Saturday, September 26, 2015

(September 25, 1728 - October 19, 1814)

A Columbian Patriot was her pen name.
She was a playwright, a poet, a patriot and a historian, a political writer and a propagandist of the American Revolution.

In the 18th century topics such as politics and war were thought to be the province of men.  Few men and fewer women had the education or training to write about these subjects, but Ms. Otis-Warren was an EXCEPTION!

Marriage to James Warren in 1754 produced five sons between 1757 and 1766.  He admired her intellect and encouraged her to study and to write. She was also actively involved in lively political discussions, many of which took place at her home on the Eel River near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Her brother James Otis, Samuel Adams and John Adams were frequent visitors. In 1772 excerpts from The Adulateur, her first propaganda play, appeared anonymously in the radical newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy.  It was revised as a five-act play in pamphlet form,  Her purpose was to "strip the Vizard from the Crafty." The Crafty were the wealthy Tory oligarchs who represented the British king and opposed the elected assembly.  Chief of these was Thomas Hutchinson, called Rapatio in the play.  Opposed to the Tories were the Patriots, led by James Otis, called Brutus.  She wanted to arouse the Patriots and unite them once again as they had been two years prior to the time of the Boston Massacre.

Other plays followed.  The Defeat, although never published in pamphlet form, concerned Rapatio and the opposition by members of the Massachusetts Assembly.  Mercy predicted victory for the Patriots.

This event prompted her to write "The Squabble of the Sea Nymphs" appearing on the front page of the Boston Gazette (March 21, 1774)

In June of that year another poem satirized women who refused to give up their imported luxuries.

THE GROUP, her most popular propaganda play, 1775
She attacked 16 councilors who were king appointed and who had refused to resign their commissions despite threats from the mob.  Initially published as excerpts in the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy, the play (four scenes and an epilogue) appeared as a pamphlet. This play was the last of Mrs. Warren's satires in dramatic form, written for publication, not for production.  However she did write a poem satirizing the nouveaux riches who began to imitate the social customs of the British and Tories. "O Tempora! O Mores!" appeared on the front page of the Boston Gazette (October 5, 1778).

Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous was printed in Boston and dedicated to George Washington.
In addition to earlier poems, two long plays written in blank verse were The Ladies of Castile, based on Spanish history about a people's uprising against tyranny.  For the first time she used female characters, and her heroine is the wife of one patriot and the sister of another. The Sack of Rome concerned the danger of luxury and pride.  
       She sent the play to John Adams, who was the American ambassador in London, to see if he could find a producer.  Adams tried but tactfully wrote to her that "nothing American sells here."

   President Thomas Jefferson ordered subscriptions for himself and his cabinet and noted "his anticipation of her truthful account of the last thirty years that will furnish a more instructive lesson to mankind than an equal period known in history".
                                                                                       FAMOUS QUOTES
"Democratic principles are the result of equality of condition."  (Note. How apropos is Mrs. Warren's wisdom in view of the Papal visit and the global citizen initiative.)

"But truth is most likely to be exhibited by the general sense of contemporaries when the feelings of the heart can be expressed without suffering itself to be disguised by the prejudices of man." (Amen.)

She was one of the most democratic of the Revolutionary leaders, and her plays stress the dignity of the common man. She was one of the first writers to use the word "independence" and one of the first to write of a united nation that would some day achieve great things. She attempted for the first time in American drama to define "true" Americans as they differed from the Englishmen.  She also thought that women were fully capable of participating in many activities that were in her time restricted to men.  However she pioneered the belief that the drama and the theatre were to be a strong force for unifying the people of the new country.

