More Orpheum Theatre pages: vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | backstage | lofts |
Opened: February 15, 1926 with two-a-day Orpheum circuit vaudeville on a reserved seat basis. Many famous acts such as the Marx Brothers, Sally Rand, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington and Jack Benny have performed at the Orpheum. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018
"Elegance Without Jazz is Keynote of Interior." This drawing by L.A. Times staff artist Charles H. Owens appeared in the paper's February 14, 1926 issue with "Orpheum is Magnificent Addition to Los Angeles Theaters," a florid article by Times drama critic Edwin Schallert. He noted that it was "the culmination of more than thirty years progress in vaudeville" and the decor could be best described by the term "quiet resplendence." Among the many features he admired was "a crystal curtain that under illumination will become a shimmering mass of gem-like brilliance."
The theatre's initial bill was listed in this L.A. Times ad that appeared February 14. On opening day, the 15th, there was a full page ad offering congratulations by various merchants and suppliers. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Times items. Don't miss the page about the Orpheum on his Historic Theatre Photography site.
In a Times article on the 15th headed "Theater On Hop Keeping Up With City" they noted the circuit's moves reflected the rapid growth of the city. Marcus Helman, head of the circuit, commented:
"A theater has to keep pace with the progress of the city where it is located. Our new theater here was built because the old one was not in keeping with what such an institution should be in a city that has the size and importance of Los Angeles. This the fourth time the Los Angeles Orpheum has made such a move and, for similar reasons, during the thirty-two years we have been established here. It is a trend unique in theater history. The average life of a theater is about twenty years. In
Los Angeles it's eight years."
Architect: G. Albert Lansburgh, one of the country's most successful theatre architects. He had earlier designed the 1911 Orpheum (now the Palace) and the 1922 Hillstreet Theatre for the Orpheum circuit. His other work in Los Angeles includes the Warner Hollywood and the auditoria of the Wiltern Theatre, the El Capitan Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium.
A drawing of the interior is seen in this ad appearing in the January 1, 1926 L.A. Times Annual Midwinter Number. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for spotting it on the site Ad Sausage where they have has archived several hundred ads from the Midwinter editions from the 20s to the 60s. That "Hollywood Dramatic Theatre" also on the Lansburgh drawing boards at the same time is the El Capitan, although it didn't turn out as we see here.
The theatre is discussed in "Life o' the Show-House: Light," an article by Nellie Barnard Parker from the publication "Light" that was reprinted in the February 19, 1927 issue of Exhibitors Herald. The article also discusses the Egyptian, Carthay Circle and Forum theatres. Along with a photo looking into the house from the Orpheum's stage Ms. Parker comments:
A proscenium photo of the theatre appeared in the October 1, 1927 issue of Exhibitors Herald with the article "Fabrics Used For Decorative Effects." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Exhibitors Herald articles on Internet Archive.
Main floor and balcony plans appearing in "American Theatres of Today" by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts. The two volumes of the book were published in 1927 and 1930 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co, New York. It was reprinted in one volume in 1977 by the Vestal Press, New York. Thanks to Mike Hume for including a pdf of the four pages of Orpheum material from the book on his Historic Theatre Photography page about the theatre.
Seating: 2,350 originally. Later down to 2,190. Currently it's 1,976 seats with 1,019 of that on the main floor, 146 in the lower section of the balcony, 781 in the upper section of the balcony and 30 in the boxes.
"Another Orpheum Theatre Installs H-W Seating." The ad promoting Heywood-Wakefield's "Special Opera Chair" installed at the New Orpheum appeared in the July 10, 1926 Motion Picture News as well as the August 7, 1926 Motion Picture News. The ad also appeared in the July 10, 1926 Exhibitors Herald. The pages are on Internet Archive.
"Making Patrons Comfortable at the Los Angeles Orpheum" was the headline in this Heywood-Wakefield ad that featured a view across the back of the main floor. It appeared in the October 1, 1927 Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Herald ads. They may have done a good job on the seats but Heywood-Wakefield didn't get the architect's name right. It's different in both ads and neither one is correct.
Pipe Organ: It's a 3/14 Wurlitzer Style 240 that was installed in 1928. The theatre didn't have an organ until then. The Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society has a page on the instrument.
An April 5, 1928 L.A. Times article about the Wurlitzer's debut that Mike Hume located. The N.V.A. referred to in the article was the National Vaudeville Artists, a puppet union started by Edward Albee, the head of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit, to fight off a real union that was nicknamed The White Rats.
