Monday, June 29, 2015

MAUREEN STAPLETON,  The American Anna Magnani
(June 21, 1925 - March 13, 2006)

Born in Troy, New York, she came to New York City in 1943 to fulfill her childhood aspiration to become an actress.  To support herself and her studies, she modeled for artists Raphael Soyer and Reginald Marsh and worked the night shift as a billing machine operator at the Hotel New Yorker.

She initially studied Delsarte acting technique with Frances Robinson-Duff but after a few months began taking classes with Herbert Berghof.

Her Broadway debut happened in October 1946 when she convinced producer-director Guthrie McClintic to audition her for The Playboy of the Western World in the small role of Sara Tansey.  She also understudied the leading role of Pegeen and was given the opportunity to  perform during the last week of the run.  It was the beginning of an important apprenticeship with the McClintic-Katharine Cornell company.  

As a charter member of the Actors Studio she studied with both Robert Lewis and Lee Strasberg.  While studying at the studio she continued her work on the stage as Miss Hatch in Sidney Kingsley's Detective Story and  as Emilie in Arthur Laurents's The Bird Cage.
According to Robert Lewis, she was an actress who operated on an instinctive level. "Maureen is a kind of true believer. She just believes in everything. It's part of her nature. It's the way she is, and that is her particular talent."

Her first major success was her portrayal of the earthy Italian widow Serafina della Rosa in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo,(1951)  produced by
Cheryl Crawford and co-starred Eli Wallach as Alvaro.
In addition to winning the Tony Award for best actress she was hailed as the
"American Anna Magnani". One of the New York critics described her Serafina as "lusty, brawling, brooding, hysterical, and encompassing, a performance of stunning and tremendous size. She is mistress of the role in every nuance of it and it is a joy to watch her acting."

She went on to create Flora in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Lady Torrance in Orpheus Descending. She played Amanda Wingfield in the revival of The Glass Menagerie at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1965 and the 1975 revival at the Circle in the Square.

In Lillian Hellman's play Toys in the Attic she created the role of Carrie Berniers in 1960. As the years progressed she began to play more comedy as the amateur matchmaker Aunt Ida in S. N. Behrman's The Cold Wind and the Warm, again co-starring with Eli Wallach under the direction of
Harold Clurman.  But it was in two Neil Simon plays that she received special notice. Under the direction of Mike Nichols, she played three different roles in Plaza Suite: Karen Nash, Muriel Tate, and Norma Hubley.  Martin Gottfried in the Women's Wear Daily claimed that Stapleton proved "for the first time that an Actors Studio-trained actor can play comedy."
            As Evy Meara in The Gingerbread Lady she was awarded the Tony and the Drama Desk Award and was a winner in Variety's New York Drama Critics Poll.  The comedy premiered at the Plymouth Theatre on December 13, 1970 and New York Times  critic Clive Barnes wrote: "Maureen Stapleton, as the battered, baffled lush thrush has probably the part of career, and she is quite
wonderful."

Her experience in film began in 1958 in Lonelyhearts starring Monty Clift and has included the film versions of Orpheus Descending, titled The Fugitive Kind, A View From the Bridge, Airport, Plaza Suite.  She received the Golden Globe Award for Airport in 1971 and in 1981 she received the National Society of Film Critics Award as well as the Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Emma Goldman in Reds.


In accepting the Oscar she said, "I would like to thank everyone I've ever met in my entire life."

Her first love was always the stage. In an interview in The New Yorker (October 28, 1961) she expressed her belief that "the aspiration to act is so great, so deep, so complete, that you give yourself not ten years, not twenty, but your whole lifetime to realize it."
JUDY HOLLIDAY AKA "BILLIE DAWN"
(June 21, 1921 - June 7, 1965)

No matter how many revivals of Born Yesterday are performed in stages throughout the country, there was truly only one Billie.  And she was played by Judy Holliday on Broadway in 1946 and in the film version.

A native of Sunnyside, Queens, NY, she graduated from Julia Richman High School and her first job was as an assistant switchboard operator (a skill she might have used as Ella in the musical comedy Bells Are Ringing) at the Mercury Theatre run by Orson Welles and
John Houseman.

In 1938 she joined Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alvin Hammer and John Frank in a night-club act called "The Revuers."  After engagements at various New York night clubs including the Village Vanguard, Blue Angel, Rainbow Room and the Trocadero in Hollywood, the group disbanded in early 1944.

Her Broadway debut occurred on March 20, 1945 in Kiss Them For Me at the Belasco Theatre and earned her a Clarence Derwent Award.  

BILLIE DAWN

Author Garson Kanin wrote Born Yesterday for Jean Arthur. When Jean who played the role out of town left for personal reasons, he selected Judy who was 20 years younger than Ms. Arthur.   When Columbia bought the rights to the film, studio boss Harry Cohn would not consider casting a Hollywood unknown.  So director
George Cukor, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn conspired to promote her by offering her a key part in Adam's Rib (1949).   She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role in the film.  She had to do a screen test first!!!    Cohn wanted to be sure she was the best choice.  She won the Oscar defeating Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard), Eleanor Parker (Caged), Bette Davis and Anne Baxter (All About Eve).        
                        She costarred with then-newcomer Jack Lemmon in his first two feature films:
 It Should Happen to You and Phffft! (1954).  George Cukor said Holliday had, "In common with the great comedians...that depth of emotion, that unexpectedly touching emotion, that thing which would unexpectedly touch your heart."

She returned to Broadway in 1956 starring in the musical Bells Are Ringing with book and lyrics by her Revuers pals, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and directed by Jerome Robbins.  She won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical and in 1960 starred in the film version.
Brooks Atkinson wrote:  "Nothing has happened to the shrill little moll whom the town loved in Born Yesterday. The squeaky voice, the embarrassed giggle, the brassy naivete, the dimples, the teeter-totter walk fortunately remain unimpaired...Miss Holliday now adds a trunk full of song and dance routines...Without losing any of that doll-like personality, she is now singing Jule Styne and dancing numbers choreographed by Jerome Robbins and
Bob Fosse. She has gusto enough to triumph in every kind of music hall antic."