Resource: Notable Women in American Theatre. 1989  Alice McDonnell Robinson
Wikipedia (Note further reading in both references).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

(September 23, 1866  - November 12, 1950)

"Experience has taught me that, especially in the plays of Shakespeare, we cannot go far wrong if we let the lines have the center of the stage and allow them to show the poet's meaning." Julia Marlowe

Born Sarah Frances Frost in England, her father, believing he had accidentally blinded a man, fled to Kansas in 1870 and then sent for his wife and children and settled in Cincinnati.  As Fanny Brough she attended public schools and frequented Cincinnati's National Theatre where she made her stage debut in 1880 as a member of a juvenile opera company.  She had small supporting roles in all the productions.  In 1884 she stopped touring to study with Ada Dow, a well-known stock company actress.  Dow coached her in voice, movement, and dramatic literature in order to develop her skills as a Shakespearean performer. In 1887 as Julia Marlowe she debuted in New London, Connecticut as Parthenia in Ingomar.  Her New York debut followed in the same role at the Bijou Opera Theatre's matinee.  The New York Sun wrote: "There is not a woman player in America or England that is --attractively considered--fit to unlace her shoe."

       For the next ten years she toured the country as a star in As You Like It, She Stoops to Conquer, The Hunchback, and The Rivals. A short marriage to Robert Taber, her leading man in 1894, ended in divorce in 1900.
     Under the management of Charles B. Dillingham, she became a leading actress with the
Theatrical Syndicate, starring in one of her most well known roles as Barbara Frietchie (1901) and became one of the top box office attractions in the country. Her greatest popular success came in 1902 as Mary Tudor in Paul Kester's When Knighthood was in Flower.      (PICTURE BELOW) 
She became financially independent.

Under the management of Charles Frohman, she returned to the classics in 1904. Edward H. Sothern, her co-star and romantic leading man, married her in 1911 and together they became the chief exponents of Shakespearean drama in America.

They toured in Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Macbeth, and
The Merchant of Venice and produced matinee performances for schoolchildren. In 1907 they appeared in London to great critical acclaim and on November 8, 1909, they opened the
The New Theatre  in Antony and Cleopatra.

Julia Marlowe was widely praised for her championing of Shakespeare and for her performances in classical plays. Her greatest successes came with Rosalind in As You LIke It and Viola in Twelfth Night.

 She had beauty, feminine charm and a melodious voice. A. C. Wheeler, writing in The Criterion (November 18, 1899) described her Viola:  "There are many women of Shakespeare's creation who demand for their incarnation more passion, more variety, more ability perhaps than Viola; but there are none that demand more womanliness, and it is a womanliness which has to be interpreted and sustained, and when it is, it is the very quintessence of femininity in that aspect which men most Miss Marlowe's performance of Viola there was but one tour de force and that was Viola in her completeness."
   From an article she wrote for Theater Magazine: "The last time I played Viola in reading the lines beginning 'She never told her love' I made an effort to keep everything still, even to the ends of my fingers. I aimed at achieving the whole effect by absolute repose. In my original conception of the role, I should have been appalled had anyone advised such paucity of 'business'.  Julia Marlowe
                                               MARLOWE'S BELIEFS

Romeo and Juliet
She believed in artistic excellence and moral uplift in the theatre, a goal she  pursued in both the choice and staging of her plays.  She felt that acting was an acceptable career for women. She believed that the theatre had an obligation to enlighten the public. And she was a strong advocate for a national theatre.

"A disheartening result of my observations of the present stage of the art of acting has been my realization that there are so few players that can give and take in acting--making it necessary, therefore, for the chief person in the scene of the play to carry the spirit of the author's intention and the thread of the various scenes quite unaided. To preserve his own poise he is compelled to concentrate mentally upon himself, making most performances one-sided, sometimes almost a monologue." Julia Marlowe


In 1916 Julia and Edward announced their retirement form the stage. During World War 1, she made appearances at rallies and bond drives; and both actors entertained the troops in England and Scotland.

They made eleven phonograph recordings for the Victor Company in 1920 and 1921. These recordings are the only recorded evidence of Marlowe's voice today. They can be found on YouTube.
      After Sothern's death in 1933, she became somewhat of a recluse White-haired and still beautiful she'd occasionally visit close friends like ailing playwright Edward Sheldon In 1923. She received an honorary doctorate form George Washington University and another in 1943 from Columbia University.  She had no children and died in 1950 in New York City.


