Philip dropped out of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn in his senior year to work as an usher. It was a fistfight that had led to that first job.
“One day, a friend and I went to the RKO Orpheum Theater after school to see a vaudeville show and a movie,” he told Playbill in 2005. “There was a fight in the balcony and an usher got beat up. I said to to my friend, ‘I bet he won’t be in tomorrow.’ I went to the manager of the theater and asked if he had an ushering job available. He said, ‘Smitty, go downstairs and put on your uniform.’ I took the job, and I’ve never looked back.”
He later became manager of the RKO Palace (now the Palace) in Times Square, a 1,740-seat former vaudeville flagship that was continuing to book live entertainment.
“Eight months after I started at the Palace, I was asked to take Judy Garland and her husband, Sid Luft, on a tour of the theater,” he recalled. “That led to Judy’s record-breaking engagement in 1951. I remember when she first brought Liza” — her daughter — “onstage to perform with her. After Judy, there came a whole series of stars — Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, Liberace, Jerry Lewis.”
At a party one night in 1957, Mr. Smith met Irving Morrison, a Shubert executive, who hired him for the Imperial box office. His career was launched.
He married Phyllis Campbell, a dancer, in 1960. She died in 1994. A second marriage, in 1999, to Tricia Walsh, ended in divorce in 2008. In addition to his daughters, from his first marriage, he is survived by five grandchildren and a brother, Joseph.