|Died||May 14, 1931 77) (aged|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Theatrical producer, director, playwright|
|Years active||1884 to 1930|
|Known for||Belasco Theatre; Pioneer of modern stage lighting and stage effects; stage naturalism|
(m. 1873;her death 1926)
David Belasco (July 25, 1853 – May 14, 1931) was an American theatrical producer, impresario, director and playwright.He was the first writer to adapt the short story Madame Butterfly for the stage, and he launched the theatrical career of many actors, including James O'Neill, Mary Pickford, Lenore Ulric and Barbara Stanwyck. Belasco pioneered many innovative new forms of stage lighting and special effects in order to create realism and naturalism.
David Belasco was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Abraham H. Belasco (1830–1911) and Reyna Belasco (née Nunes, 1830–1899), Sephardic Jews who had moved from London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community during the California Gold Rush. 13 He began working in a San Francisco theatre doing a variety of routine jobs, such as call boy, script copier or as an extra in small parts. :14 He received his first experience as a stage manager while on the road. He said, "We used to play in any place we could hire or get into—a hall, a big dining room, an empty barn; any place that would take us." :14:
From late 1873 to early 1874, he worked as an actor, director, and secretary at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada, where he found "more reckless women and desperadoes to the square foot…than anywhere else in the world". His developmental years as a supporting player in Virginia City colored his thoughts eventually helping him to conceive realistic stage settings.He said that while there, seeing "people die under such peculiar circumstances" made him "all the more particular in regard to the psychology of dying on the stage. I think I was one of the first to bring naturalness to bear in death scenes, and my varied Virginia City experiences did much to help me toward this. Later I was to go deeper into such studies." His recollections of that time were published in Hearst's Magazine in 1914. By March 1874, he was back at work in San Francisco, eventually managing Thomas Maguire's Baldwin Theater. When Maguire lost the theater in 1882, Belasco relocated to the East Coast bringing his practical western experiences with him. The West allowed him to develop his talents as not only a performer, but in progressive production design and execution.
A gifted playwright, Belasco went to New York City in 1882 where he worked as stage manager for the Madison Square Theatre (starting with Young Mrs. Winthrop ), and then the old Lyceum Theatre while writing plays. By 1895, he was so successful that he was considered America's most distinguished playwright and producer.
During his long creative career, stretching between 1884 and 1930, Belasco either wrote, directed, or produced more than 100 Broadway plays including Hearts of Oak , The Heart of Maryland , and Du Barry, making him the most powerful personality on the New York City theater scene. He also helped establish careers for dozens of notable stage performers, many of whom went on to work in films.
Among them were Leslie Carter, dubbed "The American Sarah Bernhardt,"whose association with Belasco skyrocketed her to theatrical fame after her roles in Zaza (1898) and Madame Du Barry (1901). Ina Claire's lead in Polly with a Past (1917) and The Gold Diggers (1919), similarly propelled her career. Belasco wrote a lead part for 18-year-old Maude Adams, in his new play, Men and Women (1890), which ran for 200 performances.
Other stars whose careers he helped launch included Jeanne Eagels, who would later achieve immortality as Sadie Thompson in Rain (1923), which played for 340 performances.Belasco discovered and managed the careers of Lenore Ulric and David Warfield, both of whom became major stars on Broadway. He launched the career of Barbara Stanwyck, which included changing her name.
Belasco is perhaps most famous for having adapted the short story Madame Butterfly into a play with the same name and for penning The Girl of the Golden West for the stage, both of which were adapted as operas by Giacomo Puccini ( Madama Butterfly 1904—twice, after revision) and La fanciulla del West (1910). More than forty motion pictures have been made from the many plays he authored.
Many prominent performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought the opportunity to work with Belasco; among them were D. W. Griffith, Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickfordand Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille's father had been close friends with Belasco, and after DeMille graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began his stage career under Belasco's guidance. DeMille's later methods of handling actors, using dramatic lighting and directing films, was modeled after Belasco's staging techniques.
