Category Archives: The Theatre Guild Archives

Theatre History

Hello Friends!

We are very pleased today because Cindy Adams, Page Six writer for the New York Post, was writing an article about Theatre History in the wake of last night’s Tony Awards .

Lo and behold! The Theatre Guild got a nod from Ms. Adams:

1918. Formation of the Theatre Guild. Also, Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” That’s 99 years before the Golden’s current occupants grabbed all those nominations for “Part 2.”

Click here for the full article.

99 years!  It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a century—and we are very excited about our 100th Anniversary, as there may well be a new commemorative postage stamp similar to the one to mark the 50th Anniversary of our musical Oklahoma!.

ok stamp
Best regards,
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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Goodbye Tammy

Dear Friends,

Today we celebrate the life of a beautiful and wonderful friend, actress Tammy Grimes, who died on Sunday.

We first knew Tammy when she was an apprentice at our Westport Country Playhouse in 1949.  She was always outstanding, funny, and brilliant!

She starred in our musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, on Broadway—for which she won a Tony.

tammy-grimes-1

Here is a brief look at the projects that Tammy worked on over the years:

Filmography

Three Bites of the Apple (1966), Arthur? Arthur! (1969), Play It as It Lays (1972), The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973), The Borrowers (1973), Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), The Runner Stumbles (1979), Can’t Stop the Music (1980), The Last Unicorn (1982), The Stuff (1985), America (1986), Mr. North (1988), Slaves of New York (1989), Backstreet Justice (1994), A Modern Affair (1995), Trouble on the Corner (1997), High Art (1998)

Stage

The Littlest Revue (1959), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960), Rattle of a Simple Man (1963), High Spirits (1964), The Only Game in Town (1968), Private Lives (revival) (1969), A Musical Jubilee (1975), California Suite (1976), Tartuffe (revival)(1977), Trick (1979), 42nd Street (1980), Sunset (1983), Orpheus Descending (revival) (1989), Wit & Wisdom (2003)

Here is the article in today’s New York Times:

Tammy Grimes, the Original ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown,’ Dies at 82

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Click on the title or the picture above to link to the full article.

We knew her so well—she was so charming and fun, and we will miss her so much.

Best regards,

Philip & Marilyn

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Playwrights

With the end of summer looming and a new school year and theatre season on the horizon, we thought we’d take a bit of a break and head down the coast to spend a bit of time with our daughter and granddaughters.

We started this Newsletter just over a few years ago and we have been very fortunate in our ever-increasing number of subscribers. But we also realize that many of you haven’t had time to go back and read all of our articles, and so we thought we’d share a few with you while we’re lounging away on the beach, watching our granddaughters play!

In this post, we revisit some of the great and phenomenal playwrights The Theatre Guild has worked with over the years…enjoy!

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

One of the fascinating aspects of The Theatre Guild is all of the wonderful playwrights we have worked with in our 95 years, such as:

George Bernard Shaw—possibly the greatest playwright of the century—had 14 plays produced by The Theatre Guild.

george bernard shaw

The Theatre Guild produced 9 of Eugene O’Neill’s plays.

Eugene O'Neill

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine starred in 25 plays on Broadway for The Guild over a 30 year period from 1925 to 1956.

Lunt and Fontanne 2

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote Oklahoma! at the suggestion of The Theatre Guild and collaborated with The Theatre Guild to create Carousel and Allegro.

rodgers and hammerstein

Of course, we can never forget Dore Schary—who wrote Sunrise At Campobello, which we produced and then later adapted to our current running play FDR, starring Ed Asner, which will be performing in Laguna Beach, CA in November, and Chicago in April 2015.

dore schary

These playwrights were so talented…

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To The Bard!

Dear Friends,

As April 23rd approaches, there are many celebrations for the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare’s life!  As a tribute, Channel 13 (aka PBS) is honoring his work!  He was such an instrumental and important person, both in terms of literature and theatre…and well, so many other things.

We at the Theatre Guild are so proud of our founder, Lawrence Langner, creating The American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, CT.  While it is currently not open, many lovely plays were showcased there—such as The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing, both starring Katharine Hepburn.  And my (Philip) mother played in As You Like It at Westport Playhouse—so one could say that Shakespeare runs deep in the family roots!

No writer is more celebrated than The Bard and if you need any reasons why, just check out some of the Shakespeare inspired and/or written shows Channel 13 will be presenting over the next 10 days!

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death is being observed throughout the world in April 2016 with celebrations of the great English playwright and poet (April 1564 – April 23, 1616) and his many works. THIRTEEN celebrates with the premiere of Shakespeare’s Tomb, a new documentary about Shakespeare’s final resting place in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and encores of favorite broadcasts. See the six installments of Season Two of Shakespeare Uncovered (Fridays beginning April 8) and three of Shakespeare’s history-based plays in the Great Performances series “The Hollow Crown” – Richard II and Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (April 22 & 23).

