Barker, Margaret, 1908-1992

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Actress, director, writer and producer, Margaret Taylor Baker was born in Baltimore, Md. October 10, 1908, to the physician Dr. Llewellys Franklin Barker and his wife Lillian.

"Beany," as she was nicknamed, attended the Calvert and Bryn Mawr Schools in Baltimore and then Bryn Mawr College for two years. After her Broadway debut in 1928, she pursued an acting career that spanned five and a half decades and included founding membership in the Group Theatre (1931), work with the Southampton Playhouse (1938), Hilltop Theatre (1941), ANTA Experimental Theatre (1947-1949), Williamstown Theatre Festival (ca. 1959-1967), Manhattan Theatre Club (1977), New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre Company (1981) and the Eugene O'Neill Center in New London, Conn (1982) along with many others. She also acted in numerous live television dramas in the early 1950s and later appeared in a number of soap operas. Ms. Barker was also involved as a director and producer throughout her entire theatrical life and in 1938 she founded the Studio Workshop Theatre with the dancer Felicia Sorel and actor and teacher Frank Westbrook. This school lasted until 1941. Her writings include plays, short stories, poetry and non-fiction pieces. A few of her plays were produced, though none achieved any public success.

Barker's drinking, which had been a problem at least as early as 1941, lead to her involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1950s, which, in turn, lead to her three decade long association with the Analytical Psychology Club of New York. She also wrote articles for the Analytical Psychology Club Bulletin and directed several of their holiday programs. Margaret Barker died of lung cancer at the age of 83 in 1992.

From the description of Margaret Barker papers, ca. 1800-1989 (bulk 1930-1989). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122596214

Actress, director, writer, and producer, Margaret Taylor Barker was born in Baltimore, Maryland on October 10, 1908. The daughter of a prominent physician, Dr. Lewellys Franklin Barker, and Lillian Halsey Barker, she had two siblings, John H. Barker, who was institutionalized after a disease left him mentally retarded, and William “Halsey” Barker, who became a physician.

“Beany,” as she was nicknamed, attended the Calvert and Bryn Mawr Schools in Baltimore. Her classmates at the Bryn Mawr School included Mildred Natwick and Eleanor Phelps. Ms. Barker attended Bryn Mawr College for two years, where her Dramatic Club contemporaries included Katharine Hepburn. Ms. Barker made her debut at the Bachelor’s Cotillion in Baltimore in 1926.

Margaret Barker made her Broadway debut in The Age of Innocence, starring Katharine Cornell in 1928. She performed in George Cukor’s company in Rochester, New York in 1929 and went on to train and perform at Jessie Bonstelle’s Detroit Civic Theatre for forty-two weeks in such plays as Oscar Wilde’s Salome and Ten Nights in a Barroom . 1930 saw her return to Broadway where she was an understudy in Arthur Hopkins’s production of So This Is New York . Ms. Barker then landed the role of Henrietta Moulton Barrett in the Katharine Cornell production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier.

After six months, she left The Barretts of Wimpole Street to become a founding member of the Group Theatre in 1931. Ms. Barker appeared in four of the Group’s productions: The House of Connelly by Paul Green (1931), Men in White by Sidney Kingsley (1933), Till the Day I Die by Clifford Odets (1935), Gold Eagle Guy by Melvin Levy (1934), and The Case of Clyde Griffiths by Erwin Piscator and Lena Goldschmidt (1936). Other appearances while a Group Theatre member included Black Diamond by Stanley Kimmel at the Provincetown Playhouse (1933), Hilda Cassidy by Henry and Sylvia Lieferant at the Martin Beck Theatre (1933), and Weep for the Virgins by Nellise Child at the Forty-Sixth St. Theatre (1935). In the Group’s early years, Ms. Barker received love letters from Alan Baxter and Clifford Odets. She traveled to Russia in the spring of 1937, with a tour led by Norris Houghton, and returned to New York to learn that the Group Theatre had reorganized and that she had been dismissed.

Faced with the need to find employment, she performed in summer stock and directed the Summer Apprentice Program at the Southampton Playhouse in 1938. With dancer Felicia Sorel and actor and teacher Frank Westbrook, Ms. Barker started the Studio Workshop Theatre in New York City in 1938. It lasted until 1941. Among her students was Jerome Robbins. Around 1940, Margaret Barker toured playing in the role of Alice Fordyce in The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Taylor Holmes.

She returned to Baltimore in the summer of 1941 to perform with and direct the apprentice program for the Hilltop Theatre in Ellicott City, Maryland. Plays at the Hilltop Theatre included Love from a Stranger by Frank Vosper, Divorçons by Victorien Sardou and Emile de Najac, Biography by S.N. Behrman, The Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand, and Private Lives by Noel Coward.

Letters from Ms. Barker’s mother indicate that Margaret Barker planned to marry actor and director, Alexander (“Billy”) Kirkland in 1942, but the marriage did not take place. As part of the war effort, she applied to the WAVES and was accepted in 1943. However, she was dismissed shortly after joining because of a drinking problem. She was sent to a sanitorium for eighteen months. Ms. Barker then worked at the Bendix Radio Factory in Baltimore for the duration of World War II.

She returned to New York in 1946 and worked at the ANTA Experimental Theatre with Robert Schnitzer from approximately 1947 to1949. She performed in The Wanhope Building by John Finch in 1947. In 1949, Ms. Barker directed the ANTA production of Iris Tree’s play Cock-a-Doodle-Doo at the Lenox Hill Playhouse. Among the cast members were Charlton Heston, Darren McGavin, and Margaret Feury.