Pickford appeared in his plays The Warrens of Virginia at the first Belasco Theatre in 1907 and A Good Little Devil in 1913. The two remained in touch after Pickford began working in Hollywood; Belasco appeared with her in the 1914 film adaptation of A Good Little Devil. He is also credited as giving Pickford her stage name. He also worked with Lionel Barrymore who starred in his play Laugh, Clown, Laugh opposite Lucille Kahn, whose Broadway career Belasco launched. Belasco was a member of The Lambs from 1893 to 1931.
David Belasco was married to Cecilia Loverich for over fifty years; they had two daughters, Reina (who was married to producer Morris Gest) and Augusta.
Belasco died in 1931 at the age of 77 in Manhattan.He was interred in the Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery on Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.
Belasco demanded a natural acting style, and to complement that, he developed stage settings with authentic lighting effects to enhance his plays. His productions inspired several generations of theatre lighting designers. 29:
Belasco's contributions to modern stage and lighting techniques were originally not appreciated as much as those of his European counterparts, such as André Antoine and Constantin Stanislavski, however today he is regarded as "one of the first significant directorial figures in the history of the American theatre," writes theatre historian Lise-Lone Marker. xi:
He brought a new standard of naturalism to the American stage as the first to develop modern stage lighting along with the use of colored lights, via motorized color changing wheels, to evoke mood and setting. xi America's earliest stage lighting manufacturer, Kliegl Brothers, began by serving the specialized needs of producers and directors such as Belasco and Florenz Ziegfeld. :157 With regard to these modern lighting effects, Belasco is best remembered for his production of Girl of the Golden West (1905), with the play opening to a spectacular sunset which lasted five minutes before any dialogue started. :29:
Belasco became one of the first directors to eschew the use of traditional footlights in favor of lights concealed below floor level, thereby hidden from the audience. His lighting assistant, Louis Hartmann, fabricated Belasco's design ideas. 29 He also used follow spots to further create realism and often tailored his lighting configurations to complement the complexions and hair of the actors. :135 He ordered a specially made 1000-watt lamp developed just for his own productions, and was the only director to have one for the first two years after its introduction (1914-1915). :135:
In his own theatres, the dressing rooms were equipped with lamps of several colors, allowing the performers to see how their makeup looked under different lighting conditions.
Supposedly he put appropriate scents to set scenes in the ventilation of the theaters, while his sets paid great attention to detail, and sometimes spilled out into the audience area. In one play, for instance, an operational laundromat was built onstage. In The Governor's Lady , there was a reproduction of a Childs Restaurant kitchen where actors actually cooked and prepared food during the play. He is even said to have purchased a room in a flophouse, cut it out of the building, brought it to his theater, cut out one wall and presented it as the set for a production. Belasco's original scripts were often filled with long, specific descriptions of props and set dressings. He has not been noted for producing unusually naturalistic scenarios.
Belasco also embraced existing theatre technology and sought to expand on it. Both of Belasco's New York theatres were built on the cutting edge of their era's technology. When Belasco took over the Republic Theatre he drilled a new basement level to accommodate his machinery; the Stuyvesant Theatre was specially constructed with enormous amounts of flyspace, hydraulics systems and lighting rigs. The basement of the Stuyvesant contained a working machine shop, where Belasco and his team experimented with lighting and other special effects. Many of the innovations developed in the Belasco shop were sold to other producers.
F. Scott Fitzgerald references Belasco's reputation for realism in The Great Gatsby when he has a drunken visitor in the library of Gatsby's mansion exclaim in amazement that the books are genuine: "See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too—didn't cut the pages."
The first Belasco Theatre in New York was located at 229 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, in the Times Square district of Manhattan. Belasco took over management of the theater and completely remodeled it in 1902, only two years after it was constructed as the Theatre Republic by Oscar Hammerstein (the grandfather of the famous lyricist). He gave up the theater in 1910 and it was renamed the Republic. Under various owners, it went through a tumultuous period as a burlesque venue, hosted second-run and, eventually, pornographic films and fell into a period of neglect before being rehabilitated and reopened as the New Victory Theater in 1995.
