Daniel Frohman

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Date: Jan. 1, 1944
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 892 words

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About this Person
Born: August 22, 1851 in Sandusky, Ohio, United States
Died: December 26, 1940 in New York, New York, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Manager
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Frohman, Daniel (Aug. 22, 1851 - Dec. 26, 1940), theatrical manager and producer, was born in Sandusky, Ohio, the eldest of five children of Henry and Barbara (Straus) Frohman, Jewish immigrants from Germany. Like his brothers, Gustave and Charles Frohman [q.v.], Daniel was attracted to the theatre at an early age, his father, a cigar manufacturer, being an active member of the Little German Theatrical Company, an amateur group. When the family moved to New York in 1864, Daniel went to work for the journalist Albert Deane Richardson [q.v.], who later got him a job on the New York Tribune. There he remained for about five years, followed by three years on the New York Standard. The youth was a delighted patron of the theatrical presentations at Barnum's Museum, and as copy boy for the Tribune's dramatic critic, William Winter [q.v.], he often saw opening night performances. Later, as advertising manager, he received free passes to shows. Nevertheless, Frohman might have remained in the newspaper business if slack times had not found him jobless in 1874. Becoming an advance agent for Callender's Original Georgia Minstrels, he traveled constantly for the next five years throughout the United States, gaining an intimate knowledge of theatres and audiences in hundreds of cities and towns that was of great value to him in later years.

In 1879 Steele MacKaye [q.v.], a brilliant producer and theatrical innovator, engaged Frohman as business manager of his Madison Square Theatre. Frohman soon launched an innovation of his own. With his brothers, he assembled and booked into remote towns and cities touring companies to play current New York attractions. For example, while MacKaye's hit play Hazel Kirke was still running at the Madison Square, Frohman sent out five touring companies. At one time as many as fourteen Madison Square companies were "on the road" simultaneously.

In 1886, deciding to become an independent producer, Frohman took over the management of the Lyceum Theatre. In the following year his first independent production, The Highest Bidder, was adapted and staged (May 3, 1887) by a youthful colleague whom he had engaged at the Madison Square Theatre, David Belasco [q.v.]. It was a success and made a star of young Edward H. Sothern [q.v.]. Sothern played leading roles with Frohman for the next fourteen years. Frohman next organized a stock company and as its first play had Belasco and Henry C. DeMille [q.v.] write The Wife. Opening at the Lyceum on Nov. 1, 1887, it got off to a slow start, but the determined producer and his cohorts revised and reworked the play, and it ran for a year in New York and five years on the road.

Frohman's long career spanned a golden age in the American theatre. In his youth staging was primitive and acting unrestrained on stages lit by flickering oil lamps. The advent of electricity and smaller theatres brought a new realism and sophistication which led to the romantic dramas and drawing-room comedies that were Frohman's forte. Stock companies like Frohman's brought plays to a new popular audience in New York and, as booking arrangements were improved, throughout America. The casts of the dozens of plays presented by Frohman at the Lyceum and later at Daly's Theatre (which he managed from 1899 to 1903) glitter with names of players who then or later achieved stardom, for Frohman was a shrewd judge of talent, both in actors and in dramatists.

As the theatre district moved uptown, Frohman built a new Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street near Broadway. It opened Nov. 2, 1903, with Justin Huntly McCarthy's The Proud Prince, starring E. H. Sothern. On Nov. 22, 1903, Frohman married Margaret Illington [q.v.], an actress; they were amicably divorced six years later. He continued his productions, but the era of the stock company presenting new plays was drawing to a close. Always alert to new trends, Frohman could see in the motion picture industry possibilities for reaching a vast new audience, and in 1912 he became managing director of the Famous Players Film Company. During the next five years, placing a number of his former stage stars under contract, he supervised a succession of films, among them a version of his most successful stage play, The Prisoner of Zenda. Thereafter he retired from active production for either stage or screen.

Daniel Frohman's career was less spectacular than that of his brother Charles, with whom he carried on a friendly rivalry until the latter's death in 1915. Dan was more of a business man, less of an artist. Maude Adams, for example, was "discovered" by Dan but made her big success under Charles's management.

Serious and industrious as a young man, "Uncle Dan" as an octogenarian was gay and debonair. His tall, lean, goateed figure was frequently seen at banquets and at benefits for the Actors' Fund of America, an organization to care for needy and retired actors, of which he was one of the founders in 1882 and president from 1903 until his death. He died in New York City of pneumonia and heart disease at the age of eighty-nine. Following services at the "Little Church Around the Corner" (Church of the Transfiguration), he was buried in Union Field Cemetery of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, Brooklyn, N. Y.

FURTHER READINGS:

[Frohman wrote three books of reminiscences and anecdote--Memories of a Manager (1911), Daniel Frohman Presents: An Autobiog. (1935), and Encore (1937)--and, with I. F. Marcosson, a biog. of his brother: Charles Frohman--Manager and Man (1916). See also profile by Alva Johnston in New Yorker, Oct. 28, Nov. 4, 1933; obit. articles in N. Y. Times and N. Y. Herald Tribune, Dec. 27, 1940; Universal Jewish Encyc., IV, 464-65; and feature articles on Frohman in N. Y. Times Mag., Dec. 19, 1926, Aug. 16, 1936, N. Y. Times, Nov. 23, 1930, and N. Y. Herald Tribune, Dec. 24, 1933.]

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Daniel Frohman." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944. Gale In Context: Biography, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FBT2310013184%2FGPS%3Fu%3Dwikipedia%26sid%3DGPS%26xid%3D27f98549. Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2310013184