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
George Francis Abbott
BornGeorge Francis Abbott
June 25, 1887
Forestville, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 31, 1995 (aged 107)
Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
OccupationPlaywright, producer, director, screenwriter
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] where he wrote his first play, Perfectly Harmless, for the University Dramatic Club.

Abbott then went to Harvard University, to take a course in playwriting from George Pierce Baker. Under Baker's tutelage, he wrote The Head of the Family, which was performed at the Harvard Dramatic Club in 1912.[2] He then worked for a year as assistant stage manager at the Bijou Theatre in Boston, where his play The Man in the Manhole won a contest.

Career

Abbott-Dunning-1928
George Abbott and Philip Dunning (1928)

Abbott started acting on Broadway in 1913, debuting in The Misleading Lady.[1] While acting in several plays in New York City, he began to write; his first successful play was The Fall Guy (1925).[1] 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. His first great hit was Broadway, written and directed in partnership with Philip Dunning, whose play Abbott "rejiggered".[3] 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 writer and director while continuing with his theater work.

Among those who crossed paths with Abbott early in their careers are Desi Arnaz, Gene Tierney, Betty Comden, Hal Prince, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Carol Burnett and Liza Minnelli.

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.[4] He had a long romance with actress Maureen Stapleton 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.[5] His third wife was Joy Valderrama. They were married from 1983 until his death in 1995.[4]

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.[6]

In addition to his wife, George 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.[7]

Honors

In 1965, the 54th Street Theatre was rechristened the George Abbott Theater in his honor. The building was demolished in 1970. 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.[6] He was also inducted into the Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame[8] and the American Theatre Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[9]

Work

Stage

Filmography

Year Title Credit
1918 The Imposter Writer, actor (Lem)
1926 Love 'Em and Leave 'Em Writer
1927 Hills of Peril Playwright, A Holy Terror
1928 Four Walls Playwright, writer
1929 Coquette Playwright
1929 The Carnival Man Director
1929 Broadway Playwright, writer
1929 The Bishop's Candlesticks Director
1929 Why Bring That Up? Director, writer
1929 The Saturday Night Kid Playwright, Love 'Em and Leave 'Em
1929 Night Parade Playwright, Ringside
1929 Half Way to Heaven Director, writer
1930 El Dios del mar Writer
1930 All Quiet on the Western Front Writer
1930 The Fall Guy Playwright
1930 Manslaughter Director, writer
1930 The Sea God Director, writer
1931 The Leap into the Void Writer
1931 Stolen Heaven Director; writer
1931 The Incorrigible Playwright, Manslaughter
1931 Sombras del circo Playwright, Halfway to Heaven
1931 À mi-chemin du ciel Playwright, Halfway to Heaven
1931 Secrets of a Secretary Director, writer
1931 My Sin Director; writer
1931 The Cheat Director
1932 Halvvägs till himlen Writer
1932 Those We Love Playwright
1933 Lilly Turner Playwright
1934 Heat Lightning Playwright
1934 Straight Is the Way Playwright, Four Walls
1936 Three Men on a Horse Playwright
1938 Broadway Writer
1939 On Your Toes Playwright
1940 Too Many Girls Director
1940 The Boys from Syracuse Playwright, director
1941 Highway West Playwright, Heat Lightning
1942 Broadway Playwright
1947 Beat the Band Playwright
1957 The Pajama Game Writer, director, producer[1]
1958 Damn Yankees Writer, director, producer

Awards and nominations

Awards
  • 1955 Tony Award for Best Musical – The Pajama Game
  • 1956 Tony Award for Best Musical – Damn Yankees
  • 1960 Pulitzer Prize for DramaFiorello!
  • 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
  • 1982 Kennedy Center Honors
  • 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[2]
  • 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. ^ a b c d e f "Abbott, George". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A– Ak–Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  2. ^ a b Lucy E. Cross. "George Abbott". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved October 20, 2013.
  3. ^ Staff (February 13, 1995). "Theater: Director/Writer George Abbott, 1887–1995". Newsweek. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ Database (undated). "Maureen Stapleton". Notable Names Database.
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ "George Abbott, Broadway Giant With Hit After Hit, Is Dead at 107". The NY Times - The Learning Network. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  8. ^ "The Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  9. ^ "National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved October 20, 2013..

