James M. Nederlander, who took over the fledgling Nederlander Organization from his father and built it into one of the largest producers of live entertainment and a dominant national theater chain that includes nine Broadway houses, has died. He was 94.
He won a dozen Tony Awards as a producer or coproducer — including a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004 — and presented operas, ballets, concerts, and artists ranging from Rudolf Nureyev to Frank Sinatra to U2.
The Nederlander Organization is one of three big theater chains on Broadway. The Shubert Organization owns 16 theaters outright, and Jujamcyn Theaters owns five. Nederlander’s stable is bigger than its rivals once its theaters nationwide and in London are added to the mix.
Founded by David T. Nederlander, the Nederlander Organization began in 1912 with the purchase of a 99-year lease on the old Detroit Opera House. In 1939, the then-17-year-old Jimmy left school to join the family business — sweeping the lobby, working as an usher and a stagehand, and selling tickets in the box office.
By 1943, Mr. Nederlander was in New York City as a serviceman in the Army Air Forces and worked as box-office treasurer for a production of Moss Hart’s ‘‘Winged Victory.’’ In 1964, his father bought the Palace Theatre, a historic vaudeville house that had gone into decline. After a two-year renovation, Nederlander’s reopened the Palace with Bob Fosse’s production of ‘‘Sweet Charity,’’ starring Gwen Verdon. After his father died in 1967, Mr. Nederlander took over running the family business.
Outside New York, its venues include the Auditorium and Bank of America theatres, the Broadway Playhouse, Cadillac Palace, and Oriental theatres, all in Chicago; the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles; and the Adelphi, Aldwych, and Dominion theatres in London.
Innovative ways to get people into those arenas prompted changes to the industry that continue to be felt. In 1992, Nederlander’s and Ticketmaster were the first to give Broadway theatergoers the ability to select their own seat location.
With Mr. Nederlander’s son Jimmy Jr. currently overseeing the organization’s daily operation, the Nederlander Organization has passed the baton to a third generation. His nephew, Robert Nederlander Jr., is president of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, which manages theaters and presents Broadway productions in international markets.
Mr. Nederlander leaves his wife, Charlene; daughter-in-law Margo M. Nederlander; his grandchildren, James M. Nederlander II and Kathleen M. Nederlander; his stepdaughter, Kristina Gustafson; and her children, Gunnar and Krisanna Gustafson.more » « less