I was saddened to learn just now that Helen Guditis, director and founder of the Theatre Museum, passed away on Monday, finally succumbing to the cancer that had been wracking her body for the last couple of years.
Helen was a lovely person who did me too many kindnesses to count. We first met almost a decade ago when she came to the New-York Historical Society (where I then worked) with a proposal for a joint project with her organization, then known as the Broadway Theatre Institute. We met up again in 2005, when she was instrumental in helping launch my book No Applause with a special event/ fundraiser at the Palace Theatre. After this, we seemed to collaborate every couple of years. In 2007 she included me as a collaborator on her exhibition and panel series Showboat ‘Round The Bend; ditto 2009 in Brooklyn Sees Stars; in 2011, I got to present the Theatre Museum’s annual award to Frank Cullen of the American Vaudeville Museum. And there were plans afoot for the future.
There was a sweetness and gentleness to Helen that was deceptive. I always marveled at how this nice, quiet Midwestern lady with the wide-eyed demeanor of a grammar school teacher could recruit, motivate and wrangle these large number of volunteers (her only staff) and get them to do her bidding. The answers were twofold: 1) they shared her goals, and 2) Helen was pretty damn lovable.
I’d known about her illness, but assumed it was still in remission because I hadn’t heard about it from her in some time. Typically, though we were communicating, and I always asked “How are you?” (a loaded question) she avoided the subject. We spoke as recently as November 16, and not a peep.
Helen had a terrific dream, one that I share, which is what drew me to her little not-for-profit in the first place. She hoped to create a permanent museum exhibition, ideally in the Times Square area, dedicated to teaching the public about New York’s (hence the nation’s) theatre history. Though Helen has passed, that dream of hers will not. Thanks, Helen, for all the important work that you did. I miss you already.