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Alexander, John White (07 October 1856–31 May 1915), artist, was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, the son of John Alexander and Fanny Smith. Alexander’s father died soon after his birth, and his mother died when he was five years old. Sent to live with his maternal grandparents, Alexander left school at the age of twelve to work as a messenger for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh. Colonel Edward Jay Allen, an official of the firm, was impressed by a sketch done by Alexander. Allen eventually adopted Alexander....

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Aronson, Boris ( October 1900–16 November 1980), scene and costume designer, was born in Kiev, Russia, the son of Solomon Aronson, the chief rabbi of Kiev, and Deborah Turfsky. By the age of eight he was exhibiting astonishing artistic talent and went on to study art in Kiev, Moscow, and Paris....

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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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Enters, Angna (28 April 1897–25 February 1989), dance-mime, painter, and writer, was born Anita Irene Enters in New York City, the daughter of Edward Enters, a businessman, and Henriette Gasseur-Styleau. Angna grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (which she called “New Berlin” because of its large German population), where after graduating with the class of 1915 from North Division High School, she enrolled as an art student at Milwaukee Normal School (now part of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)....

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Flanagan, Hallie Mae Ferguson (27 August 1890–23 July 1969), theater educator, administrator, and director, was born in Redfield, South Dakota, the daughter of Frederic Miller Ferguson, a businessman, and Louisa Fischer. Throughout her childhood, Hallie’s father encouraged her to believe in her uniqueness and individual potential, while her mother instilled in her a selflessness of putting others before herself. These conflicting ideas would haunt Hallie throughout her life as she tried to balance a career and a family. She sometimes believed she had failed as a wife and mother because she had devoted too much of herself to her career....

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Norman Bel Geddes Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4759-003).

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Geddes, Norman Bel (21 April 1893–08 May 1958), scene and lighting designer, industrial designer, and producer, was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, Michigan, the son of Clifton Terry Geddes and Gloria Lulu Yingling. He was educated in public schools in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois before attending the Cleveland School of Art and the prestigious Chicago Art Institute by the time he was sixteen years old. When he was in his early twenties, Geddes had his earliest successes as a magazine and poster artist in Detroit, Michigan. He designed his first theatrical production, ...

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Harrison, Gabriel (25 March 1818–15 December 1902), actor, daguerreotypist, and prose writer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Harrison, an engraver, and Elizabeth Foster. In 1824 the family moved to Manhattan. The house became a meeting place for artists of the time, and there young Harrison met painters ...

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Head, Edith (28 October 1897–24 October 1981), Hollywood costume designer, was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Max Posener, a mining engineer, and Anna Levy. During her long life, Head was curiously quiet about her parents, their divorce early in her life, and her stepfather. Even in her autobiography she did not illuminate her formative years; indeed, the index of ...

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Jones, Margo (12 December 1911–24 July 1955), originator and inspirer of America's professional regional theater movement, originator and inspirer of America’s professional regional theater movement, was born Margaret Virginia Jones in Livingston, Texas, the daughter of Richard Harper Jones, a lawyer, and Martha Pearl Collins, a teacher. In the Drama Club at Girls’ Industrial College (later Texas Women’s University), she was the only student interested in directing. In 1931, after experiencing what she called “something wonderful” at her first professional production, ...

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Jonson, Raymond (18 July 1891–10 May 1982), painter and theater graphic designer, was born Carl Raymond Johnson near Chariton, Iowa, the son of the Reverend Gustav Johnson and Josephine Abrahamson. Jonson was home-schooled until 1899, when he attended his first school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the family lived for a brief period. In 1902 the family settled in Portland, Oregon. Jonson studied at the Portland Art Museum in 1909 with an instructor who had been a student of Arthur Wesley Dow. Jonson moved to Chicago in 1910 to study art at the Academy of Fine Arts. He later enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago....

