William A. Brady: The Boxing and Broadway Connection

An eclectic career was that of William A. Brady (1863-1950).

The son of a newspaperman, Brady began his career as an actor in San Francisco with the important Joseph R. Grismer/ Phoebe Davies stock company, planting seeds that were bear fruit on Broadway a few years later. From there he became a boxing manager and promoter, whose best known fighters were James J. Jeffries and James J. Corbett. In 1889 he cast Jeffries in a production of Dion Boucicault’s 1868 play After Dark (sparking legal trouble and publicity due to the fact that Augustin Daly also had a version). This launched his career as a Broadway impresario. Meantime, he still had a foot in the boxing world. In 1897 he staged the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, which was filmed, becoming the longest motion picture up until that time (100 minutes, in an era when people were still watching one minute films on Kinetoscopes).

Brady produced over 250 plays on Broadway between 1889 and 1940, tricky to count, since some were revivals of his own productions. In 1898 he collaborated with his old boss Joseph Grismer to co-produce Way Down East (later adapted into a film by D.W. Griffith). In 1899, he and Florenz Ziegfeld co-produced Mlle. Fifi featuring Grace George, who became his second wife that year. Other notable productions included a 1901 version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Wilton Lackaye and Annie Yeamans; Foxy Grandpa (1902) starring Joseph Hart; a 1904 adaptation of Frank Norris’s The Pit, also later to be filmed by Griffith; a 1905 version of Trilby with Lackaye as Svengali; Clothes (1906-07) a long-running hit by Avery Hopwood and Channing Pollock starring George and a young Douglas Fairbanks; numerous classics (Shakespeare et al) starring Robert B. Mantell; several productions showcasing his daughter Alice Brady, notably several Gilbert and Sullivan musicals as well as an adaptation of Little Women.

In 1914 he founded the World Film Company in Fort Lee NJ, which produced over 100 movies through 1920, including adaptations of many of his stage productions and things like the 1915 version of Alias Jimmy Valentine. He continued to mount Broadway productions throughout this period. Later Brady productions of note include the original stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby (1926), and the original 1929 production of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.