Peter McCourt (1859-1929)
began his Colorado theatrical career as
assistant manager of the Tabor Grand in 1884. He moved to Denver
in that year upon the urging of his sister, the second wife of H.A.W.
Tabor, now known famously as Baby Doe.
Tabor and others quickly recognized that McCourt was an astute
businessman, was honest, reliable, and loyal to family and
friends. He eventually became manager of the Tabor Grand while at
the same time he was forming a circuit of Colorado theatres and opera
houses for which he booked traveling theatricals and opera
companies. When railroad lines were completed to eastern Utah
through the Colorado Rockies, he was able to add Utah cities to his
circuit. By then he also had added some southern Wyoming towns to
his organization. All circuit towns had to be on a railroad
line. This was the Silver Circuit, though originally it was
called the Colorado Circuit or the Tabor Circuit.
Ideally this kind of organization
would provide for more profits for
all concerned: Management/owners of the theatres, the railroads, the
hotels and the various kinds of services and service personnel needed
by the traveling entertainers and, of course, profits for Peter McCourt.
McCourt's original contract (July 12, 1890) with the Salt Lake Theatre
(to wit, the Salt Lake Dramatic Association) stipulated that he would
be paid five percent of the gross receipts of those attractions
arranged through the Circuit that actually were "booked and
played." For this contract, McCourt had a partner, Al Hayman of
New York, who was to receive "two and one-half percent"... on the
performances of any other traveling company or companies
..." that he booked for the Theatre. Hayman
promoted so-called popular entertainments, definitely not opera
companies. Slightly more than a year later the contract was
changed to a percentage of the net profits for both men.
There were many such circuits
in America in those years, and the
railroad companies catered to their needs. There were dozens of
railroads that had personnel whose jobs were to work with the traveling
entertainment groups, including opera companies, to tend to their
special needs such as travel reservations and moving large quantities
of luggage and crates. McCourt even advertised his Silver Circuit
in Julius Cahn's Official Theatrical Guide
. The 1896
issue listed nine cities on the Circuit and gave the names and
addresses of railroad general agents in New York and Chicago to whom
requests for information on the Silver Circuit could be
addressed. A Union Pacific Railroad advertisement in the same
issue listed six of McCourt's Circuit cities among other listings,
describing them as "good show towns" that could be included on a cross
country tour "at very little additional cost ...."
in early 1885 and continuing into the twentieth century, the annual
listing of towns in the Silver Circuit changed considerably. Denver,
Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad, Salida, Leadville, Glenwood
Springs, Aspen and Grand Junction were the Colorado communities listed
in Cahn's Theatrical Guide of 1896. Either before or after that date
there were also Boulder, Fort Collins, Caņon City, Montrose,
Ouray, Telluride, and Idaho Springs. This list is not complete, but it
does show the breadth of McCourt's Circuit in Colorado and the extent
to which he traveled to examine theatres and make contracts.
McCourt made numerous trips to New York to promote the Silver Circuit
and to book traveling companies. However, whether he was in Colorado or
in New York, booking companies for a following year was always a
tentative procedure. In any year a theatre might have dropped out of
the Circuit for some reason of the owner(s) or because of theatre loss
by fire. But almost each year another theatre was added to his Circuit,
so over the years it increased in size.
In the early twentieth century the number of traveling companies
decreased as movies became popular and a cheaper form of entertainment.
McCourt had seen this change coming: In 1897 he was the first to bring
moving pictures to Denver, and years later he was the first to offer
Denver talking movies. As a result, the number of theatres in the
Silver Circuit slowly decreased until it ceased to function, perhaps
about fourteen years before his death.
McCourt was married twice but had no children. His circle of friends
and business associates was very large. Denver newspapers eulogized
this giant of Colorado's early entertainment history when he died April
5, 1929. The Denver Post
(April 5, 1929): "Mr. McCourt's life,
more than that of any other man, was written into the theatrical
history of Denver... His name was recognized all over the theatrical
world as that of a man it was good to know and with whom to engage in