Stage specifications: The proscenium is 50' wide and 28'6" high. The stage depth is 29' from the smoke pocket to the back wall. See the backstage page for more details.
While the Orpheum went to a film only policy (for a while anyway) in late 1929, the RKO Hillstreet Theatre at 8th and Hill continued with vaudeville and revues. The copy in the Orpheum's November program was a bit out of date. That "Street Girl" booking for the Orpheum had gone to the Hillstreet instead, being the first film to play the house when it reopened September 10 after being renamed the RKO Theatre.
RKO defaults: Business remained so so bad at the Orpheum, despite the reintroduction of vaudeville programs, that RKO closed the theatre at the end of 1932, defaulting on their lease.
"VODVIL." The big Times ad on the day of the reopening. Later there were big band shows, personal appearances and more. They kept the stage in use until 1947 when the circuit moved their vaudeville shows to the Million Dollar.
Vaudeville took a break and was then was back with a heavily promoted return in 1949. It continued intermittently, along with rock and roll, big bands and personal appearances into the early 50s.
A 1950 ad for vaudeville at the Orpheum. Yes, you got a film too: "The Pirates of Capri." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad for a post on the Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles.
Another ad for another vaudeville + film show in 1950. Again thanks to Ken McIntyre for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.
Closing as a film house: The Orpheum continued to be operated by Metropolitan Theatres until closing as a film house in 2000.
Status: Since 1964 the building has been owned by the Needleman family. The company, Anjac Fashion Properties, is now headed by Steve Needleman. The theatre is open for for film shoots, business meetings, award shows and other special events after a $4 million refurbishment. The office building is now residential and known as the Orpheum Lofts.
The Orpheum regularly hosts many concerts and other events plus there are occasional film screenings sponsored by the L.A. Conservancy. The theatre has events over 120 days per year, all rentals. They don't promote any events themselves.
The Orpheum in the Movies:
The Orpheum and the Warner Downtown are seen in the 11 minute 1946 short film "Your Traffic Officer" from the L.A. City Clerk's office. "Suspense" was a June 1946 release with Barry Sullivan and ice skater Belita. The film is on YouTube. Thanks to Eitan Alexander for the screenshot. And to Torr Leonard, Michelle Gerdes and Hunter Kerhart for also spotting the theatres in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Warner from the film.
The opening of "Three Daring Daughters" (MGM, 1948) is set in New York but about 10 minutes in we're seeing the Orpheum, the vertical of the United Artists and, a moment later, a bit of the Rialto out the back of a cab. Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue as the daughters. Jeanette MacDonald is the mother and Jose Iturbi plays himself as a new husband. Fred M. Wilcox directed. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the film.
Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A" (Cardinal Pictures/United Artists, 1950) starts in San Francisco but about an hour in we come to L.A. and get a ride down Broadway with views of the Orpheum, Tower and Million Dollar. Edmond O'Brien is trying to track down the guy who gave him a lethal dose of radium. In the distance note the UA building with two lit verticals -- one for the theatre and one for Texaco. This footage also appears as part of the title sequence in Thom Andersen's "Los Angeles Plays Itself." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Tower and Million Dollar from the film.
We get a lot of action at the Orpheum in Billy Wilder's "The Front Page" (Universal, 1974) with the theatre's interior doubling as a Chicago Balaban & Katz house in the 20s. Susan Sarandon is seen here playing the organ. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for six more shots of the Orpheum. The post also includes two shots of the Regent on Main St. We see lots of Main St. while the police are chasing all over Chicago looking for an escaped prisoner.
The Orpheum is used in Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love" (20th Century Fox, 1975) when Burt Reynolds, Cybil Shepard and Duilio Del Prete are supposedly at a New York theatre to see Madeline Kahn in a Cole Porter show. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Orpheum shots as well as several at the Pantages from later in the film.
The Tower, Rialto and Orpheum appear briefly in Sidney Poitier's "Let's Do It Again" (Warner Bros./First Artists, 1975) although we're supposedly cruising around New Orleans.
The Orpheum is standing in for the New Amsterdam in New York in Herbert Ross's "Funny Lady" (Columbia, 1975). Here Barbra Streisand and Roddy McDowell take a walk through the house after the closing night of a Ziegfeld Follies show. See the post on Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies for more Orpheum views from the film. We also go to the Los Angeles Theatre and the Pan Pacific Auditorium.
