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John Considine (impresario)

john considine (impresario)
John Considine September 29, 1868 – February 11, 1943 was an American impresario, a pioneer of vaudeville12


  • 1 Youth and arrival on the scene
  • 2 Rise to prominence
    • 21 Conflict with Wyatt Earp
  • 3 Facing off with the police chief
    • 31 The shootout
    • 32 The trial
  • 4 Respectability
  • 5 The original People's Theater building
  • 6 The Orpheum 1911
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References

Youth and arrival on the sceneedit

Born in Chicago, Considine grew up attending Roman Catholic parochial schools, and eventually briefly attended St Mary's College, Kansas3 Briefly a Chicago policeman, he was involved in the raid that led to the Haymarket Riot4 He then became a traveling actor, and landed in Seattle, Washington in 1889 By 1891, he was manager of the People's Theater, a box house in the wide-open "restricted district" below Yesler Way in what is now Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood5

A friendly, outgoing, but resolutely sober man in a rowdy environment, he dealt cards but did not play, made money off the sale of liquor but did not drink, managed a business whose profits depended on its female performers hustling drinks and, in Murray Morgan's words, "If the girls wished to peddle more personal wares, management did not object", but was reputed to be a faithful family man5

Considine decided that he could out-compete the other box houses by raising the level of entertainment, hiring professional actresses for the stage and letting other girls work the floor and the dark booths He prospered greatly for a while, until he was brought down by the Panic of 1893, the ensuing economic depression, and the 1894 election of an "anti-vice" administration in Seattle He briefly attempted to run the People's as a proper theater; he ran a box house in Spokane, Washington before a similar anti-vice administration shut him down; and he returned to Seattle and lay relatively low until the Klondike Gold Rush 1897 brought back an "open town" administration By February 1898 he had leased back the People's Theater, and was back in the business6 along with the rest of Seattle, "mining the miners"78

Rise to prominenceedit

Considine brought variety entertainment in Seattle to a new level by importing Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, famous as "Little Egypt" from the World's Columbian Exposition the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 The People's Theater and its rivals posted brass bands outdoors early in the evening to draw in customers Salvation Army bands merely upped the level of chaos Business was good910

Considine also obtained an interest in a nearby saloon, Billy the Mug's at the corner of Second and Washington He operated the rooms above it as the Owl Club Rooms, a gambling joint11 He established himself as a power in Seattle, "The Statesman", "The Boss Sport", ward heeler of the wide-open Fourth Ward He became a power in town, and was locally famous for his personal sobriety his closest thing to a vice was chewing gum His burly brother Tom and equally burly associate Doc Shaughnessy were known as his muscle and bodyguards Shaughnessy, backed by Considine, started a physical culture institute12

Conflict with Wyatt Earpedit

Considine was not just big in entertainment: he was the city's gambling kingpin as well In November 1899, Wyatt Earp left the Dexter Saloon in Nome, Alaska for about a year and went to Seattle, Washington, with a plan to open a saloon and gambling room On November 25, 1899 the Seattle Star described him as "a man of great reputation among the toughs and criminals, inasmuch as he formerly walked the streets of a rough frontier mining town with big pistols stuck in his belt, spurs on his boots and a devil-may-care expression upon his official face" The Seattle Daily Times was less full of praise, announcing in a very small article that he had a reputation in Arizona as a "bad man"13

He faced considerable opposition to his plan from Considine, who controlled all three gaming operations in town Although gambling was illegal, Considine had worked out an agreement with Police Chief CS Reed But Earp partnered with an established local gambler name Thomas Urguhart and they opened the Union Club saloon and gambling operation in Seattle's Pioneer Square The Seattle Star noted two weeks later that Earp's saloon was earning a large following Considine unsuccessfully tried to intimidate Earp, but his saloon continued to prosper On March 23, 1900, the state of Washington filed charges against several gamblers, including Earp and his partner The club's furnishings were confiscated and burned The Earps returned briefly to San Francisco in April 1900, but within a couple of months, Wyatt and Josephine returned to Oregon and caught the SS Alliance for Alaska14:78 Considine continued as king of the Seattle gambling scene afterward15

Facing off with the police chiefedit

As the gold rush era began to wane, the "open town" atmosphere again became a matter of controversy A former employee of Considine's, William L Meredith, who had followed Considine to Spokane, returned to his earlier job as a policeman Meredith and Considine had slowly become enemies, and when Meredith became police chief he started an anti-vice campaign, which was really more of an anti-Considine campaign: he started to enforce laws against Considine's business, while leaving Considine's rivals alone1617

