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Charles Dillingham

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Charles B. Dillingham
Charles B. Dillingham

Charles Bancroft Dillingham (May 30, 1868 – August 30, 1934) was an American theatre manager and producer of over 200 Broadway shows.

Biography

Charles Bancroft Dillingham was born on May 30, 1868 in Hartford, Connecticut to Edmund Bancroft Dillingham, an Episcopalian clergyman and Josephine Potter. He graduated from the Hartford schools and went to work for a newspaper in Hartford, which sent him to Washington D.C. as a correspondent. He then went to Chicago where he joined the staff of the Chicago Times-Herald. He subsequently moved to New York City and was hired by The Evening Sun for $15 per week. He became a theater critic for the New York Post. In 1896 he wrote a play "Ten P.M." which was produced at the Bijou Theater. The producer Charles Frohman saw it and offered Dillingham a job as a advertising agent. They formed a theatrical alliance and a friendship that lasted until Frohman died in the 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania.

After leaving the employ of Frohman he formed the Dillingham Theatre Corporation. He also was associated over many years with A. L. Erlanger and Florenz Ziegfeld. The three were the principals of the A.L. Erlanger Amusement Enterprises, Inc. The 1936 Academy Award for Best Picture Winner The Great Ziegfeld told the story not only of Ziegfeld but also of Dillingham although it used the name "Billings" for Dillingham' likely due to Dillingham estate issues in which the Ziegfeld estate was owed money by the bankruptcy of Dillingham in 1933.

Dillingham was also the owner of the Hippodrome, which in its time was the largest theatrical venue in the world. There he produced ice skating spectacles and competitions, dance stars such as Anna Pavlova, and it is where 'Poor Butterfly' was first heard. On January 10, 1910 he opened the Globe Theatre (now known as the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre) at Broadway and 46th Street which was the first ever theater venue with a retractable roof.[1]

Dillingham also introduced and managed dozens of star actors including Julia Marlowe and Ruby Keeler.

Productions

Julia Marlowe in The Cavalier (1902)
Julia Marlowe in The Cavalier (1902)

Dillingham began his producing career in 1902, with a production of The Cavalier, starring Julia Marlowe, William Lewers and Frank Worthing. His other noteworthy productions include the following:

He also produced several musicals and musical reviews during his career, including Watch Your Step, the first musical by Irving Berlin (which featured Vernon and Irene Castle in their Broadway debut).

In 1915, Dillingham hired the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova to perform in New York City for six months.

Personal life

Dillingham was married in 1896 to actress and singer Jennie Yeamans who was a former child star.[2] She died in 1906. On May 5, 1913 in Purchase, New York he married Eileen Ann Kearney formerly of Stillwater, Minnesota. The new Mrs. Dillingham was part of the Alla Nazimova dance troupe and later was in several productions of Dillingham's. The couple lived at 153 East Sixty-third Street in a home later owned by the artist Jasper Johns and then the film director Spike Lee.[3] The couple were regulars in society just as the old guard and the theater world began mingling. They were among the early snowbirds fleeing to Palm Beach during the winter season. They were often at European social scenes such as the Ascot and Longchamp racecourses. The marriage broke up in August 1924 after Mrs. Dillingham became enamored of Julius Broome Livingston Allen, twelve years her junior, whom she married in October of that year. The divorce caused a sensation and was reported in Time magazine. Eileen was a life long friend of Florenz Ziegfeld's wife the actress Billie Burke. She died in 1957 after divorcing her second husband, whom she had married twice.

There have been various reports and rumors of Dillingham's homosexuality including a longtime relationship with Charles Frohman, with whom he lived for some time between his marriages. His second wife's family believed theirs to be a marriage of convenience. He was considered a gentleman of the old school, good-natured, having a good sense of humor, well-dressed and always kept farce, vulgarity, exhibitionism and hints of impropriety out of his productions, befitting the son of a clergyman. He was a pall bearer at Harry Houdini's funeral where he was thought to have quipped, "Let's see him get out of this one."

Ill health and the stock market crash of 1929 forced Dillingham to give up producing. The writer Damon Runyon mentioned him in a short essay called ‘A Dog’s Best Friend’:

“”Damon, what becomes of a man's friends when he gets sick?"

I could not answer that one. It reminded me of a somewhat similar question asked by the once great theatrical producer, Charles Dillingham, at a time when he was broke and commencing to be forgotten along the big street, of which he was once one of the most glamorous and successful figures. He was sitting on a stool at a drugstore lunch counter when a gabby guy who knew who he was took the stool beside him and began babbling.

"I wonder what's become of so-and-so?" he finally wondered, naming a Broadwayfarer who had sunk into obscurity.

"I don't know", said Dillingham, adding thoughtfully, "I wonder what's become of Dillingham?"”

Dillingham died of bronchopneumonia on August 30, 1934 at the Hotel Astor where he lived.[1] He was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford[4] and was survived by his sister Mabel Ballard Dillingham Newton and her daughter Marjory Newton Nolan.

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b "Charles B. Dillingham (1868-1934)". www.cedarhillfoundation.org. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Charles Dillingham: From Hartford to the Hippodrome". www.travsd.wordpress.com. 30 May 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  3. ^ "Step Inside Spike Lee's Historic Townhouse, Listed for $32M". 7 January 2014.
  4. ^ "Charles Bancroft Dillingham". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 9 February 2020.

References

  • Charles Dillingham obituary, New York Times August 31, 1934.
  • Eileen Kearney file in the archives of grand-nephew Christopher McHugh, 2018, Pine City, MN
  • Christopher McHugh public family tree, Ancestry.com
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