To many people in the theatre, he was simply "Jerry."
His formal name was Gerald Schoenfeld, and for nearly four decades, he was the No. 1 player on Broadway, the most powerful and the most influential executive in American theatre. As chairman of the Shubert Organization, he ran 17 Broadway theatres and other stages nationwide. He headed the Shubert Foundation, which gives millions to nonprofit theatres and dance companies. More than anyone else, he decided what we saw on the New York stage.
One of his theatres, on 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, is named for him. He was, to quote one Broadway producer, honest, direct, tough, funny, regal, devoted and totally supportive. He made a difference in many lives. Without him, the world of the theatre in the last 36 years would have been very different — and not nearly as good.
The man — who used the spelling "Jerry" rather than "Gerry" — died on Nov. 25, 2008, at age 84. And he will be missed. New York City's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, called him a "Broadway legend."
"Jerry's massive contributions to our city will be remembered," Mayor Bloomberg said at a news conference after Schoenfeld died. "He'll continue to live not just in the hearts of those who worked with him and loved him but also in the theatre that is named for him."
In the early 1970s, when Schoenfeld and Bernard B. Jacobs, who died 12 years ago, took over the Shubert Organization, it, Broadway and Times Square were in trouble. The two men, the "Shuberts," as they became known, helped save all three.
If you were going to Broadway in those years, before long you were finding hits in Schoenfeld's theatres — first Pippin, Equus and A Chorus Line, followed by Cats, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, to name just a few. Often, the Shubert Organization would be an investor, co-producer or producer, filling its theatres and helping shows arrive that might not otherwise have made it. A sense of hope and excitement returned to the Great White Way.
The Broadway neighborhood, though, had become a haven for drugs and crime. It took time, but Jerry was a major figure in turning things around, reshaping Times Square into a family destination.
Through Telecharge, the Shubert Organization also pioneered the sale of tickets on the telephone.
On opening nights, before the curtain rose, Jerry was always in the aisle smiling and greeting the celebrity crowd. On matinee days, just after the curtain went up, he would love to walk into a theatre, stand at the back and check things out.
He was born in New York City on Sept. 22, 1924, the son of a Garment District entrepreneur who manufactured long-haired fur coats. He often said he probably would have gone into the family business if it hadn't failed. After college, World War II and law school, he took a job with a law firm that paid $40 a week. One client was the Shubert Organization. By 1972, he had risen to the top — and went on to change theatre history.
He was a mensch. And yet, with all that he did, he was still "Jerry."