Timothy James Curry was born in Grappenhall, England, in 1946. He graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in English and Drama. While in the West End production of “Hair” in 1968 he met Richard O’Brien, who would be instrumental in changing Curry’s fate. O’Brien created “The Rocky Horror Show” and cast Curry in the role of Dr. Frankenfurter, a mad scientist and transsexual. He played the role at London’s Royal Court before bringing the musical satire to Broadway. “The Rocky Horror” show was not a hit on Broadway playing just 45 performances. But later in 1975 a film version was released with Curry repeating the role. Although it was marginalized to midnight screenings, it was there that it found its fame, and 40 years later it is still being shown late nights in cinemas worldwide. Curry did get recognized with a Drama Desk nomination for the show and that led to his being cast in his second Broadway role in Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” which won the 1976 Tony for Best Play. He began doing film and television in 1968 and has continued to do so throughout his career, playing Rooster Hannigan in “Annie” in 1982 and Wadsworth the Butler in “Clue” in 1985. In 1980 he returned to Broadway as Mozart in “Amadeus” opposite Ian McKellen. He was nominated for a Tony, but ironically lost it to his co-star, who played his arch rival Salieri on stage. Back in Britain, he stepped into the shoes of Kevin Kline, playing the Pirate King in Joe Papp’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” He remained in London and Hollywood for more than a decade, before coming back to the Great White Way in “My Favorite Year” playing the role of Alan Swann (played by Peter O’Toole in the film version). He was nominated for his second Tony for the part. Another dozen years passed before he created the role of King Arthur in Monty Python’s “Spamalot” which brought him yet a third Tony nod, still with no award. Since then he has continued to do TV and film, specializing in voice work such as the upcoming animated film “Ribbit.” In May 2013 Curry suffered a stroke and has been doing physical therapy toward recovery.
“I’m not a conventional leading man at all and have no wish to be.” ~ Tim Curry
James Malachi Rennie was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1890. The son of a Mormon minister, he was involved in plays at an early age. During World War I he enlisted in the Canadian military and also performed for the soldiers. After the War was over, he headed to Hollywood to act in motion pictures. His first Broadway credit was in 1919 with “Moonlight and Honeysuckle” starring Ruth Chatterton. His first film was released in December of 1920, “Remodeling Her Husband” with Dorothy Gish. After filming the silent feature, the two were married. They remained so until 1935. During the 1920’s he divided his time between New York and Hollywood appearing in 14 films and just as many Broadway plays. In 1926 he played the title role in the stage version of “The Great Gatsby.” From February of 1930 to December 1939, Rennie appeared in a dozen more Broadway shows, including “Murder at the Vanities” in 1933. In 1939 he remarried to Sarah Eldon McConnell, a studio extra. Perhaps his most famous film role was Frank McIntyre in “Now Voyager” (1942) starring Bette Davis. In the 1940’s he only appeared on the Great White Way twice; in “Russian Bank” a large-cast failure in 1940 and “One-Man Show” in 1942, which actually had a cast of eight! His final film was an un-credited appearance in the wartime drama “Bell of Adano” (1945) starring Gene Tierney and William Bendix. Back on Broadway, in 1951 he was a replacement for Howard Lindsay in Lindsday’s own play “Remains To Be Seen” starring Jackie Cooper and Janis Paige. His final appearance on Broadway (the last of his 30 credits on the Rialto) was the comedy “Four Winds” which ran three weeks at the Cort. Rennie died of heart failure in New York City at the age of 75.
