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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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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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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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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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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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Franken, Rose Dorothy (28 December 1898–22 June 1988), author and stage director, was born in Gainesville, Texas, the daughter of Michael Lewin (occupation unknown) and Hannah Younker. When Rose was young, her parents separated, and her mother took her four children to New York to live with her family in Harlem. According to Rose Franken’s autobiography, she was originally named Rosebud Dougherty (the middle name after her father’s best friend), but possibly because of tensions resulting from her parents’ separation, the name caused her “deep bitterness” and she soon “nipped the ‘bud’ ” and changed her middle name to Dorothy. After attending the School for Ethical Culture, Rose was scheduled to enter Barnard College in September 1915, but she decided instead to marry Dr. Sigmund Walter Anthony Franken, an oral surgeon. Shortly after the wedding, Dr. Franken was diagnosed as having tuberculosis, and the couple spent the first ten months of their marriage at the Trudeau Sanatorium on Saranac Lake in New York. Three boys were born to the couple over the next thirteen years....

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Gordone, Charles (12 October 1925–16 November 1995), playwright and actor-director, was born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. His stepfather was William Gordon. The boy never knew his biological father and often referred to himself as “part Indian, part Irish, part French, and part Nigger.” With the birth of Charles, the family moved to the mother's hometown, Elkhart, Indiana, where young Charles went to school. Shirley Gordon Jackson, the older of his two sisters, recalled that the family then moved out of the “colored” part of town and crossed the railroad tracks to the white side of Elkhart's “Mason-Dixon line.” All of Charles's school friends were white. He was a straight-A student, “doing everything right,” winning honors in dramatics, music, writing, and debate. He also received sixteen letters in sports and set a school record in the high jump....

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Moss Hart Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114617).

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Hart, Moss (24 October 1904–20 December 1961), playwright and stage director, was born in New York City, the son of Barnet Hart, a tobacconist, and Lillian Solomon. Hart claimed that he “grew up in an atmosphere of unrelieved poverty with … the grim smell of actual want always at the end of my nose.” As a teenager, he worked as an office boy for the theatrical road producer Augustus Pitou in Manhattan. Under a pseudonym, in 1923 Hart wrote a play called, variously, ...

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Hill, Abram (20 January 1910–06 October 1986), theatrical director and playwright, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of John Hill and Minnie Hill. His father, a fireman on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, participated in salary protests that forced him to leave the railroad after World War I; he then became a house painter....

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Hirschbein, Peretz (07 November 1880–16 August 1948), playwright, producer, and director, was born in a mill near Klestchel, Grodno Province, Belarus, the son of Lippe der Milner, a miller, and Sheyne Hollander. He studied in a traditional religious school in Klestchel and in yeshivas in Brest-Litovsk and Vilna. By age twenty he had decided to abandon a rabbinical career and remained in Vilna, supporting himself by tutoring....

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Hoyt, Charles Hale (26 July 1859–20 November 1900), playwright, journalist, and theater director, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the son of George W. Hoyt, a hotel manager and mail clerk, and Mary Ann Hale. He attended private school and the Boston Latin School before becoming a law student in Boston. Hoyt had a successful career writing “All Sorts,” a local-color column for the ...

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George S. Kaufman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108317).

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Kaufman, George S. (16 November 1889–02 June 1961), playwright and stage director, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Kaufman, a small-businessman, and Henrietta Myers. Raised in a middle-class Jewish family, Kaufman attended public schools and immersed himself in plays and books—particularly those by ...

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Lindsay, Howard (29 March 1889–11 February 1968), playwright, actor, and director, was born Herman Nelke in Waterford, New York, the son of Herman Siegmund Nelke, a salesman, natural healer, masseur, and newspaperman, and Susan Hall. When Herman Nelke’s job hopping and stories of fantastic exploits exhausted the patience of his no-nonsense wife, she divorced him. Taking her four children and her mother, she moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she worked as a typesetter on her brother’s newspaper. Young Howard exhibited his father’s dramatic flair and his mother’s industry by selling newspapers and giving recitations on the boardwalk. His uncle passed on free tickets from theatrical advance men, and after seeing a melodrama when he was ten, Lindsay announced his ambition to be an actor....

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Logan, Joshua (05 October 1908–12 July 1988), director, producer, playwright, lyricist, and actor, was born Joshua Lockwood Logan in Texarkana, Texas. His lumberman father, Joshua Lockwood Logan, Sr., died when Logan was only three years old. He was raised in Louisiana by his mother, Susan Nabors, and stepfather, Howard F. Noble, an officer on the staff of the Culver Military Academy, where Logan attended school. Logan began his theatrical career in 1928 as a student at Princeton University, where he was a founder of the University Players, a summer stock group that performed on Cape Cod and that also included ...

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Ludlam, Charles (12 April 1943–28 May 1987), playwright, director, actor, and artistic director, was born in Floral Park, New York, the son of Joseph William Ludlam, a plasterer, and Marjorie Braun. Although Ludlams had been among the earliest settlers of Long Island, Charles’s family lived modestly in a working-class neighborhood, across the street from a movie theater. There Charles and his mother saw two feature films each week. These, the puppet show that he wandered into at the Mineola fair, and television’s “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” all influenced six-year-old Ludlam to create his own puppet shows and to enlist neighborhood children to stage his first scripts. After appearing in plays at school and apprenticing to the Red Barn Theater in 1958, a trip to Manhattan to see productions by the Living Theatre prompted him to found, with Christopher Scott, the Students Repertory Theatre in Northport, an enterprise that he had to close when he enrolled at Hofstra University in 1961. He studied acting, directing, playwriting, and dramatic literature—but specialized, even then, in hyperbole—and in 1965 took his B.A. and his mastery of theater history and its craft to Manhattan, where he finally enjoyed an opportunity to fully explore without impediment his homosexuality....

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Mackay, Constance D’Arcy (1887–21 August 1966), playwright, director, and educator, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the only child of Robert S. Mackay, a realtor, and Anne D'Arcy. Mackay lived with her parents in Minnesota until she was fifteen; she traveled extensively in Europe during her childhood and was educated in both public and private schools. In 1903 Mackay enrolled as a special student (a student that is not working toward a degree or plans to graduate) at Boston University. Mackay's years at the college were productive. Between 1903 and 1905, she penned the first commencement play ever produced at the college, ...

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MacKaye, Steele (06 June 1842–25 February 1894), playwright, actor, and director, was born James Morrison Steele McKay in Buffalo, New York, the son of James Morrison McKay, a lawyer and president of Western Union, and Emily Steele. It is not known when he changed his name from McKay to MacKaye. In his youth MacKaye’s life was one of privilege, ease, and opportunity. At the age of sixteen he was sent to study in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts to develop his talent and interest in painting. He returned to the United States in 1859. At the outbreak of the Civil War MacKaye enlisted in the Union Army, and while his regiment was stationed in Baltimore he and fellow soldiers produced several amateur theatrical events. MacKaye seems to have been the star, playing Othello, Shylock, and Hamlet, among other roles, and playing them so impressively that he was offered but declined a professional engagement by ...

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Moeller, Philip (26 August 1880–26 April 1958), playwright and theater director, was born in New York City, the son of Frederick T. Moeller, a prosperous dealer in yarns, batts, and wicks, and Rachel Kate Phillips. He attended public school in Manhattan, studied at New York University, and by 1905 had earned both his A.B. and M.A. from Columbia University....