The Orpheum marquee is used in the opening credits of "Coming Attractions"
(Cinema Finance Associates, 1978). Ira Miller directed the film, retitled "Loose Shoes"
for a 1982
reissue. It's a comedy structured as a series of skits and trailers. Featured are
Bill Murray, Buddy Hackett, Royce D. Applegate, Lewis Arquette, Tom Baker and Dorothy Van. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies
post for marquee shots of the Whittier, Wiltern, Palace, La Reina and
Rivoli in Long Beach. The Gilmore Drive-In is seen at the film's end.
We see lots of downtown Los Angeles including the Rialto and the Orpheum while Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy are supposedly driving around San Francisco in Walter Hill's film "48 Hrs." (Paramount, 1982).
John Travolta walks off the Orpheum stage after not making the cut in an audition seen during the opening credits of Sylvester Stallone's "Staying Alive" (Paramount, 1983). We're supposed to be in New York with Travolta's Saturday Night Fever character trying to make it as a Broadway dancer. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots as well as many from scenes done at the Philharmonic Auditorium.
A fine view off left from Nick Castle's film "Tap" (TriStar, 1989). It's set in New York with Gregory Hines as a tap dancer just out of prison who is auditioning for a Broadway show that his ex-girlfriend Suzzanne Dougles is helping to cast. Also featured are Sammy Davis, Jr., Savion
Joe Morton, Dick Anthony Williams, Howard 'Sandman' Sims, Etta James and
Terrance E. McNally. The cinematography was by David Gribble. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen more views at the Orpheum plus seven of a jewel heist at the the Warner, 7th & Hill.
We're at the Orpheum as playwright John Turturro is taking a curtain call for his play at the Belasco in New York City at the beginning of Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink" (Fox, 1991). The playwright moves to L.A. and goes to a hotel whose lobby looks suspiciously like that of the Wiltern. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three shots at the "Earle Hotel" as well as two more backstage shots at the Orpheum.
The Orpheum is a New Haven concert venue in Oliver Stone's "The Doors" (TriStar Pictures, 1991). That's Bill Graham onstage telling the audience to sit down. The film stars Val Kilmer, Kathleen Quinlan, Meg Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Orpheum shots as well as a view of the 5th floor loft at the Palace as a New York apartment.
We see the Orpheum very briefly in Kenneth Branagh's "Dead Again" (Paramount, 1991) as Branagh conducts the Los Angeles Symphony. The film is all about karma, past lives, gender switching, and many pairs of scissors. It features Branagh and Emma Thompson in dual roles (past lives, you know) along with Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, Christine Ebersole and Campbell Scott. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several shots from the Orpheum scene.
The Orpheum is used as Minsky's Burlesque Theatre in the 1993 TV movie version of "Gypsy" with Bette Midler. Here Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy is on the runway. Mama Rose is lurking around there somewhere. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots from the film as well as views of the State and the Palace.
The Orpheum is the star of John McTiernan's "Last Action Hero" (Columbia, 1993) -- well, after Arnold anyway. On the street we're on 42nd St. in NYC. Inside, it's the Orpheum in Los Angeles. All but the booth (that's a set). The film is surprisingly funny and what's not to like? It's all about the joy of going to the movies in run-down old theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for many more Orpheum interior shots, several views of the set built for the projection booth scenes, and shots of the Olympic, Globe and Tower theatres that are used in a nighttime New York chase. The cinematography was by Dean Semler. Eugenio Zanetti was the production designer.
In Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" (Touchstone Pictures, 1994) we head to a premiere of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" at the Pantages in Hollywood but when we go inside we're in the Orpheum. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum shots as well as views of the Pantages, the Warner Hollywood and the Stadium Theatre in Torrance.
A band from Erie, PA heads to Pittsburgh for a show in 1964 in Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do" (20th Century Fox, 1996). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots of the Orpheum from the film. Featured in addition to Hanks are Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Steve Zahn, Giovanni Ribisi and Tom Everett Scott.
Rene Russo and two apes she brought to the show have a brief scene in the balcony at the beginning of Caroline Thompson's film "Buddy" (Columbia Pictures, 1997). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two shots from the scene.
Policeman Michael Rooker goes to a Cartoon Festival at the Tower. But when we're inside it's the Orpheum. The bad guys are waiting but here comes Chow Yun-Fat down the aisle to save the evening in Antoine Fuqua's "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more Orpheum views from the film as well as shots of the Mayan, Tower and the Million Dollar.
