Mike Shea

Michael Shea (born 1858, date unknown) was the vaudeville kingpin who controlled the territory around Buffalo. If that sounds a trifle unimpressive, it must be remembered that a century ago Buffalo was a far more substantial and promising city than it is today. Recall that it was the site of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, one of the largest world’s fairs of all time.

A former stevedore, Shea opened his first house, Shea’s Music Hall, a basement concert saloon, in 1883. From here he continued to expand until he had a dozen theatres in the Buffalo area, and part ownership in a half dozen in Canada. One of the founding and principal members of the United Booking Office, the vaudeville management cartel headed by Keith-Albee, he rankled at the discipline and was essentially given free reign to book whatever performers, at whatever salaries he wanted. The one thing he was not allowed to do was to pull out of the cartel. When he attempted to do so in 1908, Albee¬†countered by commencing to build a Keith theatre in town. If Shea hadn’t folded, he’d have had to deal with competition from a very ruthless antagonist, one with endlessly deep pockets. Shea passed away in 1934, but he left a permanent mark on Buffalo. Several of his theatres are still standing, and his name is still on them.

To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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