Alexander Pantages : biography
Alexander Pantages (1867 – February 17, 1936) was a Greek American vaudeville and early motion picture producer and impresario who created a large and powerful circuit of theatres across the western United States and Canada. At the height of his empire, he owned or operated 84 theaters across the United States and Canada. He was known as a tireless operator and a particularly ruthless one. In 1929 he was accused of raping a native 17 year-old dancer named Eunice Alice Pringle; the negative publicity led to the selling of his operations and he ceased to be a force in exhibition or vaudeville ever again. Despite his pioneering spirit and promoting of the "movie palace" concept, he is largely forgotten today in historical accounts of the early development of motion pictures. He died in 1936 worth only a fraction of his original net worth.
Around 1920, Pantages entered into partnership with the motion picture distributor Famous Players, a subsidiary of film producer Paramount Pictures, and further expanded his "combo" houses, designed to exhibit films as well as staging live vaudeville, to new sites in western U.S. Throughout the 1920s, the Pantages Circuit dominated the vaudeville and motion picture market in North America west of the Mississippi River. Pantages was effectively blocked from expansion into the eastern market by New York-based Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO).
In the late 1920s, with the looming advent of talking pictures, David Sarnoff, the principal of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which held a number of patents in film/sound technology, established the film production company Radio Pictures in which Joseph P. Kennedy held an option and a managing interest moved to acquire control of the KAO theatres through quiet purchases of the company's stock. In 1927, Kennedy and Sarnoff were successful in gaining control of KAO, and, in 1928, changed the name of the company to Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO). They then approached Alexander Pantages with an offer to purchase his entire chain. Pantages rejected the offer.
Pantages Theatre Circuit
His theatres were elegant and efficiently operated. He showcased both film and live vaudeville to his audiences. Despite initial refusal to allow African-Americans into his theatres he eventually yielded after being successfully sued by an African-American who had been refused entry into a Pantages theater in Spokane, Washington.Dean, Arthur Tarrach (1972)
The starting point of the Pantages Circuit was the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Pantages built the Pantages Playhouse in 1914. All Pantages tours originated in Winnipeg and moved from there around the circuit of theatres.
While the majority of the theatres were owned by others and managed by Pantages, he became, from 1911 on, a builder of theatres all over the western U.S. and Canada. His favoured architect in these ventures was B. Marcus Priteca (1881–1971), of Seattle, who regularly worked with muralist Anthony Heinsbergen. Priteca devised an exotic, neo-classical style that his employer called "Pantages Greek".
Pantages often sought out and judged performers personally instead of relying on New York agents like many of his competitors did.
A ruthless but intensely hard-working businessman, Pantages invested his theatrical profits into new outlets and eventually moved to Los Angeles. His showcase theatre at 7th and Hill Street in downtown L.A. also housed his offices.
Although Pantages was acquitted, the trials ruined him financially. He sold the theatre chain to RKO for a lower sum than that originally offered – far less than what his "Pantages Greek" vaudeville palaces had cost him to build – and went into retirement. He owned and raced horses. Pantages died in 1936 and was interred in the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Benediction, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
The rumour, begun at the second trial, that RKO and Kennedy paid Eunice Pringle to frame Alexander Pantages, was revived in Ronald Kessler's biography of Joseph Kennedy "The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded" (New York: Warner Books, 1997).
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