All the interiors were done at the Orpheum for a folk music concert supposedly at Town Hall in New York City in Christopher Guest's folk music satire "A Mighty Wind" (Warner Bros., 2003). The film features Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Eugene Levy. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for many more Orpheum views.
In David Lynch's "Inland Empire" (Studio Canal, 2006) Laura Dern has all sorts of unfathomable adventures including coming into the Orpheum and seeing herself on the screen doing a tour of the theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Orpheum auditorium view.
Looking north on Broadway in Michael Bay's "Transformers" (Dreamworks SKG/Paramount, 2007). Thanks to the Cinema Heritage Group for the screenshot, from their Cinemas in the Movies Facebook album. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Orpheum views as well as a shot of the Rialto.
The Orpheum is used for the interiors of a Broadway theatre in Sam Raimi's "Spider Man 3" (Columbia/Sony, 2007). Tobey Maguire goes to see a show that his girl friend, Kirsten Dunst, is appearing in. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more Orpheum shots from the film.
We see lots of the Orpheum in Tim Hill's "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (20th Century Fox, 2007). The theatre, of course, is where the Chipmunks' world tour is scheduled to start. In addition to the chipmunks, the film stars Jason Lee, David Cross and Cameron Richardson. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for nine more shots of the Orpheum from the film -- plus a few pretending to be the Orpheum. We also see Disney Hall at the end.
In David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Warner Bros., 2008), the Orpheum interior doubles as New York City''s Majestic Theatre with Cate Blanchett onstage for the ballet in a performance of "Carousel." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another shot from onstage at the Orpheum as well as several at the Los Angeles Theatre. It's standing in for the Opera House in Paris.
We have a situation in Tim Hill's "Hop" (Universal, 2011) with a bunny who's designated to be the year's Easter Bunny but decides to skip his duties and run away to be a drummer. He shows up at the Orpheum for an audition conducted by David Hasselhoff. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more views of the Orpheum from the film as well as shots of the Pantages and the La Reina.
The Orpheum makes a glorious black and white appearance during the opening of Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" (The Weinstein Co., 2011). It's nice to see a band in the pit! Too bad they didn't reinstall those first few rows of seats for the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Orpheum shot as well as one at the Los Angeles Theatre.
The Orpheum is featured in Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight, 2012), a drama about the director's relationship with his wife Alma during the making of "Psycho." It stars Anthony Hopkins (seen here on the Orpheum stage) and Helen Mirren. The Suzanne Tenner photo is from the Fox Searchlight Facebook page. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for an Orpheum marquee view as well as several shots of the Palace.
Olivia Wilde, Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi are on the Orpheum's stage in Don Scardino's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (New Line/Warner Bros. 2013), a strange comedy about magic that's set in Las Vegas. The film also stars James Gandolfini and Jim Carrey. The Orpheum stands in for the showroom at a hotel called "Doug." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four more shots of the Orpheum from the film.
We're backstage at the Orpheum, doubling for the Ed Sullivan Theatre, in Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" (Warner Bros., 2014). The film also uses the Palace and Belasco theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for some of those shots as well as more Orpheum views.
The Orpheum puts in an appearance in Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash" (Sony Classics, 2014), set in New York City. We get a nice exterior shot of Carnegie Hall near the end but we're at the Orpheum when we go backstage, check out the lobby, and view the auditorium. The film stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four additional Orpheum shots as well as a dozen views of various areas at the Palace Theatre that were used for the film.
The Orpheum is one of a half dozen theatres to get a marquee shot included in the title sequence of "Entourage" (Warner Bros., 2015). The film, directed by Doug Ellin, stars Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Connolly plus many others doing cameos. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more screenshots.
Aspiring model Elle Fanning and her new friend Jena Malone head to a party in the Orpheum lobby in Nicholas Winding Refn's "The Neon Demon" (Broad Green Pictures, 2016). See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a balcony lobby shot and several of the restroom -- but the one they use turns out to be at the Los Angeles Theatre.
We're outside the Orpheum near the end of Dan Gilroy's "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (Columbia/Sony, 2017). The film features Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo in a story of a brilliant, idealistic lawyer who makes a serious misstep. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots from the sequence where we also get brief glimpses of the Rialto, Warner Downtown and the Los Angeles.
The Orpheum dressed up nicely in April 2018 for a TV reboot of "L.A. Confidential." Thanks to David Johnson for catching the action on Broadway and posting this photo on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. He also has a display case closeup and another street view.
