Syndicate game, as long as they played by the Syndicate’s rules: take the attractions the Syndicate chose to provide, without question, or run the risk of being blacklisted. Clearly those rules were heavily biased toward the Syndicate partners’ interests. Others had to put up or shut up, to state it bluntly, and endure some patently unfair business practices.

For one thing, the Syndicate partners were systematically double-dipping. They charged booking fees to theatres, as well as fees to attractions for the privilege of being booked. What’s more, favored Syndicate allies received better rates. Less-favored theatres and attractions often had to make substantial payments to Syndicate partners to get any services at all, a practice the partners vehemently denied (even under oath) despite compelling evidence. In some cases, they also tried to ruin the personal reputations of potential competitors. As Alfred Bernheim put it in his seminal book The Business of the Theatre

Through its control over theatres, the Syndicate had the producers in its power, and it used this power to extort exorbitant compensation—for what? For allowing attractions to appear in theatres from which the Syndicate, in turn, derived a profit either from operations or from booking fees. Without taking any of the risks of production, the Syndicate was able to force many attractions to give it a lien on their profits. The attractions refusing to submit to this might be faced with the storehouse or with routes that were certain to run them into deficits. The productions in which one or more members of the Syndicate had a financial interest were, on the other hand, pushed to the utmost, irrespective of their merit, and were given the most favorable routes.[30]

Their methods were harsh, directed at many of the most eminent theatrical figures of the day. Their persecution of eminent playwright/producer David Belasco, and actresses Sarah Bernhardt and the redoubtable Minnie Maddern Fiske, became theatrical legend. Bernhardt, the great French star who had already been hugely popular in America for a generation, was frozen out of all Syndicate bookings and later would be obligated to tour with her own circus tent. It did not discourage audiences from coming; in Dallas, she played “Camille”—in French—to 8,000 Texans, almost half of whom stood, with thousands more turned away. Soon afterwards, in Chicago, she did a “benefit performance for the Frisco [earthquake] sufferers in a monster tent pitched on the lake front. President Roosevelt touched a key in Washington which raised the curtain.”[31] During the season’s tour she played an incredible 277 performances and grossed $600,000 ($15 million in 2010 dollars).[32] Fiske, who had starred in the smash hit Becky Sharp and toured nationwide in many farces and tragedies (she was also known as an Ibsen specialist), found herself only able to appear in second-rate theatres once she stood up to the Syndicate. Belasco had worked his way up in the business to become a noted stage manager, director and producer, attempting in his scores of productions to bring a heightened sense of realism to the stage. His penchant for complete independence made him a Syndicate pariah.

One example (among many) is worth recounting in detail, partly because it demonstrates the personal vindictiveness that Klaw & Erlanger could bring to its business. Belasco had laid groundwork to present his popular Japanese-themed play The Darling of the Gods in St. Louis during the big 1904 Exposition there. Klaw & Erlanger block-booked the best theatre in town for that entire period and refused to allow Belasco to play there, whereupon Belasco booked the show into another (albeit second-rank) St. Louis theatre. Abe proceeded to fly into a rage and tear up the firm’s contract with Belasco to present the show throughout the West, shouting that Belasco would never play a Syndicate-affiliated theatre again.[33] Klaw & Erlanger had produced a “copycat” Japanese-themed play, A Japanese Nightingale, the previous year at great expense, but it had quickly closed.[34] Now the firm assembled a special road company of the show to be booked on a route identical to Belasco’s, but slightly ahead, to steal his thunder in each city. “Provincial” audiences didn’t take to it any better than New Yorkers had, however, and Klaw & Erlanger’s tour was called off after just a few weeks.[35] In the wake of the St. Louis fracas—in a move that prefigured the “theatre wars” described later—Belasco signed with the Shubert Brothers and their rapidly-developing chain of “open door” theatres, operated without the high-handed bullying of the Syndicate operation.

Some theatrical figures had predicted from the beginning that the Syndicate would bring the national theatrical scene to a situation like this. As soon as the Syndicate was formed, the New York Morning Journal wrote:

This fight has been brewing for years. It was in the air; every theatrical manager realized sooner or later it must come, and that, when come it did, it would be the bitterest kind of a war, one in which all the money interests of the theatrical profession would be involved on one side or the other.[36]

In fact, almost everybody in the business took sides immediately as it was clear that Klaw & Erlanger intended to monopolize the business. Tempers flared and stayed hot. For example, turning against her previous managers who at the time they managed her could not even have imagined such a syndicate, Fanny Davenport flatly stated “I do not sympathize with monopolists.”[37]

Other objectors were far more verbose. Harrison Grey Fiske, editor of the pre-eminent newspaper of the trade, the New York Dramatic Mirror, wrote a series of denunciations of the Syndicate, beginning in November 1897 and continuing for months. Fiske was also the husband of Minnie Maddern Fiske, the actress victimized by a Syndicate freeze-out. He gleefully reported every example of a failed Syndicate attraction or a theatre manager expressing second thoughts about taking Syndicate bookings exclusively, and repeatedly accused the partners of flagrant lying. The partners and their allies fought back, using tactics like inducing news vendors to not sell the Dramatic Mirror or risk losing the privilege of selling theatre tickets. Fiske continued his lengthy tirades, in issues with banner headlines like “The Theatre Trust Must Go to Pieces… Its Methods Are Outrageous and Unbearable.”[38] The partners tried to muzzle Fiske with a libel suit, but he continued undeterred and was soon exonerated. He became a notable champion of the cause that continued on for many years.

In the end, Klaw & Erlanger and its partners may have sown the seeds of their own destruction. Their preference for attempting to crush all criticism (and later all competition) rather than deal with alleged injustices did not serve them well in the years to come. But in the meantime, Marc and Abe’s firm continued its rise, demonstrating its abilities by producing a series of powerful attractions, none better-received than 1899’s Ben-Hur.


