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Boleslavsky, Richard Valentinovich (04 February 1889–17 January 1937), acting teacher, stage and film director, actor, and author, was born Boleslaw Ryszard Srzednicki in Plock, Poland, the son of Valentine Srzednicki, a landowner, and Pani (maiden name unknown). When the family estate was lost, the Srzednickis relocated to South Bessarabia and then to Odessa, where Boleslaw received his education at the Polytechnic Institute of Odessa and the University of Odessa. He joined an amateur theater group in Odessa called the Polish Hearth, which he administered during his college days, in addition to performing leading roles. His first professional acting engagement was with a Russian troupe, sometime around 1904; his career began to flourish in 1908, when he was fully accepted as a student at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) and almost immediately was admitted into the acting company. Richard Valentinovich Boleslavsky was his stage name, and he retained it when he immigrated to the United States in 1922....

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Brackett, Charles William (26 November 1892–09 March 1969), writer and motion-picture producer, was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, the son of Edgar Truman Brackett, a lawyer and state legislator, and Mary Emma Corliss. For a time, he seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a prominent lawyer in Saratoga Springs. Brackett did, indeed, pursue such a career in his college studies, first taking a B.A. from Williams College in 1915 and then receiving an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1920. While at Harvard, Brackett interrupted his studies in 1917 to serve in World War I, positioned in St. Nazaire, France, as a second lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Forces and serving as vice-consul and assistant liaison officer to the French general. His efforts were acknowledged with the awarding of the Medaille d’Honneur en Argent....

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Coe, Fred Hayden (23 December 1914–29 April 1979), television, film, and theater producer and director, was born in Alligator, Mississippi, the son of Frederick Hayden Coe and Annette Harroll. Coe was raised in Buckhorn, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee, where he attended Peabody Demonstration School, writing the class play when he was twelve years old. He later studied at Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. In 1938 he attended Yale Drama School, taking graduate studies until 1940, when he returned to Nashville to accept a job at radio station WSM. He also directed plays at a local Nashville community theater. He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945. In the postwar period Coe became a pivotal figure in the early development of television, particularly the realm of live drama. In 1945 Coe was hired as a production manager at NBC and in 1948 produced and directed the acclaimed live dramatic series “Philco Television Playhouse,” which later became “Goodyear Playhouse.” These productions were intended to bring Broadway to American households, which they did admirably. From 1952 to 1956 Coe produced a variety of programs for NBC, including the situation comedy “Mr. Peepers,” with ...

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DeSylva, B. G. (27 January 1895–11 July 1950), lyricist and film and theatrical producer, was born George Gard DeSylva in New York City, the son of Aloysius Joseph DeSylva, a vaudeville performer turned attorney, and Georgetta Gard, daughter of a U.S. marshal. When he was two, his family moved to Los Angeles, where his father—who had played in vaudeville as Hal de Forest—tried to make a child star of DeSylva. His debut came at age four in a song-and-dance routine at the Grand Opera House, and for a time he toured on the Keith vaudeville circuit. But DeSylva’s youthful show business career was terminated by his maternal grandfather, who insisted the boy receive a stable and normal education (Georgetta’s father had earlier prompted the elder DeSylva to quit show business and seek a “respectable” profession as a condition for marrying his daughter)....

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Ford, Hugh (11 January 1867–29 December 1942), director and producer for theater and films, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of George Ford and Henrietta Price. He completed his education at the Van der Naillen School of Mines and Engineering.

Ford began his theatrical career as an actor; his appearance as a member of the cast of a melodrama, ...

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Houseman, John (22 September 1902–31 October 1988), producer, director, and actor, was born Jacques Haussmann in Bucharest, Romania, the son of Georges Haussmann, a Jewish-Alsatian grain merchant, and May Davies, a British woman of Welsh and Irish descent. As a small child Houseman spoke English to his mother, French to his father, German to his governess, and Romanian to the household staff. When Houseman was five years old, the grain business run by his father’s family went bankrupt, and he moved with his parents to Paris, where his father became a broker in commodities. At age seven Houseman was sent to the Clifton School in Bristol, England. Summer vacations and holidays were spent with his parents in France. His father died in 1917. After completing his studies at Clifton in December 1920, Houseman lived for a year in Argentina, working on a cattle ranch and as a clerk at the Dutch Bank of South America. Returning to England, he turned down a scholarship to Cambridge University in order to help support his mother and became an apprentice at an international grain brokerage in London....