The Orpheum appears in Craig Brewer's "Dolemite is My Name" (Netflix, 2019) as the site of the premiere of "Dolemite," a 1975 blaxploitation epic. The film stars Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen more photos.
The Orpheum on video: We get some early 1990s exterior views of the Orpheum, shots done inside the tower atop the United Artists, and views of other downtown locations in the All-4-One music video "I Swear." Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting it on YouTube.
And don't miss "The Markham Collection," Don Solosan's wonderful video done in 2011 for the L.A. Conservancy. It's about the historic curtain collection of Steve Markham. Much of it was shot in the Orpheum. Stick around for Mr. Solosan's fine time lapse action sequence behind the final credits.
More Information on the Orpheum Theatre: The Cinema Treasures page on the Orpheum Theatre has a great discussion of the theatre's history and many photos. The Cinema Tour page on the Orpheum has many great photos by Adam Martin.
Visit Mike Hume's page on the Orpheum on his Historic Theatre Photography site for lots of tech data and many terrific photos.
Other surviving theatre buildings on the 800 block: Tower | Rialto | Vanished theatres on the 800 block include: Arrow | Garrick | Tally's Broadway | Majestic | Woodley/Mission Theatre |
More information about the Orpheum Circuit and RKO: We get a brief history of the circuit on page 612 of Frank Cullen's "Vaudeville Old And New" (1,368 pages in 2 volumes, Routledge, 2006). It's on Google books. Cullen's comments about the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit:
"In 1927, after a score of years of rivalry and increasing accommodation through joint booking arrangements between the two big-time circuits, the Keith-Albee and the Orpheum circuits merged into a single corporation, Keith-Albee-Orpheum. The event should have been momentous, two giants combining and consolidating their power and reach, but it occurred late in December 1927, ten weeks after the part-sound movie 'The Jazz Singer' opened in New York City. By that time, any news that vaudeville could generate was relegated to the back pages; motion pictures that talked, sang and danced were the talk of the town.
"The stronger of the two circuits was Keith-Albee, and as E.F. Albee held a substantial block of voting shares of the combined stock, he became president of the corporation. His lieutenant, J.J. Murdock, whose holdings were about half that of Albee's, was made vice president. It was Murdock who brought Joseph P. Kennedy into the deal. Albee had assumed that Murdock was as loyal to him as Albee had been to B.F. Keith. Murdock had always made it seem that way, but J.J. was interested in getting into the movie business. He believed that Albee had failed to recognize the growing importance of motion pictures and the decline of vaudeville. Murdock looked to Kennedy to bring new energy and purpose into the Keith-Albee-Orpheum enterprise and to give Murdock a commanding role in the new order.
"In less than a year, Keith-Albee-Orpheum was no more. It had been recast as Radio-Keith-Orpheum, and its business refocused by the participation of Radio Corporation of America (RCA), founded by David Sarnoff, who also headed the first and most developed radio network, National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The new agenda included RCA's development of an improved system for sound motion pictures, the adaptation of the Keith-Orpheum operation to distribute and exhibit movies in their coast-to-coast network of theatres, and the utilization of Kennedy's FBO studios to produce talking pictures. Albee's power, along with his name, had vanished from the new corporation, RKO, yet Murdock did not win the top executive slot and replace Albee. The era of showmen was over, and not just in vaudeville. Show business had become an industry, and financiers wielded the power in industry."
C.W. Porter's website about Joe Kennedy and his ruthless business methods has a page on "The Robber Baron and the Film Industry." He quotes from "The Sins of the Father" by Ronald Kessler regarding Joe's adventures assembling what became RKO. Some excerpts from the page:
"After making his fortune on and off Wall Street, Joe was one of the first Eastern businessmen to grasp the potential of the movie business. By the mid-1920s, the American film industry was turning out 800 films a year and employed as many people as the auto industry. This was 'a gold mine,' Joe told several friends. After buying a chain of thirty-one small movie houses, Joe realized that the way to make real money was on the production side. Moreover, he was attracted to the glamour of Hollywood. Not only could he influence the way films were made, he could meet dazzling young women. While his wife Rose was in Boston, pregnant with their eighth child, Joe was in Hollywood engaged in his notorious liaison with the superstar Gloria Swanson.