Before her untimely death in 1965, she started out of town tryouts on the play Laurette based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by Jose Quintero with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula.   She became ill and had to leave the show which closed in Philadelphia.  Her last role was in the stage musical Hot Spot (1963) , co-starring newcomers
Joseph Campanella and Mary Louise Wilson.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

LILLIAN HELLMAN, HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY
(June 20, 1905 - June 30, 1984)

She was truly an American playwright whose breadth of character delineation and importance of theme transcend both North and South. . .whose work was at the cutting edge of America's social consciousness.
    Elizabeth J. Natalle,  Notable Women in American Theatre

She was conscious of her role in the adult power games she witnessed as a child and early on developed a rebellious and independent spirit. Her sense of morality and justice and her fierce independence pervade all her work; she is often compared to Henrik Ibsen as a champion of social and political causes.

During her seven year marriage to theatre press agent Arthur Kober, she wrote book reviews for the New York Herald Tribune, read playscripts for Herman Shumlin and wrote some short stories.  In 1929 she thought of studying in Bonn, Germany, but was repelled by evident anti-semitism; the experience helped to shape a political attitude that later surfaced in her two war plays: Watch on the Rhine (1941) and
The Searching Wind (1944).  In 1930 she and her husband went to Hollywood where he was a scriptwriter and she was a reader for MGM.  Not loving her job at MGM or Hollywood, she was able to meet and enjoy the company of S. J. Perelman and his wife Laura, William Faulkner and
Nathaniel West.   It was also in a Hollywood restaurant that she met Dashiell Hammett, thirteen years her senior, a famous mystery writer. He became her lifelong companion and one of the greatest influences on her life.

     His influence on her work began with The Children's Hour. He had recommended that she read William Roughead's Bad Companions, which contained a story entitled Closed Doors: or, The Great Drunsheugh Case.  The story centered on a troublesome child in a boarding school who maliciously tells her wealthy patron  aunt that her two teachers are lesbians.  The teachers bring a libel suit against the aunt, but they lose the case, and their careers are utterly ruined.    Hellman completed the manuscript in 1934. Herman Shumlin agreed to direct the play.   It opened at the Maxine Elliott Theatre on Broadway that year and ran for 691 performances, the longest run of her twelve stage plays.

In 1937 and 1938 she wrote nine drafts of The Little Foxes and considered it her most difficult play to write.  Dashiell Hammett didn't approve of the script until the eighth draft.   This play is semi- autobiographical because it directly criticizes members of her mother's family who she characterizes as the ruthless Hubbards.   Opening at the National Theatre in New York on Feb. 15, 1939, it ran for 410 performances.  Tallulah Bankhead starred as Regina Hubbard. Bette Davis played the role in the film adaptation.  George Jean Nathan, reviewing the play, wrote that Hellman "indicates a dramatic mind, an eye to character, a fundamental strength, and a complete and unremitting integrity that are rare among her native playwriting sex."

Watch on the Rhine (1941) ran for 278 performances and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.  In 1942 a special edition of the play with a foreword by Dorothy Parker, Hellman's close friend, was published to raise funds for the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee.  
     She wrote a prequel to The Little Foxes about the Hubbard family twenty years earlier to give them the back story that motivated their cruelty.  Another Part of the Forest opened in 1947 and ran for 191 performances.   Through her politically motivated activities such as attending the Cultural and Scientific Conference on World Peace, she was labeled by the American press as a pro-Communist sympathizer.
The years 1951 through 1953 were difficult in her personal life. Dashiell Hammett was jailed for six months for contempt of court in connection with questioning on the Civil Rights Congress, considered a pro-Communist organization.  She was subpoenaed in 1952 to appear before HUAC. Her famous response to Committee Chair John S. Wood was typical of her spirit:  "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."   She was blacklisted, forced to sell her farm in New York, lost revenue from screen royalties, and suffered economically for some time.

Toys in the Attic, directed by Arthur Penn, opened at the Hudson Theatre on Feb. 25, 1960. It too won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and ran for 556 performances.  Praised by the critics, it is set in New Orleans and concerns the the sexual and economic interests of a family in the decaying southern culture.

Hellman published An Unfinished Woman, the first of three popular memoirs, which won the National Book Award.  Her second memoir was Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, and in 1976 Scoundrel Time was published.

After she died, much of her $4,000,000 estate was placed in two funds: one named after Dashiell Hammett to promote writing from a leftist, radical viewpoint and the other named after herself to promote "educational, literary or scientific purposes and to aid writers regardless of their national origin, age, sex or political beliefs."


Saturday, June 27, 2015



A BIRTHDAY FOR BLANCHE YURKA
(June 19, 1887 - June 6, 1974)

She could sing a Puccini aria standing on her head!

 Her parents used their modest income to provide Blanche with singing lessons in New York, before she entered high school. She won a scholarship at age 15 to study voice and ballet at the Metropolitan Opera School. She sang minor roles at the Met but was dismissed from the school when she injured her voice singing the role of Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore.  She then transferred to the Institute for Musical Art, forerunner of the Juilliard School, but was dismissed for the same reason.

Broadway beckoned.  She managed to get an audition with theater impresario David Belasco. According to her autobiography, Dear Audience, he said to her: "Your diction is clear and pure. Your voice has a good timbre. I can sense that you have temperament. We must find out if you can act." In 1906 he cast her in a bit part in The Rose of the Rancho and the following year, he extended her a contract.

Between 1907 and 1917 she was featured in The Warrens of Virginia.  And while appearing in
Is Matrimony a Failure? at the Belasco Theatre in 1909 she met Jane Cowl who was starring in the play. Other plays included The House of Bondage (1914), Our American Cousin (1915) and a pair of plays by Jane Cowl:  Daybreak  and Information Please.

The game changer came in the year 1922-1923 when she was Queen Gertrude to John Barrymore's acclaimed Hamlet at the Sam Harris Theater and Manhattan Opera House, where it ran for a combined 125 performances. Barrymore was 35; Blanche was 42 and she tried to make herself appear as youthful as possible.

She also starred in a quartet of Ibsen's plays, directing three of them: The Wild Duck as Gina Ekdal, Hedda Gabler, the title role and The Vikings as Hjordis. She also had the title role in
The Lady From the Sea.
     In 1932 she played the title role in Sophocles' Electra, was Helen of Troy in Shakespeare's
Troilus and Cressida, directed Carry Nation starring Esther Dale and featuring Mildred Natwick and James Stewart in their Broadway debuts.    She won critical acclaim in 1935 when she replaced Dame Edith Evans as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet opposite Katharine Cornell's Juliet.

