b. 8 October 1857, Marchias, Maine, USA, d. 11 March 1930, Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Before teaming up with B.F. Keith (b. Benjamin Franklin Keith, 26 January 1846, Hillsboro, New Hampshire, USA, d. 26 March 1914, Palm Beach, Florida, USA), Albee sold circus tickets in Boston, Massachusetts. Keith had also been involved in circus but now ran a curio museum (actually a freak show) in Boston. In 1885 the two formed a partnership and at Boston’s Bijou Theatre they staged pirated Gilbert And Sullivan operettas. This illegal venture made them enough money to open Boston’s Colonial Theatre in 1894. There, they staged cleaned-up vaudeville acts as family entertainment. So popular were these that the Keith-Albee corporation was able to buy other theatres. The resulting chain gave Albee the power to pay artists poor wages and force them to meet imposed expenses from their own pockets. If any objected he barred them from his theatres. Using underhand methods, the Keith-Albee organization bought out Martin Beck’s Orpheum circuit and the enlarged corporation became the country’s most powerful theatrical enterprise. By 1909, Keith, who had little interest in the corporation’s day-to-day running, was in semi-retirement. He died in 1914 and four years later, his son and heir also died; complete control was now in Albee’s hands. The chain extended to some 700 theatres nationwide, thus giving Albee a stranglehold on vaudeville that he used ruthlessly.
As the 20s rolled on, Albee failed to recognize the threat from motion pictures. While others converted theatres into movie houses, he continued to build extravagant theatres and to present vaudeville. He also failed to spot the true nature of another impresario, Joseph P. Kennedy (patriarch of the future political dynasty). Kennedy was even more ruthless and devious than Albee. Following a merger in 1928 of their separate business interests, Kennedy ousted Albee from power and proceeded to convert all the chain’s theatres into movie houses. Some five years later, the new corporation, Radio-Keith-Orpheum, went bankrupt but the motion picture arm, RKO Picture Corporation, stayed in business as a major Hollywood studio. Albee, meanwhile, had retired a wealthy man to live out his days powerless and friendless. In 1928, Albee’s son, Reed Albee, adopted a baby boy and named him after his adoptive grandfather. This Edward Franklin Albee grew up to become one of America’s most distinguished playwrights.