Keith's Opera House
Scope and Contents
Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee became partners in the late 1880s to promote "polite" vaudeville. They lavishly remodeled several theaters on the east coast and began producing a brand of "high class" vaudeville. Crude remarks and risque costumes were censored from performances, and they even attempted to prohibit rude behavior by audiences. Keith was the financial head of the circuit, while Albee was the general manager and owner of several theaters. In 1906, Keith and Albee established the United Booking Office. Every act that sought employment at any of the member theaters had to work through this central office, which in turn charged a five percent commission per act. Thus Keith and Albee expanded their power base. In the 1920s the Keith/Albee circuit merged with a western chain of vaudeville theaters to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit. In 1928, $4,500,000 worth of stock was sold to Joseph P. Kennedy's Radio Corporation of America (RCA) establishing the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). After this merger, motion pictures became the primary form of entertainment, while vaudeville survived only as an accompaniment to the feature film.
The Keith/Albee collection primarily reports vaudeville programming in Rhode Island between 1894 and 1935, but it includes unique resources for studying vaudeville throughout the east coast and Ohio with a series of Managers' Reports spanning 1902-1923. The Keith/Albee circuit, as represented in these Reports, involves theaters in Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Boston and Webster, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio. Theaters in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and New York City also appear with some regularity. The records of Keith/Albee chronicle the expansion of their circuit, changes in its leadership, and the eventual decline of vaudeville. Items dating as late as 1952 are as diverse as usher's manuals to building permits, air raid precautions to price schedules, and cash books to correspondence. The bulk of the collection is made up of 150 oversized scrapbooks (each about 16"Hx12"W and averaging over 250 pages). There are 29,216 scrapbook pages total
Conditions Governing Access
The collection has been digitized in its entirety, and is viewable in the Iowa Digital Library. It is currently being transcribed and the content is increasingly full-text searchable in DIY History. The physical volumes are no longer accessible due to their extremely fragile condition.
From the Collection: 52.00 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
From the Collection: English
- From the Collection: Keith-Albee (Organization)
Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository
Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU