Discount Broadway Tickets - Joe LeBlang Ticket Business Timeline

A timeline of the life and career of Joe Leblang who provided discounted Broadway tickets to the masses from 1894-1938

Joseph LeblangJoseph Leblang, a Jewish-Hungarian immigrant turned Broadway entrepreneur, is credited for introducing the concept of discount Broadway tickets to the public in 1894. Leblang, or Joe Broadway as he was often known, created the Central and Public Service Theatre Ticket Agency in New York City that provided cut-price Broadway tickets to the masses. At its zenith, the Times Square ticket office was selling over 2000 Broadway tickets per day at exactly half the price of the box office.
Leblang went on to become a broadway show producer and even purchased three Broadway theatres, including the George M Cohan Theatre on the same block as his ticket office. He ran the business until his untimely death at 57 in 1931, which made front page headlines in the New York Times; 3000 people attended his funeral, including the New York City Mayor.
His wife, Tillie, continued his mission, but ultimately faltered at the helm. In 1948, with his three daughters in charge, his company finally completed its transition to becoming a regular premium ticket broker, the very same type of business that Leblang despised.

1894 Leblang Opens the Tobacco Shop

Leblang opens the tobacco shop on 30th street after injuring his leg and discovering that he cannot stand for long. He starts trading the Broadway tickets that shopkeepers are given for putting up posters promoting Broadway shows.

1897 Converts the Business to Just Sell Broadway Tickets

The Broadway ticket business is so brisk that Leblang converts his business to only selling tickets.
The business expands and grows at a rapid rate.
At this location the business becomes know as "Joe's Cut Rate Theatre Tickets".

1906 Broadway Theatres Move Uptown To Times Square
Leblang saw that many Broadway theatres had moved uptown to Times Square, so there was a rush by all connected businesses to move to that area. Leblang couldn't find any space in Times Square, but was offered a small counter area in the back of Grays Drug Store. It didn't last long before his counter was besieged by people and Grays drug store was complaining to the landlord. After a little negotiation, Leblang moved the business into the basement and got a separate entrance.

1907 Grays Cut-Price Takes Off
Sales skyrocket in the basement ticket office. Because the ticket office is under Grays Drug Store, the business becomes know as "Grays Cut-Price", even though it had nothing to do with Grays itself other than physical proximity.
In the basement, which looked like a Coney Island amusement parlor, with vending machines and curios, there is a nightly crush of people in a feeding frenzy for tickets. It's a family affair with Joe's brothers, nephew and wife all working there, making sure all monies are correctly tallied.
Pitch men shout details of ticket offers and what the show is about from a small stage, when one pitch man gets hoarse, the next picks up the reins and continues the pitch. New batches of tickets arrive every few minutes, so this encourages the crowd to wait to the very last moment. It seems that this scene was as popular as going to the Broadway show itself. The frenzy continues until at 8PM all tickets are sold, and the remaining people file out.

1908 Leblang's First "Buy"
Leblang got his first house buy in 1908, "Polly of the Circus". He bought 60 percent of the tickets after the show started to wane. The "Servant of the House" was the next show which Leblang made a buy. He sells these at "Grays Cut-Price".

1910 The Peoples League Was Formed
By 1910 Leblang's "Grays Cut-Price" was selling up to 1000 tickets per night, which worried the Producing Managers Association. They formed The Peoples League to run Leblang out of business - they offered printed discount coupons everywhere, to be used at box office to get half price tickets, clearly to undermine Grays Cut-Price.

1914 Leblang Makes Money From a Show Failure
Edward Sheldon's "Song of Songs" fails at the box office and plans to close.
Leblang buys all remaining ticket for 30% and takes over the box office for the last 8 weeks of production and manages to make a profit.

1915 Finally Recognized in the Press
Leblang was finally being recognized in the press and 11 articles were published about him in Billboard and Variety.
Leblang took Peoples League over, when their business failed.
Leblang purchases the George M Cohan Theatre.

1915 Plan to Thwart Premium Ticket Brokers
In August 1915, the Producing Managers Association agreed that Premium ticket prices alienated theatergoers and Cut- price tickets devalued the product, so a plan was devised to get rid of all non box-office tickets. The idea was to get rid of discount Broadway show tickets altogether and add a fifty cent max mark up for resale limit and control speculators on "popular show" tickets.
The plan fell apart because of claims of impropriety, as the Schubert secretly owned a part of Tyson's, the only ticket broker that was allowed to still sell tickets in the plan.
Overall theatre audience was reduced because the bargain-hunter demographic didn't think that the ticket pricing was appropriate.
Initially Grays Cut-Price was hit hard, but sales picked up again over the months as producers invoked a clause that allowed them to discount if they needed to.
The plan collapsed when the next big Broadway hit arrived and all the good tickets were sold to the brokers at a premium which made a huge additional revenue for the producers.