Klaw & Erlanger scored a major coup when they secured the rights to General Lew Wallace’s blockbuster novel of 1880. Wallace had been approached by dozens of playwrights and producers and had rejected all of them, deeming their proposals unsuitable for both the piety and grandeur of his subject. Marc and Abe spent years carefully building their case, but Wallace was prickly, and even after accepting their concept for the dramatization in the spring of 1899, he drove an extremely hard bargain on the terms, stalling the negotiations so long that the deadline for a fall opening almost passed.[39] The partners swallowed hard and gave him what he wanted, because they knew that they had a winning combination: an exotic locale, an evangelical Christian subject, and last but by no means least, a thrilling chariot race to be run onstage with live horses.

Separately, none of the crucial elements were new. Middle Eastern locales had been used onstage for years, and Klaw & Erlanger had been heavily involved in one, The Soudan. The Christian had been a huge success the year before, and “toga plays” with Christian overtones like Quo Vadis? and The Sign of the Cross had been very popular as well. To produce the chariot race, which became the signature scene of the play (and the films that followed), the firm had courted actor/inventor Neil Burgess, who owned the patent on a novel mechanism: a huge revolving drum set into the basement of a theatre, so that horses could run on the stage above at full speed. Audiences were thrilled—both men and women—and would jump to their feet, waving their handkerchiefs with excitement. Occasionally the wrong chariot would win due to an equipment malfunction, but that simply provided more publicity for the play. In one hysterically over-the-top account by actor William S. Hart, the show’s original Messala and later a star of silent Western films, William Farnum, playing Ben-Hur, was thoroughly humiliated in Boston in 1901 when his chariot lost the race while the show played to a theatre packed with ninety percent of the residents of his hometown in Maine.[40]

Other elements of the attraction were carefully planned. The music was composed by an “Oriental” music specialist and performed by a full orchestra and chorus who traveled with the show, a novel development that was heavily promoted. The Star of Bethlehem was a 25,000 candlepower carbon arc light, more powerful than any previously used on the stage. A live camel added color to the backdrop. A shipboard scene set in a slave galley, followed by a shipwreck and rescue at sea, brought additional excitement for playgoers. Marc and Abe sunk a reported $75,000 ($2,000,000 in 2010 dollars) into mounting the production, far more than had ever been spent before the opening night of a show.

Their gamble paid off handsomely. Ben-Hur opened strongly, and within months the play took to the road. It was the biggest traveling show yet, more like a circus in its scope, carried by two special trains and preceded by a crew of carpenters to install the chariot race mechanism in each theatre. The firm had sized up Ben-Hur’s potential audience astutely, and its advance men and press agents helped to make attending the show into a social event seldom equaled thus far for a play. Featuring both Jesus Christ and a horse race was a calculated risk that certainly could have gone awry.

Klaw & Erlanger had planned for the long haul with Ben-Hur, and the haul became very long indeed. The play became their most dependable financial mainstay, and toured every season for almost twenty years.[41] In fact, it might have continued but for the commandeering of railroad rolling stock by the United States Government in World War I.

The New Amsterdam Theatre Goes Up, the Iroquois Theatre Burns Down

As the twentieth century began, Klaw & Erlanger was riding high. Box office receipts were rolling in from Ben-Hur, as well as from J.M. Barrie’s smash hit The Little Minister (starring Maude Adams, soon to take the role of Peter Pan), and Hall Caine’s durable crowd-pleaser The Christian (featuring a winning combination of religious fervor, a young girl and a charismatic clergyman). These were actually produced by Charles Frohman, but he was a member of the Syndicate, and Klaw & Erlanger had invested heavily in both attractions. It had other productions of its own, and also was handling the booking for ever-increasing numbers of companies and theatres, in accordance with the Syndicate’s policies. And it started making plans for Ben-Hur to open in London in 1902, its first overseas production, while beginning imports of Drury Lane nursery-rhyme-themed extravaganzas from England like Jack and the Beanstalk and Mother Goose, which were becoming increasingly popular in America. Marc and Abe believed that the firm’s importance should be visible in concrete form, so it began laying plans for the most opulent theatre yet built in America, the New Amsterdam.

The theatre was really a complex: a main theatre seating 1700, a rooftop theatre seating 500, and an eleven-story office building for Klaw & Erlanger. The firm intended to spare no expense. The structure was steel-framed, unusual as yet for theatres. The architectural style was Art Nouveau inside and out, still considered avant-garde in America, with sinuous floral patterns set in vaulted ceilings made of European stone and terra cotta. Strikingly beautiful friezes throughout the theatre portrayed scenes from ancient drama, Shakespeare, and Wagner. An enormous stage, a proscenium arch emblazoned with stylized peacocks, state-of-the-art backstage facilities including twelve huge electric motors to move scenery, a grand staircase in green Irish marble, banquettes upholstered in fine leather, sumptuous “retiring rooms” for ladies and smoking lounges for gentlemen… The New Amsterdam tried to incorporate everything a theatre could and should be. It was quickly dubbed “The House Beautiful.” Klaw & Erlanger’s initial budget for the complex was large, but additional expenses brought the final cost to nearly two million dollars (more than $50 million in 2010 dollars).[42] This was a staggering sum, exceeding the amount spent on any previous theatre in the world.

However, the firm suffered an unaccustomed spate of “frosts,” or flop shows, in the 1902-03 season, including a humiliating version of Huckleberry Finn that quickly closed on the road, never to reach New York. It was a musical, with music by Klaw & Erlanger stalwart Frederick Solomon and direction by Ben Teal, who had staged Ben-Hur and many other Broadway productions. The company rehearsed six weeks in New York before heading to Hartford for an out-of-town opening. All the firm’s top men made the trip, along with curious managers from many other theatrical companies. Samuel Clemens himself was to be present opening night, but begged off at the last minute because his wife was seriously ill.