Resources:  Wikipedia.  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989.  Rita M. Plotnicki
Russell, Charles Edward.  Julia Marlowe, Her Life and Art. New York. D. Appleton and Co. 1926
Marlowe, Julia, and E. H. Sothern. Julia Marlowe's Story. New York: Rinehart, 1954

Thursday, September 17, 2015

(September 17, 1931 - June 6, 2005)

When she portrayed Regina Giddens in a revival of The Little Foxes at Lincoln Center, the New York Times critic found her "possessed of iron instead of bone in her skeleton, a huskily musical voice that hums a dance of death, and a smile so icy that you almost expect it to melt leaves."  WOW!

Though neither of her Italian parents were involved in the theatre, her mother was supportive of her ambition to become an actress. She gave her tuition to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She was a member of the Actors Studio.  Her television appearances including a continuing role on The Goldbergs, the
Gertrude Berg series, led to a 20th Century-Fox screen test and the offer of a contract.  Mediocre roles, except for the cavalry colonel's wife she played in the psychological western The Last Frontier (1956) plus a short-lived marriage to businessman Martin A. May, fueled her desire to return to New York to pursue her studies. Producer Fred Coe convinced playwright William Gibson and director Arthur Penn to cast her in the leading role of Gittel Mosca in Two for the Seesaw.  She was also co-starring with veteran actor Henry Fonda and found early rehearsals unnerving.
       With the director's nurturing guidance, she developed such a memorable character that proved to the critic of the New York World-Telegram and Sun she was "a deliciously captivating comic." She won the Theatre World Award, the Drama Critics' Poll Award and her first Tony award.

One of her most memorable roles is Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker by William Gibson which concerned her struggle to teach the young Helen Keller. A physically taxing role, she spent three weeks studying blind and disabled children in New York City's Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She also visited the Vacation Camp for the Blind to practice the use of the manual alphabet. She spent time with her eyelids taped down and wore dark glasses in an effort to understand what it would be like to be blind.  The play won unanimous praise from the critics and earned her a second Tony Award and New York Drama Critics Award.   The Gibson-Penn-Coe team insisted that Anne and Patty Duke reprise their stage roles in the film.   Duke won the best supporting actress Oscar and Bancroft won a best actress Oscar beating Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. 

Future Oscar nominations followed for her work in The Pumpkin Eater, 
The Graduate, The Turning Point, and Agnes of God.  
     Her best-known role was Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate who seduces a younger character played by Dustin Hoffman.  She was ambivalent about her appearance in The Graduate and stated in several interviews that the role overshadowed all of her other work.  Her "older woman" role was only six years older than Hoffman.

A CBS television special in 1970 entitled Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man won her an Emmy Award for her singing and acting. She is one of the few entertainers to win an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony Award. Her second television special, Annie and The Hoods was telecast on ABC and featured her husband Mel Brooks as a guest star.  She made an uncredited cameo in the film Blazing Saddles (1974) directed by Brooks.  He also directed her in the remake of To Be or Not to Be in 1983.

She starred in several television movies and miniseries, receiving six Emmy Award nominations (winning twice), eight Golden Globe nominations (winning twice), and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

In 2010, Mel Brooks credited her as being the guiding force behind his involvement in developing The Producers and Young Frankenstein for the musical theatre.    Both Brooks and Bancroft appeared in season six of
The Simpsons.  According to the DVD commentary, when she came to record her lines for the episode Fear of Flying, the Simpsons writers asked if Brooks had come with her (which he had); she joked, "I can't get rid of him!"

She died of cancer on June 6, 2005. Her death surprised many, even some of her friends. She was intensely private and had not released details of her illness. A white marble monument with a weeping angel adorns her grave.

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989 ed.   William Lindesmith

Thursday, September 10, 2015

(September 10, 1880- May 14, 1966)

The first black female poet of the twentieth century!

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she was educated in the public schools of the city and completed the "normal course" at Atlanta University before studying music at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio.

