Philip J. Smith, a Energy on Broadway, Is Useless at 89
Philip J. Smith, chairman of the highly effective Shubert Group, whose empire of Broadway theaters and showcase productions made him certainly one of New York’s most influential actual property and cultural entrepreneurs, died on Friday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 89.
An announcement launched by Shubert and his daughters, Linda Phillips and Jennifer Stein, stated the trigger was issues of Covid-19.
From a baronial suite in Shubert Alley within the coronary heart of the theater district, Mr. Smith, a low-key businessman who began as a film usher, presided for greater than a decade over the nation’s oldest and largest theatrical firm, an archipelago of 17 Broadway theaters, lots of them historic landmarks; six Off Broadway levels; and different properties, together with a theater in Philadelphia.
For a lot of his six-decade Shubert profession, Mr. Smith was the protégé of the inventive giants Gerald Schoenfeld, the chairman, and Bernard B. Jacobs, the president. They had been extensively credited with reviving a moribund Broadway — and Shubert too — within the Nineteen Seventies with hits like “Pippin,” “Equus“ and “A Refrain Line,” the 1975 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that ran for 15 years.
In these days, Broadway theaters shared Instances Sq. with prostitutes, derelicts and intercourse outlets. However as crowds flocked to “Cats” (1981), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1988) and different hits, the scene turned the family-oriented leisure district that it’s right now. Mr. Schoenfeld and Mr. Jacobs expanded Shubert’s position as few theater house owners had earlier than, investing in reveals they offered and infrequently producing or co-producing them.
After 17 years as govt vp, Mr. Smith turned Shubert’s president when Mr. Jacobs died in 1996 and its chairman when Mr. Schoenfeld died in 2008. He additionally turned chairman of the Shubert Basis, the biggest personal funder of nonprofit theater and dance corporations in America.
Robert E. Wankel, who succeeded Mr. Smith as president, had been Shubert’s co-chief govt officer with Mr. Smith from 2008 till June, when Mr. Smith retired and was named chairman emeritus. Ms. Wankel at that time was named chairman and chief govt.
In distinction to the showman Mr. Schoenfeld and the extra reserved and creative Mr. Jacobs, Mr. Smith was a detail-oriented businessman who labored largely behind the scenes throughout their heyday. After succeeding them, he continued to play the hidden hand, negotiating reserving contracts with producers and labor contracts with theatrical unions.
However like his mentors, he additionally started to wield huge energy over Broadway’s choices, deciding which musicals, dramas and comedies tens of millions of theatergoers would see in Shubert theaters every season, fixing their venues, setting ticket costs and figuring out when every present would open and shut.
Privately held, Shubert doesn’t report funds, however its attain and Mr. Smith’s affect had been undoubted. Because the proprietor of 40 % of Broadway’s 41 theaters, the group had hefty shares of their audiences and revenues of about $1.5 billion earlier than the coronavirus pandemic shut down the business for many of final 12 months and into this one.
Shubert additionally contributed a significant share of the $12.5 billion that Broadway generated yearly to the town’s economic system, together with manufacturing prices, ticket costs, tourism and ancillary spending, in line with the Broadway League, the business commerce group.
Mr. Smith joined Shubert in 1957, and 60 years later he recalled his first day on the job because the box-office supervisor of the Imperial Theater, a 1,400-seat musical venue on West forty fifth Avenue.
“Frank Loesser’s hit, ‘The Most Comfortable Fella,’ was enjoying,” he stated in an interview for this obituary in 2017. “The present was a couple of Could-December romance. It was nearing the top of its run, and by the point ‘Jamaica,’ with Lena Horne, changed it, I had been moved to the field workplace of the Majestic Theater. Ethel Merman was enjoying there in ‘Comfortable Looking.’”
Rising by the ranks to common supervisor of all Shubert theaters in 1970, Mr. Smith made a midcareer identify by devising new methods to promote tickets to Broadway reveals. With American Specific, he launched using bank cards for ticket gross sales in 1971. He was then instrumental in serving to Anna Crouse, a former actress, set up the low cost TKTS sales space in Duffy Sq. in 1973. (She died in 2014.)
Victoria Bailey, govt director of the Theatre Improvement Fund, recalled in 2013: “Phil Smith was there from day one, working with Mayor Lindsay and the Parks Division to get the development trailer that turned the primary TKTS sales space, full with 4 ticket home windows. It appears solely becoming that 57.5 million admissions later, as we put together to have a good time the fortieth anniversary of TKTS, we tip our hat and provides because of certainly one of its best boosters.”
Named Shubert’s govt vp in 1979, Mr. Smith turned the architect of the group’s computerized ticketing and seating system, which was made accessible to all Broadway theaters. Within the Eighties, with Mr. Wankel, he helped discovered Telecharge, Shubert’s nationwide ticketing service, which started with cellphone gross sales and later integrated web gross sales.
“Earlier than Telecharge, all ticketing was by mail order or gross sales on the field workplace,” Mr. Smith stated. “We began with our personal phone system, six or eight telephones in every theater. Individuals referred to as in on to the theater for tickets. It was a clumsy system.”
Mr. Smith was a well-recognized determine on Broadway. “He attended virtually each opening night time for over 60 years,” Mr. Wankel stated. “He mingled with the First Nighters and attended the events at Sardi’s and different locations. He knew everyone in theater, and everyone knew him.”
Philip John Smith was born in Brooklyn on July 29, 1931, the eldest of 4 sons of Philip and Mary (Kilcoyne) Smith, Irish-Catholic immigrants. His father was a range mechanic for Brooklyn Union Gasoline. Philip and his brothers, Patrick, Thomas and Joseph, attended St. Ambrose College in Brooklyn. (It closed within the Nineteen Seventies.)
Philip dropped out of Bishop Loughlin Memorial Excessive College in Brooklyn in his senior 12 months to work as an usher. It was a fistfight that had led to that first job.
“At some point, a good friend and I went to the RKO Orpheum Theater after college to see a vaudeville present and a film,” he advised Playbill in 2005. “There was a struggle within the balcony and an usher received beat up. I stated to to my good friend, ‘I guess he gained’t be in tomorrow.’ I went to the supervisor of the theater and requested if he had an ushering job accessible. He stated, ‘Smitty, go downstairs and put in your uniform.’ I took the job, and I’ve by no means appeared again.”
He later turned supervisor of the RKO Palace (now the Palace) in Instances Sq., a 1,740-seat former vaudeville flagship that was persevering with to ebook reside leisure.
“Eight months after I began on the Palace, I used to be requested to take Judy Garland and her husband, Sid Luft, on a tour of the theater,” he recalled. “That led to Judy’s record-breaking engagement in 1951. I keep in mind when she first introduced Liza” — her daughter — “onstage to carry out along with her. After Judy, there got here a complete collection of stars — Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, Liberace, Jerry Lewis.”
At a celebration one night time in 1957, Mr. Smith met Irving Morrison, a Shubert govt, who employed him for the Imperial field workplace. His profession was launched.
He married Phyllis Campbell, a dancer, in 1960. She died in 1994. A second marriage, in 1999, to Tricia Walsh, led to divorce in 2008. Along with his daughters, from his first marriage, he’s survived by 5 grandchildren and a brother, Joseph.
Mr. Smith, who lived in Manhattan, was vice chairman of the Actors Fund and a trustee of Broadway Cares/Fairness Fights AIDS. In 2011, he obtained a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. In 2015, he was inducted into the Theater Corridor of Fame and named by the New York Landmarks Conservancy as a Residing Landmark.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.
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