Benjamin Franklin Keith

Benjamin Franklin Keith

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Benjamin Franklin Keith

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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.


Early years

Keith 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...
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