When Milton Maltz was 5 years old and living in South Bend, Indiana, a group of his kindergarten classmates called him hateful names because he was Jewish. Once during recess, they pushed him and started tearing his clothes, forcing him to run 10 blocks home. His parents were so devastated, they packed up and moved the family to Chicago. “I had never heard of anything like this before,” says Maltz, now 91, who still remembers every minute of the frightful day that helped shape his remarkable life. “While my wife, Tamar, and I give to many organizations, including the Maltz Jupiter Theatre,
combating hate is at the top of our list.”
In their hometown of Cleveland (they also have a home here, in Frenchman’s Creek), for example, they created the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in 2005 to address the issue through education. For 13 years, the museum has offered $100,000 “Stop the Hate” scholarships as part of a contest encouraging young people to write essays about hate and tolerance while at the same time earning money for college. Recently, the Maltzes received the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Leadership Award for their lifetime of work in this area.
Milton Maltz, a visionary entrepreneur, started his career as a child actor on radio dramas and TV specials in Chicago. He eventually worked in all areas of radio and TV, including the technical and creative sides; he wrote, directed, and produced The Fight for Freedom, a series of radio dramas reflecting the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel.
In 1956, he founded Malrite Communications Group, a national company that bought, operated, and sold small and major market radio and TV stations, including West Palm Beach’s WFLX-Channel 29 (which Malrite bought in 1980), now a Fox affiliate. He started Malrite with a $6,000 loan from Tamar, now 90, whom he married seven decades ago after meeting while they were students at Roosevelt University in Chicago. (He later earned a degree in journalism from University of Illinois.) “Tamar had saved money from her salary teaching kindergarten and first grade,” Maltz says of the mother of his daughter and two sons. “She insists that I still owe her interest on the loan!” Through his ability to take risks when others were afraid, recognize top broadcasting talent, appreciate controversy and what makes news, and understand the idiosyncrasies of radio and TV on all levels, Maltz was very successful—a pioneer, like a Steve Jobs or Larry Page of his era. “I was curious, competitive, and fearless,” he says. “I knew ahead of the market what would attract listeners and viewers.”
When he sold Malrite to Raycom Media in 1998 for an estimated $500-$600 million, he and Tamar were able to delve into philanthropy at the highest level. “We were concerned about mental illness and wanted to help fund research in that area,” Maltz says of their early giving. “We felt it was important for young people to know that their mental issues did not have to follow them all of their lives and that there is a way out through learning, communication, and the arts.”
Milton and Tamar give millions of dollars to both Jewish and non-Jewish arts, medical, cultural, and civic organizations across the United States but especially in Cleveland and South Florida, benefited mainly through the Milton and Tamar Maltz Family Foundation. In Jupiter, of course, their generosity has transformed the cultural landscape in the form of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
The couple’s love for the arts, and Tamar’s observation that Palm Beach County was a “cultural desert” when the couple first spent time in the area, prompted them to take serious interest in improving the lives of locals. The Maltz era began like this: In 2001, the landmark Jupiter Theater building was acquired by the not-for-profit Palm Beach Playhouse (formed by a small group eager to revive the location that was once home to the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre). “The interior was a mess,” Maltz remembers. “They needed a changing room, and we wanted to end the dinner theater format and create a regular theater. When one donor who promised $1 million backed out, we put up the million to get things rolling.” In 2003, following a successful capital campaign, the 28,000-square-foot theater was renovated and renamed the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in recognition of its major benefactors. The official opening was February 29, 2004.
After 16 years of improvements, additions, and successes (with a great staff led by Producing Artistic Director and Chief Executive Andrew Kato), the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is now undergoing a major $30 million expansion. The plans involve the creation of a Broadway-scale stage to compete with other top regional U.S. theaters like the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, three floors of production facilities, and an innovative dining space, among other things. Before COVID-19 hit, the Maltzes had donated $5 million to match what had been given by other generous donors, and the expansion was set to be completed in phases beginning April 2021. But when the theater realized it would be shut down for the entire 2020-2021 season because of the pandemic, a decision was made to make good use of that dead time and complete the project in full. Milton and Tamar agreed to donate another $5 million to make that happen—and now the expanded theater is set to be completed by the time it reopens in the fall of 2021 with a production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
“We are expanding the stage 6 feet to the right and 6 feet to the left, and adding another 10 feet of depth,” says Maltz. “We are thrilled about this because it allows us to be competitive and create Broadway-worthy shows right here.”
Apart from the theater, the Maltzes’ generous gifts have helped enrich numerous local organizations, including Cleveland Clinic, Jupiter Medical Center, the Norton Museum of Art, and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In Cleveland, Maltz was instrumental in
bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum to town in 1995. He and Tamar have also endowed the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western University’s performance center (they donated $30 million to the $64 million project), Cleveland Play House, Jewish Federation of Cleveland, and more. In Washington, D.C., Maltz used his moxie from radio programming to develop the 2002 International Spy Museum, which earned him a letter of praise from former President George W. Bush. Other favored causes include the Anti-Defamation League, the State of Israel Bonds, and the Lieber Institute for Brain Development located on the campus of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
For more decades than many people have lived, Maltz has been doing what he can to help organizations that need it—and his daily grind has not stalled one bit. “I know I need to slow down,” he says. “But I like what I do. Tamar and I love the arts and love helping others enjoy their lives. I will continue doing this as long as I am physically able because my brain needs a regular workout.”