William A. Brady

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Brady occasionally tried to sever himself from the sporting world, but he couldn’t quite make the break. It was a schizophrenic career: he recalled managing Jim Jeffries in a bout at Coney Island one night, and opening a new production of King Lear the next. He was in charge of Jeffries when he took the title from Bob Fitzsimmons in 1899.

That same year he married the actress Grace George. “No two people,” recalled the director Guthrie McClintic, “ever battled more in the theater.” Once, during a rehearsal, Brady bellowed out from the orchestra, “I don’t get your last word.” His wife rounded on him. “You wouldn’t anyway, it’s French.” But, McClintic added, “no two people I ever knew battled … with better results.” Brady knew how to get the best out of actors, and his relentless hectoring helped make his wife one of the foremost stars of her era.

Brady kept turning out hits until 1929, when the stock market crash wiped out his entire fortune. But the resilient old showman had been through it all before—“if you couldn t starve well on occasion,” he once wrote, “you didn’t belong in the old-time theater”—and he scraped together six thousand dollars to mount a show by Elmer Rice that every manager in New York had passed over. It was called Street Scene : it ran for six hundred performances, took the Pulitzer prize, and made him half a million dollars.

When Brady died in 1950, his wife of half a century showed the old professional grit that had drawn them together in the first place. She left his deathbed and hurried downtown to the Booth Theater to take her place in that evening’s performance of The Velvet Glove .