David Belasco: America’s Gold Rush Bred Impresario

Young David Belasco, Age 20

Young David Belasco, age 20

David Belasco

Values Codes H – E – L

 

David Belasco was born in San Francisco in 1853.

His parents, Abraham Humphry and Reyna Martin Belasco, were natives of London with roots in Portugal.

They had sailed for California, via Panama, and settled in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

From an early age, David’s parents encouraged him to see plays and familiarize himself with stage and stage folk.

The Belascos left San Francisco for British Columbiawhere gold was discovered in the Frazer River Canyon, in 1858

David Belasco’s first stage roll was in Vancouver in 1874 with a speaking part in Richard IIIat the tender age of 5

The family returned to San Francisco in 1865.

David’s neighborhood friend was Josephine Sarah Marcusthe future wife of Wyatt Erp and cause of the fabled Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

David Belasco's Parents, Abraham Humphry & Reyna Martin Belasco

David Belasco’s parents, Abraham Humphry & Reyna Martin Belasco

The theater took hold of David Belasco in the 1800’s.

At the age of 12, he premiered his first authored play, Jim Black: A Regulator’s Revengeat a local beer garden.

He took any part he could get in any play — on stage or behind the scenes.

In 1873, Belasco hit the road with the Chapman Sisters Traveling Acting Troupe, acting and doing other jobs necessary for the troupe.

At one point, he became stage manager for the famous Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City.

Returning to San Francisco, David Belasco became a theatrical factotum, with an array of responsibilities.

In 1879, he produced his Passion Play in San Francisco with 200 singers and 400 men and women for the mob scenes.

All the principals were arrested at the end of the second performance for breaking a hurriedly passed city law forbidding depictions of Christ for profit.

New York

David Belasco’s reputation for production talents brought him to New York City, where he established himself as one of America’s first great impresarios.

David Belasco in "Camile"

David Belasco in “Camile”

Between 1884 and 1930, he wrote, produced or directed over 100 Broadway shows.

Two of his melodramas, Madam Butterfly and Girl of the Golden West, became operas by Puccini.

Belasco had theatres from Broadway to Los Angeles.

Family

David Belasco and Cecelia Loverich were married for over 50 years. They had two daughters: Reina and Augusta.

 

David Belasco, child of the California Gold Rush, died in 1931.

Source

  • Regina Merwin, “David Belasco in San Francisco: The Early Years of a Great Impresario,” Western States Jewish History 43/1.
"Girl of the Golden West" Belasco's Stageplay adapted by Puccini for Opera.

“Girl of the Golden West,” Belasco’s stage play adapted by Puccini for the opera