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Lewisohn, Irene (05 September 1892–04 April 1944), theater patron and practitioner and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Rosalie Jacobs and Leonard Lewisohn, a German-Jewish immigrant who made his fortune in the mining and processing of copper and other minerals. The deaths of Lewisohn’s parents before she was ten years old left her older sister Alice and her with considerable wealth—and the social burden of such wealth. The daughter of a philanthropist, Lewisohn was impressed by the Henry Street Settlement, one of her father’s causes. After attending the Finch School in New York, she studied dance independently and eventually found her calling in the unique combination of social service and the arts....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Orry-Kelly (31 December 1897–26 February 1964), costume designer, was born Orry George Kelly in Kiama, New South Wales, Australia, the son of William George Kelly, a tailor, and Florence Evalean Purdue. After studying art in Australia and working briefly as a banker, Orry-Kelly immigrated to New York City in 1923, hoping to become an actor. In the mid-1920s he waited tables and worked as a clerk, acting only on occasion. He did, however, find work painting for scenic studios, decorating apartments, and designing silent film titles. It was in New York that he received his entrée into the career—as a costume designer—that would dominate his professional life. In the late 1920s he began designing costumes, and occasionally scenery, for Broadway productions, including ...

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Papp, Joseph (22 June 1921–31 October 1991), theater producer, director, and administrator, was born Joseph Papirofsky in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Samuel Papirofsky, a trunk maker, and Yetta Miritch, a garment worker. Both parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Encouraged by teachers in local public schools, young Joseph Papirofsky developed an enthusiasm for English literature, especially the works of Shakespeare. After graduating from Eastern District High School in 1938, he applied to Brooklyn College but was not admitted because of poor grades in science and mathematics. He then worked at a series of jobs and became active in the Communist party. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Navy, spending most of this time in an entertainment unit. After discharge from the navy, Papirofsky enrolled at the Actors’ Laboratory Workshop in Los Angeles, using veteran’s benefits to pay expenses. At the Actors’ Lab, which had been founded by former members of the politically left wing Group Theater of the 1930s, he gained valuable experience in fundamentals of stage direction and nonprofit theater management. He stayed with the Actors’ Lab until it ceased operations in May 1950, and then joined a touring company of ...

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Perry, Antoinette (27 June 1888–28 June 1946), actress and director for whom the Tony Awards were named, was born in Denver, Colorado, the daughter of William Russell Perry, a city clerk, and Minnie Betsy Hall, an artist and Christian Science healer. Perry’s father, who was Catholic, and his wife separated over religious differences two weeks after their marriage and divorced shortly following their child’s birth. Her mother married twice again. Perry, nicknamed Tony, wrote in a 1930s article that even in grade school she had felt an urge to be an actress, in part because of the encouragement of her uncle, actor George Wessells. “My uncle trained me as a child—in Shakespearean men’s parts—and stimulated my desire,” she recalled. “When I was six, I didn’t say I’d become an actress. I felt I was one. No one could have convinced me I wasn’t.”...

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Sharaff, Irene (1910?–16 August 1993), costume designer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Nothing is known of her parents. She graduated from Wadley High School in New York City. Originally planning to be a painter, she studied at the Art Students League (now the Parsons School of Design), the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, and in Paris. While taking art classes in New York in 1928 she met ...

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Pavel Tchelitchew Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103672).

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Tchelitchew, Pavel (21 September 1898–31 July 1957), painter and stage designer, was born in Kaluga, Russia, near Moscow, the son of Fedor Chelishchev and Nadezhda Permyakov, progressive aristocrats who implemented Tolstoian ideals in caring for the peasants on their vast estates. He received private tutoring and began drawing at an early age, inspired by the illustrations of Gustave Doré. He attended Moscow University from 1916 until 1918 and studied art at Moscow’s Academy. The family fled to Kiev following the Russian Revolution of 1918. Tchelitchew studied at the Kiev Academy under Alexandra Exter, who applied the principles of Russian constructivism to theatrical design. He designed posters and collaborated on a series of music hall productions with Isaac Rabinovitch, an important Soviet stage designer. Around 1919 Tchelitchew’s style began to evolve away from cubist abstraction, employing curving lines and some representational elements....

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Joseph Urban Photograph by Arnold Genthe, c. 1916. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-1732).