Robert Levy (producer)

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Robert Levy
London, England
Died1959 (aged 70–71)
OccupationTheater manager, film producer.

Robert Levy (London, 1888–1959) was an English-born theatre manager and film producer in the early 20th century whose work was significant in establishing blacks as successful actors and paving the way for the recognition of race films.

Early life[edit]

Levy was born to Jewish parents in London in 1888. In the late 19th century, the family immigrated to the United States where Levy was educated in the New York City public school system. In his early twenties, he found a job managing the American division of the Éclair Film Company, a leading French producer of film.

Management career[edit]

In 1916, the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, featuring a company of black vaudevillians and entertainers, was growing and in need of strong management. Robert Levy, who had entered the field of black entertainment with the Quality Amusement Company, was hired for this role. Charged with selecting plays, mounting shows and managing the travelling troupes as well as bookings at other theatres, Levy focused his efforts on turning the theatre into a site of quality productions. He produced all-black cast versions of notable plays such as Madame X, Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Battle, a breakthrough for black actors to perform in roles they were never offered before. His insistence on high production value and respectful treatment of blacks earned him initial acclaim from the public and press, but he nevertheless faced too many battles for his success to last long. Lester Walton, a popular black film critic and theatrical manager himself, criticised Levy for holding a position that he felt rightfully belonged to a black man. After producing more than 100 plays with all-black casts, and under pressure from black newspaper sources, Levy left the theatre in 1919, determined to devote his efforts to black film, thereafter called race films.

Film career[edit]

As with his theatre productions, Levy wanted his films to be of the highest calibre, highlighting blacks as serious actors with notable talent. In January 1921, he officially launched the opening of his company, Reol Films. Over the next few years, he would produce nine feature-length films and two documentaries. They featured prominent black actors such as Clarence Muse, Lawrence Chenault, Andrew Bishop, Sherman Dudley, Edna Morton, Inez Clough and Evelyn Preer and their involvement in these films often propelled them into larger careers. Most notably, Levy purchased the rights to The Sport of the Gods and The Uncalled, works by acclaimed black writer Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 2008, the US Postal Service chose the promotional poster for The Sport of the Gods, Reol's first released film, to be featured on a postage stamp honouring black film. In the early 1920s, race films were gaining prominence as a form of popular entertainment. However, these independent productions ultimately could not compete with the larger funding available to the big studios. By 1924 Levy faced the problem of finding distribution outlets for his films and was forced to accept financial defeat and close his company.

Later life[edit]

Levy attempted to revive the Lafayette Players on the west coast after the demise of Reol Films but his theatrical efforts were unsuccessful. He returned to New York City in the early 1930s and accepted a job as a magazine editor. Levy, as editor, became a leading creator of detective magazines. His work in this area helped to establish the material for many film noir projects in the thirties and forties. He died in 1959, unrecognised by posterity for his pioneering role in black theatre and film and without acclaim for his accomplishments on behalf of black culture.

Productions with all African American Cast (at Lafayette Theatre)[edit]

The following is a list of all of the (all black) theatre productions that Levy was responsible for at the Lafayette Theatre between the hours 1916 and 1919.

Production List Playwright Opening Night Original Year White Theater at the time of Lafayette of Production
In The Bishop's Carriage Channing Pollack 17 July 1916 1907 Grand Opera House, NY
The Third Degree Charles Klein 24 July 1916 1909 Hudson Theatre. NY
The Ghost Breaker Paul Dickey

Chas W. Goddard

31 July 1916 1913 Lyceum Theatre
A Pair of Sixes Edward Henry Peples 8 October 1916 1914 Longacre Theatre
Big Jim Garrity Owen Davis 17 August 1916 1914 New York Theatre
Sign of Four 17 August 1916 1903 West End Theatre
Stop Thief Carlyle Moore 28 August 1916 1913 Gaiety Theatre
At Bay George Scarborough 9 April 1916 1914 39@th Street Theatre
Within the Law Bayard Veiller 9 November 1916 1913


Eltinge 42@th Street Theatre

Cosmopolitan Theatre.

Madame X Alexander Bisson 18 September 1916 1920


New Amsterdam Theatre

Earl Carroll Theatre

The Family Cupboard Owen Davis 10/02/16 1915 Playhouse Theatre
The Conspiracy Robert Baker

John Emerson

10/09/16 1914 New Amsterdam Theatre
The Lure George Scarborough 16 October 1916 1913 Garrick Theatre
The Man of the Hour George Broadhurst 23 October 1916 1906 Savoy Theatre
Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway George Cohan 23 October 1916 1906 New Amsterdam Theatre

New York Theatre

George Cohan Theatre

The City Clyde Fitch 13 November 1916 1910 Lyric Theatre

Hackett Theatre

Academy of Music

Grand Opera

Lyceum Theatre

The Lion and the Mouse Charles Klein 20 November 1916 1905 Hudson Theatre

Princess Theatre

Raffles Eugene Prebre,

E.W. Hornung

27 November 1916 1904


Savoy Theatre

Gaiety Theatre

Three Twins Charles Dickens 12 April 1916 1908 Herald Square Theatre

Majestic Theatre

Get Rich Rich Wallingford

George Cohan

12 November 1916 1910 Gaiety Theatre

George M. Cohan Theatre

Trilby Paul Potter adapted by DuMaurier 26 March 1917 1895




Garden Theatre

New Amsterdam Theatre

Shubert Theatre

National Theatre

The Yankee Prince George Cohan 4 February 1917 1908 Knickerbocker Theatre
The Law of the Land George Broadhurst 23 April 1917 1914 48@th Street Theatre
The Time, the Place, the Girl Joseph E. Howard 30 April 1917 1907


