Lortel, Lucille

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1900-12-16
Death 1999-04-04

Biographical notes:

Lucille Lortel (1900-1999) began her theatrical career as a performer, eventually turned producer, founded the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, acquired the Theatre dy Lys in Greenwich Village, and became a seminal force in the Off-Broadway movement.

Born Lucille Wadler in New York City on December 16, 1900, Lucille Lortel studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and with Arnold Korff in Europe. She had her first notable role in the Theatre Guild's production of Shaw's CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA with Helen Hayes in 1925. Among her motion pictures was the early talking film THE MAN WHO LAUGHED LAST (1929) opposite Sessue Hayakawa. Shortly after marrying wealthy industrialist Louis Schweitzer in 1931, Lortel retired from acting. In 1947, on the grounds of her Westport home, she established the White Barn Theatre, a summer theater which continues to operate. In 1955 Schweitzer purchased the Theatre de Lys for his wife, whose production of THE THREEPENNY OPERA ran there for almost seven years. In 1956 Lortel initiated the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) Matinee Series, which presented plays at her theater for twenty years. Lortel produced more than 500 shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, at the Library of Congress, at her White Barn Theatre, and elsewhere. The Theatre de Lys was renamed the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1981. Lucille Lortel died on April 4, 1999, at the age of 98.

From the description of Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122430810

Producer, theater owner, actress and benefactor, Lucille Lortel, was born Lucille Wadler in New York City on December 16, 1900. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she had her first notable role in the Theatre Guild's production of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Helen Hayes in 1925. Shortly after marrying the wealthy industrialist Louis Schweitzer in 1931, she retired from performing.

In 1947, on the grounds of her home in Westport, Connecticut, she began the White Barn Theatre, a summer theater which continues to the present day. Here she introduced experimental, less-commercial works, including the American premieres of plays by writers such as Sean O'Casey, Edward Albee, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Yukio Mishima, and Paul Zindel.

Her first Off-Broadway production was A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry at the St. James' Episcopal Church in New York City in 1951. In 1955, Miss Lortel's husband purchased the Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village for her, where her revival of The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht ran for almost 7 years. It was also at her Theatre de Lys, which was renamed the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1981, that she initiated the ANTA (American National Theatre and Academy) Matinee Series in 1956. For 20 seasons, she presented works selected on the basis of innovation and originality. In 1998, Miss Lortel created the Playwrights' Sidewalk, a walk of fame for playwrights, outside the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Lucille Lortel produced more than 500 shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, at the Library of Congress, at her White Barn Theatre and at other venues. Among the highlights of her productions are the Off-Broadway premiere of Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot, Sean O'Casey's Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, I Knock at the Door and Pictures in the Hallway, Jean Genet's The Balcony, Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods, Mbongeni Ngema's Woza Albert! and Sarafina!, Win Wells' Gertrude Stein and a Companion, Jane Anderson's The Baby Dance, and Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me . A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing was her last Broadway production. Because of her belief in the play, Miss Lortel also produced it at the Library of Congress, co-produced it in London and took it to Moscow in 1989.

She received numerous awards, including 5 Tony nominations, an Emmy award, honorary doctorates from the University of Bridgeport, Fairfield University, and the CUNY (City University of New York) Graduate School, where the Lucille Lortel Distinguished Professorial Chair in Theatre was the first theatrical chair named for a woman. In 1986, the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers established the annual Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway.

Her donations to many institutions and organizations included the Lucille Lortel Fund for New Drama at Yale University; the first play to be sponsored by this fund was August Wilson's Fences, which later won the Pulitzer Prize. Miss Lortel also endowed a playwriting fellowship in her name at Brown University. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' TOFT (Theatre on Film and Tape) room is also named for her.

Lucille Lortel died at the age of 98 after a brief illness on April 4, 1999. For additional biographical material, see Lucille Lortel: A Bio-Bibliography by Sam McCready (Greenwood Press, 1993).

