Benjamin Franklin Keith

Benjamin Franklin Keith

Benjamin Franklin Keith (January 26, 1846 – March 26, 1914) was an American vaudeville theatre owner, generally credited for the evolution of variety theater into vaudeville. [Harvnb|Strausbaugh|2006|p=127] [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=B.F. Keith Dies at Palm Beach. |url=|quote=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. |publisher=New York Times |date=March 26, 1914 |accessdate=2008-04-05 ]

Early years

He was born in Hillsboro Bridge, New Hampshire. He joined the circus 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, in founding 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 anytime, and stay until you reached the point in the show where you walked in.

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. The first showing was on June 29, 1896, they had obtained the exclusive American rights to the Lumière apparatus and their film output. 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 28, 1913 to Ethel Bird Chase (1887-?). She was 26 years old and Keith was 67. Her father was P. B. Chase. Keith died at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida in 1914. After his son, Andrew Keith, died in 1918, control of the company went to Albee.


After Keith's death, the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) corporation was formed in Marysville, Washington.


*1846 Birth in Hillsboro Bridge, New Hampshire on January 26
*1883 Partnered with Colonel William Austin in Boston
*1885 Partnered with Edward Franklin Albee II
*1896 Opens Union Square Theatre in New York City
*1906 Partnered with Frederick Freeman Proctor
*1909 Retires
*1913 Marriage to Ethel Bird Chase (1887-?)
*1914 Death in Palm Beach, Florida on March 26
*1918 Death of his son Andrew Keith (c1870-1918)
*1928 His company merges with Orpheum Circuit, Inc. on January 28


Further reading

* citation
last=Strausbaugh |first=John
url =
title=Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture

External links

* [ Benjamin Franklin Keith] at IMDB

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