Stiefel family papers


Collection 3516

circa 1920-2007
(2.5 Linear feet ; 6 boxes)

Summary Information

Repository
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Creator
Stiefel family
Title
Stiefel family papers
ID
3516
Date
circa 1920-2007
Extent
2.5 Linear feet ; 6 boxes
Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Hutto
Sponsor
Processing made possible by a generous donation from the Abington Junior High History Club.
Language
English
Mixed materials [Box]
1-6
Abstract
Asher Shtevel/Stiebel and his wife, Brindele, lived in Poketilov, Russia (now part of the Ukraine) in the nineteenth century. Three of their sons came to Philadelphia in 1887: Abraham, Jacob, and Michael (1871-1954), who were followed by other brothers, including Hyman (1860-1927). Sometime after 1887, the American branch of the family started using the name Stiefel. In 1903, members of the Stiefel family set up a movie theater in Philadelphia, the Fairyland on Market Street. In the following years, they opened other theaters in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and in Baltimore, New York, Washington DC, and California. The Stiefels were also in the film distribution business and produced live shows and at least one film. Theaters run by the Stiefels, notably the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia and the Howard Theatre in Washington, were part of the so-called "Chitlin Circuit" and gave starts to many black entertainers whose music later appealed to a wider audience. The collection includes materials related to several members of the Stiefel family, including Abraham, Hyman, Michael, and Abraham's sons Samuel H. (1897-1958) and Nathan; however, most of the collection originated from Samuel H. Stiefel and Samuel's son Bernard M. (1937-2007). In additional to materials pertaining to their various theaters and other work in the entertainment business, there are also materials related to the Queen Village Neighbors Association, of which Bernard Stiefel was executive director in the early 1990s. The collection includes photographs, clippings, scrapbooks, correspondence, programs, press and printed materials, notes, receipts, Internet printouts, and other items.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Stiefel family papers (Collection 3516), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

Samuel H. Stiefel (1897-1958) was born in the New Jersey farming community of Norma, where his parents had settled from Russia some ten years prior. Asher Shtevel/Stiebel and his wife, Miriam, lived in Poketilov, Russia (now part of the Ukraine) in the nineteenth century. The couple had five children: Abraham, Jacob (died 1929), Michael (1871-1954), Moishe, and Hyman (1860-1927). In 1887, three of the brothers, Abraham, Jacob, and Hyman, immigrated to the United States. Abraham married Ella Zlotkevitch and they had several children including son Samuel. The family moved to Philadelphia when Samuel was ten years old, and he remained in the city for the rest of his life.

Abraham Stiefel built the Poplar Theater, a movie house, in a Jewish community in North Philadelphia. Michael Stiefel, in partnership, established the Fairyland Theater on Market Street. The family continued to open theaters in Philadelphia and other cities, and Samuel eventually took over as head of the business. In 1920, he sold the theaters to Warner Brothers, which gave the family a link to Hollywood. Three years later, Samuel opened the Pearl Theatre in what is now Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, where it served a predominantly African American audience.

Samuel's theatrical visions were not limited to Philadelphia. In mid-1920s, he purchased Washington D. C.'s Howard Theatre, the nation's oldest African American theater. There he employed a Chicago-born talent agent named Sheppard Allen who he had met through the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia. Allen went on to work for the theater for almost forty years. Samuel eventually sold the Howard and it closed 1970.

In 1936, Samuel married Philadelphian Alberta Miller, and they had one son, Bernard M. (or "Sonny") Stiefel. In 1944, the family moved to Hollywood, California, where Samuel made the transition from showing movies to producing movies. He made considerable connections during his few years in the Golden State. In addition to befriending a number of movies stars, Samuel managed actors Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre. He also served a managing director for two Music for the Wounded concerts in 1945 and 1946 and produced two Mickey Rooney movies, The Big Wheel (1950) and  Quicksand (1950).

The Stiefels moved back to Philadelphia in the early 1950s, and Samuel began managing the Uptown Theatre on North Broad Street. The Uptown opened in 1929 as a movie theater. It eventually became part of the "Chitlin' Circuit" of theaters that hosted African American performers during the first half of the twentieth century. (This circuit included the Howard Theater, the Stiefel's Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, and two other theaters not owned by them: the Apollo in New York City and The Regal in Chicago.) Under Samuel's tutelage, the Uptown became a well-known concert venue for Motown musicians and other artists. Samuel H. Stiefel died in Philadelphia in 1958.

The Stiefels' only son, Bernard, followed somewhat in his father's footsteps. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bernard graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1955 and went on to attain business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. For a short time before his father's death, Bernard helped manage the Uptown Theatre. He moved away to New York for several years, before returning to Philadelphia in 1975. Prior to his return, Bernard became the chairman of the Howard Theatre Corporation (or New Howard Theatre Corporation). This organization, formed in the early 1970s, set about renovating the Howard Theatre, closed since 1970. Headed by a diverse group that included Bernard, New York publicist Victoria Lucas (Lucas formed her firm in 1968 and B. B. King was among her first clients), and Washington businesswoman Cecelia Penny Scott, the corporation successfully raised funds for the theater, which re-opened with a grand gala (organized in part by Bernard) in 1975.

1975 also marked the year Bernard returned to Philadelphia. For a few years he worked in the financial industry and eventually formed his own public relations firm, Stiefel, Kerner and Company, which was based out of New York City. In the mid 1980s, Bernard released a book titled The Philadelphia Trivia Quiz, which was promoted by his own firm. Victoria Lucas, with whom Bernard had worked on the board of the Howard Theatre Corporation, served as his personal publicist.