1900Born in New York City on December 16 1921 Graduates from American Academy of Dramatic Arts 1924 Adopts the stage name Lucille Lortel 1925 Makes has her first notable role in the Theatre Guild's production of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra in May 1928Stars opposite Sessue Hayakawa in The Man Who Laughed at the Palace Theatre in New York City 1929Reprises her role with Sessue Hayakawa in The Man Who Laughed Last, 1 of the first talking pictures 1931 Marries chemical engineer Louis Schweitzer 1947The White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut opens with a reading of Painted Wagon on July 27th 1951Co-produces Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners at the St. James' Episcopal Church in New York 1954Productions begin at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. 1955Acquires Theatre de Lys in New York City 1955Co-produces a revival of The Threepenny Opera at the Theatre de Lys 1956 Tony and Obie (Village Voice Off-Broadway Award) Awards given to The Threepenny Opera 1956 Begins the ANTA Matinee Series at the Theatre de Lys in May 1957Co-produces Charles Morgan's The River Line at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse in New York in January 1957Co-produces her first Broadway production, Sean O'Casey's I Knock at the Door, at the Belasco Theatre in New York City in May 1960Co-produces Genet's The Balcony at the Circle in the Square in New York in March 1960 "Obie" awarded to The Balcony 1962 Receives the first Margo Jones Award on February 18 1962Given the honorary title "The Queen of Off-Broadway" by Washington Post theater critic, Richard L. Coe 1964Co-produces American premiere of Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot at the Cricket Theatre in New York in March 1971 Death of her husband, Louis Schweitzer on September 19th 1973Associate producer of the revival of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire at the St. James' Theatre in New York in October 1975Conclusion of ANTA Matinee Series. Honored by the City of New York on the 20th anniversary of her acquisition of the Theatre de Lys on December 1st 1977 Begins the sponsorship of the Senior Concert Orchestra's Annual Concert in honor of her brother, the violinist Waldo Mayo 1980 Actors' Fund Benefit celebrating the 25th anniversary of Theatre de Lys in September 1981 Lucille Lortel Theatre Gallery opens in the Museum of the City of New York in April 1981 The Theatre de Lys becomes the Lucille Lortel Theatre in November 1983 Co-produces Lanford Wilson's Angels Fall at the Longacre Theatre in New York and the play receives a Tony nomination 1983 Co-produces the premiere of the Samuel Beckett trilogy: Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe, and What Where at the Harold Clurman Theatre in New York in June 1983Tony nomination for Angels Fall 1985 Presented with the Lee Strasberg Lifetime Achievement in Theatre Award in April 1985 Co-produces William M. Hoffman's As Is, which is nominated for a Tony in May 1985 Establishes the Lucille Lortel Fund for New Drama at Yale University in May 1985 Awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut in May 1985 Lucille Lortel Theatre Library Wing dedicated at the Westport Public Library, Connecticut in July 1985 Receives the "Players Salute" at The Players Club on November 24th 1985 Co-produces Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, which is nominated for a Tony in December 1986 The League of Off-Broadway Theatres establishes the Lucille Lortel Annual Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway in her honor in April 1986 Receives the George M. Cohan Award from the Actors' Guild of America in May 1987 Awarded honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Fairfield University, Connecticut in May 1987 Recipient of the Connecticut Arts Award on June 19th 1988 Awarded an Emmy for the l987 televised production of Gertrude Stein and a Companion 1988 Co-produces Mbongeni Ngema's Sarafina! at the Cort Theatre in New York and play receives Tony nomination in January 1988 Co-produces Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods at the Booth Theatre in New York and play receives a Tony nomination 1989 The Lucille Lortel Distinguished Professorial Chair in Theatre inaugurated at the City University of New York in April 1989 Inducted into The Players Club in New York in April 1990 Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in January 1990 Given the Actors' Fund Medal in April 1990 Opening of the Lucille Lortel Room of the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in November 1991 Co-produces Jane Anderson's The Baby Dance at the Lucille Lortel Theatre 1992 Receives the Christopher Lifetime Achievement Award 1992 First recipient of the Sean O'Casey Award in June 1992 The White Barn Theatre Museum inaugurated with a dedication and exhibition: A Celebration of Sean O'Casey in September 1992 The first annual Lucille Lortel Graduate Reading Series commences at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in October 1992 Co-produces Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me at the Lucille Lortel Theatre 1993 Receives honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from CUNY 1993 Publication of Lucille Lortel: A Bio-Bibliography by Sam McCready 1995 Co-produces Mrs. Klein at the Lucille Lortel Theatre 1996 Inauguration of the Lucille Lortel Fellowship in Playwriting at Brown University in April 1996 Awarded the Helen Hayes Award at the 14th Annual Helen Hayes Awards Gala at St. Clare's Hospital in November 1996 Recipient of the Erwin Piscator Award 1997 Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the White Barn Theatre in August 1997 Receives the League of Professional Theatre Women/NY's Lifetime Award in October 1998 Dedication and celebration of the Playwrights' Sidewalk on October 26th 1999Lucille Lortel dies on April 4th

From the guide to the Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Off--Broadway theater
  • Theater--New York (State)--New York--History--20th century
  • Theatrical producers and directors
  • Theater
  • Theater--New York (State)--New York
  • Theater--History--20th century

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  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)