Michael Todd Biography & Facts
Michael Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen; June 22, 1909 – March 22, 1958) was an American theater and film producer, best known for his 1956 production of Around the World in 80 Days, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. He is known as the third of Elizabeth Taylor's seven husbands, and is the only one whom she did not divorce (he died in a private plane accident a year after their marriage). He was the driving force behind the development of the eponymous Todd-AO widescreen film format.
Todd was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Chaim Goldbogen (an Orthodox rabbi), and Sophia Hellerman, both of whom were Polish Jewish immigrants. He was one of nine children in a poor family, the youngest son, and his siblings nicknamed him "Tod" (pronounced "Toat" in German) to mimic his difficulty pronouncing the word "coat." It was from this that his name was derived.The family later moved to Chicago, arriving on the day World War I ended. Todd was expelled in the sixth grade for running a game of craps inside the school. In high school, he produced the school play, The Mikado, which was considered a hit. (As Mike Todd, he would produce a jazz version of the musical on Broadway in 1939.)
He eventually dropped out of high school, and worked at a variety of jobs, including shoe salesman and store window decorator. One of his first jobs was as a soda jerk. When the drugstore went out of business, Todd had acquired enough medical knowledge from his work there to be hired at Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital as a type of "security guard" to stop visitors from bringing in food that was not on the patient's diet.
Todd began his career in the construction business, where he made, and subsequently lost, a fortune. He opened the College of Bricklaying of America, buying the materials to teach bricklaying on credit. The school was forced to close when the Bricklayers' Union did not view the college as an accepted place of study. Todd and his brother, Frank, next opened their own construction company.His first flirtation with the film industry was when he served as a contractor to Hollywood studios, soundproofing production stages during the transition from silent pictures to sound. The company he owned with his brother went bankrupt when its financial backing failed in the early days of the Great Depression. Not yet 21, Todd had lost over $1 million (equivalent to about $15,492,032 in today's funds). Todd married the former Bertha Freshman on February 14, 1927, and was the father of an infant son with no home for his family. Todd's subsequent business career was volatile, and failed ventures left him bankrupt many times.
During the 1933–1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, Todd produced an attraction called the "Flame Dance". In this number, gas jets were designed to burn part of a dancer's costume, leaving her naked in appearance. The act attracted enough attention to bring an offer from the Casino de Paree nightclub in New York City. Todd got his first taste of Broadway with the engagement and was determined to find a way to work there.After seeing the Federal Theatre Project's Chicago run of The Swing Mikado, an adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Mikado with an all African-American cast conceived by Harry Minturn, Todd decided to do his own version on Broadway, The Hot Mikado, despite protests by the FTP. The Hot Mikado, starring Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, opened on Broadway March 23, 1939. The subsequent success of Todd's production, at the expense of the Chicago production, contributed to the financial crisis and ultimate demise of the Federal Theatre Project unit in Chicago.
Todd's Broadway success gave him the nerve to challenge showman Billy Rose. Todd visited Grover Whalen, president of the 1939 New York World's Fair, with a proposal to bring the Broadway show to the Fair. Whalen, eager to have the show at the fair, covered Todd's Broadway early closing costs. Rose, who had an exclusivity clause in his fair contract, met Todd at Lindy's, where Rose learned his contract covered new forms of entertainment only. To avoid any head-to-head competition, Rose quickly agreed to promote Todd's production along with his own.
Todd ultimately produced 17 Broadway shows during his career, including the immensely successful burlesque revue Star and Garter starring comedian Bobby Clark, The Naked Genius written by and starring stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, and a 1945 production of Hamlet starring Maurice Evans. His greatest successes were in musical comedy revues, typically featuring actresses in deshabillé, such as As the Girls Go (which also starred Clark) and Michael Todd's Peepshow.
Todd floated the idea of holding the 1945 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in newly liberated Berlin. Although baseball's new commissioner Happy Chandler was reportedly "intrigued" by the idea, it was ultimately dismissed as impractical. The game was finally cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions.
In 1952, Todd made a production of the Johann Strauss II operetta A Night in Venice, complete with floating gondolas at the then-newly constructed Jones Beach Theatre in Long Island, New York. It ran for two seasons.
Widescreen cinema and film productions
In 1950, Mike Todd formed Cinerama with the broadcaster Lowell Thomas (who founded Capital Cities Communications) and the inventor Fred Waller. The company was created to exploit Cinerama, a widescreen film process created by Waller that used three film projectors to create a giant composite image on a curved screen. The first Cinerama feature, This is Cinerama, was released in September 1952.
Before its release, Todd left the Cinerama Company to develop a widescreen process which would eliminate some of Cinerama's flaws. The result was the Todd-AO process, designed by the American Optical Company. The process was first used commercially for the successful film adaptation of Oklahoma! (1955). (Ironically, the producer had famously dismissed the stage musical during tryouts a decade earlier, quipping “No jokes, no legs, no chance.”) Todd soon produced the film for which he is best remembered, Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days, which debuted in cinemas on October 17, 1956. Costing $6 million to produce (equivalent to approximately $57,113,831), the movie had grossed $33 million at the box office by the time of his death. In 1957, Around the World in 80 Days won the Best Picture Academy Award.
In the 1950s Todd acquired the Harris and Selwyn Theaters in downtown Chicago. The Selwyn was renamed Michael Todd's Cinestage and converted into a showcase for Todd-AO productions, while the Harris was renamed the Michael Todd Theatre and operated as a conventional cinema. The facades of both theaters survive as part of the Goodman Theatre complex, although the interiors have been demolished.
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