June 28, 1892
|Died||November 2, 1978 (aged 86)|
|Mildred Bartlett (aka Raye Dean)|
Born Mechel Salpeter, Gordon was the youngest son of immigrants from Poland. His older brother, Cliff, used the stage name of "Gordon," and Max then used it also. Cliff, an entertainer in vaudeville, died at age 32 (in 1913).
Then in his early 20s, Gordon within months formed a vaudeville agency with Albert Lewis, his late brother's former vaudeville and burlesque partner. They specialized in providing sketches for shows, and their material, and performers (e.g. Phil Baker and Lou Holtz), played the Keith and Orpheum circuits. It was on May 24, 1921, the tail end of this period- months before the team produced their first play- that Gordon wed Mildred Bartlett, of Amsterdam, New York. Bartlett gave up her acting career- she performed in films under the name Raye Dean- a few months before the wedding at the request of her fiance.
Gordon soon became one of New York's most successful producers, from the Roaring Twenties and Depression-era on into the Eisenhower years. One of his first great hits came when he presented, with Lewis, the original stage incarnation of The Jazz Singer, which ran from September 1925 to June 1926. The year following the stock market crash of 1929- "Marx, the jig is up" is how he famously relayed the news to his friend and frequent tip recipient- Gordon became an independent producer. In 1930 he produced Three's A Crowd. By 1932, broke and suffering from a nervous collapse, such friends as "George Kaufman offered him fifteen hundred of the sixteen hundred dollars Kaufman had at that time, and Harpo Marx came to see him in the hospital with his pockets stuffed with cash and strewed it over the bed..."
It was in these years that Gordon gradually became playwright Kaufman's producer of choice - 10 shows in 25 years- starting in 1931 with the Astaires' final musical, The Bandwagon. Gordon had even greater luck with the married playwrights Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. For Kanin's Born Yesterday - it ran 1,642 performances- producer Gordon even had a hand in discovering its star, Judy Holliday ("The minute she walked in, I knew she was it.").
When Rockefeller still can hoard enough
money to let Max Gordon
produce his shows--