It’s not surprising that someone named Rosewll Chester Beecroft would want to change his name, but if he had not given himself the name “Sinbad,” one can’t imagine a better name.

 A true adventurer, Sinbad was, at times, a childhood Broadway actor, theatre and movie mogul, newspaper man and sailor. Beecroft was the stuff of family legends.

“Uncle Chester was far and away my favorite uncle,” says Billy Beecroft, Sinbad’s great-nephew, who was named for Sinbad’s brother. “He provided non-stop entertainment. He was a raconteur.  Each retelling of a story was better than the last.”

Sinbad had no shortage of stories, and, despite his humble admission to occasional embellishment, all of them were true.

Born sometime in 1881 in Flushing, N. Y., he began early as a child on the stage in a play called The Only Way.  While still a child, he starred on Broadway and eventually graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Foreshadowing his later days on the sea, he was also a medal-winning competitive swimmer and diver at the New York Athletic Club.

After some years on the stage, Beecroft tried his hand as a reporter for The New York World, then moved to public relations, first for the Hotel Astor and later for Motion Picture Patents.

When Motion Picture Patents folded, Sinbad re-entered show business as general manager for Charlie Chaplain’s General-Chaplain Company, which produced Chaplain’s two-reel short films.

When World War I broke out, Beecroft left show biz again and served as a war correspondent in Russia; he was in Moscow for the communist Red Revolution in 1917.

During the depression, Beecroft worked at a producer and writer for William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Productions, Inc., where he worked with such notables as Lionel Barrymore and Hearst’s famous mistress Marion Davies.

He also worked as a theatrical agent in New York. One day, his secretary told him
that a man had arrived to speak with him, without an appointment. She handed Beecroft
the man’s card which read simply “Houdini.” Beecroft had heard of the then-struggling
illusionist and asked the secretary to show him in. Upon entering, Houdini asked if he
could have the card back; he only had one.

Beecroft returned to the theatre as director of the Kinston Little Theatre, and was
well-known for owning small Rat Island in Long Island Sound, where he lived and entertained many local theatre and film notables. His cottage there burned down in 1931.

Chester dubbed himself Sinbad when he joined the Merchant Marines when World War II broke out.  When his ship was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Casablanca, he was adrift at sea for three days.

It’s not quite clear when Chester and his brother William (W. G.) Beecroft both fell in love with Frieda Schmidt, but family lore says it was Chester who fell first. Ever the romantic, Chester stepped aside and allowed W. G. to marry her. W. G. died suddenly, when the youngest of their six children was only 5, but Chester never acted on his love for Frieda.

After the war, Sinbad remained a sailor, working on cruise ships. He spent his final twelve years as a quartermaster for President Line ships. He died in his native New York on January 7, 1959, at the age of 77, after suffering a heat-stroke and complications from skin cancer. Fittingly for this sailor and romantic, he was buried at sea on Valentine’s Day.

Though he never had any children of his own, he took delight in his nieces and nephews and their children; his niece Betty was his frequent companion at the race track.

His niece Barbara once took her young son Rusty to see Sinbad off on one of his around-the-world trips.  “I thought that was the coolest thing that I’d ever seen,” says Rusty. “Actually, it’s still about  the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen.”

“(He was) my role model in life,” says his great-niece Sam. “I loved him and admired his life style and panache. I will never forget the few times I got to see him. He was a wonderful character…”

Some family members say he never married, others say he was married three or four times, but there is no question he carried a torch for Frieda Schmidt until he died.

“Dear Frieda,” he wrote in 1950,

“In far off Cathay (China), the sea –

“The… delicacy of this sweet-scented sandalwood fan brought you vividly to mind; and though it is but a small offering, it looms large as a symbol of your own sweet self, and as a token of the love of Sinbad.”

 

Merchant Marine Sinbad and Betty