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Pantages Playhouse Theatre | Serving Winnipeg's Art Community for Over 90 Years
 
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Theatre History > Alexander Pantages

The Pantages Playhouse Theatre was built by Alexander Pantages to be the hub of the Vaudeville chain he ran in Canada and the United States. While the Theatre has had a colourful history, Alexander Pantages was an interesting character in his own right.

The future theatre tycoon, was born Pericles Pantages on the small Greek Island of Andros in 1872, the son of a poor merchant. Young Pericles aspired to greater things and he started calling himself Alexander after he was told the story of Alexander the Great. In search of a better lot in life, he ran away from home at the age of nine and set sail as a cabin boy on an understaffed French steamer. Shipmates tossed him overboard in Panama after he had contracted malaria. By 1885, he had worked his way north to San Francisco where he worked as an usher in the local playhouse.

Pantages was loured by the Alaska Gold Rush - and the money to be made off the newly wealthy prospectors. The story goes that Pantages arrived in Skagway with 25¢ and his mukluks wrapped in a copy of the Seattle Post. He was immediately offered $5 for the paper, but a moment later, somebody offered him $10. Pantages did not sell – instead he hired a hall and - since, by his own admission, he could read "very little much more than my very own name" - someone to read the paper aloud. Three hundred and fifty people attended, each of them paying one-dollar admission.

In Dawson City, Pantages met Klondike Kate Rockwell. He soon gained her confidence, took up residence with her and, it is said, that they even talked of marriage. In 1902, with the Gold Rush winding down, Pantages moved to Seattle while Kate stayed in Alaska on the promise to join him later. Using Kate's money, he opened the Lois Theatre. Unbeknownst to Kate, Pantages met and married Lois Mendenhall while she was still in Alaska.

By 1926, Pantages owned thirty theatres outright and had controlling shares in forty-two others. At the peak of his vaudeville circuit empire, his net worth was estimated to be about $50 million (U.S.D.).

Like so many before and after him, Pantages did not achieve his great success without also acquiring a few enemies along the way. In 1929, a Miss Eunice Pringle accused Pantages of rape. He was convicted, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. It has been suggested that the alleged rape was a frame-up by a third party.

At about this time one of the major movie companies aggressively tried to put the Pantages chain out of business. One of the owners of the RKO Company was said to be angry with Alexander Pantages for playing around with one of his mistresses. The final blow came to Pantages' when his beloved wife Lois was convicted of manslaughter resulting from drunken driving. Pantages died in Los Angeles in February of 1936.
 
 
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Pantages Playhouse Theatre
180 Market Avenue East | Map
Winnipeg, MB R3B 0P7

Telephone: (204) 989-2889
Fax: (204) 989-2881
E-mail: info@pantagesplayhouse.com


All photography by Michael Roberts.

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