David Belasco: America’s Gold Rush Bred Impresario

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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 Columbia where gold was discovered in the Frazer River Canyon, in 1858

David Belasco’s first stage roll was in 1864 in Vancouver with a speaking part in Richard III at the tender age of 5

 

The family returned to San Francisco in 1865.

David’s neighborhood friend was Josephine Sarah Marcus – the future wife of Wyatt Erp and cause of the fabled Gunfight at the OK Coral

 

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

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

It was the theater of the late 1800s that interested David Belasco.

At the age of 12, David Belasco premiered his first self-written play, Jim Black: A Regulator’s Revenge in a local beer garden.

He took any part he could get in any play – in front of – or behind the scenes.

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In 1873 David Belasco hit the road with the Chapman Sisters Traveling Acting Troup, acting and doing any other jobs necessary for the troup.

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 Factorum – he could do anything.

In 1879, in San Francisco, he produced his Passion Play, 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 and the begining of a career 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.

 

There were Belasco theatres from Boadway to Los Angeles.

 

Family

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

 

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

 

More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • David Belasco, In San Francisco: The Early Years of a Great Impresario, Regina Merwin, 43/1

Photo Gallery [New photos always welcome]

"Girl of the Golden West" Belasco's Stageplay adapted by Puccini for Opera.

“Girl of the Golden West” Belasco’s Stageplay adapted by Puccini for Opera.

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