J. C. Huffman
Jesse C. Huffman

Bowling Green, Ohio, United States
Died1935 (aged 65–66)
United States
OccupationTheatrical director
Known forThe Passing Show

Jesse C. Huffman (1869–1935) was an American theatrical director. Between 1906 and 1932 he directed or staged over 200 shows, mostly for the Shubert Brothers. Many of them were musical revues, musicals or operettas. He is known for The Passing Show series of revues that he staged from 1914 to 1924 at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway, daring alternatives to the Ziegfeld Follies.

Early years

Jesse C. Huffman was born in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1869. His father had been a general in the American Civil War. Huffman became a boy actor at the age of twelve. Later he became stage director for the Harry Davis Stock Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was introduced to the New York theater scene by the actor Richard Mansfield.[1] Huffman soon showed he had a talent as a director of book musicals with loose plots, and of musical revues.[2]

In 1911 Huffman was made general director for the shows staged by the Shubert brothers in New York and on the touring circuit.[2] The Shuberts had the largest chain of theaters in the USA. Shows would first be played on Broadway, sometimes for just one day at the Ambassador Theatre so they could be advertised as "direct from Broadway", then sent on the road. The Shuberts arranged shows on a production line system. Sigmund Romberg composed or arranged the music; Harold R. Atteridge wrote the lyrics and librettos; Huffman directed the shows; Watson Barr designed the sets; and Allan K. Foster choreographed the dance numbers.[3]

Passing Show

The Winter Garden Theatre in 1916, showing The Passing Show

Huffman was responsible for The Passing Show series of revues from 1914 to 1924.[2] The Shuberts first staged The Passing Show in 1912 in competition with the Ziegfeld Follies. Extravagant musical numbers and comedy sketches were roughly linked to an overall narrative. The Shubert staff writer Harold Atteridge prepared the book for the Passing Show of 1914 and continued with several subsequent shows.[4] Huffman was credited with staging the revue, which presumably meant he handled overall direction, including blocking, and also was involved in set design and lighting.[5]

The Passing Show continued to compete with the Follies into the 1920s, offering a more risqué alternative where the girls came ever closer to being completely nude.[6] The last Passing Show opened on 3 September 1924 and ran for 106 performances. Huffman was director, and other Shubert staff including Romberg, Atteridge and Barret supplied music, lyrics and sets. The show featured the song Nothing Naughty in a Nightie.[7]

Other musicals and revues

Flyer for the Al Jolson vehicle Bombo (1921) staged by J.C. Huffman

In February 1914 Huffman drew praise for the very modern stage settings used for Percy MacKaye's fantastic romance A Thousand Years Ago.[8] Huffman also directed Al Jolson vehicles such as Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (1916), Sinbad (1918), Bombo (1921) and Big Boy (1925).[2] Huffman was involved in many other Shubert musicals, particularly revues.[9] In 1922 he staged Make It Snappy, a revue that starred Eddie Cantor.[10] This was one of the "miscellaneously titled collations of froth" used to fill the Winter Garden Theatre while The Passing Show was away.[6]

As the Roaring Twenties progressed, shows became more daring. Huffman acquiesced in J.J. Shubert's demand that the girls in the 1923 revue Artists and Models show their bare breasts. There were two fully nude scenes in this show, drawing comments from the local papers.[11] One critic wrote, "Never before in an American revue has a similar degree of nudity been obtained."[6] Out of town papers were scandalized, but described the show in considerable detail.[12] The show reopened the Winter Garden on 15 November 1927, staged by Huffman, with arrangements of one hundred nude chorus girls as a bracelet and as a cathedral. It ran for nineteen weeks.[13]


Sheet music cover for The Rose of Stamboul (1922)

In the 1920s Huffman staged or directed many operettas for the Shuberts. These included The Rose of Stamboul (1922), My Maryland (1927), The Circus Princess (1927) and Countess Maritza (1928).[9] Other original Broadway productions of operettas included Blossom Time and The Student Prince.[2] The operetta Blossom Time, with music by Franz Schubert arranged by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics and book by Dorothy Donnelly, opened at the Ambassador Theatre in New York on 29 September 1921 and ran for 592 performances. Huffman was the director. This was the second longest running musical of the 1920s.[14] At one point Blossom Time was running simultaneously (with different casts but essentially the same crew) at the Shubert Theatre and at the 44th Street Theatre.[15]

The Student Prince in Heidelberg had music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, based on the play Old Heidelberg by Rudolf Bleichman.[16] The show, directed by Huffman, opened at Jolson's 59th Street Theatre in New York on 2 December 1924, and ran for 608 performances. The Student Prince opened at His Majesty's Theatre in London on 3 February 1926, again directed by Huffman, and ran for 96 performances. It was the longest-running musical of the 1920s.[17]

Last years

Huffman directed shows throughout the 1920s and into the start of the 1930s.[18] Nina Rosa, a musical play, ran for 137 performances at the Majestic Theatre in New York from 20 September 1930 to 17 January 1931. Lee and J.J. Shubert produced the show, and Huffman was credited with staging the entire production. Busby Berkeley said he had worked on the show, but was not credited, perhaps due to a disagreement with the Shuberts.[19]

Jesse C. Huffman died in 1935.[1][20] It has been estimated that he directed or staged over 200 shows during his career.[1]

List of Broadway shows

Lew Fields as Henry Schniff in The Girl Behind the Counter (1907–08)

Broadway shows directed or staged by Huffman included:[18]

Sheet music cover "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula (Hawaiian Love Song)", with photo of singer Al Jolson, from Robinson Crusoe, Jr.
Cover of sheet music "I'll Tell the World" from the musical Sinbad (1918)
Cover of sheet music for Make It Snappy (1922)


War years[edit]

Jazz age[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Huffman, J. C., American National Biography.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hischak 2006, p. 59.
  3. ^ Bloom 2004, p. 487.
  4. ^ Westover 2009–2010, p. 2.
  5. ^ Westover 2009–2010, p. 5.
  6. ^ a b c Smith 1981, p. 126.
  7. ^ Bloom 2004, p. 565.
  8. ^ Gilman 1914, p. 291-292.
  9. ^ a b Westover 2009–2010, p. 6.
  10. ^ Make It Snappy, IBDB.
  11. ^ Vallillo 1981, p. 28.
  12. ^ Vallillo 1981, p. 29.
  13. ^ Hischak 2009, p. 26.
  14. ^ Green 2009, p. 37.
  15. ^ Stewart 2006, p. 464.
  16. ^ Green 2009, p. 404.
  17. ^ Green 2009, p. 405.
  18. ^ a b J. C. Huffman, IBDB.
  19. ^ Spivak 2010, p. 309.
  20. ^ "Jesse C. Huffman, Subert Aide, Dead". The New York Times. June 23, 1935. Retrieved 26 October 2020.