She co-wrote a Spanish-themed comedy, Spring in Autumn (1933) which reunited her with Esther Dale, Natwick and Stewart and featured Ms. Yurka singing a Puccini aria while standing on her head.

MADAME DEFARGE IN A TALE OF TWO CITIES STARRING RONALD COLMAN
When she finally made her screen debut at the age of 47, it was the role that many consider the greatest of her film career--the venomous, vindictive revolutionary Madame Therese Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities.  Alla Nazimova had turned it down and recommended Yurka, declaring her the "only" actress for the part.  They hadn't met, but were acquainted with each other's work, both considered to be the leading Ibsen heroines on the Broadway stage.  In spite of Nazimova's endorsement, she was the 67th actor tested for the role.  She threw herself into the part. Her final fight scene with Edna May Oliver showed the two actresses tumbling over tables and over the floor, offering a hit of Yurka's onstage physicality.   Her character portrayal became a model of a sinister screen villain.

Other films on her resume were:  The Song of Bernadette as Jennifer Jones' aunt,
The Bridge of San Luis Rey as the Abbess of the San Luis Rey chapel, Mama Tucker in
The Southerner (1945), directed by Jean Renoir.

Blanche Yurka was active in theater causes all her life. She supported the 1919 Actors' Strike. She later vigorously defended the interests of American actors against a British invasion of American theaters.
She aligned herself with Tallulah Bankhead's defense of the Federal Theater Project at the 1939
Senate Appropriations Committee hearings that de-funded the program in reaction to productions that were deemed sympathetic to the political left-wing.

She collected her thoughts about acting technique in the book Dear Audience (1959) and wrote a memoir, Bohemian Girl (1970).  She was a popular guest at women's clubs and colleges, where she continued to perform dramatic readings.

CELEBRATE ELISABETH MARBURY (June 19, 1856 -January 22, 1933)

The first dramatist's agent in the United States!

A producer, a personal manager, a playwright, she owed her career to her genteel mother who taught sound bookkeeping skills and her father who taught her to read Latin at the age of seven and exposed her to Greek drama, Plato, and Shakespeare. Plus a weekly trip to the theatre.

She began her theatre career by managing benefit performances for charity.   In 1885, when one of her benefit performances netted $5,000, she came to the attention of producer Daniel Frohman who advised her to make a career as a business woman in the theatre.  Her first client was Frances Hodgson Burnett, who was about to dramatize her novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.  For the production she helped with casting and rehearsed the actors for various companies.  In 1890, while arranging for a French production of this play that she met playwright Victorien Sardou, who engaged her as sole agent for the American and English markets for the French authors' organization., Societe des Gens de Lettres.  She persuaded Sardou it would be more profitable for French playwrights to have their plays produced on a royalty basis than to sell the plays outright for a flat sum, as was then the custom.  It was this association with the French playwrights that initiated her worldwide business as a literary representative.

As a dramatist's agent or "play broker," she served as the link between playwright and manager using her persuasive skills to bring play, actors, and manager together for a successful production. She persuaded J. M. Barrie to rewrite The Little Minister to satisfy the needs of Daniel Frohman's producer-brother Charles, who was looking for a play for Maude Adams.  Barrie had written the play originally for a male lead.

Her New York office was located for several years in the Empire Theatre Building at Broadway and West 40th St, just above the offices of producer Charles Frohman, who acquired most of his plays from her.  Among the French dramatists on her client list were: Edmund Rostand, Georges Feydeau, 
Jean Richepin, and Alexandre Bisson.  Clyde Fitch was probably her best known American client. She also represented J. M. Barrie, W. Somerset Maugham and became George Bernard Shaw's agent early in his career.  Another client, Oscar Wilde, sent the manuscript of The Ballad of Reading Gaol to her
from prison.  New York publishers would have nothing to do with Wilde's poem; she finally sold it to The World for $250.

In 1915 she became a producer.  With various partners and her friends Elsie de Wolfe and Anne Morgan, the daughter of the financier J. P. Morgan, she helped to create the intimate musical.  These shows were performed at the Princess Theatre in New York.  Called the Princess Musicals, they advanced the fledgling careers of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Guy Bolton, and P. G. Wodehouse.
She produced the first of the Princess Musicals, Nobody Home (1915), in association with
F. Ray Comstock; See America First (1916) by herself, and Love O'Mike (1917) with Lee Shubert.

Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe shared three successive homes in Manhattan and one in France.  They were joined by Anne Morgan each summer at Villa Trianon, a mansion she had bought which had been built for the surgeon of Marie Antoinette at Versailles.
                                                        During the latter part of her career Marbury was involved in politics.  In 1918 she was asked to head the women's division of the citizens' campaign committee for the election of Alfred E. Smith as governor of New York.  In 1920 she was a delegate-at-large to the Democratic convention in San Francisco where she was elected a national committeewoman.

Her reputation during her lifetime is evident from the following introduction to an article in
Metropolitan Magazine (Feb. 1911): "The three estates of the dramatic world are playwright, actor, and manager. The fourth is Miss Elisabeth Marbury. She is an institution without precedent, without a possible successor, self-evolved, autogenerated."


With Elsie de Wolfe, her companion for forty years, until Ms. De Wolfe married Sir Charles Mendl in 1924.

Resources:  My Crystal Ball, autobiography published in 1923.
Notable Women in the American Theatre.  Rebecca Strum

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CHRYSTAL HERNE
(June 17, 1882 - September 19, 1950)

From the beginning she wanted to be a star.

Born in the Boston suburb of Dorchester, she was one of four children of playwright and actor James A. Herne.  Her father pioneered the new realistic drama in America in the tradition of Henrik Ibsen. His play 
Margaret Fleming (1890) is considered the most realistic American drama of the nineteenth century for its confrontation of social issues.   Chrystal was named for the role her mother played in Hearts of Oak.

She was educated in private schools in Boston and New York but a self-confessed "poor scholar."  From an early age she dreamed of becoming a star.  At the age of 18 she made her New York debut in The Reverend Griffith Davenport at the Herald Square Theatre.   She appeared in her father's popular play Sag Harbor and appeared in a touring revival of The Christian.