While the show included startling set pieces such as a glass-sided water tank to represent Tom Sawyer’s swimming hole, the show was roasted savagely by the critics when it moved on to Philadelphia and closed after two dismal weeks. Klaw & Erlanger lost a small fortune. Several years later, playwright Lee Arthur, who had adapted the novel, referred to his own work as “rotten.”[43] As 1903 progressed, there were delays on the New Amsterdam from cost overruns on construction and artwork, exacerbated by labor unrest. The theatre finally opened on October 26, with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring the star comedian Nat C. Goodwin (1857–1919), with a score arranged by Victor Herbert entirely from music of Mendelssohn, and massive dance sequences of 150 performers staged by the eminent Ned Wayburn. This staging was also unsuccessful and, according to Goodwin, Abe capriciously decreed an early closing: “To quit in three weeks in New York was admission of failure beyond dispute.”[44] The show did a short tour which continued to lose money, intensifying the firm’s financial problems.[45]

Then came December 30, 1903. The firm was greatly overextended by that point. It had invested heavily in building a pair of flagship theatres in Chicago, intended to be as opulent as the New Amsterdam. The Illinois Theatre was already open, and the companion Iroquois had been rushed to completion six weeks before. Its budget had grown past a million dollars ($25,000,000 in 2010 dollars), and the firm intensely felt the pain of hemorrhaging funds. In the scramble to open, inspections were almost nonexistent, both through carelessness and graft. Incredibly, there was no functioning fire alarm, emergency exit doors were chained shut from the outside, and hundreds of standees were allowed to clog the aisles at almost every performance. A huge Drury Lane show, Mister Bluebeard, was performing a matinee that day, when an arc light threw a spark onto flammable scenery. The construction company had never finished the roof ventilation, so the smoke and flames poured over the audience, while an asbestos fire curtain (second-grade in order to save fifty dollars, or less than $1300 in 2010 dollars) jammed halfway down. In the ensuing panic, about six hundred theatregoers were burned or trampled to death, most of them women and children. To this day, the exact number of fatalities is unknown. But, according to the National Fire Protection Association, it remains the deadliest single-structure fire in American history.[46]

Years of finger-pointing followed, much of it directly at Klaw & Erlanger. The show, operated by the firm, was quickly found liable, but the partners themselves were insulated from serious consequences because of clever lawyering and political connections. The house manager was arrested, as was the negligent building inspector and even the mayor of Chicago for a brief time, but no one was ever convicted. Legal stalling tactics kept Marc, Abe and Syndicate partners from having to pay more than minimal restitution to fire victims or their survivors.

But the firm did not do well in the court of public opinion. As time passed, indignation remained fierce. Marc, Abe and others were savaged in the press. Continuing a pattern of running anti-Semitic cartoons to attack Klaw & Erlanger, Life Magazine ran a vicious illustration depicting ghosts of theatregoers hovering over hook-nosed businessmen. As a consequence of the tragedy, the theatre business was affected nationwide, with many theatres forced to close for fire improvements and many shows brought in from the road. As revenues shrank and retrofitting expenses soared, owners and managers became more and more disenchanted with the Syndicate, blaming it squarely for the tragedy, and for the unwanted attention the business received during the aftermath. Soon the battle lines were drawn for the “Theatrical War” that almost consumed the firm during the following fifteen years.

Theatrical War

The theatrical community didn’t need the Iroquois catastrophe as an excuse for continued ill feelings toward Klaw & Erlanger and the Syndicate. Despite the widespread criticism, the partners continued their bullying tactics toward theatre and attraction owners nationwide. But increasingly, “The Opposition,” as dissenting theatre owners, managers and actors called themselves, began coalescing around the resources of three hard-driving brothers from Syracuse named Shubert.

Sam Shubert, like Abe Erlanger, had sold theatre tickets as a boy, also standing on a box. He became treasurer of Syracuse’s leading theatre at fifteen, and the following year, incredibly, bought the national touring rights to a popular show and hit the road. By nineteen he began leasing upstate New York theatres, and brought his brothers Lee and Jacob aboard. In 1900 they leased their first theatre in New York City, and immediately ran afoul of Klaw & Erlanger, which refused to furnish attractions to the upstart brothers. Sam retaliated by signing Richard Mansfield (1857–1907), hugely popular in England and America for playing Shakespeare, Shaw and Gilbert & Sullivan, among other roles. Mansfield had been making speeches against the Syndicate since it was formed in 1896, so he was fertile ground for Sam to pull him away. Sam also played on Mansfield’s oversized ego—big even as actors’ egos went—and convinced him that, even if the new theatre were second-rate (which it was), his presence alone would make it first-rate. Moreover, the Shuberts had carefully made alliances with discontented local theatre owners, impresarios, and managers of small regional circuits who were unhappy, felt slighted (real or perceived) with their treatment and opportunities with Klaw & Erlanger.[47]

By 1903, an uneasy truce was struck between the firms. The Shuberts, needing far more attractions than they could produce themselves or count on from their allies, had been forced to give exclusive control over their bookings—for houses in Boston and Chicago by then as well as New York—to Klaw & Erlanger, who would take twenty-five percent of the net profits for its trouble. In addition, the Shuberts would be prohibited from booking any attractions into their own theatres without Klaw & Erlanger’s consent. To justify such onerous terms, the Syndicate was supposed to book Shubert shows into Syndicate theatres as well. The agreement quickly soured when Klaw & Erlanger demanded a clause prohibiting the Shuberts from buying, leasing or building any further theatres of their own. They refused. At that point, Abe boasted that he would crush the Shuberts within sixty days.[48]

Many years later, Lee Shubert reminisced about the brothers’ early career, and his memories were even harsher:

Our firm was compelled to pay [Klaw & Erlanger] half the profits both of plays and theatres which they booked for us. They shared our profits but they did not share our losses. Risking not one cent, assuming no responsibility, they exacted from us a huge annual income. Of course, a situation such as this could not go on forever. Rebellion was sure to come, and it was our happy fortune…to rally to a common standard other managers who had suffered in the same way, and put an end to Syndicate abuses.[49]

