Great Depression, Great Change

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Theater History in Times Square/Great Depression, Great Change
Times Square Alliance
Written By Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance is proud to continue to work to improve and promote Times Square, so that it retains the creativity, energy and edge that have made it an icon for entertainment, culture and urban life for over a century.

There are a million fascinating stories in the Broadway theater district. Learn more about some of the famous actors, institutions, and the evolution of Times Square as you explore one of New York City's top attractions.

a time of great loss

There were significant changes that shaped New York's theatrical community during the Great Depression. The theater industry was hit hard by the economic crash. No longer able to afford the lavish nights out they once enjoyed, people turned to radio and sometimes movies for entertainment. Many theaters suffered financially and only the strongest survived. It's estimated that some 75% of the talent fled New York to find work in Hollywood. 

In addition to the economic downturn, Broadway lost several of its most important industry leaders. In 1930 alone, Fredrick Proctor, a Vaudeville producer, and director and playwright David Belasco, who had been responsible for launching the careers of Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Pickford, and many others, passed away. One of Belasco's many contributions to Broadway was his adaptation of "Madame Butterfly" for the stage. These were major setbacks to the community. 

Some theaters became movie houses to take advantage of the opportunity to offer lower prices. Audiences at the time were more apt to attend a movie than a Broadway show. Some predicted that the tragedy would result in the end of theater altogether. The Globe Theater was turned into a motion picture venue after the crash of 1929. Later it would become the Lunt-Fontanne Theater after undergoing a gut renovation.

the show must go on

Despite the seemingly mass exodus to Hollywood and the conversion of some playhouses into movie houses, there were diehards who not only kept theater in the Times Square area alive but thriving. As the old Broadway adage goes, "The Show Must Go On."

This period happened to be the heyday of the great American acting team, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who were the most sought-after duo on Broadway. They were a married couple and had long, prosperous, celebrated careers. They were by far some of the most important performers of the time, and no doubt added a bright ray of light to a very dark time in American history.

Some other Broadway successes during that time included the 1930 debut of Jessica Tandy. The actress went on to make a major impact on Broadway with her groundbreaking performance as Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire" opposite Marlon Brando in 1948.

Cover photo credit: Wikimedia, taken circa 1930

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Theater History in Times Square

Great Depression, Great Change

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