As we approach our 100th Anniversary on December 11th, we are sharing stories from Edith Goodmaster, who worked at the Shubert for 25 years, as the private secretary of Maurice Bailey. Mr. Bailey operated the theatre during its Golden Era, and is credited with coining the phrase “Birthplace of the Nation’s Greatest Hits”.
As you can imagine, Edith has wonderful memories that she has been generous to share with us.
Please enjoy this series of stories we will be sharing via blog posts, excerpted from a presentation Edith gave at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Historical Society of New Haven.
MY LIFE AMONG THE STARS
It is hard to realize that it was 56 years ago, in 1952 that I was looking for a secretarial job and managed to find something that looked like it might do until I could find the one I really wanted. This temporary position lasted 25 years and ended only due to the death of my boss – Maurice H. Bailey. The job entailed working in the motion picture and legitimate theater business, as well as the other numerous interests in which he was involved, including the building of B’nai Jacob, the Woodbridge Country Club and the Jewish Home for the Aged.
At that time, there were several theatres in downtown New Haven owned and operated by the major film companies – Loews, Stanley Warner, and Paramount. The neighborhood theatres, the Whalley, Whitney and Westville, were owned and operated by Maurice and Meyer Bailey (the Westville was managed by brother Sam Bailey) and the downtown Crown (which at the time was an Art House) was owned by the Baileys, Bob Spodick, and Lennie Sampson. In later years we added the Strand in Hamden and the Cheshire Cinema. After Meyer’s death, his son, Alan, succeeded him as partner. Jack Fishman owned the other neighborhood houses, Dixwell, Howard, Rivoli and Lawrence. The Lincoln Theatre building was owned by the Baileys and Morris Nunes but operated by Len Sampson and Bob Spodick who had several other theatres throughout the state and until November 2005, still owned and operated the York Square Cinema in New Haven.
At that time, the major picture distributors MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., etc. had offices in New Haven. They were in the film building located on Meadow and later moved to Hamden due to the redevelopment of the Meadow St. area. Most of the managers and many employees were Jewish. I tried remembering some names and recall Henry and Larry Germaine, Walter Silverman, Barney Pitkin, Philip Gravitz, Seymour Levine, and Dave Titelman.
Of course, most of the studios in Hollywood were owned and operated by Jews. There is an interesting book on this subject called A WORLD OF THEIR OWN: HOW THE JEWS INVENTED HOLLYWOOD. In fact, the number of film stars who were born Jewish is legendary, name changes notwithstanding. I looked into a book in the B’nai Jacob library that lists stage and screen personalities, either born Jewish or converted and started to write down some names but realized that it was an impossible task – there are at least 313 listings.
In 1956 we received a phone call from United Artists Pictures. They wanted to look over the Whalley Theatre for a possible showing of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. This was to be shown on what was known as a “roadshow” basis. That meant it would be sold at higher prices, reserved seats, and most importantly, in a new process of wide-screen 65mm known as Todd AO after Mike Todd, who, you may recall married a girl by the name of Elizabeth Taylor. They found the Whalley uniquely suited to the road-show picture arrangement, we got the picture and for the next few years, we had exclusive showings of all the big pictures that were shown in this format including SOUTH PACIFIC, MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT, WEST SIDE STORY, BEN-HUR, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR. ZHIVAGO, and many others. The beginning of the end was in 1963 when Stanley Warner Co. built the new theatre in the Hamden Mart. This was the start of the multiscreen complexes that have taken over the industry. The Westville Theatre became a bank, the Whitney an apartment house, and the Whalley is a nature-food store.
In addition to motion pictures theatres, in 1941, a corporation consisting of Maurice H. Bailey, his brother Meyer, Harry Horstein and Morris Nunes, bought and opened the then closed Shubert Theatre and started a theatrical history that has not and will probably never be equaled. The entire wall of the inner lobby was once paneled with a listing of all of the shows that had appeared in New Haven with those that had premiered in highlighted – such names as OKLAHOMA, SOUTH PACIFIC, PAJAMA GAME, DAMN YANKEES, MY FAIR LADY, SOUND OF MUSIC, most of the other Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, and all of the several Neil Simon shows, as well as countless other comedies and dramas. As in the motion picture industry, the legitimate theatre was overwhelmingly populated with performers, producers, writers, composers, lyricists, and management who were born Jewish. Names such as Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Al Jolson, Jule Stein, Sammy Cahn, Leonard Bernstein, Dore Schary, come immediately to mind, and again the list is endless.