As the head of a company that is one Broadway’s major theater owners — and the one with the largest holdings around world, with nine venues on Broadway, three on the West End and 17 around the U.S. — Nederlander was a longtime titan of the theater industry. He was also the patriarch of what remains a family business, which began with the clan’s ownership of theaters in Detroit (purchased by his father David T. Nederlander) and, in the 1960, pushed into New York City under his leadership.
Often called “Jimmy Sr.” to differentiate him from his son James L. (a.k.a. Jimmy Jr., the president and presumptive heir to the organization), Nederlander produced or invested in a string of shows that played in Nederlander houses, including “Annie,” “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” and “Wicked.” In 2004 he won a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in theater. He was also a partner with George Steinbrenner in the New York Yankees.
Nederlander was famously unpretentious about his business, embracing the nobody-knows-anything view of show business and attributing most of his decisions to gut instinct. Among the tenants currently housed in the company’s nine Broadway venues are three of the industry’s biggest sensations: “The Lion King” at the Minskoff, “Wicked” at the Gershwin and “Hamilton” at the Rodgers. Among the company’s theaters around the world are the Pantages in L.A., the Cadillac and the Oriental in Chicago and the Adelphi, the Aldwych and the Dominion in London.
Beginning with his 1965 purchase of the Palace Theater, which opened with “Sweet Charity” and is currently home to “An American in Paris,” Nederlander began to expand the family business into New York at a time when Broadway was dominated by the Shubert Organization, which at the time was also a family-run business.
That ignited a fierce rivalry between the Nederlanders and the Shuberts as the dueling companies competed for shows to fill their houses and nab the next big hit. But over the last 20 years, as Broadway has boomed for everyone, that rivalry has cooled to a far more collegial atmosphere.
He leaves his son James L. Nederlander as well as executive vice president Nick Scandalios in the top executive spots at the Nederlander Organization.
“He was my best friend, and partner in every aspect of our business,” said James L. Nederlander of his father. “We collaborated every day. The world has lost one of its great impresarios.”