Today is the birthday of Lucille Lortel (Lucille Wadler, 1900-1999). New Yorkers are the only ones who know her name, so New Yorkers are the only ones this morning going “Wha-? Lucille Lortel in vaudeville? The devil you say!” Well, maybe no one is doing that.
New Yorkers know Lortel because of the important off-Broadway theatre that still bears her name, purchased for her in 1955 by her husband, where she produced countless important productions for decades. Before this, starting in 1947, she had owned and operated the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut. Before this, starting in 1939, she was a retired actress (retired at the behest of her husband, industrialist Louis Schweitzer.
And before THIS, she was an actress, who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and with Max Reinhardt. Her Broadway debut was in the Theatre Guild’s 1925 production of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra. AND (drum roll) in 1928 and 1929, she toured big time vaudeville with Sessue Hayakawa in a one-act play called The Man Who Laughs (a.k.a The Man Who Laughs Last). There you have it!
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
I was very fortunate to know Lucille for the last 10 or so years of her life, and I performed in shows both at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the village and at the White Barn on the grounds of her estate. Even at her advanced age, she was an energetic, love-of-theatre-and-theatre-people person who would loudly exclaim in front of others (about me) “YOU’RE my favorite!” And damn, she was certainly one of MY favorites, too. One of the last traces of that legendary period of theatre, of silent film, of the theatrical life (which she helped to create) of the 1920s – to, well, even to this day, years after her death. Quite a woman, quite a person, quite a creature of the theatre.
lovely! Thanks for writing, Les!
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