Klaw The pioneers of theatrical monopoly were Marc Klaw and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger. With evil-sounding names like “Klaw and Erlanger”, they just had to be villains. Erlanger (who decorated his offices with portraits and busts of his hero Napoleon Bonaparte) had once been employed as an agent, p.r. man and manager. Klaw had been a drama critic, a lawyer for the Frohman Brothers, and a theatrical booking agent. In 1896 they formed “the Syndicate” with four other producers, in an attempt to obtain the monopoly on legit theater throughout the United States. Any producer who wanted to put on a play, and any theatre manager who wanted to book one, had to go through them, for they owned most of the theatres as well as the booking exchange that supplied the circuit with shows. In essence, by pooling their resources, the producers of the Syndicate had come up with an uber-circuit for the legitimate stage.
In 1907, they teamed up with their old adversaries the Shuberts and William Morris to form the U.S. Amusement Company, a major vaudeville circuit that would rival the then-dominant and recently established United Booking Office, headed by Keith and Albee. The wheels were set in motion, negotiations begun with acts, and so forth, but the enterprise was to last for only a few months. When it came to pure ruthlessness, even Keith and Albee couldn’t hold a candle to their Mephistophelean mentors, Klaw and Erlanger. Their next lesson would cost them plenty. The syndicate had never intended to set up a rival circuit in the first place. Their only aim the whole time had been to get Keith to buy them out, which he did, for $1 million. A costly lesson in competitive economics.
To find out more about the history of 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.