Orpheum Circuit

Orpheum Circuit

Orpheum Circuit, Inc., was a company started by Martin Beck who owned a series of vaudeville theaters and motion picture theaters.


The company

Orpheum Circuit, Inc., was incorporated on December 22, 1919, under the laws of the state of Delaware with a perpetual charter. It was organized to carry on the theatrical and amusement business, and in accordance with the terms of its charter would provide all types of public entertainment and be authorized to operate and maintain amusement enterprises of all kinds. It was organized as a holding company to acquire, and did acquire, by the issue of 549,170 shares of its common stock and 58,800 shares of its preferred stock in exchange all or substantially all of the capital stock of 45 vaudeville theatres located in 36 cities throughout the United States and Canada and a large interest in two vaudeville circuits now operated by the Orpheum Circuit Inc. The company also owned 6,004 shares (par $100) of the 13,890 shares outstanding of B.F. Keith New York Theatres Company.

In 1928 the company merged with the chain of theatres owned by Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II to form Keith-Albee-Orpheum. In a few months, this organization became the major motion picture studio Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO).

The oldest remaining theater of the Orpheum Circuit is the Palace Theater in downtown Los Angeles.[1] The Palace, built in 1911, is one of the theaters in Los Angeles' historic Broadway Theater District.[2]

Earlier Orpheum Circuit

Gustav Walter founded the Orpheum Circuit in the 1880s. Inspired by his success with his first theater, Walter next decided to build the largest, most luxurious theater in the West modeled on the opera houses of Europe. With the financial backing of several partners, he formed a company that underwrote the building of a theater on the south side of O'Farrell Street in San Francisco. He called it the Orpheum Opera House, a popular name for theaters in Europe. In Greek mythology, the poet-musician Orpheus played spellbinding melodies on his magical lyre that enchanted the gods.[3] The chain of theaters expanded from there. The Orpheum circuit and the Keith-Albee circuit were known in vaudeville as "the big time," by contrast with all other circuits, which were "the small time."

Theatres still operating

Theaters No Longer Operating


  • Martin Beck, Chairman
  • Marcus Heiman, President
  • J.M. Finn, M. H. Singer and Mrs. C.L. Kohl, Vice-Presidents
  • B.B. Kahane, Secretary and Treasurer


  • Harry Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met Martin Beck. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country.
  • Anna Chandler


  1. ^ Caption for photo of Palace Theater in "Vintage Movie Palaces" slideshow, The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 1, 2008 from http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-et-theaters22jul22-pg,1,2983973.photogallery?index=17
  2. ^ Ibid.
  3. ^ Arthur Frank Wertheim, "VAUDEVILLE WARS: How the Keith-Albee and Orpheum Circuits Controlled the Big Time and Its Performers", Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp 35, 51
  4. ^ [1] University of Oregon Digital Library (Image Description describes the Theater was Demolished in 1978)

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