Later in life, Bernard earned an education degree from Temple University and became an addictions counselor and therapist. For many years he lived in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia and served as executive director of the neighborhood association in the 1990s. He worked at counseling facilities in Delaware and, around 2004, moved to southern Delaware, where he died in 2007.

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Scope and content note

The Stiefel family papers primarily span the bulk of the mid to late twentieth century, with some items dating from the 2000s. They mostly document the life and work of Samuel H. Stiefel and his son Bernard M. ("Sonny") Stiefel; but the collection also contains items highlighting family members such as father Abraham, and brothers Hyman and Michael. The collection does not have series, but has been roughly arranged into three groups. The first is personal papers of the Stiefel family and Bernard Stiefel, most of which have to do with his father, Samuel H. Stiefel (Boxes 1-2). Among these items are materials related to the Queen Village Neighbors Association, of which Bernard Stiefel was executive director in the early 1990s. The second group consists of papers of Victoria Lucas (firm) and the related public relations firm S. A. S. Management, Inc., both of which managed B. B. King. The vast majority of these papers document B. B. King's performances during the 1970s (Box 3). The final group is comprised of papers related to Howard Theatre and the Howard Theatre Corporation, which helped restore the theater in the early 1970s (Box 4). Photographs from the collection have been housed in two archival albums (Boxes 5-6).

The Stiefels exemplify the dynamic of Jews in the entertainment industry working with African American artists. This makes the collection of potential interest to both music and ethnic historians. There is also significant documentation about efforts to save the Howard Theater in the 1970s, including correspondence, financial records, and a business proposal, and various materials concerning the family's wide-ranging interests and ventures, such as a boxing scrapbook and images of a racehorse that was co-owned with Mickey Rooney. Aside from some biographical notes and a screenplay for a potential documentary about Sam Stiefel, however, there is not a lot directly about the Stiefels themselves. The bulk of the material is from the 1970s and the 2000s. Many of the photos are unlabeled, but there are many web printouts and other notes with background information scattered through the collection.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2013.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107
215-732-6200

Restrictions

The bulk of the collection is open for research, however Volume 1, Samuel H. Stiefel scrapbook on Clarence Henry, is undergoing conservation treatment and is unavailable for research at this time. It will be returned to the collection once work on it has been completed.

Provenance

Gift of Jay Robert Stiefel, 2008.

Accession number 2008.001

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Howard Theatre (Organization : Washington, D.C.).
  • Howard Theatre Foundation.
  • Sidney A. Seidenberg, Inc.

Occupation(s)

  • Concert agents.
  • Press agents.

Personal Name(s)

  • King, B. B.
  • Lucas, Victoria.
  • Rooney, Mickey.
  • Stiefel, Bernard M., 1937-2007.
  • Stiefel, Samuel H.

Subject(s)

  • African American entertainers.
  • African American musicians.
  • Jewish businesspeople--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • Jewish families--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • Jewish life--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--20th century

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Family history notebook [copy] compiled by Hyman (Chaim) Stiefel, circa 1920 undated 

1 1

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"The House of Woodbine Avenue - 1926-36, A Reminiscence by Irving Stiefel" [typescript] 2007 

1 2

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Bernard Stiefel collection on Samuel H. Stiefel 1958-2007, undated 

1 3

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"Music for the Wounded" concert programs 1945, 1946 

1 4

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Articles on African American theatre 1973-2006 

1 5

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"Norma, An American Experience" by Bernard Stiefel, and related article 1978, undated 

1 6

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Miscellaneous notes and correspondence 1978-1984, undated 

1 7

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Articles on Sheppard Allen and various entertainers 1982, 2005, 2006, undated 

1 8

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Public relations papers 1983-1985, undated 

1 9-11

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Bernard Stiefel collection of clippings circa 1989-circa 1992 


    Box Folder
Text   2 1-2
    Box Folder
Text   1 12

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Box Folder

Articles on Bernard Stiefel as Executive Director of the Queen Village Neighborhood Association 1992, 1993, undated 

2 3

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Uptown Theatre 1993, 1994, 2006, undated 

2 4

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Proposal for film on Samuel H. Stiefel by Bernard Stiefel 1996, 2006, undated 

2 5

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Pearl Theatre, Royal Theatre [web print-outs] 2006 

2 6

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Theatres and theatre history [web print-outs] 2007 

2 7

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Bernard Stiefel obituaries and memoriams 2007, undated 

2 8

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Bernard Stiefel notes on people known by Samuel H. Stiefel undated 

2 9

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Photographs of horses owned by Samuel H. Stiefel and Mickey Rooney 1947, 1949, undated 

2 10

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Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management materials on B. B. King and other entertainers 1969-1973 

3 1-5

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Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management - transcript of B. B. King interview 1973 

3 6

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Howard Theatre - copies of old playbills 1920, undated 

4 1

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Howard Theatre - clippings 1972-1975, 2006 

4 2

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Howard Theatre - solicitation of offers circa 2005 

4 3

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Howard Theatre Corporation - information on board members circa 1972 

4 4

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Howard Theatre Corporation - administrative papers 1972, 1975, undated 

4 5

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Howard Theatre Corporation - financial papers 1972-1975, undated 

4 6

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Howard Theatre Corporation - Small Business Administration feasibility study circa 1973 

4 7

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Howard Theatre Corporation - miscellaneous circa 1973-1976, undated 

4 8

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Howard Theatre Corporation - Howard Theatre press releases 1974, 1975, undated 

4 9

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Box

Photographs -- Personal, Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management circa 1945-1997 

5

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Photographs - Howard Theatre/Howard Theatre Corporation circa 1972-circa 1975 

6

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Volume

Samuel H. Stiefel scrapbook on Clarence Henry 

Restrictions

This volume is undergoing conservation treatment and is unavailable for research. Once work on the volume has been completed, it will be returned to the collection.

1

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