The Shubert brothers knew the ideal plan of attack: build and lease a nationwide chain of theatres parallel to the Syndicate’s own, and fill it with attractions produced by the ever-increasing list of disaffected managers, actors, and theatre owners. It was the Shubert organization that offered Sarah Bernhardt her tent tour; she had been anti-Syndicate for years, and when planning her 1905–06 tour she went to the Shuberts. Of course, once the Syndicate learned of her plan, it threw down the gauntlet, making sure that she knew she would be frozen out of all its theatres. The Shuberts had theatres, of course, but in some cities they could not find brick-and-mortar venues suitable for a star of her stature; carrying a circus tent was an ingenious solution, which generated large amounts of anti-Syndicate press and, ironically, raised her grosses considerably beyond what she could have expected with a conventional tour. Besides Bernhardt, the Shuberts sponsored Mrs. Fiske, David Belasco and many other prominent producers and disgruntled actors. By the time Sam Shubert died in a train crash in 1905, the brothers had twelve theatres in cities as far west as St. Louis, including their own handsome Lyric Theatre in New York, opened two weeks ahead of the New Amsterdam and situated directly across the street: not calculated to win the affection of Klaw & Erlanger.

Early on, the Shuberts promised an “open door” policy for bookings, without Syndicate-like pressure, but quickly applied pressure of their own, as in this form letter sent to independent theatre managers nationwide in 1905, asking for bookings and making barely-veiled threats:

As you doubtless are aware, Klaw & Erlanger, for purely personal reasons, have refused to give us time at any of the theatres which they represent… We want to play in your city and in your theatre. If we cannot arrange for time with you we shall be compelled to build or lease some other place of amusement where you are. We don’t want to go to this expense and we don’t want to create this opposition to you… Why engender dissatisfaction among your patrons? We can fill all the time at your theatre.[50]

For years, the daily press devoted rivers of ink to every detail in the battle of the two giants. Which star was defecting from Klaw & Erlanger to the Shuberts? Which theatrical chain had had enough of the Shuberts’ “open door” and was returning to the fold of the Syndicate? Canny managers were able to play one side against the other to extract better terms. As a result of the rivalry, in many cities more theatres were built than the market could bear. Beginning in the 1890s, vaudeville had exploded even faster than legitimate theatre, and the burgeoning field was able to take advantage of the Syndicate and Shubert overbuilding stemming from the wars. Then, starting just after the turn of the century, motion pictures appeared on the horizon. Young entrepreneurs like Marcus Loew, William Fox, brothers Joseph and Nicholas Schenck, and Adolph Zukor moved quickly, building hundreds, then thousands, of penny arcades and nickelodeons. At first they were content to be landlords making huge profits from small venues, but soon moved into production of films to be shown in new, larger-sized theatres. Before long, film and vaudeville coalesced, and an evening’s entertainment could consist of variety acts and short films in rotation. And soon, these entrepreneurs began to build the production studios that would bring them lasting fame and fortune.

By 1907, both Klaw & Erlanger and the Shuberts had conceived the idea of entering the field of vaudeville, and it brought an unholy alliance between the two firms: a joint venture attempting to unseat Benjamin Keith and Edward Albee, whose chain of vaudeville theatres, combined with those of their allies, stretched from coast to coast. “Advanced Vaudeville”—the alliance’s term for its new product—lasted less than a year; Klaw & Erlanger and the Shuberts didn’t understand vaudeville and didn’t have any idea of what talent to book or how much to pay. For example, the new firm paid a drunken dog act $1000 a week ($24,000 in 2010 dollars), more than triple what it had earned on Keith and Albee’s huge vaudeville circuit.[51] Nor did they seem to understand the enormity of vaudeville’s logistical challenge. Presenting a bill of eight to ten acts with the stamina to perform as many as seven shows a day between noon and midnight, including big-time headliners, animal acts, circus performers, condensed versions of stage attractions (known as “tab shows”), and even the deliberately poor acts known as “chasers” intended to clear the theatre for the beginning of the next round, with all the performers shuttling in and out of cities on largely independent routes, was a completely different proposition from presenting a more or less static Broadway show, which could be basically picked up and moved from city to city on the road.

The true motive behind the joint venture was murky. Lee Shubert said that “the new association is only an association for arranging certain troublesome matters among ourselves.”[52] In other words, “Advanced Vaudeville” might have been seen as a venture to ameliorate the incessant jockeying for power between Klaw & Erlanger and the Shuberts and allow both sides to make a good deal of money. Abe explained “I am not going into the vaudeville business to spite Keith or any of his associates. I am going into it because it pays the largest profit for the smallest amount of work, and because the manager has no risk, and I see a great big field for it.”[53] The joint venture ended with the theatre men receiving a huge payoff of $1 million ($24 million in 2010 dollars) from Keith & Albee to get out of the vaudeville business.[54]

Should the “Trust” Be Busted?

Marc and Abe spent a fair amount of time in court. The accusations in the wake of the Iroquois disaster, and the various punches and counterpunches thrown during the theatrical wars, made for plenty of civil and even criminal actions. And perhaps it was natural, in a field rife with outsized egos, that litigiousness was rampant. Then there was the fact that Abe, in particular, was accused of a variety of offenses, ranging from assault (on reporters, especially) to cheating his Syndicate partners. In one Byzantine case going back to 1900, David Belasco accused Abe of demanding fifty percent of the profits from a route Belasco had requested for Syndicate theatres, adding “if you don’t give me that I’ll crush you out of the business.” Belasco very reluctantly agreed, but Abe wasn’t finished: “Now, I don’t want no one to know of this or there’ll be an awful mess. I’ll send [associate Joseph] Brooks to you to sign this contract. He is our agent and will represent us, but I want the partnership in his name so no one can say that Klaw & Erlanger are your partners. If those fellows across the street knew about this they’d raise hell.” Over Abe’s attorney’s objection, Belasco had the names of Syndicate partners Charles Frohman and Al Hayman kept out of the court record but not the newspaper. Abe’s cheating his partners out of what turned out to be tens of thousands of dollars was big news, and the New York dailies filed very detailed reports every day for weeks. Besides a dummy partner, there was an accusation of lies under oath, a statement that $20,000 was such a small amount that it would hardly buy chewing gum, a mysteriously missing account ledger… the papers had a field day. After deliberating for six months, the judge decided against Belasco, calling the contract with Brooks—dummy or not—legally binding.[55]

