Serlin, Oscar, 1901-1971

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Oscar Selin was born on January 30, 1901 in Russian Poland. In 1910 Selin's family immigrated to Chicago. Serlin faced a certain amount of bullying because of his heavy accent during his childhood, but he eventually overcame this obstacle and attended De Paul Academy and De Paul University, where he was a football star.

An interest in theater brought Serlin to New York, where he worked for producer Marion Gering on the 1928 production Skidding. All but forgotten today, this play introduced the Hardy family, which would be the subject of a hugely popular film series starring Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone. Gering and Serlin's next production, Broken Dishes (1929) featured a young actress on the brink of movie mega-stardom, Bette Davis.

Serlin himself also went to Hollywood in the early 1930s, along with the influx of stage writers and actors that the advent of talking pictures demanded. While working as a talent scout, publicist and associate producer for David O'Selznick, Serlin was one of a five man casting committee for the highly anticipated film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Serlin and his colleagues conducted multiple surveys to get opinions from Hollywood experts on which actors should be cast in the film, not just for the roles of Scarlett and Rhett, but also a dozen other characters.

Back in New York, in 1939, Serlin hit the jackpot with his production of Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's play, Life with Father, based on the autobiographical stories of Clarence Day. Playwright Howard Lindsay also originated the title role, opposite his wife, Dorothy Stickney. The play, a charming and gently humorous portrait of domestic life in 1890s New York sparked with New York audiences. Coming off the Great Depression, with the rumblings of another World War coming from Europe, this piece of nostalgic Americana was exactly what the public needed.

Life with Father surpassed Tobacco Road's record for longest running production of Broadway. In the subsequent years, Life with Father's eight-year, 3224 performance run has been overtaken by several musicals, but it remains the longest running play. It toured the country in multiple companies, and was also produced in London and adapted for radio, film and television. During its run, Serlin opened and closed four other productions, The Moon is Down (1942), Strip for Action (1942), The Family (1943) and Beggars Are Coming to Town (1945). These were all flops, but it didn't matter much to Serlin's finances. Life with Father had made him a millionaire.

His final venture was the sequel, Life with Mother, again written by Linday and Crouse and starring Lindsay and Stickney. It was only a modest success at 262 performances. After this Serlin retired from active producing, but continued to be involved with the theatre community, taking an acting role as an administrator for the Dramatists' Guild and ANTA.

Oscar Serlin was married to Jane Fortune with whom he had two children, Michael and Dorothy. He was later married to Babbette "Bobbi" Block, with whom he had one son, Anthony. Oscar Serlin died in New York City on February 27, 1971.

From the guide to the Oscar Serlin papers, 1890s-1960s, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Oscar Serlin papers, 1890s-1960s The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Serlin, Oscar, 1901-1971. Oscar Serlin papers, 1930-1958. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. The moon is down, a play in 3 acts : carbon typescript, producer's copy, 1942. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Crouse, Russell, 1893-1966. person
associatedWith Lindsay, Howard, 1889-1968. person
associatedWith Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States--New York (N.Y.)
New York (State)--New York
Subject
Theater--Production and direction--New York (State)--New York
Film--Production and direction
Theater--Production and direction
Theater--Reviews
Occupation
Theatrical producers and directors--United States--New York (N.Y.)
Function

Person

Birth 1901-01-30

Death 1971-02-21

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