In 1902 she joined the company of her childhood idol, 
E. H. Sothern, in minor roles.  Then she played Hippolyta in Midsummer Night's Dream with Nat C. Goodwin. Her first important role on Broadway was in Clyde Fitch's Major Andre (1903).  The play was a failure and Chrsytal's acting was adversely criticized.  But her season in Nat Goodwin's company gave her excellent training in the techniques of farce and light comedy, improving her range and her skills.

The turning point came when the actor Arnold Daly chose her to be his leading lady in a series of plays by George B. Shaw at the Garrick Theatre in New York.  She would play Candida, Gloria in You Never Can Tell, Nora in John Bull's Other Island, and Vivie Warren in the American production of 
Mrs. Warren's Profession.   On opening night in New York the cast was was jailed on opening night. The play was not repeated though the actors were acquitted several months later. Other Shavian roles included Raina in Arms and the Man and the Lady in 
The Man of Destiny, her last significant work with Arnold Daly.

By the time she played Mrs. Clayton in Augustus Thomas' 
As A Man Thinks (March , 1911) she had become an excellent actress. Critics praised her performance in this play, which, like Margaret Fleming, dealt with the double standard in marriage.   

The next most important role would be as Lady Grayston in 
Somerset Maugham's Our Betters (March 1917). The scheming and unsympathetic character had been turned down by 

In 1917 Ms. Herne joined the Stage Women's War Relief, organized by Rachel Crothers, Josephine Hull, Dorothy Donnelly, and
Louise Closser Hale.  As a result of her association with this group, many of her subsequent roles were in plays written by women.

In January, 1920, she appeared in Rita Weiman's The Acquittal, a murder mystery that enjoyed a successful run on Broadway and prompted Kenneth MacGowan to write that she "was perhaps the greatest emotional actress in America".  She also played the role of Minnie Whitcomb in Rachel Crothers's Expressing Willie in 1924, a critical and popular hit that had a run of 293 performances.   But the role that brought her the greatest fame was that of the vengeful Harriet Craig in George Kelly's Pulitzer prize-winning play Craig's_Wife.  Critic John Mason Brown recalled Herne's performance as one of the most enduring images of the theatre in the twenties.

Chrystal Herne's acting style was marked by restrained emotion, somewhat in the tradition of 
Matilda Heron and Clara Morris, but tempered by the realistic drama in which she usually appeared.  
In her unpublished autobiography she declared: "The one real gift I had in the theatre was a power to move people emotionally."

Reference:  Notable Women in the American Theatre (1989)  Craven Mackie




CELEBRATE ADAH ISAACS MENKEN
(June 15, 1835 - August 10, 1868)

"The highest earning actress of her time."

She told so many versions of her origins, including name, place of birth, ancestry, and religion, historians have differed in their accounts.  The consensus is that she was a Louisiana Creole Catholic of mixed race, with European and African ancestry.

Best known for her performance in the melodrama Mazeppa, with a climax that featured her apparently nude and riding a horse on stage, she performed it in New York, San Francisco, London and Paris.


Better known as an actress, she wanted to be known as a writer. She published about 20 essays, 100 poems, and a book of her collected poems which was published posthumously.    Ada added an "h" to her first name and an "s" to Isaac.  There were several marriages and affairs but in 1856 she married Alexander Isaac Menken, a musician who was from a prominent Reform Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. He began to act as her manager and as Ada Menken she performed in the Midwest and Upper South as well as presenting literary readings. She received decent reviews, which noted her "reckless energy," and performed with men who became notable actors: Edwin Booth in Louisville, KY and James E. Murdoch in Nashville, TN.   In 1857 she and Menken moved to Cincinnati where she created her Jewish roots, studied Judaism and stayed with the faith, although she never formally converted.
                                                         
She decided to wear her wavy hair short, an unusual style for women of the time. She cultivated a bohemian and at times androgynous appearance.  The expanding media loved publicizing her "look."
          In 1859 she appeared on Broadway in The French Spy. Her work was not highly regarded by the New York Times which described her as "the worst actress on Broadway".
        The New York Observer said, "she is delightfully unhampered by the shackles of talent".

While in New York, she met Walt Whitman.  In 1860 she wrote a review entitled "Swimming Against the Current", which praised Whitman's new edition of Leaves of Grass, saying he was "centuries ahead of his contemporaries". She identified with him and at the time for a woman to support the controversial poet was a way of declaring her bohemian identity.

ABOUT MAZEPPA
After meeting with Charles Blondin in New York who was a famed tightrope walker, she did a vaudeville tour with him.  She wanted to be recognized as a great actress but her manager dissuaded her from that goal and instead offered her the "breeches role" (a man) of the noble Tartar in the melodrama Mazeppa, based on a poem by Lord Byron. At the climax of this hit, the Tartar was stripped of his clothing, tied to his horse , and sent off to his death.  The audiences were thrilled with the scene, although the production used a dummy strapped to a horse, which was led away by a handler feeding it sugar cubes.  Adah wanted to perform the stunt herself. Dressed in nude tights and riding a horse on stage, she appeared to be naked and caused a sensation.   Playing the part of a man and playing with conventions of gender, New York audiences were shocked but still attended and made the play popular.  In San Francisco audiences less concerned about convention flocked to the show and made it wildly popular.  In 1862 she wrote about her public and private personae:
               "I have always believed myself to be possessed of two souls, one that lives on the surface of life, pleasing and pleased; the other as deep and as unfathomable as the ocean; a mystery to me and all who know me."


Controversy arose over her costume, and she responded to critics in the newspapers of London by saying that she was influenced by classical sculpture, and that her costume was more modest than those of ballet or burlesque.  The show opened October 3, 1864, at the Astley Theatre to "overflowing houses". She was so well known that she was referred to as "the Menken".

The highest-earning actress of her time, she was generous to friends, theatre people in need, and charities.  While in Europe, she attracted a crowd of male admirers including such prominent figures as Charles Dickens, Tom Hood and Charles Reade.  While in Paris she was delighted with her reception and had an affair with the novelist Alexandre Dumas, pere, considered somewhat scandalous as he was more than twice her age.


She fell ill in London and was forced to stop performing. Her fame and fortune dissipated quickly and she struggled with poverty.  She died in Paris in 1868.
She had just written to a friend:
    "I am lost to art and life. Yet, when all is said and done, have I not at my age tasted more of life than most women who live to be a hundred? It is fair, then, that I should go where old people go."

The inscription on her tomb read:  "Thou knowest."











