George Abbott

George Francis Abbott (June 25, 1887 – January 31, 1995) was an American theater producer and director, playwright, screenwriter, and film director and producer whose career spanned nine decades.[1]

George Abbott
BornGeorge Francis Abbott
(1887-06-25)June 25, 1887
Forestville, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 31, 1995(1995-01-31) (aged 107)
Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
Occupation
  • Theatre producer
  • theatre director
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
  • film producer
  • film director
NationalityAmerican
Period1913–1995
Notable awardsDrama Desk Award Outstanding Director (1983)
Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1960)
Tony Award Best Direction (1960, 1963)
Tony Award Best Musical (1955, 1956, 1960)
Special Tony Award (1987)
Spouse
Edna Levis
(m. 1914; her death 1930)

Mary Sinclair
(m. 1946; div. 1951)

Joy Valderrama
(m. 1983; his death 1995)

Early years

Abbott was born in Forestville, New York, to George Burwell Abbott (May 1858 Erie County, New York – February 4, 1942 Hamburg, New York) and Hannah May McLaury (1869 – June 20, 1940 Hamburg, New York). He later moved to the town of Salamanca, which twice elected his father mayor. In 1898, his family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he attended Kearney Military Academy. Within a few years, his family returned to New York, and he graduated from Hamburg High School in 1907. Four years later, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rochester,[1][2] where he wrote his first play, Perfectly Harmless, for the University Dramatic Club. Abbott then attended Harvard University, to take a course in playwriting from George Pierce Baker.[2] Under Baker's tutelage, he wrote The Head of the Family, which was performed at the Harvard Dramatic Club in 1912.[3] He then worked for a year as "author, gofer, and actor" at the Bijou Theatre in Boston, where his play The Man in the Manhole won a contest.[2]

Career

Abbott started acting on Broadway in 1913, debuting in The Misleading Lady.[1][4] While acting in several plays in New York City, he began to write; his first successful play was The Fall Guy (1925).[1][4]

Abbott acquired a reputation as an astute "show doctor". He frequently was called upon to supervise changes when a show was having difficulties in tryouts or previews prior to its Broadway opening.[5] His first hit was Broadway, written and directed in partnership with Philip Dunning, whose play Abbott "rejiggered".[6] It opened on September 16, 1926, at the Broadhurst Theatre and ran for 603 performances. Other successes followed, and it was a rare year that did not have an Abbott production on Broadway.

He also worked in Hollywood as a film writer and director [7] while continuing with his theater work.

Among those who worked with Abbott early in their careers are Desi Arnaz, Gene Tierney, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Carol Burnett and Liza Minnelli.[7] He introduced the "fast-paced, tightly integrated style that influenced" performers and especially directors such as Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and Hal Prince.[4]

Autobiography

In 1963, he published his autobiography, Mister Abbott.[1]

Personal life

Abbott was married to Edna Lewis from 1914 to her death in 1930; they had one child. Actress Mary Sinclair was his second wife. Their marriage lasted from 1946 until their 1951 divorce.[8] He had a long romance with actress Maureen Stapleton[3] from 1968 to 1978. She was 43 and he was 81 when they began their affair, then ten years later Abbott left her for a younger woman.[9] His third wife was Joy Valderrama. They were married from 1983 until his death in 1995.[8][10]

Abbott was a vigorous man who remained active past his 100th birthday by golfing and dancing. He died of a stroke on January 31, 1995, in Miami Beach, Florida, at age 107. The New York Times obituary read, "Mrs. Abbott said that a week and a half before his death he was dictating revisions to the second act of Pajama Game with a revival in mind, in addition to working on a revival of Damn Yankees. At the age of 106, he walked down the aisle on opening night of the Damn Yankees revival and received a standing ovation. He was heard saying to his companion, 'There must be somebody important here.'" Just thirteen days before his 107th birthday, Abbott made an appearance at the 48th Tony Awards, coming onstage with fellow Damn Yankees alumni Gwen Verdon and Jean Stapleton at the end of the opening number, a medley performed by the nominees for Best Revival of A Musical, which included Grease, She Loves Me, Carousel, and his own Damn Yankees.[10]

In addition to his wife, Abbott was survived by a sister, Isabel Juergens, who died a year later at the age of 102; two granddaughters, Amy Clark Davidson and Susan Clark Hansley; a grandson, George Clark, and six great-grandchildren.[10]

Honors

In 1965, the 54th Street Theatre was rechristened the George Abbott Theater in his honor. The building was demolished in 1970.[3][11] New York City's George Abbott Way, the section of West 45th Street northwest of Times Square, is also named after him.