The firm was exonerated from blame in the vast majority of cases, perhaps because of its political connections. Recall that Abe’s brother Mitchell had become a state Supreme Court justice, and in 1904 he became sheriff of New York County (i.e., Manhattan). Abe had close relations with Tammany Hall, the Irish-dominated Democratic political machine that ran New York for decades, giving them substantial donations such as a $1000 gift in 1903 (or $25,000 in 2010 dollars). In fact, in 1909 Abe’s name was floated as a possible candidate for mayor, and was said to be favored by Tammany heads Richard Croker and Charles Francis Murphy.[56] Ward boss “Big Tim” Sullivan, who owned several theatres in poor areas of the city besides involvement in vote fixing, illegal prizefighting and horserace betting, had various business dealings with Abe over the years. Big Tim himself bailed Marc and Abe out of jail when they were indicted by the grand jury for conspiracy to commit restraint of trade in 1907, putting up $1000 for each (or $25,000 in 2010 dollars), using his Dewey Theatre as collateral.[57] It was this indictment that catapulted Marc, Abe and their Syndicate partners to a much higher level of legal problems than ever before, cutting to the heart of the accusations long leveled against the Syndicate by competing producers, actors and writers, and always hotly denied: Should the Syndicate be indicted as a true trust, of the same sort as an industrial or distributional one, operating in flagrant restraint of trade?

The grand jury began its investigation January 22, 1907, as directed by the New York County district attorney’s office. The specific charges involved Lee Shubert being threatened in 1905 with expulsion from all Syndicate houses if he didn’t break off all business connections with David Belasco, plus forcing Sarah Bernhardt out of any possible Syndicate route in 1905–06. A significant side issue involved James Metcalfe, drama critic for Life magazine and a notorious anti-Semite, who had been denied admittance though he had a legally-purchased ticket.[58] In Justice Otto Rosalsky’s decision, handed down the following June, he found Lee Shubert’s argument that he was prevented from laying out a continuous route “unless he see-sawed” weak.[59] Rosalsky seemed bemused as he dismantled Belasco’s argument:

On one occasion, Belasco, finding himself unable to hire a theatre in the city of Washington, obtained a hall, fitted it up as a theatre, at an expense of twenty-five thousand dollars, and produced a play which met with financial success. Can it be said that, because Shubert and Belasco were subjected to inconvenience and expense, that they were prevented from exercising a lawful trade or calling? To put the question is to answer it.[60]

Rosalsky completely exonerated the Syndicate:

The defendants were engaged in a private business, and hence, were not obliged to aid a business rival by permitting him to use their private business premises. They had the undoubted right to book, or to refuse to book, any production that they saw fit, and to maintain and close any of their theatres at their option… I have failed to find any decision, nor has my attention been directed to any decision, classifying theatrical amusements as articles of “trade” and “commerce”… [T]he evidence fails to show any crime has been committed by the defendants under the indictment.[61]

It is possible that the surprising weakness of Shubert’s and Belasco’s arguments, tepid in comparison with Harrison Grey Fiske’s thunderous diatribes against the Syndicate ten years earlier, might have had an ulterior motive. Since the “theatrical wars” were still very much on, perhaps the Shuberts and Belasco were leery of antagonizing Klaw & Erlanger too heavily, since there was always the possibility that some kind of alliance, or non-competitive arrangement, could be in the offing. And, as it turned out, the Shuberts did go into the vaudeville venture with Klaw & Erlanger within just a few months. Belasco made peace with Abe two years later and came back to the Syndicate “fold,” much to the grim amusement of some in the business. Even years later, Klaw & Erlanger continued to deny strenuously the very existence of the Syndicate. Marc addressed the subject in the Saturday Evening Post, and referred to “that great bugaboo, the so-called Theatrical Trust, as foreign to the popular idea of a trust as anything could possibly be.”[62]

The Ben-Hur Film Lawsuit

Also in 1907, a company in the fledgling field of motion pictures, Kalem Films, made a shoestring-budget version of Ben-Hur and proceeded to sell hundreds of prints to exhibitors, who quickly began showing them in nickelodeons nationwide. Klaw & Erlanger, along with General Wallace’s publisher and his estate, quickly filed an injunction against Kalem, which brazenly continued selling the prints. Kalem Films apparently felt that by advertising the film as scenes from the novel, and not from the play, it would not be considered a “dramatization” protected by copyright. Besides the question of outright theft, Klaw & Erlanger was embarrassed by the laughably poor quality of the film (which had gone from first idea to finished product in eight days at a total cost of $1000 [$24,000 in 2010 dollars]), and felt that it greatly cheapened the public perception of its stage version. It saw a test case in the making and vigorously pressed forward.

The film industry also saw a test case that it badly wanted to win. Copyright law needed to be settled once and for all, in order to provide a continuing supply of source material for film scenarios. As the film’s scenarist Gene Gauntier (also a co-defendant in the suit) put it years later: “The new industry had no precedents to guide it, moving pictures were distinctly neither stories nor plays and no [film] author had thus far come forward with enough confidence or money to fight the already strong [publisher and dramatic] organization.” [63] The Motion Picture Patents Company, founded in 1908, took on new member Kalem Films’ case.