External links

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (musical)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a musical with a book by George Abbott and Betty Smith, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and music by Arthur Schwartz.

First produced in 1951, the musical is based on Smith's autobiographical novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), but when Shirley Booth was cast as Aunt Cissy, a secondary character in the novel, the prominence of this role was expanded and tailored to Booth's comedic talents, diminishing the relative importance of other characters, in particular young Francie, through whose eyes the plot of the novel unfolds.

Adelphi Theatre (New York City)

The Adelphi Theatre (1934–1940 and 1944–1958), originally named the Craig Theatre, opened on December 24, 1928. The Adelphi was located at 152 West 54th Street in Manhattan, with 1,434 seats. The theater was taken over by the Federal Theater Project in 1934 and renamed the Adelphi. The theater was renamed the Radiant Center by The Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians in 1940. It was then the Yiddish Arts Theater (1943), and renamed the Adelphi Theater on April 20, 1944, when it was acquired by the Shuberts. It became a DuMont Television Network studio, known as the Adelphi Tele-Theatre in the 1950s. The "Classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners were filmed in this facility by DuMont using their Electronicam system for broadcast on CBS later during the 1955–56 television season. The theater returned to legitimate use in 1957, was renamed the 54th Street Theater in 1958, and finally the George Abbott Theater in 1965. The building was razed in 1970, after hosting several expensive flops.

Hilton New York owned the property immediately west of the hotel and held it for expansion. In 1989 an office tower 1325 Avenue of the Americas was built on the site. The building uses its Hilton Sixth Avenue address although it is closer to Seventh Avenue. The two buildings are connected via a walkway. In popular culture the building is used for the exterior shot of Elaine's office in Seinfeld.

Call Me Madam

Call Me Madam is a musical with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

A satire on politics and foreign policy that spoofs America's penchant for lending billions of dollars to needy countries, it centers on Sally Adams, a well-meaning but ill-informed socialite widow who is appointed United States Ambassador to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg. While there, she charms the local gentry, especially Cosmo Constantine, while her press attaché Kenneth Gibson falls in love with Princess Maria.

Damn Yankees

Damn Yankees is a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. It is based on Wallop's novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.

The show ran for 1,019 performances in its original 1955 Broadway production. Adler and Ross's success with it and The Pajama Game seemed to point to a bright future for them, but Ross suddenly died of chronic bronchiectasis at age 29 several months after it opened.

Damn Yankees (film)

Damn Yankees! is a 1958 musical film made by Warner Bros. based on the 1955 Broadway musical of the same name. The story is a modern take on the Faust legend involving the New York Yankees and Washington Senators baseball teams.

The film was directed by George Abbott, as was the earlier stage version, with assistance from Stanley Donen. With the exception of Tab Hunter in the role of Joe Hardy (replacing Stephen Douglass), the Broadway principals reprised their stage roles, including Gwen Verdon as Lola.

A notable difference between film and stage versions was Gwen Verdon's performance of the song "A Little Brains". For the film, Verdon's suggestive hip movements (as choreographed by Bob Fosse and performed on stage) were considered too risqué for a mainstream American film in 1958, and so, in the film, she simply pauses at these points.

The film was released in the United Kingdom under the title What Lola Wants, to avoid use of the word "Damn" on posters, hoardings and cinema marquees. It was also possibly because the title's pun, alluding to the American Southerners' colloquial term for Northerners ("damn Yankee") would be lost on foreign audiences.

Fiorello!

Fiorello! is a musical about New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, a reform Republican who took on the Tammany Hall political machine. The book is by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, drawn substantially from the 1955 volume Life with Fiorello by Ernest Cuneo, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock. It is one of only nine musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Flora the Red Menace

Flora the Red Menace is a musical with a book by George Abbott and Robert Russell, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The original 1965 production starred Liza Minnelli in the title role in her Broadway debut, for which she won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. This was the first collaboration between Kander and Ebb, who later wrote Broadway and Hollywood hits such as Cabaret and Chicago.