The second Belasco Theatre is located at 111 West 44th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, only a few blocks away from the New Victory. It was constructed in 1907 as the Stuyvesant Theatre and renamed after Belasco in 1910. The theater was built to Belasco's wishes, with Tiffany lighting and ceiling panels, rich woodwork and murals. His business office and private apartment were also housed there. The Belasco is still in operation as a Broadway venue with much of the original decor intact. In 2010 it underwent a massive US $14.5 million restoration, which strove to renovate and restore the theater to the condition it was in when David Belasco was alive.
Belasco Theatres also existed in several other cities. In Los Angeles, the first Belasco Theatre was located at 337 S. Main St. The theater, which hosted the Belasco Stock Company, opened in 1904 and was operated by David Belasco's brother, Frederick. This theater was renamed twice: as the Republic in about 1913 and as the Follies, circa 1919. The theater eventually became a burlesque venue in the 1940s, fell into sharp decline, and was demolished in May 1974.
The second, and perhaps more well known, Los Angeles Belasco Theatre is located at 1050 S. Hill St in Downtown Los Angeles. The theatre, which was built by Morgan, Walls & Clements, opened in 1926, and was managed by Edward Belasco, another of David's brothers. Many Hollywood stars with theatrical roots, as well as Broadway stars who were visiting the West Coast, appeared at the theatre.The theater declined after the death of Edward Belasco in 1937. After closing altogether in the early 1950s, the theater was used as a church for several decades. In 2010 - 2011, the theater underwent an extensive restoration, and is currently in operation as a nightclub and convention venue.
The Shubert-Belasco Theatre, located in Washington, D.C., was purchased by Belasco in September 1905. Originally built in 1895 as the Lafayette Square Opera House, at 717 Madison Place, across from the White House, the theater was razed in 1962 and replaced by the U.S. Court of Claims building.
Cecil Blount DeMille was an American filmmaker. Between 1914 and 1958, he made a total of 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. His silent films included social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants.
William Churchill DeMille was an American screenwriter and film director from the silent film era through the early 1930s. He was also a noted playwright prior to moving into film. Once he was established in film he specialized in adapting Broadway plays into silent films.
The Famous Players Film Company was a film company founded in 1912 by Adolph Zukor in partnership with the Frohman brothers, powerful New York City theatre impresarios. Discussions to form the company were held at The Lambs, a famous theater club where Charles and Daniel Frohman were members. The company advertised "Famous Players in Famous Plays" and its first release was the French film Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912) starring Sarah Bernhardt and Lou Tellegen. Its first actual production was The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Edwin S. Porter and starring James O'Neill, the father of dramatist Eugene O'Neill.
Helen Marguerite Clark was an American stage and silent film actress. As a movie actress, at one time, Clark was second only to Mary Pickford in popularity. With the exception of five films, most of her films are considered lost.
Caroline Louise Dudley was an American silent film and stage actress who found fame on Broadway through collaborations with impresario David Belasco. She was a strikingly beautiful and vivacious performer, known as "The American Sarah Bernhardt", who continued to act under her married name, Mrs. Leslie Carter, even after her sensational divorce.
The Belasco Theatre is a Broadway theater which opened in 1907 at 111 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Originally known as the Stuyvesant Theatre, it was designed by architect George Keister for impresario David Belasco. The interior featured Tiffany lighting and ceiling panels, rich woodwork and expansive murals by American artist Everett Shinn, and a ten-room duplex penthouse apartment that Belasco utilized as combination living quarters/office space.
Lenore Ulric was a star of the Broadway stage and Hollywood films of the silent-film and early sound era.
Jeanie MacPherson was an American actress, writer, and director from 1908 until the late 1940s. She was a pioneer for women in the film industry. She worked with some of the best filmmakers of the time, including D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. While she started in the theater and then had a brief stint as an actress, she ultimately dedicated her life's work to screenwriting for DeMille. She was appraised for her new level resourcefulness and attentiveness to the needs of DeMille.
