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Obituaries

Philip J. Smith, Chairman Emeritus of The Shubert Organization, Has Passed Away at Age 89

During his Shubert career of more than 63 years, Philip J. Smith was a leading figure in the American theatre.

Philip J. Smith, Chairman Emeritus of The Shubert Organization, Has Passed Away at Age 89

The Shubert Organization has announced the passing of its beloved Chairman Emeritus, Philip J. Smith. Mr. Smith passed away peacefully on January 15, 2021, in New York City at the age of 89. The cause of death was complications from Covid-19, confirmed by his daughters, Linda Phillips and Jennifer Stein.

In making the announcement, Robert E. Wankel, Chairman and CEO of The Shubert Organization, stated, "We have lost a giant of the American Theatre and a most beloved member of our Shubert Organization family. Over his 63-year career, Phil Smith influenced every aspect of the professional theatre and earned the respect and admiration of everyone from the stage doormen to the greatest performers and creative talents of our time. He was devoted to his work, his friends, his colleagues and above all, his family. On behalf of the Board of Directors, the Officers and Staff of The Shubert Organization, I extend our sincere condolences to his daughters, Linda and Jennifer, and the extended Smith family."

In addition to Mr. Smith's position with The Shubert Organization, he served as a Director and Chairman of The Shubert Foundation, the nation's largest private foundation dedicated to unrestricted funding of not-for-profit theatre and dance companies.

During his Shubert career of more than 63 years, Philip J. Smith was a leading figure in the American theatre, shaping all aspects of production, theatre operations, management and creative development.

Mr. Smith's rise through the ranks of The Shubert Organization began in 1957 when he became box office treasurer at the Imperial Theatre. He went on to gain experience working in every department of the company and was named General Manager of all Shubert Theatres in 1964.

Mr. Smith was promoted to Shubert Vice President in 1969. One of his most important innovations in this capacity was the introduction of credit cards as a method of purchasing tickets to Broadway shows. He was the architect of the industry-wide transition into the age of computerization. With the creation of Telecharge, he revolutionized the way tickets are purchased and expanded accessibility of tickets to theatregoers. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Times Square TKTS discount ticket booth.

During more than 15 years as Executive Vice President of The Shubert Organization, Mr. Smith worked closely with Bernard B. Jacobs, President, and Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman, whose stewardship of the company began in the early 1970's. Following the death of Mr. Jacobs in 1996, Mr. Smith was named President. He served alongside Mr. Schoenfeld for 12 years.

After the passing of Mr. Schoenfeld in 2008, Mr. Smith became Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of The Shubert Organization, and Robert E. Wankel, longtime Shubert Executive Vice President, was named President and Co-Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Smith retired and became Chairman Emeritus in 2020.

Mr. Smith was a longtime member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of the Broadway League, the national trade association of the theatre industry.

He served as Vice Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund and was a primary force in the creation of The Shubert Pavilion, a four-story addition to The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, specializing in short-term rehabilitation therapy.

Mr. Smith served on the Board of Trustees of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and was a leader of Catholic Senior Services. He received the Panis Vitae meritorious Service Award from Catholic Charities and was honored for Lifetime Achievement by the UJA. He was a member of the Knights of Malta and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

In 2011, Mr. Smith was honored with a special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the theatre industry. In 2015, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and honored as a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Philip John Smith was born July 29th, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of four sons born to Irish immigrants, Philip and Mary (Kilcoyne) Smith. His father was a mechanic and his mother worked as a nanny. He attended New York City public schools before entering Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School as a scholarship student. During his high school years he took a job as an usher at the RKO Orpheum movie theatre in Brooklyn. He soon became chief usher, overseeing a staff of twenty-eight, then quickly moving up to assistant manager.

After graduation from high school, Mr. Smith was promoted to manager of the RKO Palace movie theatre in Times Square (now a Broadway playhouse). During his time there he worked with Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Lauritz Melchior, Jerry Lewis and Betty Hutton. In 1951 he met Phyllis Campbell, a professional dancer who was working at the Palace as an usher. Ms. Campbell appeared regularly on Jackie Gleason's CBS-TV variety show as a member of the June Taylor Dancers. On Broadway, she appeared with Elaine Stritch in "On Your Toes."

Mr. Smith and Phyllis Campbell were married in 1960. Their daughter, Linda, was born in 1964. A second daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1966. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were together until her death in 1994. His 1999 marriage to Tricia Walsh ended in divorce in 2008. Mr. Smith is survived by his daughters, Linda Phillips, who resides in New York City with her husband, Martin, and Jennifer Stein, who lives in Cincinnati with her husband, John. Mr. Smith adored his grandchildren, Grant Phillips, James Phillips, Kate Stein, Michael Stein and Peter Stein.


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