American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 11

Martin Beck

The only serious rival B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee ever had was Martin Beck who developed the Western Vaudeville Managers Association and the Orpheum circuit.  Beck came to the USA as a member of a performing troupe and stayed on to learn the management business.  Starting in concert saloons, he worked his way up from waiter to bartender, to bookkeeper to manager.

He was the guiding force that built San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre into a vaudeville circuit that spread from the Pacific to Chicago.  Beck moved eastward with the circuit, eventually challenging the titans of the Keith-Albee vaudeville empire on their own turf by building the Palace Theatre in Manhattan.  Keith and Albee defeated Beck, eventually, but their victory cost them dearly.

Beck turned to the legitimate theatre and with his own money built a playhouse named after himself.  Keith and Albee guarded their empire so closely that they were unprepared for the death of vaudeville and the rise of moving pictures with sound.