Also in 1947, Ms. Barker performed the role of Arabella in the last cross-country tour of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. The cast included Tony Randall, Anne Jackson and Maureen Stapleton. With Helen Thompson, Ms. Barker produced a summer season, including All the Way Home by Lynn Riggs at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Jutland, New Jersey in the summer of 1948.

Ms. Barker’s other Broadway appearances included The Leading Lady written by and starring Ruth Gordon (1948), The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (1950), Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden (1951) See the Jaguar by N. Richard Nash, with James Dean (1952), and The Ladies of the Corridor by Dorothy Parker and Arnold D’Usseau, directed by Harold Clurman (1953).

She performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for approximately ten summers from the late 1950s to the 1960s in such plays as After the Fall by Arthur Miller (1965), Becket by Jean Anouilh (1961) The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge (1960), A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee (1967), Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen (1967), The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov (1965), and Our Town (1959), with playwright Thornton Wilder as the Stage Manager.

Early live television appearances include programs such as Danger, Camera Three, Crime Syndicated, and Philco Television Playhouse in the 1950s. Ms. Barker also appeared in soap operas such as Another World for over a year, The Doctors, Edge of Night and Love of Life. She also appeared in several films including Lost Boundaries (1949), Power (1986), and Fathers and Sons (1992).

In 1954, she studied with Cicely Berry at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. She also studied with Bobby Lewis in the early 1950’s and was coached in Shakespeare by Helen Hayes. Ms. Barker made numerous trips to Europe during her lifetime. She maintained a home in Fairfield Connecticut and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a house in Vers, France for an unknown number of years. Ms. Barker attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies in 1957 and in the late 1960s, she studied painting at the New School for Social Research with Minoru Kawabata.

Sometime in the 1950s, Ms. Barker became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and the Analytical Psychology Club of New York. She was also in analysis and kept a diary of her dreams in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Ms. Barker directed annual holiday programs for the APC and in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, she wrote a number of articles for the Analytical Psychology Club Bulletin, including a review of the film My Dinner with Andre . She also directed Maybelline, or, Everybody’s Shadow by Vernon E. Brooks, a marionette play (with additional dialogue by Ms. Barker), in 1960. For the Cosmopolitan Club of New York, of which she was a member, she also chaired the Drama Committee and presented numerous shows in the 1950s and 1960s. She directed a production of Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted in 1960 for the club.

Off-Broadway, she produced Color of Darkness: An Evening in the World of James Purdy, at the Writer’s Stage Theatre, where it opened on Sept. 27, 1963. The cast featured Doris Roberts and Eleanor Phelps. It closed after a brief run. Ms. Barker was associate producer for Stanley Mann’s one-act plays, Rooms, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1966. In 1973, with Shepperd Strudwick III, she translated the play L’Ete (Summer) by Romain Weingarten. It opened April 9, 1973 and it also closed quickly after poor notices.

Her writings include plays, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction pieces written mostly from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. The Unpossessed, a play she wrote with Mary Hamman and presented to the Group Theatre for consideration around 1936 was rejected. Ms. Barker also wrote a satirical skit for the Group that was performed at one of its summer sessions at Dover Furnace in 1932. Another of her plays, A Moonlit Dome, was performed at the Shirley Broughton Studio in New York City in 1962. William Francisco directed a cast that included Charles Kimbrough.

In later years, Ms. Barker appeared in plays such as The Wayside Motor Inn by A.R. Gurney at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II (1977), Close Ties by Elizabeth Diggs both at the Lexington Conservatory Theatre in Lexington, New York (1980) and at the Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II in New Haven for eighteen weeks in 1981, and Simon Gray’s adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. with Brian Bedford, Barnard Hughes, and Carole Shelley (1982).

She performed at Off-Off Broadway theatres such as Circle Repertory Company, The Mirror Theatre, New Dramatists, and Playwrights Horizons. She also performed at Eugene O’Neill Center in New London, Connecticut in the summers of 1980 and 1981. Ms. Barker also served on the board of Manhattan Punch Line from about 1979 to1982. Margaret Barker died of lung cancer at the age of 83 in 1992.

From the guide to the Margaret Barker papers, circa 1800-1989, 1930-1989, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Robert Benney research materials, 1926-1978 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Barker, Margaret, 1908-1992. Margaret Barker papers, ca. 1800-1989 (bulk 1930-1989). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Margaret Barker papers, circa 1800-1989, 1930-1989 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alcoholics Anonymous. corporateBody
associatedWith Analytical Psychology Club of New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Barker family family
associatedWith Barker family. family
associatedWith Barker, Lewellys F. (Lewellys Franklin), 1867-1943. person
associatedWith Baxter, Alan, 1908-1976. person
associatedWith Benney, Robert, 1904-2001 person
associatedWith De Wilde, Brandon, 1942-1972. person
associatedWith Green, Paul, 1894-1981 person
associatedWith Group Theatre (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Halsey family family
associatedWith Halsey family. family
associatedWith Johns Hopkins Hospital. corporateBody
associatedWith Lemay, Harding. person
associatedWith Lortel, Lucille person
associatedWith Mall, Franklin P. (Franklin Paine), 1862-1917. person
associatedWith Odets, Clifford, 1906-1963. person
associatedWith Osler, William, Sir, 1849-1919. person
associatedWith Purdy, James person
associatedWith Purdy, James. person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald person
associatedWith Studio Workshop Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Weingarten, Romain. person
associatedWith Welch, William Henry, 1850-1934. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
United States
Physicians--United States
Acting--Study and teaching
Actresses--United States
Acting--Study and teaching--New York (State)--New York


Birth 1908-10-10

Death 1992-04-03



Ark ID: w6p2938z

SNAC ID: 19934418