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J.J. and Lee Shubert, 1920s
Playbills from various Shubert theatres, c. 1920's
Playbills from Shubert theatres, 1920s

About Us

The Shubert Brothers nugget

A Brief History

At the end of the 19th century, the Shubert brothers — Sam, Lee and J. J. — operated theatres in Syracuse and other upstate New York cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, Utica, Troy, and Albany. In 1900, Sam came to New York City and leased the Herald Square Theatre (NW corner, Broadway & 35th St.), the Shuberts' first venue in the city. Lee followed him to Manhattan shortly thereafter, while J.J. remained in charge of the upstate theatres. Before long, the Shuberts clashed with the Theatrical Syndicate, an organization of businessmen that had gained virtual control of the American theatre through their booking operations. The conflict continued for more than a decade, until the Syndicate was no longer an effective force and the Shubert brothers had established what was to become America's largest producing and theatre-owning operation.

Sam Shubert was killed in a railroad accident in 1905, just as the Shuberts were beginning their rise to power in the New York theatre. During the next quarter century, his brothers assembled a vast network of theatres, from New York City to Portland, Oregon. By the eve of the Depression, the Shuberts owned, operated, managed or booked close to a thousand houses across the United States.

They were also major producers, presenting some 500 plays and musical attractions. Among their revues were Americana (1932), Artists and Models, At Home Abroad (1935), Greenwich Village Follies, Hellzapoppin' (1938), Hooray for What! (1937), Laffin' Room Only (1943), Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), The Passing Shows, Priorities of 1942, The Show is On (1937), Sons o' Fun (1941), Straw Hat Revue (1939), The Streets of Paris (1939), and Ziegfeld Follies.

In the heyday of the operetta, ten companies of the Shubert production of The Student Prince (1924) were touring North America, often crossing paths with their hit, Blossom Time (1921).

Musicals produced by the Shubert Bros. included Belle of Bond Street (1914); A Chinese Honeymoon (1902); Countess Maritza (1926); Earl and the Girl (1905); Emerald Isle (1902); Fantana (1905); Happyland (1905); Honeymoon Express (1913); Love o' Mike (1917); Maytime (1917); My Romance (1948); Nina Rosa (1930); Oh, I Say (1913); The Red Petticoat (1912); Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (1916); Runaways (1903); Sally, Irene and Mary (1922); Sinbad (1918); The Wonder Bar (1931); and You Never Know (1938).

The Shuberts presented many stars in their shows — among them were Abbott & Costello, Fred Allen, Eve Arden, Fred and Adele Astaire, Avon Comedy Four, Josephine Baker, Tallullah Bankhead, Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Ray Bolger, Fanny Brice, Burns & Allen, Eddie Cantor, Bobby Clark, Imogene Coca, Gaby Deslys, Marie Dressler, Eleanora Duse, Jeanne Eagles, Maxine Elliott, Lew Fields, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Lulu Glaser, Ruth Gordon, Cary Grant, Walter Hampden, Anna Held, Katharine Hepburn, Raymond Hitchcock, Bob Hope, De Wolfe Hopper, Willie and Eugene Howard, George Jessel, Al Jolson, Bertha Kalich, Danny Kaye, Bert Lahr, Gypsy Rose Lee, Bea Lillie, Jeanette MacDonald, Richard Mansfield, Ilse Marvenga, Philip Merivale, Marilyn Miller, Carmen Miranda, Frank Morgan, Odette Myrtil, Alla Nazimova, Evelyn Nesbit, Olsen & Johnson, Anna Pavlova, Eleanor Powell, Lillian Russell, Ethel Shutta, Sothern and Marlowe, Vivian Vance, Lupe Velez, Ethel Waters, Clifton Webb, Mae West, Bert Williams, Walter Woolf, Peggy Wood, and Ed Wynn.

Behind the scenes, the Shuberts worked with such artists as Vincente Minnelli, Agnes de Mille, George Balanchine, Ned Wayburn and Ben Teal, as well as a host of composers, lyricists, playwrights and designers.

Lee Shubert died in 1953 and J. J. Shubert in 1963. John Shubert, J.J.'s son, was the chief executive of Shubert through the 1950s and the early 1960s. When John died suddenly in 1962, his cousin, Lawrence Shubert Lawrence, Jr., succeeded him and ran the company until 1972. -- From The Shuberts Present: 100 Years of American Theater (Abrams, 2001)

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