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer lashed Meredith for not coming down hard enough on vice An ambitious politician named John Wilson started a Law and Order League charging Meredith and Mayor Thomas J Humes with a variety of offenses The Seattle Times squared off in defense of Meredith and Humes, but the real duel was between Meredith and Considine When Considine brought forth evidence that Meredith was corrupt, the P-I "played this testimony for as much as it was worth, perhaps more"18

Matters escalated Meredith accused Considine of an affair with Mamie Jenkins, a 17-year-old contortionist who performed at his theater, stating that she had become pregnant and that Meredith himself had paid for her abortion This was almost certainly a slander: she appears to have ruptured herself while performing19 By this time the People's did not even have any closed boxes, but Meredith tried to shut it down under an anti-box-house ordinance, while letting actual box houses continue to operate The city council decided to believe reports that Meredith was corrupt and his resignation was forced Protesting a "star chamber" investigation, Meredith resigned While Considine consulted with his lawyers about further action against Meredith, Meredith got hold of a double-barrelled 12-gauge shotgun20

The shootoutedit

GO Guy's drugstore, about a year before the shootout

On the morning of Tuesday, June 25, 1901, Considine dropped by Meredith's lawyer's to inform them that if Meredith would not retract the claim about Mamie Jenkins, he was ready to sue for libel He and his brother Tom wandered down from their and the lawyer's First Hill neighborhood He dropped by the courthouse hoping to sort out his business's legal problems; the prosecuting attorney was out At the courthouse, a friend warned him that Meredith was after him, and advised him to arm himself He went about his day—shooting some pool with his brother, dropping by the office to read his mail, deciding to knock off early because of a sore throat Forewarned, he picked up a 38 revolver that normally remained at work21

Meanwhile, Meredith had acquired a virtual arsenal: besides the shotgun which he had wrapped in butcher paper, he was carrying a 32 Colt in a 45 frame and a 38-caliber short-barreled revolver He had also placed silver dollars strategically around his vest, presumably for armor He spoke openly of the town "not being big enough" to hold both him and Considine22

Meredith waited at the corner of Yesler and Occidental, where he expected the Considines would go to catch the streetcar back up the hill He spotted the Considines headed into GO Guy's drugstore a block to the east, where John meant to pick up something for his throat They were standing just outside the store talking with one Patrolman Merford, who Meredith had suspended, according to Gordon Newell "for pocketing part of a protection payment earmarked" for Meredith himself2324

Meredith caught up to them just outside the store, took point-blank aim at John Considine with his shotgun, and missed The dazed Considine staggered into the store; Tom Considine and Merford, were so taken aback that they hardly reacted at first; Meredith entered the store pursuing John Considine2324

Meredith's next shot caught the back of Considine's neck, wounded the arm of a messenger boy drinking a sarsaparilla at the soda fountain, and nearly caught Dr Guy, who hit the floor Meredith dropped the shotgun and went for the revolver Considine managed to grab Meredith in a bear hug and drag him toward the entrance, yelling out for help from his brother, who finally realized what was happening Tom grabbed Meredith's gun and smashed it into Meredith's skull More police arrived, including Sheriff Cudihee Tom grabbed one of their guns and drew down on them, yelling "Stand back, you sons of bitches!"2526

Meanwhile, John Considine drew his gun on Meredith, who was clearly wounded, but still moving and possibly reaching for another weapon Considine shot Meredith three times in the chest and neck, killing him, then handed his gun to Sheriff Cudihee and surrendered himself27

The trialedit

While Meredith had always been part of the "open town" faction, his death made him a martyr for the "closed town" side At the Considines' trial, the prosecution tried to make the case that the Considines had started the gunfight; however, Meredith's outspoken statements in the 24 hours before the fight including "They couldn't get a jury in King County that would convict me for killing Considine" helped to clarify any confusion as to what happened, as did the testimony of the best-situated eyewitnesses The jury took only three hours to reach an acquittal28


Considine soon reinvented himself as a respectable impresario north of the Yesler Way "Deadline" In 1902, he bought into Seattle's first well-appointed movie theater Edison's Unique Theater,29 established 1897, partnering with the local distributor of Edison phonograph records, creating Seattle's first establishment to combine variety entertainment with movies and Considine's first "dry" establishment30

