In 1907, Lee and J.J. Shubert, who’d begun their careers fighting the theatrical syndicate founded by Marcus Klaw and Abe Erlanger, decided to team up with their old adversaries and form a new vaudeville circuit to rival the lucrative new one being started by Keith, Albee and others. The venture only lasted a few months — Keith and Albee bought them out. But that wasn’t the last of it.
In 1920, the Shuberts attempted once again to set up a rival circuit, called Shubert Advanced Vaudeville. The plan of this new outfit was to outbid Albee for all his major acts for a short time until he went broke – at which time, presumably, they could buy his theatres and pay the acts whatever they wanted. But Albee was not to be so easily cowed. He called the Shuberts’ bluff by matching all their bids, no matter how high, and threatening to blacklist all those who went to the Shuberts. Strapped for acts, Advanced Vaudeville hung on for a few years by switching to unit shows (as Weber and Fields and others had done in the 1880s and 90s), a move that was feasible since they owned all of the theatres. Weber and Fields themselves traveled with one of these Shubert units, as did the Marx Brothers, Ed Wynn, James Cagney and Fred Allen. But this strenuous gambit defeated the whole purpose of switching to vaudeville which was its increased cost effectiveness. The Shuberts caved and went back to producing regular Broadway musicals.
By the way, the Shubert Archives are one of most interesting performing arts archives in the city, and the gang there were especially helpful to me in researching my book. Look them up to learn more about the history of the Shubert Organization. They are right here.
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.