Gabor Steiner: That’s Entertainment

morgen vielleicht
Morgen Vielleicht!‘ (Maybe Tomorrow!) by Franz Lehar, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich.

‘Gabor Steiner! I like this man. How grateful all Wiener should be to him! He alone saves Vienna’s reputation as a theatre town, as the city of music, dance and joy of life’.
Adolf Loos, 1903.

Gabor Steiner (1858-1944), the publisher of ‘Morgen Vielleicht!’ (Maybe Tomorrow!) was born with entertainment in his veins. Since early childhood he was spiritually nourished by artists and composers. His father was a famous Viennese theatre manager. His son’s godfather was the leading Austrian composer Richard Strauss. Amongst the friends of the family were Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauss, Jr. Well, that is to say, until Johann Strauss’ second wife —thirty years his junior— left her middle-aged husband for Gabor’s brother.

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Wenn ich mir nur Fanny abgewöhnen könnt…!’ (If I could just stop yearning for Fanny!) by Willy Engel-Berger & Peter Herz, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Dura.

Gabor was a busy bee, always on the lookout for new ways to entertain people. He started working in theatres in Germany before ending back up in Vienna where he founded a concert and theatre agency In 1887. Two years later he began a publishing house to bring out plays and a theatre newspaper. But in 1890 Gabor Steiner had to stop all these enterprises because they proved not profitable.

Imre_Kiralfy's_Venice_the_bride_of_the_sea,_performance_poster,_1891During a visit to London Gabor witnessed Venice in London, a unique and dazzling spectacle. It was produced by Imre Kiralfy and staged at the Olympia Theatre. Kiralfy replicated the bridges and canals of Venice using machinery, water and electricity. On the gigantic stage no less than 1,400 persons were busy creating an enchanting illusion. Inspired by this splendour Gabor leased part of the Wiener Prater, to build his own theatre and entertainment city: Venedig im Wien, which opened in 1895.

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Venedig im Wien, 1895,  © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

This Viennese version was an ‘artful’ imitation of Venetian buildings and gondolas with navigable channels constructed on an area of the Prater park, roughly half the size of a soccer field. More than 2,000 employees were catering for the visitors. There were shops, restaurants, cafes, a champagne pavilion, a wine tavern and a beer garden. Various stages offered a variety of concerts, Viennese farces, French comedies, operettas, revues, ballets, cabaret and wrestling events. Woo-hoo!
Venedig im Wien became a huge triumph and the extravaganza attracted crowds of people of all classes. The complete Who’s Who of the Viennese operetta performed there for many years.

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Gabor Steiner in 1897, © ÖNB Bildarchiv und Grafiksammlung
The success of his theme park didn’t stop Gabor Steiner  from following his business impulses. On the contrary, after the Lumières had held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895, he bought their only other available cinématographe and opened the first cinema in Vienna. Unfortunately, the device was very poor. The viewers complained of headaches because of the strong flicker. At times the device failed completely and the public had to be refunded. Gabor Steiner didn’t wait the end of the season to close his cinema.
automatenbuffet
Around the same time Gabor envisioned another commercial opportunity when in 1895 the first buffet vending machines were built. Needless to say Gabor also had to acquire such an Automaten-Buffet which he imported from Naples. The novelty allowed customers to obtain beverages and sandwiches by inserting coins into the rather monumental machine chests.

These entrepreneurial excursions didn’t make Gabor lose sight of his golden goose in the Prater park. For fear that the visitors would lose interest, every year Gabor Steiner frantically renewed, expanded or completely remodelled the Venedig theme park. In 1897 he instigated the construction of the iconic giant Riesenrad that you’ve seen in the film The Third Man. Or didn’t you?

It was near this Ferris wheel that in 1987 a lane in the Prater  was named in honour of Gabor Steiner. The wheel inspired the fox-trot song Das Lied vom Riesenrad, for which Marcel Vertès —like Gabor Steiner a Hungarian— designed  the twirling sheet music cover.

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The Gabor Steiner lane in the Prater in Vienna (photo ImagesMusicales, 2014).
riesenrad
Das Lied vom Riesenrad‘ (The Song of the Ferris Wheel) by Karl Hajos & Beda, published by Pierrot Verlag (Wien, 1921) and illustrated by Vertès.

In his constant quest to improve the entertainment park, Gabor filled up a ‘Venetian laguna’ in order to build an open-air theatre for 4,000 spectators. There he treated his public to typical ‘Prater-operettas’ presenting up to 200 dancers in huge ballet scenes.

