Whitehead, Robert, 1916-2002

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Biographical Note

Robert Whitehead (1916-2002) was an American theatrical director and producer. Born March 3, 1916 in Montreal, Whitehead was the son of William Thomas Whitehead, an owner of textile mills, and Lena Mary Labatt Whitehead, an opera singer. He grew up in Montreal and attended college at Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario.

After graduation, Whitehead worked briefly as a commercial photographer before moving to New York City to pursue work in the theater. He studied acting at the New York School of Theatre and in 1936, made his New York debut in the play Night Must Fall . Whitehead then joined the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia and assumed many roles, including acting, stage managing, and building sets.

From 1942 to 1945, Whitehead served in World War II as an ambulance driver in North Africa, Italy, and India. Upon his return from the war, he abandoned acting in favor of producing. His first production was Robinson Jeffers' Medea starring Australian actress Judith Anderson and Shakespearean actor John Gielgud. Its success earned Whitehead a reputation as someone who could produce financially successful works with artistic merit. He would later direct the 1982 revival of Medea starring his wife, Zoe Caldwell (whom he married in 1968) in the title role and Judith Anderson as the Nurse.

Whitehead's career as a producer spanned over 50 years. Among his most successful productions were The Member of the Wedding (1950), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), A Matter of Gravity (1975), The West Side Waltz (1981), Lillian (1986), A Few Good Men (1989), and Master Class (1996). In 1960, Whitehead and Elia Kazan were asked to head the first Lincoln Center theater company. By 1964, the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater was established and opened its first season with After the Fall, written by Arthur Miller and starring Jason Robards. Kazan and Whitehead left the company that year amid controversies involving conflicts with the board of directors.

Whitehead had a longstanding relationship with Arthur Miller and produced many of his later plays. He won a Tony Award in 1984 for his restaging of Death of a Salesman starring Dustin Hoffman. Other playwrights with whom Whitehead worked closely included Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Jean Anouilh, and Robert Bolt. Whitehead was often an integral part of the creative process as well, revising scripts, making casting decisions and promoting plays once they had opened.

Whitehead won six Tony Awards, including a 1996 best play honor for his production of Master Class starring Zoe Caldwell. In 2002, just weeks before his death, Whitehead received a Special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award celebrating his more than 60 years in the theater. He died of cancer at age 86 on June 15, 2002 at his home in Pound Ridge, New York.

From the guide to the Robert Whitehead Papers, 1947-2002, (bulk 1950-1996), (Music Division Library of Congress)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Gilbert Miller Collection, 1921-1967, (bulk 1932-1955) Library of Congress. Music Division
referencedIn Miller, Gilbert. Gilbert Miller collection, 1921-1967 (bulk 1932-1955). Library of Congress
referencedIn Cronyn, Hume. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy papers, 1885-2007 (bulk 1935-2000). Library of Congress
referencedIn Barry Hyams papers, 1947-1963 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy Papers, 1885-2007, (bulk 1935-2000) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Robert Whitehead Papers, 1947-2002, (bulk 1950-1996) Library of Congress. Music Division
referencedIn Papers, 1912-1970 (inclusive), 1912-1954 (bulk). Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Atkinson, Brooks, 1894-1984 person
correspondedWith Caldwell, Zoe person
correspondedWith Clurman, Harold, 1901-1980 person
correspondedWith Cronyn, Hume. person
correspondedWith Cronyn, Hume Blake, 1864-1933 person
associatedWith Dramatists Guild. corporateBody
associatedWith Hyams, Barry, 1911-1989 person
correspondedWith Inge, William person
correspondedWith Komisarjevsky, Theodore, 1882-1954 person
associatedWith Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005 person
associatedWith Miller, Gilbert. person
correspondedWith Plummer, Christopher person
correspondedWith Prince, Harold, 1928- person
associatedWith Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. corporateBody
associatedWith Stevens, Roger L. person
correspondedWith Tandy, Jessica. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy papers. 1885-1994 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Theatrical producers and directors
Performing arts--United States
Theater--Study and teaching
Theater--Production and direction--United States
Theatrical companies--United States
Drama--20th century
Theater--United States
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1916-03-13

Death 2002-06-15

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