CHANNEL 13 Lineup:

Friday, April 22

  • 9-10 pm: Shakespeare Uncovered: Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall
  • 10-11 pm: Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo & Juliet with Joseph Fiennes
  • 1:30-2 am: Theater Talk: Professor James Shapiro on Shakespeare
  • 2-4:30 am: Great Performances: The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 1
  • 4:30-7 am: Great Performances: The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 2

Saturday, April 23

  • 1-4 pm: Great Performances: The Hollow Crown: Richard II
  • 4-5 pm: Shakespeare’s Tomb

Sunday, April 24

  • 4-5 am: Shakespeare Uncovered: Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall
  • 5-6 am: Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo & Juliet with Joseph Fiennes
  • 11:30-noon: Theater Talk: Professor James Shapiro on Shakespeare

 

Go to their website to learn more!

Best regards,

Philip & Marilyn

PS—for a bit of fun, PBS also has this quiz to see which Shakespeare character you are !

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The Kennedy Center

Dear Friends,

Today we want to tell you about the Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.–a GREAT U.S. theatre!

We have been thinking about the Kennedy Center since we saw President and Mrs. Obama attending a performance there recently.

We were very involved in opening the Kennedy Center because The Theatre Guild was designated as the subscription organization for the Kennedy Center theatre-goers to subscribe to each winter series of plays.

We began in 1971 and had a subscription audience of 15,000 members.  We remained at the Center for 15 years, and during that time we also presented some of our own plays there.

The Eisenhower Theatre is great for plays and musicals, with a seating capacity of 1,161!  It is a lovely theatre and one of the very best places to bring a play.

eisenhower theatre

It’s a wonderful historic theatre that has come into existence in our lifetime.  According to The Kennedy Center’s Archives:

Two months after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Congress designated the National Cultural Center (designed by Edward Durell Stone) as a “living memorial” to Kennedy, and authorized $23 million to help build what was now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Fundraising continued at a swift pace–with much help coming from the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers, who fanned out across the nation to attract private support and nations around the world began donating funds, building materials, and artworks to assist in the project’s completion. In December 1964, President Lyndon Johnson turned the first shovelful of earth at the Center’s construction site, using the same gold-plated spade that had been used in the groundbreaking ceremonies for both the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 and the Jefferson Memorial in 1938.

From its very beginnings, the Kennedy Center has represented a unique public/private partnership. As the nation’s living memorial to President Kennedy, the Center receives federal funding each year to pay for maintenance and operation of the building, a federal facility. However, the Center’s artistic programs and education initiatives are paid for almost entirely through ticket sales and gifts from individuals, corporations, and private foundations.

The Center made its public debut on September 8, 1971, with a gala opening performance featuring the world premiere of a Requiem mass honoring President Kennedy, a work commissioned from the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. The occasion enabled Washington to begin earning a reputation as a cultural hub as well as a political one; as The New York Times wrote in a front-page article the next morning, “The capital of this nation finally strode into the cultural age tonight with the spectacular opening of the $70 million [Kennedy Center]…a gigantic marble temple to music, dance, and drama on the Potomac’s edge.”

The Center’s presence also enabled Washington to become an international stage, hosting the American debuts of the Bolshoi Opera and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, as well as the first-ever U.S. performances by Italy’s legendary La Scala opera company.

To read and learn more about the Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts, visit their website.

 

 

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Green Grow The Lilacs

Dear Friends,

As we have been reminiscing during this holiday season about our childhood and things that we loved, we remembered a favorite song–Green Grow the Lilacs.

Green grow the lilacs, all sparkling with dew

I’m lonely my darling since parting with you

And by the next meeting, I hope to prove true

To exchange the green lilacs for the red, white, and blue!

It was an Irish folk song that was made popular in the United States during the 19th century. Mexican soldiers during the Mexican-American War misheard the American soldiers singing “Green Grow” and started calling our soldiers “gringos!”

Later on, it was turned into a play of the same name by Lynn Riggs. The Theatre Guild produced it on Broadway in 1931, starring Franchot Tone, June Walker, and Tex Ritter. The Theatre Guild then decided to make it into a musical, and engaged Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to write it. Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943 and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances! Out of the 128 plays The Guild produced on Broadway, it became its greatest hit!

But of course, Green Grow the Lilacs started it all and we were able to find a wonderful YouTube video of the song sung by Tex Ritter (ahhh, the marvels of the internet!).