Difficulty in obtaining first-rate acts to play a city so distant from the major concentrations of North American population led Considine to establish one of the first vaudeville circuits quite possibly the very first, with theaters in Victoria, Vancouver, Portland, Bellingham, Everett, Yakima, and Spokane as well as Seattle31 This was the world's first popularly priced vaudeville chain, with ten- and twenty-cent admissions32

Considine soon cut or played down his old ties to the "restricted district" He played a major role in one of the country's rising fraternal organizations: just before the turn of the century he and John Cort, whose career followed a similar trajectory, had founded the Independent Order of Good Things, which soon became the Fraternal Order of Eagles FOE A third founder, H L Leavitt, soon bolted to the Loyal Order of Moose In New York City in 1906 on FOE business, he met and teamed up with Tammany boss Big Tim Sullivan to form the Sullivan–Considine vaudeville circuit and associated nationwide booking agency33 At it peak, the Sullivan–Considine circuit owned 20 theaters in the Pacific Northwest and was affiliated with 20 in California; they also booked numerous theaters in the Midwest34

While Considine and Cort had always been the friendliest of rivals, Considine's rivalry with another Seattle-based vaudeville impresario, Alexander Pantages, ran more to stealing each other's acts or, failing that, literally stealing the acts' equipment Still, they too maintained a cordial personal relationship Their rivalry took place both on their home turf and on the national scene Murray Morgan characterizes their rivalry as that between a well-connected, savvy businessman Considine and a hardworking uneducated genius Pantages35

Pantages simply had a better instinct than Considine for what the public would pay to see, and his total contempt for efforts to "uplift" public taste—and, especially for efforts to impose New York tastes on the country at large—turned out to make good business sense When Tim Sullivan went insane in 1913, Considine lost one of his main sources of clout and connections By 1914, Pantages had clearly won out Considine tried selling out to Marcus Loew whose eastern-US-based circuit had been allied with the western based Sullivan-Considine circuit since 191136; the deal ultimately fell apart, but a forfeited down payment gave Considine quite an infusion of cash Still, with World War I clobbering access to international stars, Considine's circuit fell apart, and Pantages bought up the pieces3738

All concerned eventually moved to Los Angeles, which by then had firmly established itself as the West Coast entertainment capital Considine gained a foothold in the film industry39 son, film producer John Considine, Jr Puttin' on the Ritz, 1930; Boys Town, 1938, married Pantages' daughter Carmen;40 their sons, John and Tim became successful movie and television actors4142

The original People's Theater buildingedit

The entrance marked "Casino Dancing" near the left of this picture leads to the former People's Theater Closeup of that entrance

The 172 S Washington Street basement that housed Considine's original People's Theater survives, although the building has lost its upper stories At the corner of Second Avenue South, the remaining aboveground floor houses a pawnshop, Barney's Loans43 and a longstanding gay/drag bar, the Double Header The basement has housed a series of bars, including an after hours venue known officially as the Casino, and unofficially as "Madame Peabody’s Dancing Academy for Young Ladies"44 and, later the Catwalk 1994–2005,45 a venue friendly to the S&M crowd Club Heaven, an upscale nightclub, has occupied the space since 200646

The Orpheum 1911edit

A poster for a post-1916 Orpheum program at the Moore Theatre

From 1911, the flagship of Considine's chain was the Orpheum Theatre at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street in Seattle Designed by William Kingsley, the $500,000 theater was constructed, insofar as possible, with materials and services obtained from within Washington state The decorative wrought iron canopy extending from over the box office to the curb out became "a fixture of the 3rd Avenue landscape"; the lavish interior was "awash in marble, onyx, and glass"47 The murals of the equally lavish auditorium depicted classical and mythological themes: scenes from The Iliad and Odyssey, Aesop and the 12 Muses47

Although the Orpheum was touted at the time of its 5 May 1911 opening as "America's most luxurious theater," after 1916 it no longer was even the grandest vaudeville theater in the neighborhood: Alexander Pantages opened an even larger and more opulent theater several blocks north at 3rd Avenue and University Street The Orpheum vaudeville shows moved to the larger Moore Theatre, although the Orpheum continued to operate for many years, variously showing live shows and movies;47 it was renamed as the President Theatre48 In the last years before it was torn down in 1949, it was used merely as a storage facility47

This Orpheum was not Seattle's only theater by this name; indeed, it was Considine's third theater by this name in Seattle The first had been one of Considine's first vaudeville theaters; the second was a renaming of Martin Beck's Coliseum Theater34 no relation to the surviving 1917 Coliseum theater building, designed by B Marcus Priteca for Pantages49 A later Orpheum, also the work of Priteca, stood 1927–1967 at the corner of 5th Avenue and Stewart Street, now the site of the south tower of the Westin Hotel48


