Main content

Stiefel family papers


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Samuel H. Stiefel (1897-1958) was born in the New Jersey farming community of Norma, where his parents had settled from Russia some ten years prior. Asher Shtevel/Stiebel and his wife, Miriam, lived in Poketilov, Russia (now part of the Ukraine) in the nineteenth century. The couple had five children: Abraham, Jacob (died 1929), Michael (1871-1954), Moishe, and Hyman (1860-1927). In 1887, three of the brothers, Abraham, Jacob, and Hyman, immigrated to the United States. Abraham married Ella Zlotkevitch and they had several children including son Samuel. The family moved to Philadelphia when Samuel was ten years old, and he remained in the city for the rest of his life.

Abraham Stiefel built the Poplar Theater, a movie house, in a Jewish community in North Philadelphia. Michael Stiefel, in partnership, established the Fairyland Theater on Market Street. The family continued to open theaters in Philadelphia and other cities, and Samuel eventually took over as head of the business. In 1920, he sold the theaters to Warner Brothers, which gave the family a link to Hollywood. Three years later, Samuel opened the Pearl Theatre in what is now Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, where it served a predominantly African American audience.

Samuel's theatrical visions were not limited to Philadelphia. In mid-1920s, he purchased Washington D. C.'s Howard Theatre, the nation's oldest African American theater. There he employed a Chicago-born talent agent named Sheppard Allen who he had met through the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia. Allen went on to work for the theater for almost forty years. Samuel eventually sold the Howard and it closed 1970.

In 1936, Samuel married Philadelphian Alberta Miller, and they had one son, Bernard M. (or "Sonny") Stiefel. In 1944, the family moved to Hollywood, California, where Samuel made the transition from showing movies to producing movies. He made considerable connections during his few years in the Golden State. In addition to befriending a number of movies stars, Samuel managed actors Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre. He also served a managing director for two Music for the Wounded concerts in 1945 and 1946 and produced two Mickey Rooney movies, The Big Wheel (1950) and Quicksand (1950).

The Stiefels moved back to Philadelphia in the early 1950s, and Samuel began managing the Uptown Theatre on North Broad Street. The Uptown opened in 1929 as a movie theater. It eventually became part of the "Chitlin' Circuit" of theaters that hosted African American performers during the first half of the twentieth century. (This circuit included the Howard Theater, the Stiefel's Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, and two other theaters not owned by them: the Apollo in New York City and The Regal in Chicago.) Under Samuel's tutelage, the Uptown became a well-known concert venue for Motown musicians and other artists. Samuel H. Stiefel died in Philadelphia in 1958.

The Stiefels' only son, Bernard, followed somewhat in his father's footsteps. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bernard graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1955 and went on to attain business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. For a short time before his father's death, Bernard helped manage the Uptown Theatre. He moved away to New York for several years, before returning to Philadelphia in 1975. Prior to his return, Bernard became the chairman of the Howard Theatre Corporation (or New Howard Theatre Corporation). This organization, formed in the early 1970s, set about renovating the Howard Theatre, closed since 1970. Headed by a diverse group that included Bernard, New York publicist Victoria Lucas (Lucas formed her firm in 1968 and B. B. King was among her first clients), and Washington businesswoman Cecelia Penny Scott, the corporation successfully raised funds for the theater, which re-opened with a grand gala (organized in part by Bernard) in 1975.

1975 also marked the year Bernard returned to Philadelphia. For a few years he worked in the financial industry and eventually formed his own public relations firm, Stiefel, Kerner and Company, which was based out of New York City. In the mid 1980s, Bernard released a book titled The Philadelphia Trivia Quiz, which was promoted by his own firm. Victoria Lucas, with whom Bernard had worked on the board of the Howard Theatre Corporation, served as his personal publicist.

Later in life, Bernard earned an education degree from Temple University and became an addictions counselor and therapist. For many years he lived in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia and served as executive director of the neighborhood association in the 1990s. He worked at counseling facilities in Delaware and, around 2004, moved to southern Delaware, where he died in 2007.

The Stiefel family papers primarily span the bulk of the mid to late twentieth century, with some items dating from the 2000s. They mostly document the life and work of Samuel H. Stiefel and his son Bernard M. ("Sonny") Stiefel; but the collection also contains items highlighting family members such as father Abraham, and brothers Hyman and Michael. The collection does not have series, but has been roughly arranged into three groups. The first is personal papers of the Stiefel family and Bernard Stiefel, most of which have to do with his father, Samuel H. Stiefel (Boxes 1-2). Among these items are materials related to the Queen Village Neighbors Association, of which Bernard Stiefel was executive director in the early 1990s. The second group consists of papers of Victoria Lucas (firm) and the related public relations firm S. A. S. Management, Inc., both of which managed B. B. King. The vast majority of these papers document B. B. King's performances during the 1970s (Box 3). The final group is comprised of papers related to Howard Theatre and the Howard Theatre Corporation, which helped restore the theater in the early 1970s (Box 4). Photographs from the collection have been housed in two archival albums (Boxes 5-6).

