PERCY G. WILLIAMS - 1857-1923

'Pineacres' Estate Suffolk Lane/E.Islip, NY

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 Theatres to Keith for More Than $5,000,000/ Began Career As Actor/Theatre Builder Brought Many Famous European Variety Stars to His Local Circuit

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'

  During much of his residence in Brooklyn, Mr. Williams lived in the house on Eighth Avenue later bought by Mayor Gaynor who occupied it while Mayor.  He was twice President of the AMARANTH SOCIETY of Brooklyn, a thirty-second degree Mason, a member of the MONTAUK and LAMBS CLUBS, and for a time was grand treasurer of the Elks for the United States.

  E.F.Albee, President of the B.F.Keith Vaudeville Circuit, which took over the theatrical holdings of Mr. Williams when he retired from active business, paid him the following tribute: 'While Percy G. Williams death was expected, nevertheless it was a shock to theatrical people.  He was a real showman from the ground-up, fearless, intellectual and generous in giving the public, entertainment of rare merit.  He was a very capable man and accumulated a very large fortune solely on his own merits.

  ...from: NY TIMES; 7-22-1923;pg.5


  SERVICES for Percy G. Williams

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.

  ... from NY TIMES; 7-25-1923; pg.11