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Abbott, George (25 June 1889–31 January 1995), theatrical director and producer, was born George Francis Abbott in Forestville, New York, the son of George Burwell Abbott, a tailor, town mayor, and government land agent, and May McLaury. Abbott received his early education and worked as a telegraph boy and a cowboy while moving from Wyoming to Nebraska to New York, where he earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1911. Between 1911 and 1912 Abbott, who said he wanted to be a poet or journalist, was enrolled in ...

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Belasco, David (25 July 1853–14 May 1931), playwright and director, was born in San Francisco. His Portuguese Jewish parents, Humphrey Abraham Belasco and Reina Martin, were émigrés from England, where his father had been a harlequin in pantomimes. In North America his parents become shopkeepers. Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Belasco claimed to have been educated at a monastery but actually attended the Colonial School and the Anglican Collegiate School. As a child he acted professionally, including portraying the Duke of York during Charles Kean’s farewell tour of ...

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Bennett, Michael (08 April 1943–02 July 1987), musical theater director and choreographer, was born Michael Bennett Di Figlia in Buffalo, New York, the son of Salvatore Di Figlia, a machinist, and Helen Turnoff, a secretary. Bennett took weekly dance classes, studying ballet, tap, jazz and modern technique. He attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School for Boys, where he studied architectural design, but at seventeen he dropped out of school to go on a year-long European tour in a production of ...

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Blackmer, Sidney (13 July 1895–05 October 1973), actor, director, and producer, was born Sidney Alderman Blackmer in Salisbury, North Carolina, the son of Walter Steele Blackmer, a businessman, and Clara De Roulhac Alderman. He graduated from high school in 1908 and for the next three years studied liberal arts at academies in Warrentown, North Carolina, and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. In 1913 he enrolled at the University of North Carolina to study law, made the varsity football team, and became a star fullback. By summer his priorities changed, and he left for a sabbatical in Europe....

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Brecht, Bertolt (10 February 1898–14 August 1956), author, theatrical director, and dramatic theorist, was born Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht in Augsburg, Germany, the son of Berthold Friedrich Brecht, a manager of a paper mill, and Sofie Brezing. In 1917 Brecht left the comfort of his respectable provincial family in the Bavarian town of Augsburg, some forty miles northwest of Munich, to enter medical studies at Munich University. After serving as a medical orderly in the Venereal Diseases Ward of the Augsburg Military Hospital during 1918, Brecht briefly resumed his medical studies. His growing interest in theater, however, caused him to leave Munich University in 1921 without receiving a degree....

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Brooke, J. Clifford (1873?–28 December 1951), actor and director, was born in England; his parents’ names are unknown. He began his career as an actor in London with Cyril Maude in The Second in Command (Nov. 1900) at the Haymarket Theatre. In the early years of the twentieth century he crossed the Atlantic and began his career in the United States doing walk-ons, then small roles. Eventually, in 1915, he distinguished himself on Broadway and in the touring company playing the title role in ...

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Brown, Gilmor (16 June 1886–10 January 1960), actor, director, and theater manager, was born George Gilmor Brown on a ranch and farm twelve miles outside New Salem, North Dakota, the son of Orville A. Brown and Emma Louise Gilmor. The seeds of Brown’s very active and fertile imagination seem to have been rooted in the loneliness and rural isolation of his early childhood. When he was six, however, the family moved to Denver, Colorado, where Brown began formal schooling and finally could socialize. There he became interested in theater. His father, who had wanted to become an actor but was not permitted to by his family, sometimes took him to vaudeville shows. When Brown was about eight, his mother encouraged and assisted him in forming his own theatrical company of neighborhood children dubbed the Tuxedo Stock Company. They performed their own plays, mostly tragedies and melodramas written by Brown. Brown worked with the troupe into his early teenage years. Despite his youth and lack of any theatrical training, his dedication and skill as a director impressed many, including Denver journalists. His efforts also attracted the attention of the pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, who encouraged his interest in drama and invited Brown to participate in a summer camp in the Colorado Rockies. Brown founded a theater at the camp, staging Greek tragedies and classical drama outdoors in a magnificent alpine setting. Brown and others continued to mount such alfresco productions in the years that followed....

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Browne, Maurice (12 February 1881–21 January 1955), actor, director, and producer, was born in Reading, England, the son of Frederick Herbert Browne, a distinguished teacher, and Francis-Anna “Marsie” Neligan, the founder of a number of successful private schools. Educated at the private schools of Ipswich, Temple Grove, and Winchester, Browne later attended Eastbourne College and received his B.A. from Cambridge University....

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Burnside, R. H. (13 August 1870–14 September 1952), director, producer, and playwright, was born Robert Hubber Thorne Burnside in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, unnamed in biographical sources, was the manager of Glasgow’s Gaiety Theatre; his mother was Margaret or Marguerite (maiden name unknown), an actress. Burnside’s first name is sometimes given in biographical sources as “Richard,” a mistake that arose because he invariably went by his initials “R. H.” (or his nicknames “Burny” and “Zipp”) and made a point of keeping his given names secret. As a child, Burnside traveled on theatrical tours with his mother. His formal education was sketchy and ended early after he performed, costumed as a dog, in the musical burlesque ...