The first judge, presiding over a U.S. Circuit Court, decided that the Kalem Company had in fact violated General Wallace’s copyright, since live pantomime productions had already been ruled coverable by copyright protection and “a moving picture representation is practically a pantomime.”[64] Kalem appealed repeatedly, but its position was denied time after time. Three years later, the case reached the United States Supreme Court. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion that copyright had been infringed because “authors have the exclusive right to dramatize any of their works” has been cited repeatedly over the years.[65] Kalem Films and the Motion Picture Patents Company each were fined $25,000 ($600,000 in 2010 dollars).[66]

Thus Klaw & Erlanger was deeply involved in setting a precedent for the future of the field of intellectual property, as it came to be called. The Holmes opinion remained relevant whenever new media was introduced, including the video recorder, the compact disc recorder and the Internet. It probably will be cited again as new media come on the horizon and media producers continue to attempt to pay less money for more “content,” as words, music and images are now described.

The Partnership Dissolves

Volleys from the “theatrical war” were lobbed back and forth for several more years, until the beginning of the real war, World War I. By then, the Syndicate was in tatters, with Frohman and Hayman dead, and Nixon and Zimmerman largely inactive. Marc and Abe had it to themselves. But Abe was almost exclusively involved in theatrical real estate, and Marc was tapped by the government as a consultant on building a chain of so-called Liberty theatres to entertain personnel on military bases. He began spending much time in Washington D.C., and even when he was back in New York, his military assignment consumed much of his attention.

In 1919, after not speaking to each other for months, the partners split up. During Marc’s absence, there had been friction between Abe and Marc’s son Joseph, who had been working in the firm during the war. Abe fired Joseph; Marc angrily defended his son, and quit the firm. Obviously tensions had been piling up for years. Marc publicly accused Abe of having systematically cheated him for decades, out of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. Abe responded that Marc had never pulled his own weight in the firm from the beginning, that he was lazy and that it was he (Abe) who did all the real work. Clearly it was time to separate their assets and move on.

Marc formed a new company, Marc Klaw Inc. He built the Klaw Theatre in New York and produced new shows, one of which, a rural drama called Hell-Bent Fer Heaven, won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1924. Ironically, after so many years of bad blood with the Shuberts, he allied himself with them, allowing them to book road tours for some of his shows. However, his heart wasn’t in the rough and tumble business any longer, and in 1926 he retired to Europe. By then he had remarried, to an Englishwoman forty years his junior, and he promptly bought a sumptuous villa in Monte Carlo where he lived extravagantly, like many expatriate Americans. After the 1929 stock market crash, his fortune largely evaporated; he and his wife moved to a cottage near her parents in England, where they lived until his death in 1936.

Abe also remained active. He became a partner with Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. in various editions of the popular Ziegfeld Follies staged throughout the twenties. With Ziegfeld and producer Charles Dillingham, he engineered the purchase in 1921 of the rights to Ben-Hur from General Wallace’s son, and their resale to MGM for the first major film production at a price of $1 million ($12.2 million in 2010 dollars), a deal that earned them $400,000 in profit (almost $5 million in 2010 dollars).[67] It was Abe’s last hurrah as a major producer, though he expanded his theatrical real estate holdings into a merger with the Shuberts’ theatres, “combin[ing] their organizations to form a national circuit of playhouses to exhibit moving picture spectacles at first-class theatre prices.”[68] He died in 1930 of uremic poisoning and cancer, in New York.

Social Status, Networks, Family and Public Life

Without a doubt, Klaw & Erlanger had become the largest theatrical company in the world before World War I. The partners, along with their Syndicate allies, had carefully analyzed the theatre business as it existed in the 1890s, pinpointed its weak spots, and built a comprehensive business model that would work much more efficiently and profitably, with the potential for seemingly endless expansion. They were often ruthless, and many weaker competitors fell by the wayside. It was only the Shubert brothers, themselves children of Jewish immigrants (from the Polish/German frontier), who were able to upend Klaw & Erlanger and change the face of the business. A testimonial to their success, The Shubert Organization remains a powerful force in American theatre to this day.

Marc and Abe seemed to epitomize the classic immigrant personas of self-made men. They had little or no contact with German-American organizations that routinely offered aid to immigrants. Nor did they hire German-Americans or German Jews preferentially for positions in the firm. However, both men offered long-term positions to family members and close family friends, who were largely Jewish. The partners did not put particular emphasis on their Jewish identities. They were established members of congregations, but were not particularly “good” Jews. When Abe’s mother died in 1906, he put on a lavish funeral for her at his temple, New York’s Temple Beth-El, but that was an exception to the rule. Marc did take his wife Antoinette to a “Jewish tea” as she called it—a Friday night Sabbath meal—in New Orleans on their honeymoon in 1882, but other records of religious observance are lacking.[69] Clearly they were identified as Jews in the public eye, and, as we have seen, they were the victims of anti-Semitic vitriol throughout their careers, particularly in the wake of the Iroquois Theatre disaster.

Marc and Abe seemed to live for business; what little social lives they had revolved around prominent theatrical associations like the Lambs and Players Clubs, and they seemed to attach little or no importance to social advancement. They both married non-Jews from theatrical backgrounds. Abe’s wife, Louise Balfe, or Adelaide Louise Balfe Leonard Harcourt Erlanger —she mixed-and-matched her names as it suited her—was a struggling English actress, as noted above, who had married three times (twice in a state of bigamy) before marrying Abe. She retired from the stage shortly after their marriage, and devoted her life to charity. She was able to dragoon Abe into staging fund-raising benefits and appearing at other events over the years, but he never was directly involved.[70] They divorced in 1912, in the wake of many extra-marital affairs carried on by Abe, some of which were extensively covered in the press. They had no children and Abe never remarried. Marc’s wife Nettie was the daughter of a well-known Boston blackface minstrel and theatre manager, Lon Morris of the Morris Brothers. She too had been married before. Her brother was a national billiards champion, and she grew up in a milieu that many at the time would have dubbed unsavory. She and Marc had three children, two of whom entered the theatrical business (though neither attained anything close to their father’s status). She died in 1895.