1917 Leblang Buys a Premium Ticket Broker
Leblang bought premium ticket broker Levy-Jones - the Producing Managers Association was not happy. They force him to relinquish his ownership in the company due to a cited "conflict of interest".

1920 Glut of Broadway Theatres, Lack of Audiences
With 75 productions running simultaneously and the reduction in audiences from the war years, it was a case of too many theatres and not enough ticket sales. Leblang's model stayed strong and in these lean times premium ticket agencies would dump unsold ticket inventory at the Grays cut-price counter.

1922 Single Agency Proposal
Leblang made a proposal to the Producing Managers Association and suggested to close down Grays and turn it into a ticket distribution center, so all Broadway show tickets could be purchased under one roof. As the plan developed, it was proposed to have multiple offices across the city.
Nothing came of the proposal as Broadway producers of hit shows were making huge profits from the current model and little motivation existed to change.

1922 Leblang Rescues Two Doomed Operettas
"Abies Irish Rose" was a doomed Broadway show that was set to close after three months of poor ticket sales. Leblang came to the rescue and created a huge sales turnaround for this show. He took on the role of theatrical producer, moved the show to a different theater and offered all tickets (other than front and center) at Grays Cut-Price for the customary half-price. Ticket sales turned around in less than three months when the show was able to stand on its own feet. The show ended up being tremendously successful and became the longest running show in the 1920s and thus solidified Leblang's legacy as a Broadway entrepreneur. Ironically, when the show finally ended its run in 1927, it again offered tickets at Grays Cut-Price, just where it had started.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Leblang then performed the same kind of miracle with another failing show, "Tobacco Road".

1926 Banner Year for Grays Cut-Price
1926 was the banner year for Grays Cut-Price, with 46 shows being available at Grays ticket office with only a total of 59 shows on Broadway. This shift came about as premium agencies became more guarded with their buys during that year. This allowed Leblang to take more risks on troubled shows. Joe then went on to sell few premium tickets upstairs, sometime the premium agencies dropped off their tickets for sale at the last moment at Grays.

1927 Tuttle Investigation Into Sales Tax Fraud
The Tuttle investigation was taking a look at sales tax fraud by Premium ticket brokers and how they made bribes back to various ticket sources including the producers. The Producing Managers Association panicked and, as a defense mechanism, just in case they got called to testify in front of the Tuttle investigation, dusted off Leblang's 1922 proposal to legitimize Broadway ticket sales and they began to put his plan into practice.
When the Tuttle investigation did not call the managers to testify, they breathed a hugh sigh of relief and, once again, dragged their feet on Leblang's proposal, having just side-stepped some very embarrassing questions about their relationship with premium ticket agencies.

1929 "New York Theatre League"
In November the group "New York Theatre League" was formed from Actors Equity.
The producers had wanted to add Sunday performances and the actors wanted to end premium and cut rate tickets as they felt it was stealing from the paychecks. Actors Equity agreed to Sunday performances if they could get their ticket proposal approved. Their plan used many elements of Leblang's earlier proposal. It also devised a plan where Broadway tickets would be sold via postal mail in a bid to rout ticket speculators. Their plan was put into in effect but within a few weeks the League gave when premium ticket agencies had infiltrated all parts of their plan.
The league passed the mantle back to Leblang, who embraced the postal mail mechanism and attempted to rout ticket speculators.

1931 Launch of Central and Public Service Theatre Ticket Agency
Leblang finally created a single Broadway ticket source for all Broadway tickets and re-launches his service in Times Square. The basement remains dedicated cut-price tickets, the ground floor carries "Popular show tickets that are offered at box office rate plus a small commission. Telephone and postal tickets were also done for the first time.

1931 Leblang Dies Suddenly
Two months after the re-launch of Leblang's new service, Leblang dies suddenly from a heart attack.
His wife Tillie and longtime manager Marty Zimmerman take over management and day-day operation. Thousands of people attend his funeral including the New York City mayor.

1938 Fitzgerald Building (now know as the Longacre Building) is knocked down
The business is relocated to 44th Street and starts selling sports tickets in addition to Broadway tickets.

1945 Tillie Leblang Dies - Daughters Become Managers
During the reign of the Leblang daughters, Leblang's ticket office is transformed to a premium ticket broker and they stop selling cut-price tickets. The business is now known as "Leblang Theatre Tickets".

1949 Long-Time Manager Retires
Marty Zimmerman, Joe Leblang's right-hand man for many years, retires from the business and dies shortly afterwards.

1968 Business is Sold to Another Ticket Broker
Golden purchases Leblang's and forms Golden-Leblang Ticket Brokers.

2001 Golden-Leblangs is sold to Continental Guest Services Corp
Golden LeBlang becomes part of Continental Guest Services and completes a transition to a concierge ticket service.

Joe Leblangs Cut Rate Theatre Tickets on 31st street in NYC - Circa 1894

Joe Leblangs's Grays Cut-price ticket office at Times Square in NYC - Circa 1924

Leblang Theatre Tickets - Circa 1954