In 1903 she married Henry Lincoln Johnson who later became a prominent lawyer and politician. President William Howard Taft appointed her husband to the post of recorder of deeds in the District of Columbia and the Johnsons moved to Washington, D.C. in 1909.
Before her husband's death in 1925, the Johnsons were active pioneers in the social, political, and literary life of Washington. Georgia was a participant and leader in most of the organizations in the Washington area committed to concerns of women and minorities, and occasionaly she accepted speaking engagements on these topics. She was a member of the Civic Club, The League of Neighbors of New York, and the Crisis Guild for Writers and Artists.

By 1928 her books included three volumes of poetry, The Heart of A Woman and Other Poems(1918)
Bronze (1922), and An Autumn Love Cycle (1928).
       Inspired by her mentor William Stanley Braithwaite, she became one of the "Genteel School" of writers, whose lyric poems are often compared with those of Sara Teasdale. She set many of her poems to music and enjoyed singing and playing them on the piano for friends who visited her home.  The poems in her first volume were said to "transcend the bonds of race."  Four years later, when Bronze appeared, she had begun to feel the spirit of the "New Negro Renaissance"; and the point of view from which she wrote became "the heart of a colored woman aware of her social problems."

She had been influenced by friends to try her hand at writing drama and had found it a "living avenue" but she did not mean to imply that she could make a living by writing plays.

Whatever else the New Negro Renaissance may have done for blacks, it did very little to improve the black playwright's chance to get a play produced on the commercial American stage of the 1920s and 1930s.  Her first known attempt at playwriting was motivated by the anti-lynching campaign following the First World War.  Sunday Morning in the South (1924), her best known play, is set in the early twenties and depicts the death of a young black man who is wrongly accused of raping a white woman and is lynched by an angry mob before his grandmother can prove his innocence.

Protest themes about rape and lynching, along with the social status of black women and of their mulatto sons, dominates all of her dramatic writing.  Her next drama, Blue Blood, was produced by the
W.E.B. Du Bois Krigwa (an acronym for Crisis Guild of Writers and Artists) Players in New York, Washington, and elsewhere between 1926 and 1928. May Miller Sullivan and Frank Horne (Lena's uncle) performed in the New York production, which treats the shocking discovery by a mulatto couple about to get married that they have the same white father. The play was selected by Frank Shay for publication in Fifty More Contemporary One-Act Plays (1928).

            Plumes, her third play, won the Opportunity First Place Award in 1927--a sum of $60.00 and publication by Samuel French Publishers.   Her ability to write folk drama is best displayed in this short play about the conflict of a poor southern mother who must decide whether to spend her life savings of $50.00 on an operation that may not save her daughter's life or to use that money to bury her in styles complete with plumes on the heads of the horses drawing the hearse.

Although her popularity peaked in the 1920s, over the next few decades she wrote many songs, short stories, a biography of her late husband and several other works which were salvaged from her house after her death.

In the eyes of some critics, her unceasing sponsorship of Washington, D.C.'s black cultural and intellectual circle during the 1920s and 1930s was of parallel importance to her own artistic input.  She invited such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, W.E.B. Du Bois and
Zora Neale Hurston for a weekly forum of cultural discussions. Her "S Street Salon" was both "a freewheeling jumble of the gifted, famous and odd" in D.C. and a "safe and supportive atmosphere where 'Harlem Renaissance' writers struggled with their literary work and where that work found its audience".

In 1965 Atlanta University presented Georgia with a doctorate of literature, praising her as a
"sensitive singer of sad songs, faithful interpreter of the feminine heart of a Negro with its joys, sorrows, limitations and frustrations of racial oppression in a male-dominated world; dreamer of broken dreams who translated her disappointments into such memorable and immortal lines as:
        'The heart of a woman falls back with the night/
         and enters some alien cage of its plight,/
         and tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars/
         while it breaks, breaks, breaks, on the sheltering

She was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2009.


by Georgia Johnson Douglas

And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?

