I.W. Schlesinger

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I.W. Schlesinger (1871-1949) Industrialist, entrepreneur and impresario, one of the most influential individuals to become involved in the performing arts industry in South Africa.


Born Isadore William Schesinger on 15 September, 1871 in the town of Lemes in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which today is part of Slovakia and grew up in the Bowery District in New York. He emigrated from the Unites States to Johannesburg, South Africa in 1894, initially working as a salesman for Pepsin Gum and became the South African representative for the American Equitable Insurance Company, and in 1899, at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war, he became the regional manager of the company in Ireland.

After the war he returned to found his own company, the African Realty Trust (1902), followed by the African Life Assurance Company (1904) and went on to develop wide-ranging business interests in insurance, farming and newspapers South Africa, ultimately being the chairman of at least 90 companies over his 55 years in business.

He died in 1949 and was buried on the Zebedelia Estate, which he had founded.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Schlesinger moved into the theatre business in 1913, when he linked up with showman Harry Stodel to establish the African Theatres Trust (later African Consolidated Theatres) on 10 April, 1913, to save the struggling theatre industry. He bought two similar companies (Africa's Amalgamated Theatres and the Empire Theatres Company), a number of private theatres, as well as build new ones. He sold shares to the public, establishing a co-operative of theatre owners. Through the Trust he sponsored local plays and touring overseas groups.

Schlesigner soon also moved into cinema, founding the African Films Trust, a film importing and distributing agency, building so-called "bioscopes" throughout South Africa (or converting live theatres for this purpose - often as hybrid theatrical spaces offering both forms of entertainment). The company supported production and controlled distribution. He then founded African Film Productions to produce the world's first weekly newsreels, the well known African Mirror, and began with commercial radio broadcasting in South Africa in 1927 when he set up the African Broadcasting Company (ABC), bequeathing an efficient concern to the newly founded SABC in 1936.

In 1915 he founded the long-lasting publicity magazine Stage and Cinema to support and promote all his activities.

His companies would be a commanding presence in the South African theatre, film and media industry till well into the 1960s.



D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.): p. 435.

Robin McGregor. 2001. McGregor's Who Made South Africa (Volume 1). Saxonwold: Purdey Publishers (pp. 55-57).

"A History of the South African Film Industry timeline" 1895-2003, South African History Online [1]

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Jack Stodel 1962. The Audience Is Waiting. Cape Town: Howard Timmins.

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