Wallack's Theatre

Grand Opera Theatre

Mansfield Theatre

Sinners Owen Davis 5 July 1917 1915 Playhouse Theatre
The House of a Thousand Candles George Middelton 21 May 1917 1908 Dalys Theatre
The Great Divide William Vaughn Moody 28 May 1917 1907



Princess Theatre

Daly's Theatre

Academy of Music Theatre

Grand Opera Theatre

Lyceum Theatre

The Natural Law Charles Sumner 6 April 1917 1915 Theatre Republic
Damaged Goods Eugene Brieux 18 June 1917 1913 Fulton Theatre
The Yellow Ticket Michael Morton 17 July 1917 1914 Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre
The Chocolate Soldier

(American Version)

Stanislus Stange 23 July 1917 .
The Traffic Rachael Marshall

Oliver Bailey

30 July 1917 1914 New York Theatre
The Little Millionaire George Cohan 8 June 1917 1912 George M. Cohan Theatre
The Gamblers Charles Klein 13 August 1917 1910 Maxine Elliot's Theatre
Charley's Aunt Brandon Thomas 20 August 1917 1906 Manhattan Theatre
The Vampire Lee Morrison

Edgar Allan Woolf

George Sylvester Viereck

27 August 1917
The Man from Mexico H.A. Du Souchet 9 March 1917 1907 Hoyt's Theatre

Garrick's Theatre

The Silent Witness Jack Deleon

Jack Celestine

9 October 1917 1916 Fulton Theatre
Are You A Mason? 17 September 1917 1901 Garrick Theatre

Wallack's Theatre

The Inner Man 3 November 1918 1917 Lyric Theatre

Cort Theatre

The Knife Eugene Walters 18 March 1918 1917 Bijou Theatre
Faust Adaptation from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 4 January 1918 1930 Casino Theatre

Centre Theatre

The Master Mind David Carter 4 August 1918 1913 Harris Theatre
The Man Who Owns Broadway George Cohan 15 April 1918 1910 New York Theatre
Sappho and Phaon Percy MacKaye 22 April 1918 1907 Lyric Theatre
His Honor the Mayor Charles Campbell 29 April 1918 1906 New York Theatre
Where do you Live? Wallacks Alma

George Hobart

13 May 1918 1911 Weber's Music Hall
Broken Threads Ernest Wilkes 20 May 1918 1917 Fulton Theatre
Very Good Eddie Guy Bolton 27 May 1918 1915 Princess Theatre

Casino Theatre

39@th Street Theatre

The Blindness of Virtue Cosmo Hamilton 24 June 1918 1912 39@th Street Theatre
A Butterfly on the Wheel? Edward G. Hammerde

F. Neilson

K.C. Neilson

7 January 1918 1912 39@th Street Theatre
The Woman in the Case Clyde Fitch 15 July 1918 1905 Herald Square Theatre
His Last Dollar David Higgins

Baldwin Cooke

22 July 1918 1904 American Theatre
The White Sister Walter Hackett

F. Marion Crawford

29 July 1918 1909 Daly's Theatre
The Boss Edward Shelton 8 May 1918 1911 Astor Theatre
Cheating Cheater Max Marcin 9 February 1918 1917 Eltinge 42@th Street Theatre
Arizona Augustus Thoman 9 September 1918 1901


Herald Square Theatre

Lyric Theatre

The Rosary Edward Rose 16 September 1918 1910 Garden Theatre
The Ninety and Nine Ramsey Morris 20 January 1919 1903 Academy of Music
Man's Enemy Eric Hudson

Charles H. Langdon

2 October 1919 1900 Star Theatre 1913 Lyric Theatre
The Two Orphans Eugene Cormon

Adolphe D'Ennery

17 February 1919 1904



New Amsterdam Theatre

Union Square Theatre

Cosmopolitan Theatre

Convict 999 Walter Howard 3 March 1919 1907 Thelia Theatre
The Story of the Rosary Owen Davis 3 October 1919 1914 Manhattan Opera House
The Guilty Man Ruth Helen Davis

Charles Klein

17 March 1919 1916 Astor Theatre
The Bridge Rupert Hughes 4 July 1919 1909 Majestic Theatre
The Fortune Hunter Winchell Smith 14 April 1919 1909 Gaiety Theatre
A Midnight Marriage James Halleck Reid 21 April 1919 1904 Grand Opera House
The Burglar and the Lady Langdon McCormick 5 May 1919 1906 American Theatre
The Havoc H.S. Sheldon 26 May 1919 1911 Bijou Theatre
The Girl in the Taxi Hugh Stainislus 6 February 1919 1910 Astor Theatre
Mrs. Temple's Telegram Frank Wyatt 16 June 1919 1906 Hoyt Theatre
The Blue Envelope Frank Hatch

Robert Homans

6/23/19 1916 Cort Theatre