Saturday, June 20, 2015

                                                   
        HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAGGIE MITCHELL
       (June 14, 1832 - March 22, 1918)

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote verses praising her performance
as the piquant country girl in Fanchon, the Cricket.

Her parents encouraged her to pursue a career in the theatre. At the age of 19, she filled a vacancy in the cast of The Soldier's Daughter at Burton's Theatre in New York.  The next season she was hired at the Bowery Theatre at a salary of four dollars a week, playing mostly boys' roles, including the Prince of Wales in Shakespeare's Richard lll and Oliver Twist, an audience favorite.  She would go on to perform in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and other cities in a wide repertoire of male and female roles.  But in 1860 she discovered Fanchon, the Cricket. The play was produced in 1861 at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans. The Picayune's reviewer noted that "the applause...which was constant throughout the performance, was at once a tribute to the merits of the piece and the manner in which it was acted."  That was the game changer. Until Fanchon she had been just one of many clever comediennes, but now she was considered a truly notable American actress. The popularity of Fanchon over other plays in her repertory is reflected by a return visit to New Orleans in 1870.  Her straight plays did not attract audiences even though Henry Wadsworth Longfellow admired her portrayal of Jane Eyre and urged her to take that play to England. Charlotte Cushman also urged her to play Fanchon abroad.

     Like many of her contemporaries, she achieved success in a single role, which she returned to again and again for twenty-five years.  Luther Holden described her success with the role: "If we examine Miss Mitchell's stage art to discover the secret of her really wonderful success, we readily find that naturalness and a seeming absence of art are its essential qualities. . .Her portrayals were unique, and yet nothing more than the holding of a mirror before nature's self. She had the rare faculty of painting the picture of maidenly purity and nobility of soul most deftly; and her audience laughed when she laughed and wept when she wept." (Famous American Actors of Today)  Holden described her as a "small and elfish creature with a wealth of sunny, golden hair, whose nervous energy and sprightliness, no less than an exquisite form and face, gave picturesque presence to the line of child heroines she made peculiarly her own."

     Maggie Mitchell continued to play Fanchon until her last appearance at the age of fifty-eight in 1892.  Unlike some other actors, she managed her money well and retired from the stage with a small fortune.

Reference:  Famous American Actors of Today, edited by Frederic Scott McKay and Charles E.L. Wingate (1896)   Notable Women in the American Theatre:  Susan Cole

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UTA HAGEN
(June 12, 1919 - January 2004)

An actress/teacher wholly devoted to her craft.

Born in Gottingen, Germany, her family emigrated to the United States in 1924 when her father received a position at Cornell University.  Her father would later become the head of the department of art history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison but in 1937 she relocated to New York City. Her first professional role was as Ophelia opposite Eva Le Gallienne in the title role of Hamlet in Dennis, Massachusetts.  From there she went on to play the leading ingenue role of Nina in a Broadway production of Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull which starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.  The experience left an indelible mark on her as she later reflected: 'They were an enormous influence on my life. I admired their passion for the theatre, and their discipline. It was a 24-hour-a-day affair and I never forgot it--never!"

She played Desdemona in a production which toured and played Broadway, starring the charismatic Paul Robeson as Othello and her-then husband Jose Ferrer as Iago.   From Desdemona to Blanche DuBois was a quantum leap and instead of being directed by Elia Kazan (who had staged the play on Broadway with Jessica Tandy as Blanche) she worked with Harold Clurman.

In her brilliant book Respect for Acting, she credited her discoveries with Clurman as the springboard for what she would later explore with her husband Herbert Berghof: "how to find a true technique of acting, how to make a character flow through me".   She would play Blanche with four different Stanley Kowalskis including Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando.
She won her first Tony Award in 1951 as the self-sacrificing wife Georgie in Clifford Odets'
The Country Girl. She won her second Tony Award in 1963 for originating the role of Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

              She and Herbert Berghof began an acting school in the West Village known as HB Studio in 1947. She would continue to perform but her love and passion for the actor were evident in the respect and love they gave back to her.  Her list of students includes Matthew Broderick, Christine Lahti, Amanda Peet, Jason Robards, Sigourney Weaver, Katie Finneran, Liza Minnelli, Jack Lemmon, Jon Stewart and Al Pacino.  She was the voice coach for Judy Garland's German accent in Judgment at Nuremberg.  Garland received an Oscar nomination for her performance.

In addition to Respect for Acting (1973) she wrote A Challenge for the Actor (1991), which advocates realistic acting (as opposed to pre-determined "formalistic" acting.) The actor puts his own psyche to use in finding identification with the role.  She would later "dissassociate" herself from her first book. In Challenge for the Actor she redefined a term which she had initially called "substitution", an esoteric technique for alchemizing elements of an actor's life with his/her character work, calling it "transference" instead.  "Thoughts and feelings are suspended in a vacuum unless they instigate and feed the selected actions, and it is the characters' actions which reveal the character in the play."

     She was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981 and received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999.  Three years later she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President George W. Bush.

    Uta believed  "You don't stop acting until you are dead."  And indeed she was costarring in
 Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with David Hyde Pierce at the Geffen Playhouse in 2001until ill health forced her retirement.

     Her legacy lives on and every actor should own her video Uta Hagen's Acting Class a two-part set that captures the genius of her master classes.

      Think of Uta's portrayal of Nina in The Sea Gull as she reveals to Kostya what her own philosophy as an actor and teacher would become.  "I understand now, that in our work--and it makes no difference whether we are acting or whether we're writing--the main thing is not the fame, not the glory, not all the things I used to dream of; it's the ability to endure. Learn to bear your cross; have faith. I have faith, and for me the pain is less. And when I think about my vocation, I'm not afraid of life."  
 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MRS. LESLIE CARTER
(June 10, 1857 - November 13, 1937)

She was called "The American Sarah Bernhardt".

Born Caroline Dudley in Lexington, Kentucky, her wealthy parents gave her every advantage money could buy. She aspired to the stage from childhood, but her family kept her from appearing publicly, even in amateur entertainments.

At the time of her marriage in 1880 to Leslie Carter, a lawyer and Chicago millionaire,whose fortune stemmed from Carter's Little Liver Pills, she was described as a flame-haired belle who was strikingly beautiful with great vivacity.

