James M. Nederlander, Legend of American Theater, Dies at 94

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James M. Nederlander

He produced such risky efforts as 'Annie' and 'Nicholas Nickleby,' and his Nederlander Organization owns several Broadway theaters as well as the Pantages in Hollywood.

Nederlander Organization chairman James M. Nederlander, the patriarch of the last great showbiz family of the American theater, has died. He was 94.

Nederlander, whose company owns and/or runs such Broadway houses as the Brooks Atkinson, the Gershwin, the Richard Rodgers — home of Hamilton — and the Lunt-Fontanne as well as the Pantages in Hollywood, died Monday night in Southampton, N.Y.

Said his son James L. Nederlander, president of The Nederlander Organization: "He was my best friend and partner in every aspect of our business. We collaborated every day. The world has lost one of its great impresarios."

The senior Nederlander produced more than a hundred of the most acclaimed Broadway musicals and plays of all time, including Annie, Applause, La Cage aux Folles, Nine, Noises Off, Sweet Charity, The Will Rogers Follies and Woman of the Year.

In 1981, his company collaborated with the rival Shubert family to produce The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, the risky eight-hour, two-session adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel.

In 2004, Nederlander received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located outside the Pantages on Hollywood Boulevard.

During a career that spanned more than 70 years, Nederlander also built one of the largest private live entertainment companies in the world, one that also includes venue management, theatrical producing and concert presentation, merchandising, concessions and patron services.

The Detroit native is credited with developing the outdoor amphitheater concept, with such notable venues as the New Jersey Garden State Arts Center, the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., and, as the decades-long operator until this year, of the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
 
James M. Nederlander, or "Jimmy" to his friends, started working in the theater at age 7, sweeping floors for his father, David Tobias (D.T.) Nederlander. His dad started the theater empire in 1912.

When he was 18, Jimmy left the Detroit Institute of Technology, where he was studying law, to work at the box office of the Lafayette Theater in Detroit for $25 a week.

He then served as a treasurer in a traveling Air Force production of Moss Hart's Winged Victory. It made its way to Broadway, where he began to make New York connections.

In 2012, Nederlander and his son were named “Living Landmarks” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

“The Nederlanders of the last 100 years is a uniquely American story of vision, determination and a tradition of hard work that has been passed down from one generation to the next," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, said then. "Given the theaters Jimmy and his family have restored, the legion of artists they have supported and the legacy of shows they have produced or presented over the last century, their contribution to our culture is as profound.”

The Nederlander Organization also owns and/or runs the Marquis, the Minskoff, the Neil Simon, the Palace and the Nederlander Theatre, which was named for his father in 1980.

In 1973, Nederlander acquired a share of the New York Yankees after he put up money to help George Steinbrenner purchase the team. His younger brother Robert served as the Yankees' managing general partner, succeeding Steinbrenner, in 1990-91.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife Charlene and grandchildren James M. Nederlander II and Kathleen.

A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday at Temple Emanuel in New York City.

 

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