The Stiefels exemplify the dynamic of Jews in the entertainment industry working with African American artists. This makes the collection of potential interest to both music and ethnic historians. There is also significant documentation about efforts to save the Howard Theater in the 1970s, including correspondence, financial records, and a business proposal, and various materials concerning the family's wide-ranging interests and ventures, such as a boxing scrapbook and images of a racehorse that was co-owned with Mickey Rooney. Aside from some biographical notes and a screenplay for a potential documentary about Sam Stiefel, however, there is not a lot directly about the Stiefels themselves. The bulk of the material is from the 1970s and the 2000s. Many of the photos are unlabeled, but there are many web printouts and other notes with background information scattered through the collection.

Gift of Jay Robert Stiefel, 2008.

Accession number 2008.001

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Hutto
Finding Aid Date
; 2013.
Processing made possible by a generous donation from the Abington Junior High History Club.
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Family history notebook [copy] compiled by Hyman (Chaim) Stiefel, circa 1920, undated.
Box 1 Folder 1
"The House of Woodbine Avenue - 1926-36, A Reminiscence by Irving Stiefel" [typescript], 2007.
Box 1 Folder 2
Bernard Stiefel collection on Samuel H. Stiefel, 1958-2007, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
"Music for the Wounded" concert programs, 1945, 1946.
Box 1 Folder 4
Articles on African American theatre, 1973-2006.
Box 1 Folder 5
"Norma, An American Experience" by Bernard Stiefel, and related article, 1978, undated.
Box 1 Folder 6
Miscellaneous notes and correspondence, 1978-1984, undated.
Box 1 Folder 7
Articles on Sheppard Allen and various entertainers, 1982, 2005, 2006, undated.
Box 1 Folder 8
Public relations papers, 1983-1985, undated.
Box 1 Folder 9-11
Bernard Stiefel collection of clippings, circa 1989-circa 1992.
Box 2 Folder 1-2 Box 1 Folder 12
Articles on Bernard Stiefel as Executive Director of the Queen Village Neighborhood Association, 1992, 1993, undated.
Box 2 Folder 3
Uptown Theatre, 1993, 1994, 2006, undated.
Box 2 Folder 4
Proposal for film on Samuel H. Stiefel by Bernard Stiefel, 1996, 2006, undated.
Box 2 Folder 5
Pearl Theatre, Royal Theatre [web print-outs], 2006.
Box 2 Folder 6
Theatres and theatre history [web print-outs], 2007.
Box 2 Folder 7
Bernard Stiefel obituaries and memoriams, 2007, undated.
Box 2 Folder 8
Bernard Stiefel notes on people known by Samuel H. Stiefel, undated.
Box 2 Folder 9
Photographs of horses owned by Samuel H. Stiefel and Mickey Rooney, 1947, 1949, undated.
Box 2 Folder 10
Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management materials on B. B. King and other entertainers, 1969-1973.
Box 3 Folder 1-5
Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management - transcript of B. B. King interview, 1973.
Box 3 Folder 6
Howard Theatre - copies of old playbills, 1920, undated.
Box 4 Folder 1
Howard Theatre - clippings, 1972-1975, 2006.
Box 4 Folder 2
Howard Theatre - solicitation of offers, circa 2005.
Box 4 Folder 3
Howard Theatre Corporation - information on board members, circa 1972.
Box 4 Folder 4
Howard Theatre Corporation - administrative papers, 1972, 1975, undated.
Box 4 Folder 5
Howard Theatre Corporation - financial papers, 1972-1975, undated.
Box 4 Folder 6
Howard Theatre Corporation - Small Business Administration feasibility study, circa 1973.
Box 4 Folder 7
Howard Theatre Corporation - miscellaneous, circa 1973-1976, undated.
Box 4 Folder 8
Howard Theatre Corporation - Howard Theatre press releases, 1974, 1975, undated.
Box 4 Folder 9
Photographs -- Personal, Victoria Lucas/S. A. S. Management, circa 1945-1997.
Box 5
Photographs - Howard Theatre/Howard Theatre Corporation, circa 1972-circa 1975.
Box 6
Samuel H. Stiefel scrapbook on Clarence Henry, 1950-1952.
Volume 1

Print, Suggest