Allen Churchill in his well-researched book entitled The Great White Way, A Re-creation of Broadway's Golden Era of Theatrical Entertainment,  gives a well-documented  account of Mrs. Carter and her mentor David Belasco.
     "According to her husband, she took a series of lovers, one of them the dashing matinee-idol actor Kyrle Bellew.  Leslie Carter sued for divorce; his wife countered.  The New York Times branded the resulting trial "The most indecent and revolting ever heard in a Chicago court." After Carter won, Mrs. Carter found herself alone in a hostile world with no one but her mother at her side.  She decided that her next step should be the stage.  She sought out David Belasco, asking him to teach her to act. Belasco was unsure of the prospects of a woman who was both notorious and theatrically inexperienced, for he firmly believed that only those who dreamed of the theatre from childhood could succeed at it.    Mrs. Carter did little to allay such doubts.  Asked if she desired to enact comedy or tragedy, she responded, "I am a horsewoman and I should like to make my first entrance on horseback, jumping a high fence."

      "Belasco politely ushered her out, but she returned. Now she fell to her knees to vow, "If being hurt by people can make me act, I can act."  Belasco became her mentor.  If she anticipated a pleasant period of guidance, she was much mistaken. Belasco proved to be the harshest of taskmasters.  "Mrs. Carter was an amateur and very crude," he recalled later. "She was full of mannerisms, a society woman without any knowledge whatsoever of the stage. I first taught her how to walk. . . showing her for hours how to enter a room."

     "He next discovered that, like many beginners, she was afraid of the sound of her own voice. He drilled her endlessly in the rendition of dramatic poems, together with one-act plays like The Conjugal Lesson. Four times daily he paused portentously to hear her recite the Second Players's Speech from Hamlet, the six lines of which he considered a particular test of diction.   Gradually he became more specific, training her in scenes from well-known plays. Here he used absolute realism. Rehearsing Mrs. Carter in a scene from Oliver Twist, he "dragged her around by the hair, just as Bill Sykes dragged Nancy. I would hit her head on the floor and haul her around until she reached the proper pitch and could express just what she felt."

    "Finally she appeared ready. The first production in which Belasco starred her was
The Ugly Duckling. "As outstanding as a lighthouse, but less subtle," one critic said of her performance. Others however thought her promising and all admired the glowing fire-red hair which when set free ( this happened at least once in all her plays) tumbled down to her knees.

"She seemed able to dominate a stage. Belasco wrote The Heart of Maryland for her.  The handsome hero was played by Maurice Barrymore, who offstage was the father of three growing youngsters: Lionel, Ethel and John. At the climax of The Heart of Maryland, Mrs. Carter mounted to the top of a forty-foot bell tower, and, grasping the clapper of the bell, swung back and forth against a Civil War landscape.  With the bell thus silenced, Barrymore as a Northern soldier unjustly accused of spying, was able to escape.  The Heart of Maryland was Belasco's first hit as a producer and a personal triumph for Mrs. Carter.

"In 1900 The Heart of Maryland had been presented in England, where critic George Bernard Shaw disliked the play but approved Mrs. Carter's skills.

"Her next great role was in Zaza playing a Parisian courtesan who finds redemption with her lover's clear-eyed child. It was a sinful play for the times, adding spice to the gossip that Mrs. Carter was Belasco's mistress.   While that possibility did exist, Mrs. Carter  lived with her mother in the Fifth Avenue Hotel on Madison Square and on occasion Belasco could be seen escorting her home." (End, excerpt)

Carter became her generation's greatest dramatic actress. When she broke with Belasco in 1906 after her surprise remarriage, she was already considered a relic and abandoned Broadway in favor of vaudeville.

Her last stage hit was as an aging coquette in
Somerset Maugham's drawing-room comedy,
The Circle, in 1921.



HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JULIE HAYDON
(June 10, 1910 - December 24, 1994)

"Julie was never in any mental or spiritual state other than that of ecstasy."   Tennessee Williams, Memoirs (1975)

Born Donella Donaldson in Oak Park, Illinois, she began her acting career at the age of 19, touring with Minnie Maddern Fiske in
Mrs. Bumpstead Leigh.

In 1931 she began appearing in films, signed with RKO in 1932 and had a major role in The Conquerors, directed by William Wellman. Her most notable performance was opposite Noel Coward in
The Scoundrel.  Before she retired from films in 1937 she played in
A Family Affair starring Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy series.

Successful Broadway performances in Shadow and Substance by
Paul Vincent Carroll in which she played a saintly maid led to the role of Kitty Duval, the prostitute in William Saroyan's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Time of Your Life. Her most famous role was as Laura Wingfield in the first production of The Glass Menagerie in 1945 with the amazing Laurette Taylor as her mother.  Lewis Nichols of The New York Times wrote "Tennessee Williams's simple play forms the framework for some of the finest acting to be seen in many a day. . . .Julie Haydon, very ethereal and slight, is good as the daughter."





Laurette Taylor as Amanda

Other Broadway roles created by Haydon were Cicely in Miracle in the Mountains, Libeth Arbarbane in Our Lan' both in 1947. She toured as Celia Coplestone with the national company of T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party. 

She had met and become infatuated with the much older George Jean Nathan, the Dean of American drama critics. After a twenty year friendship they were married in 1955. After he died in 1958, she worked as a drama coach and delivered lectures taken from the 45 books written by Nathan and wrote occasional magazine articles about the actors she had worked with in her career.


In 1967 she began a ten year association as actress-in-residence at The College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota. Using this women's liberal arts college as her base she continued to make appearances at other colleges and theatres in plays and programs of readings.

She played Amanda in 15 revivals of The Glass Menagerie and in 1980, returned to New York to perform the role Off-Broadway.

The Nathan-Haydon papers were donated to the LaCrosse Public Library archives in Wisconsin.


Friday, June 12, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESSICA TANDY
(June 7, 1909 - September 11, 1994)

"Everything this actress does is so pure and right that only poets, not theatre critics, should be allowed to write about her."
          Frank Rich, The New York Times, Nov. 12, 1982

Born in London, she spent most of her 67-year career in the United States.  She appeared in over 100 stage productions and had more than 60 roles in film and TV.

She made her professional debut on the London stage in 1927, at the age of 18. During the 1930s, she appeared in a large number of plays in London's West End, playing Ophelia, opposite John Gielgud's legendary Hamlet and Katharine opposite Laurence Olivier's Henry V.  