Thornton Niven Wilder was born in Madison, WI, in 1897. His father was a newspaper editor and many of his siblings became writers. He started writing plays in grade school. After a stint in the army he attended Oberlin University before getting a degree at Yale. He earned a Masters from Princeton. He taught French in Lawrenceville NJ and was awarded her first Pulitzer Price in 1928 for his second novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” His first play on Broadway was “The Trumpet Shall Sound” in 1926. His follow-up was a translation of “Lucrece” (1932) produced and directed by the husband and wife team of Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic. Late in 1937 he adapted Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” produced and directed by Jed Harris and starring Ruth Gordon. In 1938 he created his masterpiece, “Our Town,” a play that has been revived on Broadway four times (1944, 1969, 1988, and 2002) and also was filmed and televised. It is produced worldwide in theaters large and small to this day. He even played the Stage Manager for a time, several months into the original run. The play won him his second Pulitzer, this time for Drama. Later in 1938 Broadway also saw his play “The Merchant of Yonkers,” the story of a matchmaker named Dolly Levi and her relationship with dry goods merchant Horace Vandergelder. The play was not a success, lasting just 39 performances at the Guild Theatre. He re-wrote the play in 1955 and re-titled it “The Matchmaker.” David Merrick produced and Tyrone Guthrie directed. Ruth Gordon again starred and this time the play was a success racking up 486 total performances. It was filmed as well, before serving as the inspiration for 1964’s musical hit “Hello, Dolly!” also produced by Merrick. This, too, was made into a motion picture starring Barbra Streisand as the title matchmaker. In 1942 Wilder earned his second Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Although not quite as popular as “Our Town” today (due to its unwieldy production requirements), it is still often produced. It was revived on Broadway in 1955 and 1975. In 1948 the Cort Theatre hosted a pairing of two Wilder one-acts: “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden” and “The Respectful Prostitute.” “The Happy Journey” capitalized on the format that made “Our Town” such a success a decade earlier: a stage manager as narrator and no scenery. Eerily enough, Wilder died in December 1975 just after a revival of “The Skin of Our Teeth” had closed and a revival of “Hello, Dolly!” was still playing. Capitalizing on Wilder’s large catalog of one-act plays, the Willow Cabin Theater Company brought their evening of Wilder one-acts titled “Wilder, Wilder, Wilder” to Broadway in 1993. In addition to the aforementioned “Happy Journey” the evening included “The Long Christmas Dinner” and “Pullman Car Hiawatha.” His last novel, “Theophilus North,” was published in 1973, and made into the film “Mr. North” in 1988.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ~ Thornton Wilder
Kelli O’Hara was born in Oklahoma in 1976. After high school she attended Oklahoma City University graduating with a BA in vocal performance. She made her Broadway debut as a replacement and understudy in “Jekyll & Hyde” in 2000. She can be seen in the ensemble when it was made into a TV movie that is available on DVD. The following year she did similar chores eventually playing Young Sally in the 2001 revival of Sondheim’s “Follies.” In 2002 she originated the role of Susan in the short-lived “Sweet Smell of Success,” also doing the show’s cast recording. She played Lucy in “Dracula, The Musical” in 2004. The elaborate show ran for only 157 performances. O’Hara really came into her own as Clara in Lincoln Center Theatre’s “The Light in the Piazza.” She earned a Tony nomination for her role. The following year she played Babe Williams opposite Harry Connick Jr. in a revival of “The Pajama Game” which ran 129 performances for Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre, earning her a second Tony nod. After that she made her feature film debut in “The Dying Gaul,” an adaptation of a Craig Lucas stage play. Staying with non-profit theatres, she returned to Lincoln Center to play Nellie Forbush in a revival of “South Pacific” earning yet another Tony nomination. She also appeared in the show when it was broadcast on PBS’s “Great Performances” in 2010. She originated the role of Billie Bendix in the new Gershwin musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in 2010, earning yet a fourth Tony nomination – but still not winning. O’Hara is currently appearing on the Great White Way in the musical “Bridges of Madison County.” In addition to recordings of her Broadway successes, she can also be heard on the album for off-Broadway’s “My Life With Albertine” and her own debut solo album “Way of the World.” She is married to James Naughton with whom she has two children.
“By no means, I can’t sing any rock and roll.” ~ Kelli O’Hara
with Matthew Morrison in “The Light in the Piazza”
Hans Georg Conried, Jr., was born in Baltimore, MD, in 1917. He is descended from the Mayflower on his mother’s side and is Austrian on his father’s. He attended Columbia University. He first worked in radio before making his first motion picture in 1938. He made more than 30 movies (many times un-credited) before he enlisted in the Army in 1944. His first television appearance was in 1949. He was often a seen in guest roles on such shows as“I Love Lucy,” “The Red Skelton Hour” and (perhaps most memorably) as Uncle Tonoose on “The Danny Thomas Show.” His first Broadway role was in the Cole Porter musical “Can-Can” in 1953. It starred Gwen Verdon and was choreographed by Michael Kidd. His next appearance was in the Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse play with music “Tall Story” in 1959 co-starring John Astin. Conreid seemed to specialize in snooty professors and this was no exception. He made no Broadway appearances in the 1960’s but instead concentrated on his screen and voice work for animated films. In 1953 he had voiced the role of Captain Hook in Disney’s “Peter Pan” making him in demand for such work. He returned to the Great White Way in 1970 with the musical “70, Girls, 70” featuring a cast of mature performers like Mildred Natwick. Although it had a score by Kander and Ebb (“Cabaret”) it ran just 35 performances at the Broadhurst. Just a few years later he was in another musical, as a replacement for George S. Irving as Madame Lucy in “Irene” starring Debbie Reynolds. His last appearance on Broadway was in the one-night-wonder “Something Old, Something New” which opened and closed on New Year’s Day 1977. It’s closing also unemployed Holland Taylor and Molly Picon. Despite the disappointment, Conried continued to do films and TV until his passing on the fifth day of 1982. He was married to Margaret Grant from 1942 until his passing and had four children. He donated his body to medical science.
