|Date of Birth||15 July 1856, Sandusky, Ohio, USA|
|Date of Death||7 May 1915, aboard the Lusitania (act of war)|
|Height||5' 4" (1.63 m)|
Mini Bio (1)
Many people today know the names of George M. Cohan and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., but Charles Frohman, though lesser known, reigned supreme in the theatrical world for over a generation. From a young age Frohman's heart and soul belonged in the theatre. His lower-middle-class family moved from Sandusky, Ohio, to New York City in 1874 and he landed a job as a night clerk for the New York Graphic. In 1876 the paper sent him to Philadelphia to expand its circulation during the Centennial Exposition, and it was there he first demonstrated his entrepreneurial talents by organizing newsboys to more efficiently exploit the market. He then moved over briefly to the New York Tribune and moonlighted by selling theatre tickets at night, soaking in everything he could learn about the theatrical business. In 1880, at the age of 20 with 50 cents to his name after paying for a seat for the hit play "Shenandoah", he successfully schmoozed its producers into selling him its road-show rights. From this point onward there was no stopping Charles Frohman in his desire to conquer the entertainment business, which at the time was headquartered in New York City with the Broadway theater district its nerve center.
He began by leasing an unprofitable house named Proctor's Theatre and gradually created a stock production company. In the early 1890s he built his own theatre, the Empire. He, younger brother Gustave Frohman and older brother Daniel Frohman became the leading theatre impresarios of the Gilded Age. By the turn of the century Charles Frohman was the #1 theatrical producer in the world. He solidified his position by creating a theatrical monopoly with a handful of Broadway and regional theatre owners, known as the Theatrical Syndicate, which would come to dominate virtually every aspect of theatrical production through its proprietary booking network. His syndicate controlled not only first-run and revival Broadway shows, but dozens of road-show companies that continuously traversed the US and Canada, in addition to a number of productions that almost always illuminated London and Paris.
Despite his titular status within his company, however, Frohman was always detail-oriented. He believed that a large degree of his success was due to his actors and paid an unusual amount of attention to their development (or non-development), billing, promotion, costumes, etc., down to the tiniest booking details. In brief, he was a hands-on producer and he held a seemingly hypnotic hold over his troupes (no less a legend than Ethel Barrymore idolized him). He also worked extensively in London and formed a separate stage company to fill his five leased theatres there. By the outbreak of World War I, he could claim to have produced over 700 plays and employed a staff that exceeded 1,000 on both sides of the Atlantic.
Back in the States he owned or leased six theatres on Broadway and some 200 across the country, and had dozens of road-show companies traversing the nation by rail at any given time. Oddly, he rarely attended opening nights at any of his theatres, preferring to keep tabs on audience reactions by employing dozens of runners who kept him informed at intermissions and final curtains. Few of his business associates knew him intimately; he was shy and steadfastly avoided socializing, preferring to remain ensconced inside his suite at the Knickerbocker Hotel whenever in New York City. By modern definition, Frohman would be considered moderately neurotic and perhaps mildly obsessive-compulsive. He was occasionally practically agoraphobic, had an intense fear of darkness and rigidly held to theatrical superstitions, all rolled into a shroud of secrecy surrounding his private life (accused of being a homosexual by his detractors, he was also rumored to be secretly married to Maude Adams, a stage actress who would be termed a "superstar" today). In business Frohman was considered cold and calculating, often ruthlessly crushing competitors to the extent that lesser producers only survived on Broadway because he let them. He suffered a debilitating fall while at his home in White Plains, New York, in 1912 and the resulting arthritis proved so painful that he required use of a cane. Back in the Knickerbocker Hotel, Frohman became a virtual invalid.
In 1915 he opted to make a European trip to check on the crop of productions in London with playwright Charles Klein and his valet. Unfortunately he chose passage on the Lusitania, then the fastest ship to London. His friends and associates were aghast at his decision and tried to dissuade him from making the voyage. The German Embassy had issued a proclamation declaring the Lusitania a military target; Frohman reacted by dictating his company's entire 1916 season in advance and dismissed their fears for his safety, telling his friend Al Hayman, "If you want to write to me, just address the letter care of the German Submarine U-4." By eyewitness accounts, Frohman remained characteristically calm after the torpedoing of the ship, dismissing offers of assistance and offering his life belt to a female passenger. Among his last reported words was a line from J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan": "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life."
Frohman's body was recovered and arrived in New York on May 24, 1915. He was given two funerals (John Barrymore was one of the pallbearers), with simultaneous memorial services across the US and in London. Maude Adams retired from acting upon his death. By the following year, Frohman's all-powerful theatrical syndicate would be broken by the Shubert Brothers.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jack Backstreet (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)