After her first marriage to actor Jack Hawkins ended, she moved to New York in 1940, where she met Canadian actor
Hume Cronyn who became her second husband in 1942  and her frequent partner on stage and screen. While Hume found work on the west coast as a character actor and occasional screenwriter, she was under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox and found few opportunities. After five years of relative inactivity in minor film roles, she was hungry for work. In the summer of 1946 Cronyn, who held under option several early works by Tennessee Williams, directed his wife in a Los Angeles Actor's Laboratory Theatre production of the playwright's one-act play Portrait of a Madonna.  Hollywood audiences cheered and her success led directly to her being cast as Blanche DuBois in the 1947 Broadway production of Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Her performance established her as a preeminent actress of the American stage.  The play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and she received her first Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award.

She worked frequently with her husband and their joint appearance in Jan de Hartog's two-character play
The Fourposter in 1951 established them firmly in the public mind as a performing duo. They shared a Commoedia Matinee Club Bronze Medallion for their work in the play.
The developing Off-Broadway theatre gained immeasurable stature when Tandy and Cronyn joined the new Phoenix Theatre in 1953 and they repeated their performances in The Fourposter at reduced salaries for the New York City Center's popularly priced revival series in 1955.
Their most significant and far-reaching contribution was their decision to join Tyrone Guthrie's Minnesota Theatre Company in Minneapolis for its entire season. They were the first major American stars to join a regional theatre on a full-time basis.  They returned to the Guthrie Theatre in 1965, when Ms. Tandy appeared as Ranyevskaya in The Cherry Orchard, Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World, and the Mother-in-Law in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. During the summer of 1982 she played there in a pre-Broadway trial of Foxfire, written by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn.  Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on November 11, 1982,  Ms. Tandy's portrayal of Annie Nations, an elderly mountain woman, confronting a changing world while reassessing her own past, was hailed as a consummate achievement.  She received her third Tony Award; the second Tony Award was for her performance in D. L. Coburn's The Gin Game costarring with Hume Cronyn. Their performance was described by Jack Kroll of Newsweek as "professionalism  raised to the level of incandescence."

At Tennessee Williams's memorial service, the most moving moment for many was when she stepped to the front of the stage, pushing aside the waiting microphone and transformed herself again into Blanche DuBois, performing a monologue, which she had done thirty-four years before.

Some of the many films in which she appeared include: The Birds (1963), Butley (1972),
Honky Tonk Freeway (1981) for which David Denby wrote "Jessica Tandy, eyes glittering with the love of performing after more than 50 years in show business, steals the movie in a small role as an alcoholic lady driving to a retirement home with her husband (Hume Cronyn, of course)." (New York, 1981).

She became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Driving Miss Daisy (1989). She also won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. At the height of her success, she was named one of People's
"50 Most Beautiful People".

Tandy and Cronyn were both inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1979. There are too many awards to mention but perhaps the most prestigious was when she received the 1986 annual award by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for "artistic achievement as a performer."





Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in The Fourposter (1951)



Thursday, June 11, 2015




HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALLA NAZIMOVA
(June 4, 1878 - July 13, 1945)

The following bio of Ms. Nazimova was written by Romy Nordlinger published in the program for Stage Struck From Kemble to Kate, Snapple Theater Center, December, 2013.

She was born Adelaida (Alla) Leventon in Yalta, the youngest of three children of a brutal, ne'er do well Jewish pharmacist and his affluent, unstable wife.  She adopted her pseudonym (the last name of a heroine in a novel) at the age of 10. Her father forbade her to use the family name, fearing that she would embarrass him. After she made her debut playing the violin to enthusiastic applause, he took her home and caned her so severely that he broke her arm. "Just because a few provincial fools applaud you, don't imagine you're Paganini," he said.
    Already wounded psychologically by the departure of her  mother three years earlier, Alla began to examine "Nazimova: from the outside, analyzing the way she looked, criticizing the unattractive way she wept."



She took naturally to acting. "If I have lived not beautifully, I must act beautifully," she wrote in her diary. At age 17 Ada Leventon abandoned her training as a violinist and went to Moscow, the greatest theater center in the world, to work with V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko and Konstantin  Stanislavsky and get to know Meyerhold and Chekhov.  Using her street smarts to finance her acting education she honed her dramatic gifts. But in turn-of-the-century Russia, her outsize ambition was limited by her Jewish origins.

She graduated into the Moscow Art Theatre but left to tour the provinces and then work with the Paul Orleneff Company in St. Petersburg. The company visited New York in 1905 performing in The Chosen People on the lower east side. Although she spoke not a word of English, she so impressed Henry Miller and the Shuberts that they hired her on the condition she learn English in six months. She did and opened in
Hedda Gabler on November 13, 1906. She adopted the name Nazimova at this time. During the next two years Nazimova was aclaimed for her portrayals of other Ibsen characters: Nora in A Doll's House, Hedwig in The Wild Duck, and Hilda in The Master Builder. She was so successful that the Shuberts built a theatre especially for her. On April 18, 1910, she opened the Nazimova Theatre, playing Rita Allmers in Ibsen's Little Eyolf. Ibsen had been so impressed with her interpretations of his characters that he declared "Nazimova will stand without a peer on the American stage as the delineator of the soul-harrassed woman."

Nazimova's fame led her to Hollywood, where from 1915 to 1925 she appeared in 17 motion pictures, from potboilers like War Brides (1916) and Heart of a Child (1920) to silent-screen versions of her stage successes. With her role in War Brides, a strident feminist was invented, if only temporarily, for the screen. Nazimova boasted to a reporter for the New York American that her decision to appear as a figure of suffrage in War Brides was intended to be a contribution to the "womanhood of the world." By the mid-1920s, Alla was in financial straits and agreed to allow her mansion to be developed into a hotel. The property-renamed The Garden of Allah Hotel & Villas-opened on January 9, 1927.

She returned to the stage in 1928 as Madame Ravenskaya in
Eva Le Gallienne's production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. She became a U.S. citizen in 1927 and went on to create the roles of Christine in Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) and O-Lan in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth (1932).  She also directed and starred in two more very well-received New York City revivals of Ibsen's Ghosts (1935) and Hedda Gabler (1936).
       She returned occasionally to movies for small parts including the 1941 remake of Blood and Sand as Tyrone Power's mother, In Our Time (1944) and finally in the World War ll tear-jerker Since You Went Away (1944) with Claudette Colbert. She died at the age of 66 of a coronary thrombosis.
Sara Krulwich/NY Times (2007)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JUDITH MALINA
(June 4, 1926 - April 10, 2015)

Founder of the Living Theater, actor and director

(Excerpted from New York Times obituary, Bruce Weber,
April 10, 2015)

The most prominent and persistent advocate for a "new theater," one that sought to dissolve the accepted artifice of stage presentations, to connect art and political protest and to shrink, if not eliminate, the divide between performers and the audience, The Living (as it was sometimes called) produced work by T. S. Eliot, Paul Goodman, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams.