He received New York City's Handel Medallion in 1976, honorary doctorates from the Universities of Rochester and Miami, and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982.[10] He was also inducted into the Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame[12] and the American Theatre Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[13]

He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1982.[14][15][16]

Work

Stage

Source: Playbill [17]

Filmography

YearTitleCredit
1918The ImposterWriter, actor (Lem)
1926Love 'Em and Leave 'EmWriter
1927Hills of PerilPlaywright, A Holy Terror
1928Four WallsPlaywright, writer
1929CoquettePlaywright
1929The Carnival ManDirector
1929BroadwayPlaywright, writer
1929The Bishop's CandlesticksDirector
1929Why Bring That Up?Director, writer
1929The Saturday Night KidPlaywright, Love 'Em and Leave 'Em
1929Night ParadePlaywright, Ringside
1929Half Way to HeavenDirector, writer
1930El Dios del marWriter
1930All Quiet on the Western FrontWriter
1930The Fall GuyPlaywright
1930ManslaughterDirector, writer
1930The Sea GodDirector, writer
1931The Leap into the VoidWriter
1931Stolen HeavenDirector; writer
1931The IncorrigiblePlaywright, Manslaughter
1931Sombras del circoPlaywright, Halfway to Heaven
1931À mi-chemin du cielPlaywright, Halfway to Heaven
1931Secrets of a SecretaryDirector, writer
1931My SinDirector; writer
1931The CheatDirector
1932Halvvägs till himlenWriter
1932Those We LovePlaywright
1933Lilly TurnerPlaywright
1934Heat LightningPlaywright
1934Straight Is the WayPlaywright, Four Walls
1936Three Men on a HorsePlaywright
1938BroadwayWriter
1939On Your ToesPlaywright
1940Too Many GirlsDirector
1940The Boys from SyracusePlaywright, director
1941Highway WestPlaywright, Heat Lightning
1942BroadwayPlaywright
1947Beat the BandPlaywright
1957The Pajama GameWriter, director, producer[1]
1958Damn YankeesWriter, director, producer

Awards and nominations

Source: Playbill[17]

Awards
  • 1955 Tony Award for Best Musical – The Pajama Game
  • 1956 Tony Award for Best Musical – Damn Yankees
  • 1960 Pulitzer Prize for DramaFiorello![19]
  • 1960 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical – Fiorello!
  • 1960 Tony Award for Best Musical – Fiorello!
  • 1963 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  • 1976 Special Tony Award: The Lawrence Langer award
  • 1983 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical – On Your Toes
  • 1987 Special Tony Award on the occasion of his 100th birthday
Nominations
  • 1930 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Writing – All Quiet on the Western Front[3]
  • 1958 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical – Damn Yankees
  • 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical – New Girl in Town
  • 1958 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical – The Pajama Game
  • 1959 Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures – Damn Yankees
  • 1963 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play – Never Too Late
  • 1968 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical – How Now, Dow Jones

See also

References

  1. "Abbott, George". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A– Ak–Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2010. pp. 13. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  2. Sweeney, Louise. "Director George Abbott" Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 1983
  3. Lucy E. Cross. "George Abbott". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved October 20, 2013.
  4. "George Abbott. The Stars" pbs.com, accessed August 5, 2019
  5. "Theater's `Mr. Abbott' Dies At 107" Seattle Times, February 1, 1995
  6. Staff (February 13, 1995). "Theater: Director/Writer George Abbott, 18871995". Newsweek. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  7. Folkart, Burt."George Abbott; Legendary Broadway Producer, 107" Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1995
  8. Arias, Ron (July 6, 1987). Marking His First Century, George Abbott Once Again Brings Broadway to Broadway". People. Vol. 28, No. 1. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  9. Database (undated). "Maureen Stapleton". Notable Names Database.
  10. Berger, Marilyn (February 2, 1995). "George Abbott, Broadway Giant with Hit after Hit, Is Dead at 107". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  11. "George Abbott Theater" ibdb.com, accessed August 5, 2019
  12. "The Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  13. "National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved October 20, 2013..
  14. "George Abbott Biography" kennedy-center.org, accessed August 6, 2019
  15. "History, 1982" kennedy-center.org, accessed August 6, 2019
  16. Hall, Carla; McCombs, Phil. "Doing the Honors" Washington Post December 6, 1982
  17. "George Abbott Broadway" Playbill (vault), accessed August 5, 2019
  18. Never Too Late ibdb.com, accessed August 5, 2019
  19. "Prize Winners by Category" pulitzer.org, accessed August 6, 2019
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