5_ballerinenplakatLater still, in 1901 Steiner demolished the Venetian buildings altogether. In its place he established a new International City, the year after he created a Flower City and in 1903 it became the Electric City.

Meanwhile in 1900 Gabor Steiner had acquired the Danzers Orpheum, a theatre in the centre of Vienna. He completely redecorated the place in glitzy neo-Baroque style. The theatre was used as a winter venue (when the park closed) for the Venedig im Wien spectacles. The grand opening was with the operetta Venus auf Erden (Venus on Earth) from Paul Lincke, father of the Berlin operetta.

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Venus auf Erden‘ (Venus on Earth) by Paul Lincke, published By A. Bosc (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Leonce Burret.

In 1908 Steiner got into financial difficulties and went bankrupt.  For a few years he then tried his luck in managing the Viennese Ronacher theatre. But megalomaniac habits die hard and in 1911, the enormous cost of the theatre’s lavish refurbishing brought him into financial troubles again.

Interior view of the : Ronacher theater (source Wikimedia Commons, photo Paul Ott / VBW).
Interior view of the Ronacher theater (source Wikimedia Commons, photo Paul Ott / VBW).

It is now time to focus on Max, the son of Gabor Steiner. Max was a child prodigy, conducting operettas when he was only twelve and composing his first operetta aged fifteen. He would later become known in Hollywood as the father of film music writing the scores for more than 300 films. To mention just a few: Casablanca, King Kong, The Caine Mutiny and Gone with the Wind.

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Max Steiner – https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40771800

The first time his father went bankrupt, Max moved to live and work in London. But in 1911, when Gabor again run into trouble, he returned to Vienna to help. He took over his father’s theatre and tried to stem the losses, but to no avail. The Ronacher was closed. Max was even imprisoned for a short period. His father had pre-sold a whole-year advertisement in the Ronacher theatre program. As managing director Max was sued for breach of contract.

At the end of that same year 1911 Gabor regained the management of his former amusement Park in the Prater. There he opened an exhibit called the Lilliputstadt (midget city) together with his sister’s son, Leo Singer who had assembled a troupe of performing little people. Lamentably, in the shortest of times, Gabor accumulated more debts and went bankrupt once more. In 1913 he separated from his wife and fled Vienna and his financial problems and he lived for eight years in London, Switzerland and New York.

leo singer
Picture of Leo SInger, surrounded by little people, in the Milwaukee journal, 14 December 1940.

Abroad, Gabor probably met again with his nephew Leo Singer, who had moved to the United States at the outbreak of the First World War. Years later, in 1938, Singer would provide 124 little people for the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

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The company of the tiny men and women who compose the famous Singer Midgets were received by President Coolidge in the White House. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

In 1921, after his voluntary exile, Gabor Steiner returned to Vienna. He was now sixty-three and hoped to become a theatre director once more. But it didn’t work out. Instead he started a music publishing house, the Gabor Steiner Verlag, together with Leo Singer who held office in New York and with the financial help of his son Max.

junger mann copy
Left: ‘Junger Mann!‘ by Richard Fall & Arthur Rebner, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich. Right: ‘Wir reisen nach Wildwest‘ by Robert Hügel & Peter Herz, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Gareis. (Ostereichische Nationalbibliothek)
I und mei' Maderl copy
Left: ‘I und mei’ Maderl!‘ by Karl Haupt & Erwin Spahn, published Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by E. K. Right: ‘Küss mich nicht auf den Mund!‘ by Richard Fall & Arthur Rebner, Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich. (Ostereichische Nationalbibliothek)

From what we can deduce the publishing venture didn’t last long: the only known sheet music is copyrighted 1923 and early 1924. So far for Gabor’s triumphant comeback!

In 1938 Gabor Steiner, like so many Jewish artists, had to flee from Austria at the age of eighty-one. All his possessions had been taken by the Nazis and he went to live with his son Max, in Hollywood. In Tinseltown he promptly married his son’s secretary. He died in 1944. Perhaps he was more a creator than a businessman but he certainly had led a full life: Nur zu Bald wird man Alt! (*)

* Only to soon you will be old!

nur zu bald
Nur zu Bald wird man Alt!‘ (Only to soon you will be old!), by Edmund Eysler & Erwin Spahn, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag in 1923 and illustrated by Alexander Blaschke.

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