       Her husband and partner, Julian Beck wrote in The New York Times in 1959: "We believe in the theater as a place of intense experience, half-dream, half-ritual, in which the spectator approaches something of a vision of self-understanding, going past conscious to unconscious, to an understanding of the nature of all things...only the language of poetry can accomplish this, only poetry or a language laden with symbols and far removed from our daily speech can take us beyond the ignorant present toward these realms."

          This diminutive powerhouse of a woman studied acting and directing with Erwin Piscator, the German director and theorist who, like Brecht, was a proponent of epic theater. She was tireless and passionate in advancing the idea that theater can be, and should be, a blunt force for cultural change.
Ms. Malina’s published books include a compilation of her diaries and a memoir of sorts called “The Piscator Notebook.” In his foreword to that volume, the theater scholar Richard Schechner wrote:

“The thing about Judith Malina is that she is indefatigable, unstoppable, erupting with ideas. Malina is long-living, long-working, optimistic, and by the second decade of the 21st century girlish and old womanish at the same time. She survives and she bubbles, both.”






Kate in Taming of the Shrew

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, COLLEEN DEWHURST
(June 3, 1924 - August 22, 1991)

The Queen of Off-Broadway
President of Actors Equity Association 1985-1991

Known most for her theatre roles, Colleen Dewhurst was a renowned interpreter of the works of Eugene O'Neill on the stage. One of her most significant stage roles was in the 1974 Broadway revival of O'Neill's
A Moon for the Misbegotten as Josie Hogan, for which she won a Tony Award.   She told theatre critic Rex Reed "I love the O'Neill women. They move from the groin rather than the brain. To play O'Neill you have to be big. You can't just sit around and play little moments of sadness or sweetness. You cannot phony up O'Neill!"  Critic Walter Kerr wrote of the radiant actress with the dazzling smile: "It is difficult to take your eyes off Miss Dewhurst, whether she is smiling or in fury."

          She played Katharina in Taming of the Shrew for Joseph Papp (1956).   "With Brooks Atkinson's blessing", she wrote, "our world changed overnight. Suddenly in our audience of neighbors in T-shirts and jeans appeared men in white shirts, jackets and ties and ladies in summer dresses. We were in a hit that would have a positive effect on my career..."    She would go on to play Shakespeare's Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth for Papp and years later she portrayed Gertrude in Hamlet at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.  Other Broadway performances included: More Stately Mansions with Ingrid Bergman, Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night and Mourning Becomes Electra.  She also played Martha in the much acclaimed  Broadway revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, opposite Ben Gazzara which Albee directed.

Fans of Anne of Green Gables would recognize her from her spirited interpretation of  Marilla Cuthbert in Kevin Sullivan's adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel,  and she  reprised the role in 1987's Anne of Avonlea and in several episodes of Sullivan's Road to Avonlea. 

In her 45 year career, she won the Sarah Siddon Award for her work in Chicago theatre, two Tony Awards, two Obie Awards, and two Gemini Awards.  Of her 13 Emmy nominations, she won two for playing the feisty mother of Candice Bergen's mother in Murphy Brown. 



Before she died, she was often engaged in public causes. She participated in the 'Night of 100 Stars," written and produced by Hildy Parks as a centennial celebration for the Actors' Fund of America.  A vice chair of the group called Save the Theatres, she was very active in the fight to preserve New York theatre buildings.  In fact, she was arrested along with others during a 1982 demonstration to stop the wrecking ball from demolishing the Helen Hayes and Morosco Theatres.  In July 1983, she was a speaker at the renaming of the Little Theatre on W. 44th St. for Helen Hayes.
     
She received wide recognition for her talents and contributions to American theatre. Elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981, she served on the Theatre Advisory Panel at the National Endowment for the Arts (1986-87) and in 1986 she was awarded the Eugene O'Neill Birthday Medal for enriching the world's understanding of the playwright.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
BELATED BIRTHDAY WISHES
JOSEPHINE PEABODY PRESTON
(May 30, 1874 - December 4, 1922)

An advocate for women's suffrage and pacifism

Born in Brooklyn, New York her parents devoted themselves to developing her artistic sensibilities, painting and reading books by the best authors. They were devoted theatregoers and discussed the productions with their children. Their father, a merchant who had memorized much of Shakespeare, led the family's favorite before-bedtime activity; acting out scenes from great plays.

After the loss of her father and a younger sister she was forced to lived with her maternal grandmother in Dorchester, MA.  It was a period of such loneliness for her that she started writing poetry and by the
age of 14 had published seven poems in such magazines in The Woman's Journal.

A long correspondence with Horace Scudder, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly (which had published one of her poems in 1894) enabled her to get a philanthropist to support her as a special student at Radcliffe College. Five volumes of poetry and her one-act play Fortune and Men's Eyes (1900) were published. Marlowe, her first full-length play, inspired by her scholarly interest in the English Renaissance, published in 1901 was produced at Radcliffe College in 1905 starring George Pierce Baker.

In spite of long periods of illness in the last years of her life she wasn't deterred from taking part in liberal reform movements.

Her most memorable achievement was winning the $1,500 Stratford-on-Avon Shakespeare Memorial Prize in 1910 for her poetic drama The Piper.  After futile attempts to find an American producer, she heard about a competition for plays in English, prose or poetry, set in any period before 1800.  She was one of two finalists. She learned of her triumph on her son's one-month birthday. Her subsequent diary entries included..."Tis much like waking up and finding one's self famous. A dizzying dream." "And still it keeps on--this delicious unhoped-for thing that people and papers take it as an honor for the country, and a Banner for the cause of womankind.  Oh--Oh--and I wanted to be something or
other for these in some manner, some day!"


Soft-spoken and graceful of manner, she always looked younger than her years; she was often likened to a Dresden china figurine because of her pale complexion and dainty appearance.