Bernard B. Jacobs, president and co-executive chief officer of the Shubert Organization, died August 27 at the age of 80. Jacobs died of complications following bypass surgery on Friday.
As the president of Broadway's biggest theater owner, Mr. Jacobs, along with Shubert chairman Gerald Schoenfeld, ran an empire comprising 17 Broadway theaters in addition to legitimate theaters in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and LA. Over the last 20 years, the two men became the most powerful and influential partnership in the world of the theater, a team known as major Broadway producers as well as landlords. Recent Shubert producing credits included Passion, Indiscretions, City of Angels, The Grapes of Wrath, The Heidi Chronicles, Chess, and Sunday in the Park with George. Shubert theaters currently house such venerable hits as Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables.
Friends and colleagues referred to Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Schoenfeld as "the Shuberts", although they were no relation to the men of that name -- Sam, Lee, and J.J. -- who built the original Shubert dynasty.
Mr. Jacobs was known for his ability to work effectively with the great theater artists of the day. In 1992, just prior to being honored with the Actors' Fund Medal, Mr. Jacobs was praised by Rocco Landesman, president of rival Jujamcyn Theaters, for "forging the relations with the directors and writers. They tend to trust him and work easily with him.".
Despite his influence, Mr. Jacobs was rarely profiled. He did not seek out the media, preferring to work behind the scenes and leave the publicity and the aura of celebrity to others. Bernard B. Jacobs was born on June 13, 1916 in Harlem. His father, born in this country, was active as a religious Jew in a Harlem Synagogue, while his mother came to the States as a baby from the "huge area of Russia and Poland." The family moved to the West Side of Manhattan when Mr. Jacobs was a teenager. He attended New York City public schools, Dewitt Clinton High School, graduated from New York University, and then from Columbia Law School.
After law school, Mr. Jacobs served in the Army for World War II, and after the war ended, he began practicing law. In 1957, he joined Mr. Schoenfeld at the Shubert Organization and in the early 1970's, Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Schoenfeld became involved in running the organization.
During his tenure as one of the Shuberts, Mr. Jacobs was credited with ushering in computerized ticket and telephone ordering systems at all Shubert houses. He was president of the Shubert Foundation, which helps the performing arts in the United States as well as many charitable causes. He also began a program with the New York City Board of Education, the city's Youth Bureau and the Midtown Arts Project in which 50 free tickets are provided for students at each Wednesday matinee performance of Cats. Among his many personal honors over the years, perhaps his favorite was the award of a Gold Lifetime Membership Card as an honorary member of the Stagehands Union, IATSE Local #1. He was the first management executive ever to receive this honor from the Union in its more than 150 year history.
Mr. Jacobs is survived by his wife, Betty, with whom he celebrated his 50th anniversary with in June, as well as two children, Steven and Sally, and three grandchildren.
There will be private funeral services. A memorial service will be announced.
Mr. Schoenfeld said, "Bernard B. Jacobs was my friend and partner for 40 years and one of the best friends the theatre has ever had. We send all our love and support to his wife Betty and his entire family."
Philip S. Birsh, Publisher of PLAYBILL Magazine said, "We have lost one of our industry's giants and also a great friend. It's as if a major light has been lost from the 'Great White Way' and it cannot be replaced."
At the time of his Actors' Fund commemoration, Mr. Jacobs said, "I think I've had a full and decent life. I'm proud of what I've accomplished. I'm very happy with my family life. I'm very happy with my grandchildren. All in all, I'm quite pleased with the way things have turned out."
-- By Andrew Ku with excerpts by Mervyn Rothstein