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Jimmy Nederlander's Endless Run


"God, we hated their guts," Jimmy says. "J. J. Shubert, if you spent $5, he'd write you a letter about it." Many of the greatest moments in Nederlander history still have to do with beating the Shuberts out for shows.

By 1965, Jimmy had theaters in Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis, but the rivalry led him to New York, where he purchased the Palace Theatre on 47th and Broadway. "My father said I was nuts to go to New York," he recalls. "I remember telling him, 'D.T., if it's good enough for Shubert, it's certainly good enough for me.' "

There were other circumstances that instilled in Jimmy an underdog mentality. Gone broke by way of the Great Depression, his parents were forced to move with their six children into their summer home in Bloomfield Hills. While D. T. and Apple Nederlander (née Sarah Applebaum) kept Jimmy's brother Harry at Detroit Country Day School because he was older, they pulled Jimmy, their No. 2 son, after the third grade and installed him in public school "in a very poor neighborhood" in Keego Harbor. "My brother was up there associating with the Fishers and the Knudsens, and I was associating with -- I don't know what," he says. "Do you call that discrimination? It was the biggest comedown of my life."

Jimmy was the first of his siblings to go into the family business. He dropped out of the pre-law program at the Detroit Institute of Technology when he was 18 and went to work at the box office of the Lafayette for $25 a week. He served as a treasurer in the traveling Air Force production of Moss Hart's Winged Victory, playing Broadway and making his first New York connections. "My brothers, they waited to follow me into it," he says. "Eventually, there was a lot here for them to do." ("Somebody had to run Detroit," says Joey Nederlander. "Detroit supported us. New York certainly didn't then.") On the road and in New York, where he amassed ten theaters between 1965 and 1985, Jimmy produced hundreds of plays -- something the Nederlander Organization today does less of than its competitors -- forming relationships with the producers David Merrick, Alexander Cohen, and Emanuel Azenberg, among others. Yes, there have been a lot of good decisions. Fiddler on the Roof was born at the Nederlanders' Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Jimmy co-produced Annie in 1977, when nobody had been interested in a musical based on the comic strip. In 1973, Jimmy put up money to help his friend Steinbrenner purchase the Yankees, and brought in his brothers. Robert Nederlander, a lawyer who's eleven years younger than Jimmy, ran the Yankees as the team's managing general partner for sixteen months in 1990-91.

"They're all interlocked; I swear to you, I don't know who owns what," says Azenberg. "They bicker all the time. Except when somebody else is at one of their throats -- then all of them are at that guy's throat. That's their ultimate rule: No one is allowed to fail. But as for who has all the money, or who was D.T.'s favorite -- only they know."

"The story of the Nederlanders is a story of great success, but at a price," Azenberg says.

What price, exactly, does he mean?

"Well, look how many marriages they've had."

Divorce almost always enters the conversation when the conversation is with a Nederlander man. It seems to be the family curse. One morning in his office, which is down the hall from Jimmy's, Robert Nederlander is talking about the muddled nature of the family's holdings and can't help himself. "There are a lot of properties that involve some collection of more than one of us," he says, then lets out an uncharacteristic giggle. "We stick together, even if we've had a lot of different sisters-in-law in the family." Why is that? More giggles, even more uncharacteristic. "Well, it's a show-business family." Indeed, Robert is on his second wife, same as Jimmy -- though it's his third marriage, since he married and divorced his first wife twice. (Why? "Who the hell knows?" he says. "She chased me until she got me a second time.") Harry and Joey have been married twice. Only Fred stayed with his first wife.

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