Charlotte Ganahl Walker was a Broadway theater actress.
The New Victory Theater is an off-Broadway theater located at 209 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, in Midtown Manhattan. The New Victory presents work for children and family audiences year-round, programming a full season of theater, dance, puppetry, circus, opera, physical theater and other types of performance art from around the world. In 2012, The New Victory Theater received a special Drama Desk Award for “providing enchanting, sophisticated theater that appeals to the child in all of us, and for nurturing a love of theater in young people.”
William Wallace Furst was an American composer of musical theatre pieces and a music director, best remembered for supplying incidental music to theatrical productions on Broadway.
Wilfred Buckland was an American art director. Buckland worked as an art director with Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky, and later with Alan Dwan, from 1914-1927. He was Hollywood's first "art director" and is credited with a number of advancements in filmmaking, including the advances in lighting techniques, the development of architectural sets, and the use of miniature sets. In 1924, he was named one of the ten individuals who had contributed the most to the advancement of the motion picture industry since the time of its inception. A 1980 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London advanced the argument that "everything we know as 'Hollywood' traces to Wilfred Buckland." Buckland was among the first inductees in the Art Directors Guild Hall of Fame.
Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan is a play in one act by David Belasco adapted from John Luther Long's 1898 short story "Madame Butterfly". It premiered on March 5, 1900, at the Herald Square Theatre in New York City and became one of Belasco's most famous works. The play and Long's short story served as the basis for the libretto of Puccini's 1904 opera, Madama Butterfly. The title role was originally played in New York and London by Blanche Bates; in 1900–01 in New York by Valerie Bergere; and in 1913 by Clara Blandick.
Zaza is a 1923 American silent romantic drama film directed and produced by Allan Dwan, and starring Gloria Swanson. This film is based on the 1899 French play of the same name produced on Broadway by David Belasco and starring Mrs. Leslie Carter. The film was shot at Paramount's Astoria Studios in New York City.
The Girl of the Golden West is a theatrical play written, produced and directed by David Belasco, set in the California Gold Rush. The four-act melodrama opened at the old Belasco Theatre in New York on November 14, 1905 and ran for 224 performances. Blanche Bates originated the role of The Girl, Robert C. Hilliard played Dick Johnson, and Frank Keenan played Jack Rance. Bates was joined by Charles Millward and Cuyler Hastings for two-week Broadway runs in 1907 and 1908. William Furst composed the play's incidental music. The play toured throughout the US for several years.
The Lyceum Theatre was a theatre in New York City located on Fourth Avenue, now Park Avenue South, between 23rd and 24th Streets in Manhattan. It was built in 1885 and operated until 1902, when it was torn down to make way for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower. It was replaced by a new Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street. For most of its existence, the theatre was home to Daniel Frohman’s Lyceum Theatre Stock Company, which presented many important plays and actors of the day.
Men and Women is a lost 1925 American silent drama film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and released by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by William C. deMille and starred Richard Dix, Claire Adams, and Neil Hamilton. It is based on a play, Men and Women, written years earlier by David Belasco and Henry Churchill de Mille, father of the director.
The Girl of the Golden West is a 1930 American Pre-Code drama film produced and distributed by First National Pictures, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., directed by John Francis Dillon and starring Broadway actress Ann Harding and James Rennie. Ann Harding's then-husband, Harry Bannister, plays the villain Jack Rance. David Belasco wrote, directed, and produced the original play in 1905 which starred Blanche Bates.
John Lionel Golden was an American actor, songwriter, author and theatrical producer. AS a songwriter, he is best-known as lyricist for "Poor Butterfly" (1916). He produced many Broadway shows and four films.
The Warrens of Virginia is a dramatic play set during the American Civil War by playwright William C. de Mille. It was produced on Broadway by David Belasco in 1907 and was the basis for two films in 1915 and in 1924. The play was also the basis for a novelization by author George Cary Eggleston in 1908.
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