“You understand, of course, that a drama student at Columbia in 1935 thought of the movies as a business somewhat more like a sardine cannery than a branch of the theatrical arts.” ~ Hans Conried about Hollywood
Arthur John Gielgud was born in South Kensington, London, England, in 1904. He was sent to a Prep School in Surrey where he participated in the school plays and later was a student at Westminster School singing in their choir. At the age of 17 he attended drama school and shortly thereafter made his professional debut. From 1924 to 1928 he appeared in a variety of roles in London’s West End. In January 1928 he made his Broadway debut with a play called “The Patriot.” After that minor work he returned to England, first working with the Old Vic and then becoming a West End star in his own right. He returned to Broadway in 1936 playing the title role in “Hamlet” under the direction of Guthrie McClintic and starring opposite Lillian Gish and Judith Anderson. His “Hamlet” was a palpable hit playing 132 performances at two different venues. In 1938 he returned to Broadway as a director, staging the light comedy “Spring Meeting,” a play that he had done in the West End as well as on British television. In 1946 he imported his production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” which he had also starred in on the West End. It starred Margaret Rutherford as Lady Bracknell. She went on to do the 1954 film version as Miss Prism, with Michael Redgrave playing Gielgud’s role. 1947 was a busy year for Gielgud on The Great White Way. He starred in and directed both “Love for Love” and “Medea” and finished out the year acting in “Crime and Punishment.” Dividing his time between London and Hollywood during most of the 1950’s, he was only seen in “The Lady’s Not for Burning” (1950, also director), the solo play “Ages of Man” (1958) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (1958). He revived “Ages of Man” in 1963 as well as “Hamlet” in 1964, this time only directing and supplying the voice of Hamlet’s ghost. The production starred Richard Burton and was filmed for a special one-time movie theatre showing now available on DVD. In 1966 he also added writer to his credit by adapting and starring in Chekhov’s “Ivanov.” In the 1970’s he was seen in David Storey’s “Home” and was scheduled to direct the musical “Irene” starring Debbie Reynolds but was replaced during previews by Gower Champion. His final appearance on Broadway was in 1976’s “No Man’s Land” starring Ralph Richardson. In his later career he concentrated on film work, appearing in “Brideshead Revisited” and as Dudley Moore’s valet in “Arthur.” He was knighted in 1953. A theater on Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End is named after him.
“Acting is half shame, half glory. Shame at exhibiting yourself, glory when you can forget yourself.” ~ John Gielgud
Clive Selsby Revill was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1930. After graduating from university he tried his hand at accountancy but was wooed into a stage career after appearing in a production of “Twelfth Night” in 1950. He moved to England, where he appeared in a season of Shakespear in Stratford. Other roles quickly followed. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of “Mr. Pickwick” a play based on portions of Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers.” After this, he returned to Great Britain where he appeared in a variety of shows as well as making his feature film debut. He returned to Broadway in 1960 in the musical “Irma La Douce” which also featured Elliott Gould and Fred Gwynne. He was nominated for a Featured Actor Tony Award for his work. With this success he was cast as Fagin in the Broadway production of “Oliver!” - a role originated in London by Ron Moody. The role earned him yet another Tony nomination and is considered his best-remembered Broadway credit. In 1967 he originated the title role in “Sherry!” a musicalization of “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” The show was not a success. Neither was his next endeavor, a 1971 play titled “The Incomparable Max” also starring another musical theatre star, Richard Kiley of “Man of La Mancha.” The play ran 23 performances. In 1974 he served as replacement for the role of Moriarty in a revival of “Sherlock Holmes.” In 1981 he made his most recent appearance on Broadway in the ill-fated dramatic version of Nabokov’s “Lolita” starring Donald Sutherland. It lasted just 12 performances. He has kept busy doing guest appearances on television and has lately specialized in voice work. He was featured as Emperor Palpatine in the “Star Wars” film franchise. Twice divorced, Revill has one daughter and makes his home in Los Angeles.
