Shubert Brothers

U.S. theatrical managers and producers.

After emigrating from Russia with their parents in 1882, the two oldest brothers, Lee (1872–1953) and Sam (с 1875–1905), leased theatres and presented plays in Syracuse, N.Y., in the 1890s. By 1900 Jacob (1880–1963) had joined the business, and the brothers leased their first theatres in New York City. Coming into conflict with the Theatrical Syndicate, which controlled U.S. theatrical bookings, they led an independent movement to fight the syndicate and prevailed after a long legal battle. After Sam's death, Lee and Jacob built theatres across the U.S. and came to own more than 60 legitimate houses and many vaudeville and movie theatres. They produced more than 1,000 different shows, including 600 plays, revues, and musicals. Theatrical unions such as Actors' Equity were formed in response to their often sharp business practices. Charged with monopoly practices in 1950, they sold a number of theatres in 1956 but retained prestigious houses in many cities.

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▪ American theatrical managers
      dominant managers and producers in American legitimate theatre during the first half of the 20th century.

      Although all three brothers later claimed to be native-born, they entered the United States in 1882 as immigrants from Russia with their parents, David and Catherine Szemanski. The oldest of the brothers was Lee (originally Levi) Shubert (b. March 15, 1875, Russia—d. Dec. 25, 1953, New York, N.Y., U.S.). Sam S. Shubert (b. 1879, Russia—d. May 12, 1905, Harrisburg, Pa., U.S.) was the middle brother, and Jacob J. (or Jake) Shubert (b. Aug. 15, 1880, Russia—d. Dec. 26, 1963, New York, N.Y., U.S.) was the youngest.

      Lee and Sam went from being newsboys and errand boys to working in theatres in Syracuse, N.Y., during the 1890s and then began leasing theatres and presenting plays there and in nearby Rochester, N.Y. By 1900 Jacob had joined his brothers in the business, and they leased their first theatres in New York City. In so doing, they soon found themselves in conflict with the Syndicate, a group headed by Abraham Erlanger, which controlled much of the theatrical booking in the United States. The Shuberts became head of an independent movement, and a long period of protracted legal warfare ensued.

      The Shuberts had several wealthy backers and were able to lease theatres in every major city in the country, and at one point they had operations in London as well. After Sam's death in 1905, Lee and Jacob began to build theatres across the United States and came to own more than 60 legitimate houses in addition to their extensive holdings in New York City. They also owned and operated many vaudeville and motion-picture theatres and produced more than 1,000 different shows—encompassing more than 600 plays, revues, and musicals—during their careers. Actor's Equity and several other theatrical craft guilds came into being as a direct response to the business practices of the Shuberts and other theatrical managers of that era, and the infant theatrical unions derived a common sense of purpose from opposing the Shuberts. In 1950 the U.S. government charged the Shuberts with monopolizing the American theatrical industry, and in 1956 the Shubert company divested a number of theatres but retained prestigious houses in many cities. The Shubert Organization, a property holding and producing company based in New York City, was created in 1973.

Additional Reading
Foster Hirsch, The Boys from Syracuse: The Shuberts' Theatrical Empire (1998); Brooks McNamara, The Shuberts of Broadway: A History Drawn from the Collections of the Shubert Archive (1990).

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Universalium. 2010.

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