Enjoy and Happy New Year!
Philip & Marilyn

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The Independence of Slaves

Dear Friends,

As we were discussing the impact that John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands had on the independent film industry in our last post, we would like to share our own experiences in the film industry.   The Theatre Guild has produced 5 films over the years:

  • The Pawnbroker
  • Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Born To Win
  • Slaves
  • A Child Is Waiting

Additionally, our dear partner Marilyn Clark Langner had roles in several of Cassavetes’ films—Shadows and Husbands—and even one of our own independent productions, Slaves, which we produced in 1969, starring Dionne Warwick (in her debut role), Ossie Davis, and Stephen Boyd.  It told the story of two slaves in South Carolina.

marilyn slaves

Marilyn Clark Langner riding in Shreveport, Louisiana on the set of Slaves. You may note that she is riding side-saddle, as ladies did back then.  Marilyn spent months going to Westchester, where she took side-saddle riding lessons.

It was definitely a family affair, as our two small daughters were also in the film.

HOW WE MADE OUR INDEPENDENT FILM SLAVES:

It was 1969, and we were encouraged and emboldened by John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands independent movie adventures.  We read this wonderful movie script by Herbert Biberman, John O. Killens, and Alida Sherman; it was about life for slaves before the Civil War.  We knew that no studio would want to make such an informative and serious film about this subject matter.  But we felt compelled to make it, so we went around asking for support ($750,000) from our kind supporters and received a $500,000 investment a film distribution company in New York.

On a winter day in 1969 we bought a limousine from upstate New York and brought it down to New York City.  Several weeks later, we hired our production workers (3 or 4) and they drove the limo to Shreveport, LA.  There we had contracted a lovely gentleman who owned a 1860s style plantation and farm, who permitted us to shoot the film on his land.

We had hired Dionne Warwick, who played Cassy (the leading actress), in her debut role and Ossie Davis played Luke, the male lead.  We engaged Stephen Boyd to play the slave owner and our dear Marilyn played his wife.  Herbert Biberman was the director.

We all met in Shreveport, LA and there we had a rehearsal hall to prepare the actors for their roles in the film.  All of this was very exciting.  We had a number of casting calls for local women to play in the film.  We were very worried that the residents of Shreveport would be, perhaps, angry and unwilling to participate in a movie showing the life of slaves.  Happily, everyone wanted to be in the movie–we think that was more important than its political view–so we had a full cast of our film and stage actors supplemented by Shreveport residents.

We shot the film in 8 weeks and sent the films we shot to Hollywood to be developed, printed, and edited.  Our director, of course, supervised the editing.  We found an independent distributor, which was not easy because the major film companies were not available for this project.  The film was released in 1972.  It won awards in Europe.  Marilyn and I traveled to the Paris and Berlin film festivals.

We are very proud of this movie and are working hard to have it re-released soon—and we owe our thanks and gratitude to Gena and John for helping pave the way!

We think this is exciting: our film Slaves is available to be watched on either Amazon Prime or Netflix (just click on the orange link)!

 

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The Lift of a Lifetime!

The events at the Theatre Guild leading up to the arrival of Oklahoma! on Broadway are quite interesting, and as always with the theatre: precarious!

While Oklahoma!  was in the creation mode, Broadway theatre was in huge difficulty as a result of the Great Depression.  Needless to say, no matter how much people wanted to go to the theatre, in the 1930s they didn’t have the money to do it.  And in the 1940s the war came along and made theatre-going feel like a frivolous thing to do when so much destruction was occurring around the world.

The mid 1930s brought a series of mistaken choices in the plays the Theatre Guild produced.  Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who had done 20 plays with the Theatre Guild, decided to part ways and join Noel Cowart in a partnership.  The Guild was in serious debt, but fortunately was rescued by producing Philip Barry’s play, The Philadelphia Story with Katherine Hepburn in the lead.

It helped the Guild through the end of the 30s.  However, with the war the mood at the Guild fell into a low ebb and only received “a lift of a lifetime” when they produced Oklahoma! in March 1943.

Oklahoma-Playbill-03-43

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Oklahoma!

Seventy two years ago, the first performance of Oklahoma! opened on Broadway (March 31, 1943—if you’re struggling with the math!).

It was such an amazing feat for musical theatre and was the first of a long line of amazing collaborations between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II.

In honor of the anniversary of this magnificent opening, we thought we’d share some of our wonderful memories about the momentous play, starting by sharing this photo from our archives of a commemorative (for the 50th Anniversary!) song book.

oklahoma!

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GREAT NEWS!

GREAT NEWS!

Remember the Stratford Shakespeare Festival project we have been discussing over the last few months?

Well, it happened!  On Thursday night, March 5th, the Stratford council voted in favor of renovating and bringing back the festival

I know that my father, Lawrence (founder of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival), is looking down and so very happy right at this moment.

As his son, I’m so very grateful that I was part of this process to see the Festival restored and know that Shakespeare Theatre will continue in Stratford.

stratford 2

Here’s an article from today’s Stratford Star:

Council Picks Stratford Stage Group for Shakespeare Plans

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