The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
                                                 The black, the white, the red,
                                                 And all the chromatic between,
                                                 Of whom shall it be said:

                                                 Here lies the dust of Africa;
                                                 Here are the sons of Rome;
                                                 Here lies the one unlabeled,
                                                 The world at large his home!

                                                 Can one then separate the dust?
                                                 Will mankind lie apart,
                                                 When life has settled back again
                                                 The same as from the start?

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989     Winona L. Fletcher

Monday, September 7, 2015

(September 2, 1902 - November 15, 1998)

September Child is the title of her first autobiography.

This post about her life was written by her close friend Nancy Rhodes for a program entitled "Visionary Producers of the Twentieth Century" presented on May 30, 2015 at the Manhattan Theatre Club Rehearsal Studio.
Produced by Mari Lyn Henry with the support of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

I had met Jean when we had lunch at her favorite booth at the Russian Tea Room. I wanted to talk to her about her vaudeville years as part of my research and she was so gracious, witty, generous with her time.  She was an inspiration and kept inspiring the theatre community and beyond with her love of performers and talent.

"Born in Morristown, New Jersey, she was a highly successful actress, writer, lecturer, dynamic manager of concert artists, and a legendary producer of musicals and plays for City Center and other venues, as well as for film and television.  She was the daughter of George H. Dalrymple, a concert manager who arranged tours for artists in the United States and Latin America.  Her professional career began at the age of nine when her short story The Spinning Top was sold to a newspaper for one dollar.      

She went on to write sketches for vaudeville and created an act with Dan Jarrett for the
Keith-Orpheum circuit--sometimes on the same bill with James Cagney and Cary Grant.  With her first husband Ward Morehouse she wrote the screenplay It Happened in New York produced by Universal Pictures.

As a playwright she collaborated with Dan Jarrett on Salt Water, a play presented by the well-known producer John L. Golden. She then began working for Golden as an understudy, then a casting director, play doctor and press agent. Impressed with her skill in handling the press, Golden encouraged her to establish her own office in 1937. She was the publicist or personal manager for such artists as Jose Iturbi, Tallulah Bankhead,
Mary Martin, Lily Pons, Andre Kostalenetz, Nathan Milstein and
Leopold Stokowski.  In the late 1940a she produced several shows on Broadway, most notably a revival of Burlesque (1946) and Red Gloves (1948) which starred Charles Boyer in his Broadway debut.

She was instrumental in the founding of New York's City Center in 1943, and carried out the dream of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and City Council
President Newbold Morris to have "a temple for the performing arts." Early productions included Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Porgy and Bess, and Othello starring Paul Robeson.  She was named to City Center's Board and subsequently mounted successful productions of Mister Roberts and a series
of plays with Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac; The Shrike, Richard lll,  and
Charley's Aunt.

Between 1957 to 1968, she was general director of the City Center Light Opera Company, mounting forty-seven revivals of thirty different musicals including her favorite musical Brigadoon with Edward Villela as
Harry Beaton, Pal Joey starring Bob Fosse, The Pajama Game and South Pacific.  She persuaded Orson Welles to star in King Lear and Tallulah Bankhead to portray Blance Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire with Anthony Quinn and Uta Hagen. Many other great starts performed at City Center under her leadership including Franchot Tone, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Charlton Heston and
Helen Hayes.

One of the founding members of the
American Theatre Wing in 1939, she was its first publicity volunteer and during World War ll she trained speakers who sold war bonds at the
Stage Door Canteen. She was a guest producer for William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life for the Armchair Theatre Television series in 1958; produced Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera The Consul for TV in 1960; and in 1977 was Associate Producer for a documentary film about the
Kirov School of Ballet, narrated by
Princess Grace of Monaco."

From September Child published in 1965

"On the wall of my bedroom is the sampler of the Twenty-third Psalm which Paula Laurence painstakingly cross-stitched for me when we first met  I read it and gratefully know that surely goodness and mercy have followed all the days of this September child.

'Oh, Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?----Every, every minute?"

Well, I have tried!"

