Charles B. Dillingham (1868 – 1934)

Charles B. Dillingham

Born in Hartford on May 30, 1868, Charles Bancroft Dillingham was one of the leading theatrical producers in New York City during the first three decades of the 20th century.  With his own company, the Dillingham Theatre Corp., and in partnership with A.L. Erlanger and Florenz Ziegfeld, he produced more than 200 comedies, musical comedies, operettas and vaudeville shows for the Broadway stage.  He built and owned The Globe Theatre at Broadway and 46th Street (now called The Lunt-Fontanne) the only Broadway house ever to have a removable roof.  For many years he managed The Hippodrome, reputed to be the largest theatrical house in the world.  Following an eight-month engagement at the Hippodrome in 1915, John Philip Sousa wrote The New York Hippodrome March and dedicated it to Dillingham.  In return, on Sousa’s sixty-first birthday, Dillingham arranged to have more than 200 theater orchestras around the country play the march at precisely the same time.

Dillingham is probably the only producer to get his start as a theater critic.  He was writing reviews for The NY Evening Post when he became a manager for several prominent performers in the 1890s, including classical actress Julia Marlowe.  Starting in 1903, he produced more than 200 Broadway plays and musicals, working with many of the top names of his time.  He produced nine musicals by composer Victor Herbert and also played a major role in promoting the careers of composers Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.  Dillingham worked extensively with the dance team of Adele and Fred Astaire.  Nicknamed “C.B.” by Fred and Adele, the Astaires had a friendly professional relationship with Dillingham and his wife, who even designed one of Adele’s dance costumes for a show.

In addition to being a solid businessman, Dillingham’s sparkling sense of humor and elegant personal style made him one of the most admired people in the theatrical profession.  The following story from Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard illustrates Dillingham’s humorous side:  “Broadway producers Charles Dillingham and Florenz Ziegfeld were among the pall-bearers at Houdini’s funeral.  As they carried the coffin out of the church, Dillingham leaned across to Ziegfeld and whispered, ‘Ziggie, I’ll bet you a hundred bucks he ain’t in here!’”

Financially ruined by the Great Depression, Dillingham made a comeback with the hit revue New Faces in 1934 but died shortly thereafter of bronchopneumonia at the Hotel Astor in New York City.

References:
Bordman, Gerald and Thomas S. Hischak. “
Dillingham, Charles (Bancroft).” The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. Oxford University Press. 2004. Accessed at http://www.encyclopedia.com on November 19, 2009.
Fadiman, Clifton and André Bernard. Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes. Little, Brown and Company. 1985.  Accessed at
http://books.google.com on July 21, 2010.
Internet Movie Database. Accessed at
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0226931/bio on November 19, 2009.
The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film. Accessed at 
http://www.musicals101.com/who11.htm on November 9, 2009.
Wikipedia. Accessed at 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_B._Dillingham on November 19, 2009.

Photo Credit: Image comes from the Project Gutenberg archives. This is an image that has come from a book or document for which the American copyright has expired and this image is in the public domain in the United States and possibly other countries.