Shubert brothers

Definition

Theater

  • Three US brothers who held a virtual monopoly of theaters inNew York and other cities in the early 20th century through theirShubert Theatre Corporation. Lee Shubert (1875 - 1953), Sam S.Shubert (1876 - 1905), and Jacob J. Shubert (1880 - 1964)were instrumental in breaking up the Theatrical Syndicatebut replaced that vast theatrical empire with one of their own, estimatedto be worth $4 million.

    The brothers were born in Syracuse, New York, and managedtheir first theaters in that town. In 1900 they leased Broadway'sHerald Square Theatre, the first of many they would acquire duringthe vaudeville era. Sam died in 1905, however, at the ageof 29.

    David Belasco and other independent producers backedthe Shuberts' organization during the battle against the syndicate.The brothers made a point of renting venues to producers who had beenhurt by the monopoly. After their victory, which had become clearby about 1912, the two surviving Shuberts opened the Sam S. ShubertTheatre in their brother's memory (see Shubert Theatre).The Shuberts now began to produce so many plays that they booked outmost of their theater chain, stifling competition. Their contractswere so unfair that Equity called a successful strike in 1919, inwhich both stars and stagehands joined.

    A lesser defeat came in 1919 when Tallulah Bankhead,appearing in 39 East at the Broadhurst Theatre, refused towear stockings on stage in the hot summer weather and was hissed byoutraged ladies in the audience. It was Lee Shubert, always the dominantbrother, who had to plead with her to cover her legs. She refused.

    The Shuberts moved into London's West End in the 1920s butwere unable to meet the strong British competition. In 1950 the USgovernment accused the Corporation of violating the law prohibitingmonopolies. After Lee's death the surviving brother, Jacob, sold 12theaters in 1956 to meet the government's demands.

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