Resource:  Nancy Rhodes, Founder, Encompass New Opera Theatre
Dalrymple, Jean. September Child. The Story of Jean Dalrymple By Herself.   1965
Dalrymple, Jean.  From the Last Row. 1975

Sunday, September 6, 2015

(September 1898 - April 7, 1936)

"The Pavlova of the tired business man, the Taglioni of the world of musical comedy and of jazz, the Fanny Elssler of a whole generation of college boys in search of diversion."
                                      Boston Transcript, April 11, 1936

Born Mary Ellen Reynolds in Evansville, Indiana, the tiny, delicate-featured blonde beauty was only four years old when, as "Mademoiselle Sugarlump," she debuted at Lakeside Park in Dayton, Ohio as a member of her family's vaudeville act, the Columbian Trio.  They were rechristened the Five Columbians when her mother joined her stepfather and two older sisters.   They toured the Midwest and Europe in variety for ten years, skirting the child labor authorities, before Lee Shubert discovered her at the Lotus Club in London in 1914.  By the time of her Broadway success at the age of twenty-two, she had changed her name in three ways.  She took the last name of her stepfather, Oscar Miller, substituted Lynn for her middle name, and on the advice of Florenz Ziegfeld, dropped the second "n" in Lynn and added the second name to her first, thus becoming Marilyn Miller.

While she appeared in the 1914 and 1915 editions of The Passing Show for the Shuberts at the Winter Garden Theatre, as well as The Show of Wonders (1916) and Fancy Free (1918), it was Mr. Ziegfeld who made her a star.    She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on W. 42nd St., with music by Irving Berlin.  She brought the house down with her impersonation of Ziegfeld's wife, Billie Burke, in a number entitled Mine Was a Marriage of Convenience.

She was a headliner in the Follies of 1919, dancing to Irving Berlin's Mandy and attained legendary status in the Ziegfeld Production Sally (1920) with music by Jerome Kern, especially for her performance of Kern's Look For the Silver Lining.  It ran 570 performances.  Dorothy Parker memorialized her performance in verse:
From the alley's gloom and chill
Up to fame danced Sally
Which was nice for her,
but still rough upon the alley.
How it must regret her wiles, all her ways and glances.
Now the theatre owns her smiles, Sallies, songs and dances....

After a rift with Ziegfeld, she signed with rival producer
Charles Dillingham and starred as Peter Pan in a 1924 Broadway revival, then as a circus queen in Sunny (1925), with music by Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. A box-office smash, it featured the classic Who?, and made her the highest paid star on Broadway ($3,000.00 a week). She reunited with Ziegfeld in 1928 and starred in his production of the successful George Gershwin/Sigmund Romberg musical Rosalie. 
Her last Broadway show, marking a major comeback, was the innovative 1933-34 Irving Berlin/Moss Hart musical As Thousands Cheer, in which she appeared in the production number, Easter Parade. Her most popular numbers were those in which she impersonated Joan Crawford and
Lynn Fontanne.    In 1934 she married Chester O'Brien, a young actor in the show. A contractual dispute caused both to quit the show before the end of its 400-performance run. She officially announced her retirement, and her husband, content to live on her wealth, made only occasional efforts to secure work.  In the spring of 1936, one of her frequent sinus infections was severe enough to put her in the hospital.  A toxic condition developed and she died at the age of thirty-seven.

A sculpture of Ms. Miller, in the title role of Sunny, can still be seen atop the former I. Miller Shoe Company (no relation) building, 1552 Broadway (167 W. 46th St.) in Times Square. It is one of four statues sculpted by Alexander Calder between 1927 and 1929 for the building's facade, representing famous theatrical professionals of the time.  In 2013, after years of neglect, the building and sculptures were restored.

Although she was very young when she died, Marilyn Miller did leave her mark on the American theatre.  She once said,
"I am more interested in dancing than anything else in the world."  She was a dancer first, and her contribution to the American musical stage lies in her gift of ballet to Broadway. She brought a range of styles to her performances--from classical to clog to contemporary.

