John. J. Murdock

John J. Murdock (better known as “J.J.”) was one of the ruthless crop of top vaudeville managers who hid behind businessman-like initials (B.F. Keith, E.F. Albee, F.F. Proctor). If Albee was vaudeville’s top S.O.B. (he eventually became head man of the entire Big Time industry through sheer machination), Murdock did him one better. He was Albee’s right hand man — and it was Murdock’s petulant sale of his Keith-Albee-Orpheum stock to Joe Kennedy that gave the latter S.O.B. majority stake in the company, thus finishing Albee and vaudeville in one stroke. Ironically, if Albee had heeded Murdock’s entreaties to get into the film business earlier he might have staved this power play off. The new company R.K.O. put cinema first and foremost.

Murdock (born Scotland 1867) started out as an electrician, and made his first splash booking and managing the Masonic Temple Roof in Chicago. Within a few years, he was head of the Chicago-based Western Vaudeville Managers Association, which booked and organized all the Big Time vaudeville west of Chicago. The organization was the main check on Keith-Albee’s power in the west by design, so the fact that he later took the job as Albee’s chief will give you some idea of the opportunistic sort of man he was. He retired after cashing in his RKO chips, and passed away in 1948.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult 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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