Alexander Pantages: King of the Northwest

It’s two-a-day for Keith, and three-a-day for Loew;

Pantages plays us four-a-day, besides the supper show.

— from On Your Toes, 1936, Larry Hart

Born Pericles Pantages on a Greek island in 1871, this important vaudeville manager was later to significantly change his first name from that of the enlightened father of democracy to that of western civilization’s first imperialist conqueror: Alexander. In his late childhood, Pantages started working on freighters, becoming stranded at age 12 in Panama. He gradually worked his way north, and found himself in Alaska in time for the gold rush. Instead of prospecting, he swept barroom floors, which he had noticed contained large amounts of spilled gold dust. In this way, Pantages probably found more gold than 95% of the prospectors. Soon, Pantages, like Considine, had worked his way up to pimp, selling the services of one Klondike Kate. After stealing Kate’s hard earned money, he opened his first theater in Nome, where he was able to fetch $12.50 a ticket — VERY high for those days, but commensurate with prices in a boomtown economy. As the boom subsided and the miners left, Pantages relocated to Seattle, where his first move was to open a combination fruit store and shoeshine parlor across the street from a Sullivan and Considine house. In a few months he opened his first Seattle theatre, the Crystal, in a narrow storefront. He set up a few benches and showed movies alongside vaudeville acts, performing all the work himself, from booking the entertainment, to running the projector, to ripping tickets, to (his special expertise) sweeping the floor.

By 1904, he was able to build his first Pantages theatre, and from here a fierce battle with the chain of Sullivan and Considine began. Pantages began to build dozens more theatres, competing directly with every Sullivan and Considine house, eventually conquering the entire Pacific Northwest. (Learn about his Edmonton theatre here)  Around the time of the stock market crash, Pantages sold out to RKO, and was shortly thereafter convicted of statutory rape. Upon emerging from jail in 1933 he tried to revive his vaudeville empire, but the cards were against him. He died three years later.

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.