RESOURCE:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989  Noreen Barnes
Reference:  Harris, Warren G.  The Other Marilyn, a biography.  1985

Thursday, September 3, 2015

(August 30, 1898 - October 16, 1992)

"She has perfect timing and perfect reading, and she always has complete control of herself, her part and her audience. I have often gone back to watch her a second and a third time, trying to figure out how she does it, because the first time she has made it seem so effortless that I have forgotten I'm watching an actress."
       Helen Hayes, one of Ms. Booth's most faithful fans

Best known for her stage roles in Come Back, Little Sheba and
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, she was born Thelma Booth Ford in Manhattan's Morningside Heights.  Though her family background was hardly theatrical, she seems to have made her first public appearance by reciting a short poem at the age of three.   From childhood her only ambition was to be an actress.  When she was twelve she left school and began acting with a Hartford, Connecticut stock company in Mother Carey's Chickens. Two years later she moved to New York and landed a job as the ingenue with the Poli Stock Company.  Since her father had forbade her to use his name, Thelma Booth Ford became Shirley Booth; "Shirley" was from a character she had played; "Booth" from her middle name.

In 1925 she made her Broadway debut opposite Humphrey Bogart in Hell's Bells. After the play closed, she returned to stock and followed the same pattern for a decade. In New York she was usually cast in minor roles, while she often had leading roles in stock.  About her stock experience she commented,"I could have hung around New York and taken my chances, but I had to go where people believed in me, and I had to keep acting so I could believe in myself."

Producer George Abbott cast her as Mabel, the warmhearted gangster's moll,  in Three Men on a Horse in 1935, which was her first substantial part on Broadway. After a brief sojourn in Hollywood with her first husband, she returned to New York and appeared in Philip Barry's Philadelphia Story which won her as much critical praise as Katharine Hepburn.  From 1940-1942 she co-starred in
My Sister Eileen. After acting in a wide variety of Broadway shows she won the Tony Award for her work in Fay Kanin's Goodbye, My Fancy (1948). But it was as Lola Delaney in William Inge's play
Come Back, Little Sheba that she was proclaimed a star. Awards for the role included another Tony for best actress, the Billboard Award, the Barter Theatre Award, and the New York Critics Circle Award.

       She then moved from domestic tragedy to a zany musical comedy as fun loving Cissy in
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. After a substantial run Paramount Studios invited her to star in the film version of Come Back, Little Sheba. The film was shot in a single month.  She won the Oscar for best actress in a film and the Cannes International Film Festival Award for the world's best actress of 1952.
As the lonely spinster in Arthur Laurents's The Time of the Cuckoo she received another Tony Award.

After a few more rather forgettable films, Screen Gems Television signed her to a five-year contract to play Hazel, the housemaid on a weekly show.  Defending her decision, she insisted, "I think you should do what you believe in and not worry about whether people are going to like it or not. . .I knew I'd be criticized."
She also maintained that there were few good roles for women in the plays being written.  She was launched in another medium and once again triumphed.  For her performance of Hazel she received twenty-eight awards including three Emmys for best continuing performance by an actress in a series.

After the Hazel series ended, she won another Emmy as Amanda Wingfield in a television adaptation of The Glass Menagerie.

Shirley Booth believed that 'an actress is doing a poor job if the audience sits out there and thinks, "Boy, I'm watching some acting'. Audiences should feel somebody left a door open by mistake, and happened to stroll in when something interesting was going on. They should be so free of the feeling they're watching actors that they expect someone to say any minute, 'Hey, get out of here, this is personal'."

Some of the hardest-to-please NY critics commended her acting.
Richard Watts, New York Post, "It is not exactly a secret these days that Miss Booth is one of the wonders of the American stage, a superb actress, a magnificent comedienne and an all-around performer of seemingly endless versatility."

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989.  Katherine Laris

(August 27, 1890 - July 23, 1969)

National Director of the Federal Theatre during its entire life (1935-1939). She was a pioneer in college theatre work, head of the Vassar Experimental Theatre and later served as dean of Smith College and director of its drama department.

