This week, we at the Hollywood Pantages/Nederlander Organization lost our patriarch and chairman. James M. Nederlander passed away Monday evening at the age of 94.
A modern example of the American Dream, Jimmy started sweeping floors at age 7 for his father David T. Nederlander in Detroit, Michigan. Since then he has held every position one could hold while working in the theatre biz from box office to advertising, production and management to company chairman. One of these jobs was to scout out shows in New York for his father. It was on one of these trips in 1964 that Jimmy learned from a friend that RKO was selling its flagship Palace Theatre. In a $1.6 million handshake, Jimmy sealed his fate and the fate of the Nederlander Organization.
In the years following the purchase of the Palace Theatre Jimmy developed a healthy rivalry with the competing NYC theatre family, the Shuberts. Even with the constant competition, one of Jimmy’s closest friends was Philip J. Smith, chairman of the board of the Shubert Organization.
Jimmy found much success starting with the musical Annie in 1977 and has had producer, co-producer, or investor credits on successful titles that include Applause, La Cage aux Folles, Me and My Girl, Nine, Noises Off, Peter Pan, Sweet Charity, The Will Rogers Follies, Woman of the Year and many more. Jimmy, however, was not without his failures. As a reminder he kept the posters of his biggest flops in his office bathroom. For a complete list of works visit Jimmy’s IBDB page.
In 1977, The Nederlander Organization came in as Pacific Theatre’s partner and gave the Hollywood Pantages an overhaul before re-opening it as a legitimate theatre with “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in February 1977. When The Nederlander Organization heard that the Walt Disney Company was seeking a home for its Los Angeles production of The Lion King, Jimmy locked in a Pantages booking by agreeing to a substantial renovation. It was time, thought Nederlander, to get the theatre looking more like it did in 1930. The theatre was restored to its original luster in time for the highly-anticipated L.A. Premiere of Disney’s The Lion King.
Along with The Hollywood Pantages Theatre, The Nederlander Organization currently owns or operates nine Broadway theaters, the Palace,the Brooks Atkinson, Gershwin, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Nederlander, Neil Simon and Richard Rodgers — two in Detroit, four in Chicago and three in London, one in Oklahoma City, as well as others in San Diego, San Jose, CA, Tucson, Durham, NC, Charleston, SC.
In November of 1986 Jimmy was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star is located right in front of The Hollywood Pantages Theatre. “Generous,” “loyal” and “trusted” are just a few of the accolades Jimmy’s numerous friends use to describe him—many of whom have enjoyed a life-long personal and business relationship.
In addition to his star Jimmy has been the recipient of many distinguished honors including United Nations Foundation Champion Award (2012), The Broadway League’s Schoenfeld Vision for Arts Education Award (2011), the New York Pop’s Man of the Year (2008), the Tony Award® Special Tony Award for Life Time Achievement (2004), and The Actors’ Fund Medal of Honor (2002).
In 2009 The National High School Musical Theater Award was established and named The Jimmy to celebrate his career-long dedication to supporting young talent. Each year high school students from all over the United States come together to compete in the Jimmy Awards. The participants spend a week in workshops and rehearsals with Broadway professionals in hopes of walking away with college scholarship prizes.
Jimmy operated on instinct, often backing shows simply because he liked the people involved. He was well respected, loved, and admired by all who knew him. He is often referred to as Broadway’s last patriarch, but we knew him as Jimmy.