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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Blackton, James Stuart (05 January 1875–13 August 1941), motion picture pioneer, was born in Sheffield, England, the son of Henry Blackton, a carriage maker, and Jessie Stuart. After the family moved to the United States in 1886, Blackton worked several years as a carpenter while taking night classes at City College of New York. He then became an illustrator and reporter for the ...

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Dietz, Howard (08 September 1896–30 July 1983), lyricist and publicity director, was born in New York City, the son of Herman Dietz, a jeweler, and Julia Blumberg. While a student at Townsend Harris Hall, a public high school for unusually able students, Dietz took a job as a copyboy on a newspaper, the ...

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Drake, Samuel (15 November 1768–16 October 1854), actor, theatrical manager, and pioneer of professional theater in the West, was born in England of unknown parentage. Very little is known of his early life. It is said that he was born Samuel Drake Bryant but later adopted Drake as a stage name. He was apprenticed as a printer but broke his apprenticeship and joined an acting troupe. He became a manager of a small provincial theater in the west of England and married Alexina Fisher (date unknown), sister of the manager of the theater in Exeter. They had five children and, in the tradition of great English stage families, founded a theatrical dynasty. Martha Drake, their eldest child, was an actress who married a Frankfort, Kentucky, businessman and returned to England. Samuel Drake, Jr., was a talented musician but an average actor. Alexander Drake, who suffered from deafness but was an excellent singer and low-comedy actor, married the celebrated actress Frances Ann Denny ( ...

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Durang, John (06 January 1768–29 March 1822), dancer, choreographer, and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Jacob Durang, a physician, and Joeann Catharine Arter, who had emigrated from Strasbourg, France, in 1767. Settling first in York, the family moved to Philadelphia in 1778. America’s first native-born theatrical dancer of prominence, Durang was influenced in his youth by Louis Roussell, a French dancer and teacher. In his memoirs he states that he emulated Roussell’s “pigeon wing” and learned the correct way of dancing a hornpipe “in the French stile [ ...

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Henson, Jim (24 September 1936–16 May 1990), puppeteer and entertainment industry entrepreneur, was born James Maury Henson in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of Paul Henson, an agronomist, and Elizabeth Brown. Henson studied art and stage design part time at the University of Maryland. At college, he met his future wife, Jane Nebel, an art student. The two worked together in creating puppet segments on local Baltimore and Washington, D.C., childrens’ shows. They married in 1959 and were to have five children. Henson graduated from college in 1960. Soon afterward, Jane Henson essentially withdrew from her involvement in Henson’s puppetry work....

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Edna Hopper Seated in her berth on a train. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95412).

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Hopper, Edna Wallace (17 January 1864?–14 December 1959), actress, entrepreneur, and financier, was born and raised in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Walter Wallace. (Her mother’s identity is unknown.) Little is verifiable about her early years, except that she was educated at the Van Ness Seminary, as public records were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. She began her stage career on a whim when, at a reception, she met and charmed comedian Roland Reed into issuing her an invitation to join his company. In August 1891 she made her debut as Mabel Douglas in the musical comedy ...

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Hummert, Anne (19 January 1905–05 July 1996), radio producer and advertising executive, was born Anna Mary Schumacher and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, the oldest of four children of Frederick Schumacher, whom census records list as a steamfitter and a contractor, and Anna Lance Schumacher. At some point in her youth, she began using the name Anne rather than Anna. She loved to write and was attracted to journalism while still in high school, writing an advice column for the ...

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See Kiralfy, Imre

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Kiralfy, Imre (01 January 1845–27 April 1919), and Bolossy Kiralfy (01 January 1848– March 1932), dancers and producers of realistic-pictorial theater, were born in Pest, Hungary, the sons of Jacob Königsbaum, a cloth manufacturer, and Anna (maiden name unknown). The brothers were born shortly before the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution of 1848. When Königsbaum, a nationalist, lost his fortune during the revolution, the young boys supported the family as child performers. First Imre, at age five, joined two years later by Bolossy, earned a living for the family by performing traditional folk dances in theaters and at private performances throughout the Austrian Empire. By virtue of their youth the children escaped official censure against public shows of nationalism for performing dances of the Hussars, Hungarian cavalry, and Cossacks. They changed their name from Königsbaum (king’s tree) to Kiralfy, a shortening of ...

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Klaw, Marc Alonzo (29 May 1858–14 June 1936), theatrical entrepreneur and producer, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Leopold Klaw and Caroline K. Blumgart. He moved with his widowed mother to Louisville when he was five. There he attended both elementary and public high school, after which he received his law degree from Louisville Law School in 1879. Although he practiced law for a while, his primary interest was in theater; he was for a time the dramatic editor of the Louisville ...

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Levy, David (02 January 1913–25 January 2000), advertising and broadcasting executive, television producer, and writer, was one of twin sons born to Benjamin Levy, an accountant, and Lillian Potash Levy of Philadelphia. He excelled as a student, especially in mathematics and writing, both of which would remain lifelong pursuits. An economics major at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, he received a B.S. degree in 1934 and an M.B.A. in 1935....

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Palmer, Albert Marshman (27 July 1838–07 March 1905), theater manager and entrepreneur, was born in North Stonington, Connecticut, the son of Reverend Dr. Albert Gallatin Palmer, a Baptist minister, and Sarah Amelia Langworthy. He was educated at the Suffield Institute and graduated in 1860 from the New York University Law School but soon turned his attention to politics....

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Rothafel, Roxy (09 July 1881–13 January 1936), movie theater impresario and early radio host, was born Samuel Lionel Rothapfel in Stillwater, Minnesota, the son of Gustav Rothapfel, a shoemaker, and Cecelia Schwerzens. The younger Rothafel dropped the “p” from his family name at the end of World War I when names of Germanic origin were in disfavor. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1894, and his education ended with grammar school. At age fourteen, Rothafel began drifting from one temporary job to another. He joined the Marine Corps in 1902, saw action in China’s Boxer Rebellion, and ended military service as a sergeant in 1905. He remained a believer in military discipline, and later uniformed ushers in his theaters drilled and saluted....

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Thompson, Lydia (19 February 1836–17 November 1908), entertainer and leader of a British burlesque troupe, was born in London, England, the daughter of a Quaker father, Philip Milburn Thompson, who died when she was three. Her mother, whose name is unknown, remarried a well-to-do businessman who financed Lydia’s dancing lessons when she was a young child....

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Valenti, Jack (05 September 1921–26 April 2007), advertising executive, presidential adviser, motion picture industry executive and lobbyist, was born Jack Joseph Valenti in Houston and grew up in southeastern Texas. Both his parents, Joe and Josephine Valenti, were the children of Sicilian immigrants. He graduated from Sam Houston High School in Houston at age fifteen and attended night school at the University of Houston. During World War II, he flew more than fifty bombing missions over enemy territory in Germany and Italy. After the war, he continued his education, graduating from the University of Houston in 1946. He used the GI Bill to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1948 and then joined Humble Oil and Refining Company to work in advertising and promotion....