From a speech delivered at the national office of the Federal Theatre Project at the first meeting of its regional directors, she inspired her audience with these prophetic words. (Oct. 5, 1935)

"We live in a changing world: man is whispering through space, soaring to the stars in ships, flinging miles of steel and glass into the air.  Shall the theatre continue to huddle in a painted box? The movies, in their kaleidoscopic speed and juxtaposition of external objects and internal emotions are seeking to find visible and audible expression for the tempo and psychology of the time.  The stage too must experiment--with ideas, with psychological relationships of men and women, with speech and rhythm forms, with dance and movement, with color and light---or it must--and should--become a museum product."


By the autumn of 1938, a major miracle to save the Federal Theatre Project from its critics in Congress was not forthcoming.  Over the summer, the project had come under congressional attack, instigated by Martin Dies's House Committee which tried to show that Ms. Flanagan, because of her early interest in Russian theatre, was a Communist and that some of those employed in the FTP were also Communists.  She testified; others also defended the project.

The tiny soft-spoken redhead from Vassar College persisted but was denied a final statement; her brief in defense of the project was not printed, as promised, in the published reports of the hearings. By the simple expedient of not renewing its appropriation, Congress shut down the Federal Theatre Project on June 30, 1939, giving its director only a month to wind up its affairs.
             (Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989)  Fran Hassencahl

FEDERAL THEATRE PROJECT by Hallie Flanagan  (November, 1935)
           "The Federal Theatre Project is based on the belief that there is intelligence, skill, experience and enthusiasm in the thousands of theatre people now on relief rolls, and in the hundreds of other theatre people who will cooperate with them.  It is based on a belief that this intelligence, experience and enthusiasm will swing in under a nationwide plan in which such elements of strength are needed.

           We need throughout America a number of theatres, experimental in nature, specializing in new plays of unknown dramatists, with an emphasis on local and regional material.  We need Negro theatres in Harlem, St. Louis, Alabama; vaudeville and specialty acts in connection with some of the great recreation centers where dance orchestras, recruited from ranks of unemployed musicians, will play for unemployed youth. We need a theatre adapted to new times and new conditions; a theatre which recognizes the presence of its sister arts, and of the movies and the radio, its neighbors and competitors, a theatre vividly conscious of the rich heritage of its past but which builds towards the future with new faith and imagination.

         These projects will be as various as the needs of the localities planning them, and the creative imagination of their directors.  Plans are under way for an Ibsen repertory theatre in Minneapolis; a traveling Shakespearean company in the Dakotas; a cycle of Restoration drama in a great university in the mid-west; historical and regional projects including a marionette theatre dealing with the local history of New York State; one for remodeling the oldest theatre in the United States to house presentations, in period, of the plays of the first theatrical seasons in America.

 Because it deals directly with human beings, the theatre, of all the arts, should be the most conscious of economic changes affecting human beings. Painters during the last few years have turned increasingly for subject matter and technique to industry and economics; William Lescaze writes: "The social scene and its implications dictate my architectural renderings"; Martha Graham in her new ballet, Panorama, presents "three themes of thought and action which are basically American," that is Puritan religious fanaticism, Negro exploitation and awakening social consciousness.  The theatre, however, aside from the rapidly developing left-wing group, has remained curiously oblivious to the changing social order. It is time that the theatre is brought face to face with the great economic problems of the day, of which unemployment is one...."
      (Excerpt from article in Theatre Arts Anthology, edited by Rosamond Gilder, Hermine Rich Isaacs, Robert M. MacGregor and Edward Reed.  Theatre Arts Books.  1948)

Flanagan, Hallie.  Shifting Scenes of the Modern European Theatre. 1928
Flanagan, Hallie. Arena.  1940
Flanagan, Hallie.  Dynamo: The Story of a College Theatre  1943
Bentley, Joanne Davis.  Hallie Flanagan: A Life in the American Theatre.1988
Matthews, Jane DeHart. The Federal Theatre, 1935-1939: Plays, Relief, and Politics. 1967