Benjamin Franklin Keith

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Benjamin Franklin Keith
Benjamin Franklin Keith 001.jpg
Keith circa 1909
Born (1846-01-26)January 26, 1846
Died March 26, 1914(1914-03-26) (aged 68)
Spouse(s) Ethel Bird Chase (1887-?)
Keith Memorial Theatre, Boston (built 1928)
Keith's advertising wagon, ca.1894

Benjamin Franklin Keith (January 26, 1846 – March 26, 1914) was an American vaudeville theater owner, highly influential in the evolution of variety theater into vaudeville.[1][2]


Early years

Keith was born in Hillsboro Bridge, New Hampshire. He joined the circus (as a "candy butcher"[3]) after attending Van Amburg's Circus and then worked at Bunnell's Museum in New York City in the early 1860s. He later joined P.T. Barnum and then joined the Forepaugh Circus, before he opened a curio museum in Boston, in 1883, with Colonel William Austin. In 1885 he joined Edward Franklin Albee II, who was selling circus tickets and operating the Boston Bijou Theatre. Their opening show was on July 6, 1885. The theatre was one of the early adopters of the continuous variety show which ran from 10:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night, every day. Previously, shows ran at fixed intervals with several hours of downtime between shows. With the continuous show, you could enter the theatre at any time, and stay until you reached the point in the show where you arrived.[4]

Moving pictures

Albee and Keith opened the Union Square Theatre in New York City, and it was the site of the first American exhibition of the Lumière Cinématographe. They had obtained the exclusive American rights to the Lumière apparatus and their film output, and the first showing was on June 29, 1896. They then opened theatres in Philadelphia, and Boston, and then smaller theatres in the East and Midwest of the United States, buying out rival smaller chains. They signed a contract with Biograph Studios in 1896 which lasted until July 1905 when they switched to Edison Studios as their supplier of motion pictures. Keith and Albee merged their theatre circuit with Frederick Freeman Proctor in June 1906.


Keith withdrew from business in 1909 and married for a second time on October 29, 1913, to Ethel Bird Chase (1887-1971). She was 26 years old and Keith was 67. Her father was P. B. Chase.[5]

Keith died at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida in 1914.[1] After his son, Andrew Keith, died in 1918, control of the company went to Albee.


In 1928, the B. F. Keith Circuit merged with the Orpheum Circuit to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) corporation in Marysville, Washington. In a few months, this organization became the major motion picture studio Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). Also in 1928 the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre opened in Boston.[6] Keith Academy and Keith Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts were named for his family in 1926. His son A. Paul Keith had donated family money to Cardinal William O'Connell.[7]



  1. ^ a b "B.F. Keith Dies at Palm Beach". The New York Times. March 26, 1914. Retrieved 2008-04-05. Palm Beach, Florida, March 26, 1914. Vaudeville Manager Stricken on 25th Anniversary of Opening of His Boston Theatre. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of his Boston house, which was being celebrated today in that city, B.F. Keith, owner of the theatre circuit bearing his name, dropped dead at midnight tonight in the Breakers Hotel, where he was stopping with his wife and Paul Keith, his son. ...
  2. ^ Strausbaugh 2006, p. 127
  3. ^ Laurie, Jr., Joe; Vaudeville: From the Honky-tonks to the Palace, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1953
  4. ^ "Vaudeville to Pay Honors to Keith" (PDF). The New York Times. November 30, 1913.
  5. ^ "B.F. Keith Weds On Yacht. Vaudeville Manager, 67, Marries Miss Chase, 26. Bride's Brother Weds". The New York Times. October 30, 1913. Retrieved 2015-01-25. Benjamin F. Keith of New York, owner of Keith's vaudeville circuit, and Miss Ethel Bird Chase of this city were married at 6 o'clock this evening on Mr. Keith's yacht Nahmeyoka, anchored in the Potomac River. The bride is 26 years old and the bridegroom 67. ...
  6. ^ "History". Boston Opera House. Archived from the original on 2015-08-10. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  7. ^ "Lowell Catholic - Keith". Retrieved 2019-12-31.

Further reading

  • Strausbaugh, John (2006). Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture. Penguin. ISBN 1-58542-498-6.

External links

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