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Clurman, Harold Edgar (18 September 1901–09 September 1980), founder of the Group Theatre, director, and critic, was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York, the son of Samuel Michael Clurman, a physician, and Bertha Saphir. When asked late in life who had been most influential in shaping his character, Clurman “answered without hesitation, ‘My father.’ ” Clurman’s formal education included matriculation at Columbia University from 1919 to 1921 and at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Paris-Sorbonne from September 1921 through 1923. He received the ...

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Coburn, Charles Douville (19 June 1877–30 August 1961), theatrical actor, manager, and director and film character actor, was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Moses Douville Coburn and Emma Louise Sprigman. The family moved to Savannah, Georgia, when Charles was nine months old. An avid playgoer at the age of fourteen, Coburn was mistaken by the manager for a program boy as he stood in front of the Savannah Theatre, and he was ordered back to work inside; by the time he was seventeen he was managing the theater. Two years later he moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, surviving by wrapping bundles, ushering, and once by working as a six-day bicycle racer. His first acting job, in the 1898–1899 season, was with a Chicago company of ...

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Da Silva, Howard (04 May 1909–16 February 1986), actor, director, and playwright, was born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Benjamin Silverblatt, a dress cutter, and Bertha Sohon. The family later moved to New York City and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Da Silva completed his education with a year at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (1927–1928), supporting himself by working in the city’s steel mills. He then hitchhiked to New York and became an apprentice in the Civic Repertory Company for a year’s study. His debut as an actor in the company’s 1929 production of ...

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de Liagre, Alfred (06 October 1904–05 March 1987), theatrical producer and director, was born Alfred Gustav Etienne de Liagre, Jr., in Passaic, New Jersey, the son of Alfred de Liagre, Sr., a textile manufacturer, and Frida Unger. De Liagre was born to wealth. After education at a private school and graduation from Yale University in 1926, he worked briefly on Wall Street. Then he traveled around the world as an aspiring journalist. It was travel in the grand style: he dined with eminences from former Kaiser Wilhelm II in Doorn to Mahatma Gandhi in India....

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Deeter, Jasper (31 July 1893–31 May 1972), theater actor, director, producer, and teacher, was born in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Jasper Newton Deeter, a successful businessman, and Sarah Mather, a singer and voice teacher. As a boy Deeter participated in amateur dramatics at the local Episcopal church. At Conway Hall prep school in Carlisle (Penn.), he performed in two school productions before graduating in 1911. Deeter withdrew from Lafayette College during his first term upon discovering that freshmen were denied participation in dramatics. In 1913, while working as a reporter and copyreader for the Harrisburg ...

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Denham, Reginald (10 January 1894–04 February 1983), director, playwright, and actor, was born in London, England, the son of Harry Barton Denham, a government civil servant, and Emily Constance Chapman, a music teacher. He attended the City of London School from 1904 until 1911 and then studied music and singing with Cairns James at the Guildhall School of Music in 1913. He made his stage debut in 1913 as a walk-on in ...

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Digges, Dudley (09 June 1880–24 October 1947), actor and director, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of James Dudley Digges and Catherine Forsythe. He received his education at the Christian Brothers’ School from 1886 to 1890 and at St. Mary’s College, Dublin, from 1890 to 1893. Digges embarked on his career on stage as an actor with the Abbey Players in Dublin at the turn of the century. Describing Digges’s performance in 1902 in ...

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Dowling, Eddie (09 December 1894–18 February 1976), actor, director, and producer, was born Joseph Nelson Goucher in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the son of Charles Goucher and Bridget Mary Dowling. The fourteenth of seventeen children, Dowling attended parochial schools, but by age ten he had run away to Boston and started his performing career by singing Irish ballads in music shops and outside barrooms. At eleven, having taken his mother’s maiden name, Dowling became a cabin boy on the Fall River Line....

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Ferrer, José (08 January 1912–26 January 1992), actor and director, was born José Vicente Ferrer Otero y Cintrón in Santurce, Puerto Rico, the son of Rafael Ferrer, an attorney, and Maria Providencia Cintrón. At age six, Ferrer moved to New York City with his Spanish-born parents (who were naturalized American citizens). An excellent student at public and private schools in New York and at a boarding school in Switzerland, Ferrer entered Princeton University at age sixteen in 1928. At college Ferrer played piano for a dance band called “José Ferrer and His Pied Pipers” and acted in Triangle Club productions. He graduated in 1933 with a degree in architecture but was interested in a theatrical career. He made his professional acting debut in the summer of 1934 at a Long Island “showboat” theater. To please his parents, who did not support his acting ambitions, Ferrer studied Romance languages at Columbia University for a year (1934–1935) with a teaching career in mind....

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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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Forrest, Sam (30 November 1870–30 April 1944), stage director, was born Simon Mordecai Lazarus in Richmond, Virginia, the son of two Jewish immigrants from Polish Russia. Raised in Texas, Forrest became interested in theater at an early age. He worked at various jobs, including as a bellhop in a Texas hotel, where he first came into contact with theatrical performers....