I guess it will be no surprise to readers of Papermoon’s Broadway Birthday Blog that today we celebrate the life and career of Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Alan Ayckbourn was born in 1939 outside London, England, to Maude Irene Worley (a writer) and Horace Ayckbourn (concertmaster of the London Symphony). It was not until many years later that he discovered that his parents were not actually married at all, despite telling everyone that they were. He attended Wisborough Lodge Prep and later went to Haileybury School before taking a position with Sir Donald Wolfit as Assistant Stage Manager. Shortly afterward he was recruited by Stephen Joseph to come to Scarborough in Yorkshire to work at a newly formed theater in the round in the local library. Despite a few changes of venue over the years, this would be were he would spend the bulk of his career as playwright and director. He started writing at the behest of Joseph in 1959. His first play in London was “Mr. Whatnot” (1963) but real success didn’t occur until “Relatively Speaking” which took the West End by storm in 1967. He continued writing with various degrees of success until 1971 when “How The Other Half Loves” became the first of his plays to be seen on Broadway (albeit slightly Americanized). Three years later his play “Absurd Person Singular” was seen at the Music Box. It wasn’t long before it was joined by a trilogy called “The Norman Conquests” which meant that Ayckbourn had four plays running on Broadway at the same time. In March 1976 the sign at the corner of Broadway and 45th Street was re-named Ayckbourn Alley for a day to commemorate the event. In 1979, his hit from Britain’s National Theatre “Bedroom Farce” played Broadway. He also directed the play. It wouldn’t be until 1991 when Broadway saw their next play of Ayckbourn’s, “Taking Steps” at Circle-in-the-Square. In the dozen years between 1979 and 1991 he had written and directed 17 plays but none found their way to Broadway. In 1975 he had collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on a musical called “Jeeves” that was a West End flop. Ayckbourn, however, wanted to revive and revise the piece. After several US productions across the county, the revamped show finally played Broadway, opening shortly after the attacks of September 11th. The show lasted only 73 performances. Although he has penned more than twenty plays since, none has been produced on Broadway. Instead, he has found a niche off-Broadway with 59E59’s Brits Off-Broadway series. There were also revivals of “Absurd Person Singular” (2005) and “The Norman Conquests” trilogy (2009). During that time Ayckbourn was given a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1997 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for Services to Theatre. Next month three new Ayckbourn plays directed by the author will open Off-Broadway. Ayckbourn was married to Christine Rolland with whom he has two sons. He is now married to Heather Stoney. They live in Scarborough.
“As a writer one is allowed to have conversations with oneself. What is considered sane in writers is mad for the rest of the human race.” ~ Alan Ayckbourn
Joel David Katz was ‘born in a trunk’ to Goldie Epstein and Mickey Katz, who was a Yiddish comedian, musician and singer. His first Broadway outing was a 1951 musical revue titled “Borscht Capades.” His father directed andstarred in the show and naturally got his 19 year-old son (then billed as Joel Kaye) into the act as well. Although the critics were fairly enthusiastic – including the usually terse Brooks Atkinson - the show had competition for the Jewish dollar from a similar show called “Bagels and Yox” playing just two blocks away – and that show was giving away free bagels at the intermission! Walter Winchell dubbed the rivalry “the hot pastrami sweepstakes.” Sadly, “Bagels and Yox” out-lasted “Borscht Capades” which closed after only 90 performances. But Katz simply took the show back out on the road, where eventually Eddie Cantor ‘discovered’ Joel Kaye and put him on TV’s “Colgate Hour” as the next Danny Kaye. To avoid the comparison, Joel Kaye became known as Joel Grey. In 1956 he appeared in “The Littlest Revue” with Charlotte Rae, Larry Storch and Tammy Grimes. His next three shows on the Great White Way he was a replacement: “Come Blow Your Horn,” “Stop the World I Want To Get Off” and “Half a Sixpence” - all leading roles. His most memorable role came in 1966 as the Emcee in “Cabaret,” for which he won the 1967 Tony Award. He returned to the role in the 1972 film adaptation starring Liza Minnelli (winning an Oscar) and for the 1987 Broadway revival. After the original “Cabaret” he did three more musicals on the Great White Way, getting a Tony nomination for each of the leading roles: “George M.,” “Goodtime Charley” and “The Grand Tour.” He was seen as Amos Hart in the still-running revival of “Chicago” in 1996. When the hit musical “Wicked” moved from California to New York, he took over the role of the Wizard from Robert Morse (“How To Succeed in Business…”). In 2011 he co-starred with Sutton Foster in the Roundabout’s revival of “Anything Goes.” That same year he made his Broadway directorial debut with “The Normal Heart.” He has concentrated on his directing in recent years. From 1958 to 1982 Grey was married to Jo Wilder and have a daughter, Jennifer Grey (“Dirty Dancing” the film). Their son James is a chef. Earlier this season Grey appeared on an episode of TV’s “CSI.”
“I love being in a show. I love the community aspect of it. I like the discipline of it, too.” ~ Joel Grey
Carole Shelley, Kristin Chenoweth, Manuel Herrera, Joel Grey, Idina Menzel and Norbert Leo Butz in “Wicked” (2003)