Abraham Frankum Frankenstein: Musical Director of the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles

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Abraham Frankum Frankenstein

Abraham Frankenstein

Abraham Frankenstein

 

Values Codes: H-E-L-P

Abraham Frankum Frankenstein was born in Chicago in 1873.

He attended Marquette Grammar School, Souders College, and Chicago Musical College.

Along the Way

By age fifteen, Abraham Frankenstein was playing violin at concerts at West Park, under the auspices of the West Chicago Park Commission.

He later joined the Illinois National Guard Band (Second Regiment), and was put in charge of its string section.

In 1893, at the young age of twenty, Abraham Frankenstein was appointed music director of the Lyceum Theatre in Memphis.

He spent the 1896-97 season as first violinist and concertmaster with the Grau Opera Company, and the 1897-98 season with the Calhoun Opera Company.

California

Abraham Frankenstein first visited the West Coast in January of 1897 with the Grau Opera, which had a two-week engagement at the Los Angeles Theatre (later Lyceum Theatre) on Spring Street.

The next year he returned for a three-day engagement with the Calhoun Opera.

In March of 1898, Abraham Frankenstein became music director of the Orpheum Theatre on South Main Street in Los Angeles, establishing the city’s first permanent theatre orchestra. He would remain at the Orpheum for over thirty years.

The Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum Theatre was host to some of the biggest names in vaudeville and popular entertainment, including Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, Houdini, the Marx Brothers, and Sophie Tucker. Charlie Chaplin and Charlie Murray used to sit in the front row and talk to Frankenstein between acts.

Inside the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles

Inside the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles

Frankenstein was universally loved among the stars, but was a taskmaster to his musicians. He regularly launched into tirades and fired musicians with abandon. When asked why he fired someone, he would say: “He was an S.O.B.” A few of those musicians formed a group called “The S.O.B.s.”

In 1913, Frankenstein and lyricist F. B. Silverwood wrote the song “I Love You California,” which was officially adopted as California’s State Song in 1951.

"I Love You California"

“I Love You California”

In 1929, Abraham Frankenstein became musical supervisor for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and conducted the orchestra for the studio’s first musical, The Broadway Melody. He also had stints as director of the Garfield Theatre in Alhambra, violinist at the Hippodrome in Los Angeles, and director of the Warner Brothers Downtown Theatre.

Civic

Abraham Frankenstein also had leadership roles in private and municipal organizations, such as the Musicians Mutual Protective Association (Local 47), the Los Angeles Fire Commission, and the Knights Templar.

He organized bands for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments, and led the combined bands in the Rose Parade of 1923.

On at least one occasion he played violin at Congregation B’nai B’rith (1903 Confirmation Ceremony, officiated by Rabbi Sigmund Hecht).

Family

Abraham Frankenstein had been married and divorced twice, first to Loretta Langdon, whom he married at age nineteen, and then to Gertrude Scott, with whom he had two sons, Fred and Albert.

 

Abraham Frankenstein died in an automobile accident in 1934.

He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

An obituary written for Frankenstein included these words:

“[He] never missed a cue in thirty-one years. . . . [Many] saw the back of his head . . . [and] with seeming magic, they watched him stir his orchestra to action as warning cues came from the actors.” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 1, 1934

 

For more information see the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Ira L. Harris, “A Los Angeles Popular Music Director.” Western State Jewish Historical Quarterly 10:1 (1977): 62-67.

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Cantor Jonathan Friedmann  is Curator of this Abraham Frankum Frankenstein Exhibit

Cantor Friedmann’s Music Blog is at: http://thinkingonmusic.wordpress.com/

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