PERCY G. WILLIAMS
From: N.Y. TIMES
7/22-25/1923; pgs. 5 & 11: obit.
PERCY G. WILLIAMS, Long Ill, Dies at
66/Vaudeville Head Who Sold His
Percy G. Williams, who in April,
1912, sold to the Keith interests his chain of local vaudeville theatres for more than
five million dollars, died at 9 o'clock yesterday morning at his home in East Islip, Long
Island, of cirrhosis of the liver complicated by heart disease.
His death was not unexpected, for in April, while at Palm Beach, where he was
accustomed to spend the winter with his invalid wife and his sister, he was reported so
critically ill that other members of his family were summoned.
He recovered somewhat and soon after was able to make the journey north in a
special train. The improvement did not
continue. He died with his family at his
bedside. Funeral services will be held at the
East Islip residence at 11 o'clock Tuesday morning.
Born at Baltimore, Md. in 1857, Percy
G. Williams was the son of Dr. John B. Williams, physician and editor of the BALTIMORE
FAMILY JOURNAL. It was the parental design
that he, too, should be a doctor and after leaving Baltimore College the son did begin the
study of medicine, but only to abandon it for the stage.
He made his debut as an actor at Colonel Sinn's Theatre in Baltimore and in 1875 he
moved to the same manager's Park Theatre Company in Brooklyn.
After two seasons in Brooklyn he returned to Baltimore as leading comedian of the
Holliday Street Theatre Stock Company. But
something, distaste or a secret conviction that great success did not there await him, led
Williams in 1880 to give up the stage for business.
For a time he manufactured electrical
goods, and, it is said, profitably, too, but again he changed his field of action, moving
to Brooklyn and engaging in realty operations in partnership with Thomas Adams Jr. Among
their projects was the suburban Property, Bergen Beach.
Then Williams returned to the world of the theatre, not entering this time through
the stage door, however.
He first acquired the old Brooklyn
Music Hall, now known as the Gotham in East New York.
There he did so well with a variety show that he purchased the Novelty Theatre, and
later built the Orpheum which is still one of the finest theatres in Brooklyn.
And he did not confine his success to building and house direction, but ventured
far afield as a theatrical manager, personally ransacking European music halls for acts
that would prove attractive novelties to a New York audience.
Among the foreign stars with whom he signed contracts were Vesta Victoria, Vesta
Tilley, Alice and Marie Lloyd.
In those days the organization of
vaudeville in America was in an intermediate stage, the big interests maneuvering (sic)
for a final consideration of powers, a rearrangement of conflicting circuits.
Percy Williams, independent, daring, original, controlling a group of profitable
houses in the great theatrical center of the country, was a power.
Money finally achieved his retirement from the field, the amount being estimated as
high as $6,000.000; Williams himself said it was 'not less than $5,000,000'
Services for Percy G. Williams,
retired theatrical man, were held at 11 o'clock yesterday morning at his home, Pineacres,
East Islip, Long Island. Dr. Philip A.
Brennan, Past Exalted Ruler of Brooklyn Lodge 22, read the Elks' ritual, and eulogies were
delivered by the Rev. Dr. William H. Garth, rector of St. Mark's Church, Islip, and Wilton
Lackaye. At the burial in Greenwood Cemetery,
Brooklyn, in the afternoon Dr. Garth delivered a prayer.
A hundred Brooklyn Elks and a still larger number of Lambs made the journey to East
Islip in a special train. Among the
theatrical men present were E.F. Albee, F.F.Proctor, Hal Forde, J.J.Murdock and Pat Casey.