Most sources credit the theatre at 147th street as being named for silent comedian John Bunny, the decorative rabbits paying homage to the star of Vitagraph films.
This is simply not the case.
Created by Carl E. Schultze, the immensely popular Foxy Grandpa comic strip made its début on January 7, 1901 in the New York Herald before moving two years later to the New York American. Reprints of the strip started appearing in book form with a total of eighteen volumes published between 1901 and 1918. Foxy Grandpa licensed as a party game similar to Pin the Tale on the Donkey, adapted to the Broadway stage as a musical and brought to the silver screen as a series of nine one reelers starting Joseph Hart.
The elderly Foxy Grandpa constantly outwitting two mischievous grandsons, Chub and Bunt, in their attempts to trick him. Grandpa carrying this out by combining brains with a perverse sense of humor (and construction of various small devices).
Schultze signed each strip with his pen name “Bunny” accompanied by a small drawing of a rabbit.
Motion Picture Story, November 1913:
“Karl Shultz [sic], author of the famous “Foxy Grandpa ” pictures under the name of ‘Bunny,’ is building a fine, big theater on Broadway and 147th Street, New York City, which he has named the Bunny Theater.”
The New York Dramatic Mirror, November 12, 1913:
“The Bunny Theater, Broadway and 147th Street, is rapidly being put in shape for its grand opening. Carl E. Schultze, the creator of Foxy Grandpa and Bunny, is pulling some noteworthy publicity stunts that have the Heights residents raised to a high pitch of expectancy. One was a rebus, drawn in the well-known Bunny style, for the solution of which free tickets to the opening were given.”
Excerpts from Moving Picture World, November 29, 1913:
“We have had John Bunny theaters, but there is another Bunny in the field, Carl E. Schultze, whose Foxy Grandpa pictures, signed ‘Bunny’ have delighted millions of kiddies of all ages. Mr. Schultze is vice-president of the Bunny Theatre Company, which is to open a house at Broadway and 147th Street, New York.”
“At the moment the great interest lies in the fact that a man of Mr. Schultze’s standing in the world of men who do things finds it worth his while to lend his name and talents to a photoplay theater.”
John Bunny died of Bright’s Disease in 1915. The first popular comedian of the American silent screen, he is largely forgotten today, his name not enjoying the same recognition as Chaplin, Lloyd or Keaton.
Foxy Grandpa faded in popularity, Schultz dying a pauper in 1939. On the wall of his room was a picture of Minnie and Mickey Mouse with the inscription, “For Carl E. Schultze, in admiration, Walt Disney.”
The Bunny Theatre later became the Dorset and closed as the Nova in 2002. The name Bunny, along with the decorative rabbits, were sadly stripped away in 2009.
Photo Bunny Theatre, 2003, Betty Sword, all rights reserved
Foxy Grandpa panel: Old-print.com
Bunny Theatre, 1924 program, part of the Theatre Talks collection.