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Jacobs, Bernard B.

JACOBS, BERNARD B.

JACOBS, BERNARD B. (1916–1996), U.S. theater executive. Born in Manhattan, Jacobs graduated from New York University and Columbia University Law School. After serving in the Army in the South Pacific in World War ii, Jacobs practiced law with his brother, dealing mainly with jewelry companies. It was his brother's friend, Gerald Schoenfeld, who brought him into the theater in 1958 to help him at the mighty Shubert theatrical organization, where he was chief lawyer. After J.J. Shubert died in 1963, his will turned over the bulk of his estate, including the theaters, to the Shubert Foundation, then a little-known arm of the theater company. During a bitter power struggle among irreconcilable directors, Jacobs and Schoenfeld moved to the top of the integrated organization in 1972. Although they had little theater background, the two lawyers began investing money in plays and acting as producers. By 1974 Jacobs felt that the Shubert empire was back on track with the hits Equus, Pippin, Grease, and Sherlock Holmes. The next year, A Chorus Line put the operation on solid footing. The two men were universally credited with taking a faltering theater concern and transforming it into a modern and financially potent enterprise. As theater owners and producers, they had more to say than anyone else about what shows opened on Broadway. They also determined what shows closed in their theaters, and when. At the end of the 20th century, "the Shuberts," as the two lawyers became known, owned and operated 16 Broadway theaters in addition to theaters in Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and Los Angeles and other real estate property.

For years Jacobs and Schoenfeld were embroiled in suits after the state attorney general said that, as executors of the J.J. Shubert estate, they had made "grossly excessive" claims. The charges were later withdrawn. The pair also benefited from a tax ruling in 1979 that gave the Shubert Foundation an exemption to federal tax laws. This allowed Jacobs and Schoenfeld to continue as heads of both the foundation and the theater organization, the most important in the Broadway theater. By the end of the 20th century, the foundation had a value of more than $150 million and provided support to nonprofit theaters and to dance companies. Jacobs was also credited with introducing computerized methods of ticket sales, linking his box offices to computerized outlets in other cities.

In 2005, Broadway theaters owned by the Shuberts were renamed for Jacobs and Schoenfeld.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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