"In 1926, Joe convinced a patron of his brokerage firm, named Guy Currier, to finance his plans to enter the movie business. Using insider information he received as a broker at Hayden, Stone, Joe bought the Film Booking Offices of America (FBO), sight unseen, from its British owners; and then received a commission of $75,000 from the trading company for the deal. Joe quickly changed the studio's focus to making cheap Westerns and dog pictures that could be turned out in a week for $30,000 to $50,000 each. Although they lacked artistic merit, the pictures sold, and FBO profits ballooned.
"The following year, Joe Kennedy used the profits from FBO to purchase the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) who had a new system for making motion pictures with sound. Now that Joe headed a studio, he wanted to buy a theater chain to distribute his pictures. This desire would eventually lead to the infamous 'Pantages Scandal.' [Note: Joe Kennedy may have had stock in RCA or its parent, General Electric, but he never "owned" RCA. - B.C.]
"Kennedy purchased KAO (Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theaters Corp), a chain with 700 movie theaters in the US and Canada, and more than 2 million patrons daily. Edward Albee, the founder of KAO, had initially refused to sell out, but when Joe promised that he would remain in control of the chain, Albee agreed to Kennedy's offer. But once the papers were signed and Joe was chairman, Joe said bluntly, 'Didn't you know, Ed? You're washed up. Through.'
"In 1928, Joe was asked to serve as a special adviser on the board of Pathe Exchange Inc., a production company who produced a weekly newsreel. Joe soon became chairman of Pathe and began implementing his own ideas, beginning by slashing the salaries of the employees. The cost-cutting applied to others, however, and not to himself - he was drawing a salary of $100,000 from Pathe. Later that year, Joe merged FBO with his chain of theaters (KAO) to form the famous RKO. Joe then had RCA trade its FBO stock for stock in the new company, a deal which brought him $2 million. [The acquisition of FBO and KAO by RCA, later to be known as RKO, happened in October 1928. - B.C.]
"In 1931, Joe Kennedy plundered Pathe Exchange. He arranged for RKO to pay Pathe insiders like himself $80 a share. The rest of the stockholders would receive just one dollar and fifty cents a share... Since Joe had acquired the stock for $30 a share, he more than doubled his investment in fewer than two years. Stockholders filed suit, but nothing came of it. Moreover, he took advantage of privileged information from the files of major stockholders in the movie companies who were clients of Guy Currier, his partner at RKO. While Currier was on vacation in Italy, Kennedy pillaged his files for inside information such as the size of holdings of other stockholders and their financial condition. He then used the information to further his own interests.
"When Currier returned, he discovered that RKO's value had plummeted, and he and his fellow investors had been betrayed. Years later, Wisconsin Congressman John Schafer took to the floor of the House to denounce Joe Kennedy as the 'chief racketeer in the RKO swindle.' Joe Kennedy had been chairman of FBO for two years and nine months, chairman of Keith-Albee-Orpheum for five months, special adviser to First National Pictures for six weeks, special adviser to RCA for two and a half months, and adviser to Paramount Pictures for seventy-four days. In all, Joe had made an estimated $5 million in the movie business."
Also see an October 27, 1928 Motion Picture News story on Internet Archive about the merger of RCA with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit. The combined circuit had about 700 theatres.
In 1929 RKO purchased six of the Pantages circuit's theatres to enhance their west coast holdings. Kennedy's initial offer was $15 million for the whole circuit. He ended up with just six of the theatres in a July 1929 deal for $4.5 to $5 million. The story is that after Alexander Pantages rebuffed Joe Kennedy's initial offers, he started finding product hard to obtain for his theatres. Pantages troubles deepened when one Eunice Pringle claimed she was raped by Pantages in August 1929 in a broom closet at the Pantages Theatre at 7th & Hill St. Pantages had agreed to sell the theatre to Warner Bros. two days before Eunice's visit. See the Warner Downtown pages for more salacious details.
Wikipedia has articles on Joe Kennedy's Film Booking Offices as well as RKO Pictures. For a history of vaudeville also see John Kenrick's "Vaudeville" on the site Musicals 101.
The Orpheum Theatre pages: back to top - history | vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | backstage | lofts |
| Downtown: theatre district overview | Hill St. and farther west | Broadway theatres | Spring St. theatres | Main St. and farther east | downtown theatres by address | downtown theatres alphabetical list |
| Westside | Hollywood | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | [more] Los Angeles movie palaces | the main alphabetical list | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resources | theatres in movies | LA Theatres on facebook | contact info | welcome and site navigation guide |