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Losey, Joseph (14 January 1909–22 June 1984), stage and film director, was born Joseph Walton Losey III in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the son of Joseph Walton Losey, Jr., a minor railway executive, and Ina Higbee. Losey attended Dartmouth College from 1925 to 1929 and was active with the Dartmouth Players; he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He then attended Harvard University, where he earned a master’s degree in English literature in 1930. After his Harvard graduation, he tried a number of jobs, among them reviewing plays for ...

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Macgowan, Kenneth (30 November 1888–27 April 1963), drama critic, director/producer, and theater educator, was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, the son of Peter Stainforth Macgowan and Susan Arletta Hall. Before he graduated from Harvard in 1911 he was already working as an assistant drama critic for the ...

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Mamoulian, Rouben (08 October 1898–04 December 1987), stage and film director, was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) in the Russian province of Georgia, the son of Zachary Mamoulian, a military officer and bank director, and Virginia Kalantarian, an actress and president of the Armenian theater in Tiflis. Mamoulian’s Armenian parents benefited from the largess of his mother’s wealthy family and spent a few years in Paris during his boyhood. While studying criminal law at Moscow University, the young Mamoulian became involved in the Moscow Art Theater under Evgeny Vakhtangov, an early associate of Stanislavsky. He left Russia in 1920 following the revolution, joining his sister and parents in London. There he became active in the theater, directing a play with a Russian setting titled ...

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Minnelli, Vincente (28 February 1910–25 July 1986), film and stage director, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of actors Vincent Charles Minnelli and Mina Gennell. He acted as a child, most particularly in the Minnelli Brothers’ Dramatic Tent Show between 1913 and 1918. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago during the mid-1920s, Minnelli worked for a time as a billboard painter and a window dresser for the Marshall Field department store in Chicago....

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Muse, Clarence E. (07 October 1889–13 October 1979), actor, producer, and writer of plays and films, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Alexander Muse and Mary Sales. He was educated at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he became interested in music and participated in choral groups; although he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international law in 1911, he immediately embarked on a musical and theatrical career. In 1907 he married Frieda Belle Moore; the marriage was apparently dissolved soon after the birth of their son in 1910....

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Todd, Michael (22 June 1907?–22 March 1958), showman, was born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Chaim Goldbogen, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and Sophia Hellerman. Todd, whose birth at home was never officially recorded, was the seventh of eight children in a Polish immigrant family and the first born in the United States. A childhood nickname of “Toat” evolved into his adult surname (adopted legally after his father’s death in 1931). Even as a youngster in Minneapolis and later in Bloomington, Minnesota, Todd displayed the promotional flair that was to be the hallmark of his career in entertainment. By his own account he was working before he was seven for pitchmen, gathering sidewalk crowds. Todd’s formal education ended with the sixth grade....

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Wanger, Walter (11 July 1894–18 November 1968), theater and film producer, was born Walter Feuchtwanger in San Francisco, California, the son of Sigmund Feuchtwanger, a Jewish clothing manufacturer, and Stella Stettheimer. Under the tutelage of his cultured parents and relatives, Wanger developed an interest in theater, opera, and the arts in San Francisco and Europe at the turn of the century....

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Wilder, Gene (11 June 1933–29 Aug. 2016), actor, writer, director, and novelist, was born Jerome “Jerry” Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Velvel (William) Silberman, a Jewish salesman who emigrated from Russia, and Jeanne (Baer) Silberman, from a Polish Jewish family in Chicago.

Jerry became a comedian when he was eight, hoping to make his mother laugh as she recovered from her first heart attack. “If my mother hadn’t laughed, I probably wouldn’t be a comic actor” (...