Fundamentally, Marc and (especially) Abe saw themselves as individualistic empire builders, divorced from ties to specific ethnic, religious or social groups. Abe was often labeled “the Napoleon of the Theatre,” and it is no accident that he was a noted collector of Napoleonic memorabilia, living and working while surrounded by furnishings, prints, books and autographs of the emperor; he was frequently photographed in Napoleon-like poses. For him and Marc, the theatre business consisted of a series of campaigns to be won, with the winner to vanquish all opponents and reign triumphant. For instance, in 1909 Abe gave a newspaper interview extolling the virtues of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. He had just returned from a trip to the Continent, and exulted: “The Kaiser IS Germany. I saw nothing anywhere to equal the activity of Emperor William. He is on the streets from half-past six in the morning till 11 o’clock at night.”[71] The partners won battle after battle, but eventually lost the war, and today they are largely forgotten. It is ironic that years’ worth of their business records, moldering in a New York theatre’s sub-basement, were rescued and preserved in the 1980s by The Shubert Organization, the corporate descendant of their former arch-rivals. But it is fair to say that theatre in the United States—and probably the American film industry as well—would have been very different without them.


[1] Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 11, supplement 1 (New York: Scribner’s, 1944), 363.

[2] Lloyd P. Gartner, History of the Jews of Cleveland (Cleveland:Western Reserve Historical Society, 1987), 51. According to a profile that the Erlanger brothers likely contributed towards writing, “Their father was a scholar, a philosopher and a writer; their mother a woman of rare education and culture.” Elroy McKendree Avery, A History of Cleveland and its Environs, 3 vols. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1918), 3:544. However, Abe often played fast and loose with the truth, and perhaps Mitchell did too. In any case, there is no hard evidence to support or refute this view of their parents.

[3] Avery, A History of Cleveland, 3:545. Mitchell eventually became Sheriff of New York County with the backing of Tammany Hall and finally a justice of the New York State Supreme Court (despite its name, a low-level jurisdiction), from which he retired in 1927.

[4] For an overview of the early American theatre, see Don Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby,The Cambridge History of American Theatre, Vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[5] “A.L. Erlanger Dies After Long Illness,” New York Times, March 8, 1930. Also see “Abraham Lincoln Erlanger—Theatrical Emancipator,” New York Morning Telegraph, April 17, 1921.

[6] “At the Opera House,” Cleveland Leader, May 11,1878.

[7] Harry Miller, Footloose Fiddler (New York: Whittlesey House, 1945), 8. Miller also mentions that Abe was the “lithograph boy” for John Ellsler.

[8] Robert Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 147; Isaac F. Marcosson, Charles Frohman: Manager and Man (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1916), 56.

[9] Harry Bache Smith, First Nights and First Editions (Boston: Little Brown, 1931), 219–220.

[10] “Over the Garden Wall,” San Francisco Morning Call, April 27, 1884.

[11] “Regional Listings: Minnesota,” New York Dramatic Mirror, June 14, 1884.

[12] “Shot by His Wife’s Friend: Actor Leonard, of Mme. Janish’s Troupe, Wounded by A.L. Erlanger,” New York World, Oct. 7, 1885.

[13] “Notes and Comments,” New York Dramatic Mirror, Sep. 3, 1881.

[14] “Gallery of American Producers No. 8—Klaw and Erlanger,” Chicago Herald, Oct. 25, 1914.

[15] The full account of this operation is recounted in “Where Stolen Plays Are Sold,” New York Dramatic Mirror, Dec. 31, 1881.

[16] “The Road,” New York Dramatic Mirror, March 19, 1881.

[17] “The Road,” New York Dramatic Mirror, Feb. 21, 1885.

[18] Robert Grau, The Business Man in the Amusement World (New York: Broadway Publishing Company, 1910), 291.

[19] It was no wonder Ellsler had triumphed, her brother John Ellsler, Jr., recalled many years later: “The way Erlanger burned up money in advertising scared us all to death… Through the Southwest he had every paper with every vacant column filled with advertisements for Effie Ellsler. Our paid matter took the place of boiler plate. Everybody interested feared the worst. My sister never made so much money on any one tour as she did on that. He had seen the opportunity and had the courage to utilize it.” See “A.L. Erlanger’s Old Home Town Is Recaptured by the War Chief,” New York Morning Telegraph, August 29, 1909.

[20] Unidentified clipping, 1914, Erlanger Scrapbooks (Rose Performing Arts Library, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.).

[21] “Considering the Drama in Its Various Aspects: Mr. Tyler Reminisces,” New York Times, March 16, 1930.

[22] Grau, The Business Man in the Amusement World, 290–291.

[23] William Winter, Vagrant Memories (New York: George H. Doran, 1915), 353; “La Tosca,” New York Herald, March 7, 1888.

[24] “Fanny Davenport to Tour in La Tosca,” New York Dramatic Mirror, May 12, 1888.

[25] “La Tosca,” New York Evening Post, March 5, 1888; “La Tosca,” New York World, March 5, 1888; the World soon urged that the play be closed.

[26] Frohman tried to keep a low profile in the theatre business, but his ego was every bit as outsized as Abe’s, so it was probably inevitable that they would clash. One anecdote puts it vividly: “Once [Frohman] traveled from Atlantic City to New York with the playwright Paul Potter. ‘Shall I read you the theatrical news?’ Potter inquired, looking up from a newspaper. ‘No,’ said Frohman, ‘I make theatrical news.’” Lloyd Morris, Curtain Time: The Story of the American Theater (New York: Random House, 1953), 277; italics in original.

[27] “The Passing Show,” New York Times, May 13, 1894.

[28] “Los Angeles Theater,” Los Angeles Herald, Jan. 4, 1897; “Dramatic and Musical Notes,” Kansas City Daily Journal, Nov. 15, 1896.

[29] “A.L. Erlanger Comes Home to Cleveland,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 22, 1909.