  1. ^ Morgan 1960, p 120 et seq
  2. ^ Cullen & Hackman 2006, p 263
  3. ^ Morgan 1960, p 120
  4. ^ "Fatal Duel in Seattle", New York Times, June 26, 1901, p 3 Accessed online 22 December 2007
  5. ^ a b Morgan 1960, pp 120–121
  6. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 121–124
  7. ^ Citizens help rig the bidpermanent dead link, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 29, 1999 Accessed December 21, 2007
  8. ^ Cullen & Hackman 2006, p 263 say unlike Morgan that his stay in Spokane lasted until 1897
  9. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 124–127
  10. ^ Cullen & Hackman 2006, p 264 mentions the Salvation Army bands
  11. ^ Newell 1956, p 93
  12. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 127–128
  13. ^ "Wyatt Earp in Seattle" August 3, 2007 Archived from the original on June 6, 2012 Retrieved February 25, 2011 
  14. ^ Woog, Adam February 28, 2010 Wyatt Earp Chelsea House Publications p 110 ISBN 1-60413-597-2 
  15. ^ Pam Potter, Wyatt Earp in Seattle Archived 2008-01-13 at the Wayback Machine, Wild West, HistoryNetcom Accessed online 22 December 2007
  16. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 131–132
  17. ^ Newell 1956, p 96
  18. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 131–133 Quotation about the P-I is on p 133
  19. ^ Newell 1956, p 97
  20. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 133–135
  21. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 135–136
  22. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 136–137
  23. ^ a b Morgan 1960, pp 137–138
  24. ^ a b Newell 1956, pp 98–99
  25. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 138–139
  26. ^ Newell 1956, p 99
  27. ^ Morgan 1960, p 139
  28. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 139–142
  29. ^ Berner 1991, p 87
  30. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 142–144
  31. ^ Morgan 1960, p 144
  32. ^ Eugene Elliott, paraphrased at Berner 1991, p 87
  33. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 144–146
  34. ^ a b Berner 1991, p 88
  35. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 146–152
  36. ^ Cullen & Hackman 2006, p 264
  37. ^ Morgan 1960, pp 152–153
  38. ^ John Considine in Court, New York Times, October 30, 1915, p 10 Accessed online 22 December 2007
  39. ^ Morgan 1960, p 153
  40. ^ Cullen & Hackman 2006, p 265
  41. ^ His nephew Bob became a political reporter and newspaper columnist; another Actor John Considine to speak at Port Townsend Film Festival, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 21, 2004 Accessed online 22 December 2007 Cites for relationship to actor John Considine and for Pantages being John's other grandfather
  42. ^ John Considine filmography, Fandangocom Accessed online 22 December 2007 Cites for actor Tim Considine being actor John Considine's brother
  43. ^ Paul Dorpat, Sin, Suds and Free Lunch, Seattle Times Magazine, February 9, 2003 Accessed online 22 December 2007
  44. ^ Summary for 164 S Washington ST S / Parcel ID 5247800575, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Accessed online 22 December 2007
  45. ^ Catwalk Night Club Archived 2006-03-19 at the Wayback Machine, VR Seattle Accessed online 22 December 2007
  46. ^ Charlotte Quinn, Generation S&M, Part 1 Archived 2008-01-23 at the Wayback Machine, MiscMedia, 11 December 2000 Accessed online 22 December 2007
  47. ^ a b c d Eric Flom, Seattle's Orpheum Theatre opens at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street on May 15, 1911, September 30, 2003 Accessed January 27, 2008
  48. ^ a b Eric Flom New Orpheum Theatre opens in Seattle on August 28, 1927, HistoryLink, November 22, 2003 Accessed January 27, 2008
  49. ^ B Marcus Priteca, Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society Accessed online 28 January 2008


  • Berner, Richard C 1991, Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, Charles Press, ISBN 0-9629889-0-1 
  • Morgan, Murray 1960, Skid Road, Ballantine Books 
  • "Fatal Duel in Seattle", New York Times, June 26, 1901, p 3 Accessed online 22 December 2007 This provides a brief contemporary account of the shootout with Meredith
  • Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence 2006, "John Considine", Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Routledge, pp 263–265, ISBN 0-415-93853-8  On most points, their account echoes Morgan's They have been cited where they contradict him or add further information
  • Newell, Gordon 1956, Totem Tales of Old Seattle, Seattle: Superior Publishing Company 

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