j.j. shubert ruled broadway with an iron fist -- 10/19/16

Today's selection -- from Razzle Dazzle by Michael Riedel. For much of the twentieth century, the Shubert Organization held the dominant position in theater ownership on Broadway and beyond. At the helm of the organization was the iron-fisted J.J. Shubert:

"By 1958 Henry Speckman had worked as a maintenance man for the Shubert Organization for forty-one years. Short and stocky, he was suffering from severe emphysema. He didn't talk -- he wheezed. His doctor told him he didn't have much time left, even less if he kept working. He requested a meeting with Mr. J.J., as everyone called J.J. Shubert.

J.J. (left) and Lee Shubert

"J.J. rarely met with anyone unless his two lawyers, Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernard Jacobs, were present. J.J. received people from behind a large desk in his sixth-floor office in the Sardi Building. The lawyers sat on either side of the desk, close to J.J. The 'victim,' as the visitor was called, sat opposite J.J. The lawyers had their backs to the 'victim' so he could not make out what they were whispering. Speckman was the victim that day. He came in, wheezing as usual.

" 'Mr. J.J.,' he began, 'I've been with Shubert for forty-one years, but I can no longer work. I've got emphysema, and I've checked on my insurance and it's not enough. I can't live on it. Even with the social security, it's just not enough. I was wondering, Would you give me something to help supplement it? Something more in my pension, maybe ... '

"J.J. glared at him. 'How long did you say you were here?'

" 'Forty-one years.'

" 'I've taken care of you for forty-one years,' J.J. replied. 'Now go and find someone else to take care of you.'

" 'That's the way he was,' Jacobs would recall nearly forty years later. 'He was not conscious of the fact he was cruel or mean. After all, he grew up in a world in which he and his brothers came out of nothing. And they clawed their way to become the dominant force in the American theater.'

"Short, thick, rumpled, and prone to titanic rages, J.J. ran his empire, which at one point included twenty theaters in New York and another fifty or so around the country, with an imperious hand. Since 1953, when his only partner, his brother Lee, died, he answered to no one."


Michael Riedel


Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2015 by Michael Riedel


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