[30] Alfred L. Bernheim, The Business of the Theatre: An Economic History of the American Theatre, 1750–1932 (1932; New York: Benjamin Blom, 1964), 58. Bernheim goes on to state bluntly that “the attractions and theatres of the country were puppets, and the Syndicate, through the masterful hand of Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, pulled the strings.” (59)

[31] “Bernhardt Acts in a Tent; Eight Thousand Witness Performance At Dallas—Many Turned Away,”New York Times, March 27, 1906. Elsewhere, “[t]he fact that the tent has been pitched within the shadow of the state capitol [in Austin] is being widely commented upon, as the Texas legislature now in session has been exceedingly active in fighting the trusts.” See “Bernhardt Under Canvas,” Palestine (Tex.) Daily Herald, March 28, 1906; Palestine Daily Herald, April 26, 1906.

[32] “Bernhardt Departs, But She May Return,” New York Times, June 15, 1906.

[33] CraigTimberlake, The Bishop of Broadway: The Life and Work of David Belasco (New York: Library Publishers, 1954), 230.

[34] “‘A Japanese Nightingale’ [is a] very old-fashioned, and not particularly skillful American melodrama, with Japanese trimmings.” See “‘A Japanese Nightingale’: Dramatized Novel at Daly’s Has Rich Trimmings,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 1903.

[35] Bernheim, 58; “The ‘Nightingale’ To Precede the ‘Darling,’” New York Telegraph, Nov. 22, 1903.

[36] New York Morning Journal, Feb. 26, 1896.

[37] New York Herald, March 11, 1897.

[38] New York Dramatic Mirror, Dec. 4, 1897.

[39] As it was, dramatist William Young was given just six weeks to adapt the book, an extremely short timeframe. Similar constraints were placed on the composer, the set and costume designers, and especially the director, Ben Teal, who had to begin to rehearse the show one act at a time as he received portions of the completed script.

[40] William S. Hart, My Life East and West (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929), 152–153.

[41] Ben-Hur Box Office Statements, Wallace Mss. II Collection (Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Ind.).

[42] “A.L. Erlanger Dies after Long Illness,” New York Times, March 8, 1930. See also Mary Henderson, The New Amsterdam: Biography of a Broadway Theatre (New York: Roundtable Press, 1997).

[43] News clippings from Hartford Times, Nov. 12, 1902, and unidentified newspaper, 1902, in Erlanger Scrapbooks.

[44] Nat C. Goodwin, Nat Goodwin’s Book (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914), 250.

[45] Oddly, although the New Amsterdam housed hit shows for other producers, Klaw & Erlanger did not have a big success in its own theatre until 1911’s The Pink Lady, starring violin-playing beauty Hazel Dawn.

[46] Anthony P. Hatch, Tinder Box: The Iroquois Theatre Disaster 1903 (Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 2003), 227–228.

[47] Paul Wilstach, Richard Mansfield: The Man and the Actor (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), 290.

[48] “Lee Shubert Interview,” New York Sun, July 15, 1905.

[49] “Lee Shubert’s Reminiscences,” The Passing Show 13–14 (fall 1990/spring 1991), 17.

[50] Lee Shubert form letter, Sep. 4, 1905, Klaw & Erlanger Collection (Shubert Archive, New York, N.Y.).

[51] Joe Laurie, Jr., Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (New York: Henry Holt, 1953), 165–166.

[52] “Theatre Trust May Face Federal Suit,” New York Times, August 15, 1908.

[53] A.L. Erlanger to George Lederer, Feb. 28, 1907, Klaw & Erlanger Collection.

[54] Abel Greenand Joe Laurie Jr., Show Biz: From Vaude to Video (New York: Henry Holt, 1951), 89.

[55] “David Belasco Tells Theatrical Secrets,” New York Times, April 7, 1905.

[56] “A.L. Erlanger as Tammany Candidate,” New York Evening Mail, May 13, 1909. This story flatly called Mitchell “a Tammany man.”

[57] “Indicts Theatre Trust For Restraint of Trade,” New York Times, Feb. 1, 1907. Incidentally, the Dewey presented largely vaudeville shows and was a notorious firetrap only kept open by Sullivan’s power over the Fire, Building and Health Departments. See “Declares 35 Theatres Are Not Fireproof,” New York Times, March 22, 1905.

[58] Klaw & Erlanger had sued Metcalfe for libel in 1905 in the wake of the viciously anti-Semitic Iroquois Fire cartoons cited earlier, and had lost. In the hall outside the courtroom, Abe had “threatened to beat Metcalfe’s face into pulp.” See “Editor Says Erlanger Threatened Violence,” Los Angeles Herald, Jan. 8, 1905.

[59] “Syndicate No Trust,” The Billboard, June 29, 1907.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Marc Klaw, “The Theatrical Syndicate from the Inside,” Saturday Evening Post, April 3, 1909.

[63] “Blazing the Trail,” Women’s Home Companion, Oct. 1928, 7. Gauntier, who had been paid ten dollars for the two days she spent writing the scenario, candidly called the film “atrocious… But… nevertheless, crude as it was, it was a step forward and a fine advertisement for the Kalem Company.”

[64] “Ben-Hur Moving Pictures: Enjoined by United States Court as Infringing the Copyright and Theatrical Rights,” Crawfordsville (Ind.)Journal, June 4, 1908.

[65] Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros., 222 U.S. 55 (1911).

[66] “Blazing the Trail,” 7.

[67] The sometimes barely-believable saga of how the film made it to the screen (over a period of several years) is well-told by Kevin Brownlow as “The Heroic Fiasco—Ben-Hur” in his book The Parade’s Gone By… (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), 385–414.

[68] Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1923.

[69] Antoinette Klaw Honeymoon Diary (1882), Klaw Family Papers (private collection).

[70] Adelaide’s preferred charity was the New York Home for Destitute Crippled Children. See Club Women of New York 1910–1911 (New York: Club Women of New York, 1910), 23.

[71] “A.L. Erlanger Finds Kaiser Is Germany’s Star,” New York Evening World, April 12, 1909.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Marc Klaw
  • Coverage 1858-1936
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date April 22, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018