Arthur Fiedler was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1894. His father, Emanuel, was an Austrian violinist; and his mother was a pianist. When Emanuel retired in 1910, the family moved to Europe. From 1911-15, Arthur studied violin in Berlin. As World War I began, he returned to America and joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1921, actress Jeanne Eagels was thirty-one, and her love life was the subject of intense media speculation. Most of the rumours were untrue, but reporters failed to uncover her romance with Arthur Fiedler, then twenty-seven.
“He was drawn to vivacious women,” Johanna Fiedler said of her father. “But in Jeanne Eagels’ case, the vitality in her nature was combined with a strong drive towards success. In an era when most women married, had children, and did not work, she must have stood out: she was single-minded in her dedication to the theatre. I’m sure she loved my father—there are many pictures of them gazing adoringly at each other—but she was not about to sacrifice her career for another person any more than my father would have.”
Jeanne’s dream was realised in 1922, when she began a legendary four-year run as Sadie Thompson in Rain, the acclaimed stage adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s controversial short story. In 1924, Fiedler formed the Boston Sinfonietta, a chamber music orchestra composed of Boston Symphony members, and started a series of free outdoor concerts.
A year later, Jeanne married former athlete Ted Coy. Their tempestuous union ended in 1928, with Jeanne facing an eighteen-month ban from the legitimate theatre due to accusations of unprofessional behaviour. She fought back with a remarkable performance in her first talking picture, The Letter, before her untimely death shocked the world on October 3, 1929.
“Over the six years or so that they remained involved, Papa became aware of the actress’s reliance on drugs and alcohol,” Johanna Fiedler wrote of her father, who is said to have kept an autographed photo of Jeanne in his study until his death in 1979. “Initially Papa explained away her mood swings as depression or lack of enough exercise and fresh air or the demands of a public life. Eventually, however, he could no longer fool himself about her problems and he began to extricate himself from the relationship. A clue to how difficult this must have been came a few years later, when he singled out Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, the study of an obsessive relationship, as his favourite book.”
Fiedler was appointed the eighteenth conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1930, a position he would retain for half a century. Founded in 1885, the Boston Pops is a symphony orchestra that specializes in popular and light classical music. With Fiedler’s direction, the Boston Pops reportedly made more recordings than any other orchestra in the world, although he was sometimes criticized for over-popularizing music.
In 1942, Fiedler married Boston socialite Ellen Bottomley. The eldest of their three children, Johanna, was born in 1945. During the early days of World War II, Arthur volunteered for the Temporary Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard and was later a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He was also made an Honorary Captain in the Boston Fire Department.
Arthur Fiedler died of cardiac arrest at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1979. After his death, Boston honored him with a sculpture near the Charles River Esplanade, and named a footbridge over Storrow Drive after him. This area is home of the free concert series that continues to this day.