Alexander Pantages

Alexander Pantages, né Pericles, entrepreneur, vaudeville and motion picture theatre owner and manager (b at Andros, Greece 17 Feb 1867; d at Los Angeles 17 Feb 1936). Pericles Pantages was reputed to have changed his name to Alexander after hearing the story of Alexander the Great.

Pantages, Alexander

Alexander Pantages, né Pericles, entrepreneur, vaudeville and motion picture theatre owner and manager (b at Andros, Greece 17 Feb 1867; d at Los Angeles 17 Feb 1936). Pericles Pantages was reputed to have changed his name to Alexander after hearing the story of Alexander the Great. The early years of his life are not well documented but it is believed that he ran away from home at the age of nine and took to the sea, travelling around the globe while working on ships.

After 12 nomadic years at sea, Pantages eventually landed in San Francisco, where he received his introduction to the theatre while working as a utility boy in vaudeville houses. With the growing allure of riches from the Klondike Gold Rush, Pantages left for the Yukon Territory. He settled in Dawson City and for a brief period flirted with an early career as a welterweight boxer. But his interest in theatrical performance persisted and before long he was booking and staging live acts in the various bars and restaurants at which he worked. Before long, after securing financing from local investors, including the performer "Klondike" Kate Rockwell (who would become his mistress), Pantages bought a struggling theatre and re-christened it The Orpheum. Although relatively small in scale, the theatre was without question a success and provided the city's mining population with a much-needed distraction.

Although virtually illiterate, Pantages spoke numerous different languages and had an uncanny business sense and keen instinct for keeping audiences entertained. As fervour for the gold rush began to wane, Pantages began developing his theatre circuit across the western United States and Canada, amassing a sizable fortune in the process.

In 1914, the Pantages Playhouse was built in Winnipeg. Designed by frequent collaborator B. Marcus Priteca, this theatre would become the starting point for the touring performances Pantages would book for his theatrical circuits. Winnipeg's vaudeville patrons no doubt enjoyed the amount of influence their reactions bore, as an act's fate was largely determined by its success at this particular theatre. Pantages theatres were also built in Vancouver, Edmonton and Victoria.

Although the major theatrical circuits operating in the east largely blocked Pantages from expanding to that side of the continent, his circuit was the dominant market force in the west. Much of his success was due to his insistence on booking only top-quality, crowd-pleasing entertainment coupled with his perfected system of high audience turnover. At his peak, Pantages had under his control over 70 theatre houses. Perhaps most notable was the grandiose Hollywood Pantages, which seated 2800 and was home to the Academy Awards during the 1950s.

Throughout the 1920s, Pantages's empire suffered from the general decline in theatre audiences because of the competition from films. His career took a turn for the worse in 1929 when he was charged with raping a 17-year-old dancer who worked in one of his theatres. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison, but the verdict was overturned on an appeal. The trials, however, were extremely costly, and Pantages sold off his theatres shortly thereafter and retreated into retirement.