Martin Beck (vaudeville)

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Martin Beck (July 31, 1868 - November 16, 1940) was a vaudeville theatre owner who founded the Orpheum Circuit.[1]

Martin Beck
Martin Beck.jpg
Born (1868-07-31)July 31, 1868
Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia
Died November 16, 1940(1940-11-16) (aged 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Occupation Theater owner


Martin Beck was born on July 31, 1868 in Liptovský Mikuláš, a town in northern Slovakia that at the time of his birth was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He went with a group of actors on the SS Elbe from Bremen, Germany to the United States in May 1884, where he worked as a waiter in a beer garden in Chicago, Illinois.[2]

He went to San Francisco with the Schiller Vaudeville Company, then gained citizenship in the United States in October 1889.[3] When the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco was bought by Morris Meyerfeld, Jr. in 1899, he worked with Morris to acquire more theaters. By 1905, Beck was running the organization.[4]

In 1910 he formed the United Booking Offices with Alfred Butt.

In the spring of 1899 Harry Houdini met Beck at a beer hall in St. Paul, Minnesota where Houdini was performing. Beck telegraphed Houdini when he was in Chicago: "You can open Omaha March twenty sixth sixty dollars, will see act probably make you proposition for all next season." Houdini later wrote at the bottom of the telegram: "This wire changed my whole Life's journey."[4]

He built the Palace Theatre in New York City in 1913.[1]

He was voted out of the presidency of Orpheum Circuit in a boardroom coup after it went public in 1923. He then opened the Martin Beck Theater in 1924.[2]

On January 28, 1928 Orpheum Circuit was merged with the theater chain started by Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II to form Keith-Albee-Orpheum. A few months later, Joseph P. Kennedy and David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation of America merged Keith-Albee-Orpheum with Film Booking Office of America to form the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) movie studio.[5]

In 1932 he managed the booking office at RKO. In 1934 he brought the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from London to America.[4]

He died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan on November 16, 1940.[1][2] Arthur Hopkins gave the eulogy at the funeral and William Aloysius Brady, Sr. and Lee Shubert were pall bearers.[6]


  1. ^ a b c "Martin Beck Dies. Theatre Veteran. Manager, Producer and Actor, Builder of the Palace, Stricken Here at 71. Began Orpheum Circuit. Headed Variety Group in West for 27 Years. Came to U.S. as Immigrant at 18". New York Times. November 17, 1940. Retrieved 2011-12-15. Martin Beck, who built the Palace Theatre, once the goal of all variety actors, and the theatre on West Forty-fifth Street that bears his name, died at 6:30 A.M. yesterday in Mount Sinai Hospital. 
  2. ^ a b c "Martin Beck, Producer, Dies In New York". United Press in The Miami News. November 16, 1940. Retrieved 2011-12-15. 
  3. ^ US Passport Applications 1908, 1915, 1921 & 1922
  4. ^ a b c "Martin Beck (1867-1940)". American Experience. Retrieved 2011-12-15. Soon after, Beck telegraphed Houdini from Chicago: "You can open Omaha March twenty sixth sixty dollars, will see act probably make you proposition for all next season." As Houdini later wrote at the bottom of the carefully preserved telegram, "This wire changed my whole Life's journey." 
  5. ^ Arthur Frank Wertheim. Vaudeville Wars. Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 2011-12-15. In December 1927, an agreement was reached to merge the two circuits and its booking agencies into a new holding company, the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation (KAO). ... 
  6. ^ "Theatre Leaders at Beck Funeral. 400 Attend Rites for Founder of Orpheum Circuit and Builder of Palace. Arthur Hopkins Speaks, Eulogizes Producer. William A. Brady and Lee Shubert Among the Bearers". New York Times. November 19, 1940. Retrieved 2011-12-15. More than four hundred persons, including some of the leading figures of the American theatre, attended a brief service yesterday in the Campbell Funeral Church, Madison Avenue at Eighty-first Street, for Martin Beck, founder of the Orpheum. ...