Although not full of well-known numbers ("A Quiet Thing" and "Sing Happy" aside), the score does present a valuable insight into the later work of Kander and Ebb. Like Cabaret and Chicago, it features a headstrong heroine and has a strong dose of political content.

George Abbott (politician)

George Abbott (born 1952) is a former politician and cabinet minister for the Canadian province of British Columbia. Abbott was a BC Liberal Party Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia representing the riding of Shuswap beginning in 1996.

George Abbott Way

George Abbott Way is a section of West 45th Street northwest of Times Square between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in New York City, named for Broadway producer and director George Abbott. It is located between Rodgers and Hammerstein Row and Restaurant Row.

High Button Shoes

High Button Shoes is a 1947 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn and book by George Abbott and Stephen Longstreet. It was based on the semi-autobiographical 1946 novel The Sisters Liked Them Handsome by Stephen Longstreet. The story concerns the comic entanglements of the Longstreet family with two con men in Atlantic City.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1947 (running for 727 performances), on the West End in 1948, and has had several regional revivals as well as being televised in 1956.

Jumbo (musical)

Jumbo is a musical produced by Billy Rose, with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and book by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Music Is

Music Is is a musical with a book by George Abbott, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Will Holt. It is the second musical adaptation of the William Shakespeare play Twelfth Night, following Your Own Thing in 1968.

The plot focuses on mistaken identity. Masquerading as a young page named Cesario, Viola enters the service of Duke Orsino, who is in love with Olivia. When she rejects his romantic advances, Orsino decides to use Cesario as an intermediary. Olivia, believing Cesario to be a man, falls in love with the attractive messenger. Viola, in turn, falls in love with the Duke, who also believes Cesario is a man and regards him as his confidant.

The musical had its world premiere at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1976. The Broadway production, directed by Abbott and choreographed by Patricia Birch, opened at the St. James Theatre on December 20, 1976 following 14 previews and closed on December 26 after eight performances. The music was orchestrated by Hershy Kay, and Paul Gemignani served as musical director.

The cast included Catherine Cox as Viola, Christopher Hewett as Malvolio, Joel Higgins as Sebastian, David Holliday as Duke Orsino, Sherry Mathis as Olivia, Joe Ponazecki as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, David Sabin as Sir Toby Belch, Daniel Ben-Zali in the dual roles of William Shakespeare and Feste, and Dana Kyle as Court Lady.

Birch was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Choreography and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography but lost both to Peter Gennaro for Annie. Cox was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical but lost to Clamma Dale in Porgy and Bess, and Hewitt and Ben-Zali were nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical but lost to Ken Bichel, Michael Mark, John Miller, and Joseph Saulter, who shared the award for I Love My Wife.

On Your Toes

On Your Toes (1936) is a musical with a book by Richard Rodgers, George Abbott, and Lorenz Hart, music by Rodgers, and lyrics by Hart. It was adapted into a film in 1939.

While teaching music at Knickerbocker University, Phil "Junior" Dolan III tries to persuade Sergei Alexandrovich, the director of the Russian Ballet, to stage the jazz ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue". After becoming involved with the company's prima ballerina, Vera Barnova, Junior is forced to assume the male lead in "Slaughter". Trouble ensues when he becomes the target of two thugs hired by Vera’s lover and dance partner to kill him.

On Your Toes marked the first time a Broadway musical made dramatic use of classical dance and incorporated jazz into its score.

Tenderloin (musical)

Tenderloin is a musical with a book by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock, their follow-up to the highly successful Pulitzer Prize-winning Fiorello! a year earlier. The musical is based on a 1959 novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Set in the Tenderloin, a red-light district in 1890s Manhattan, the show's story focuses on Reverend Brock, a character loosely based on American clergyman and social reformer Charles Henry Parkhurst.

The Boys from Syracuse

The Boys from Syracuse is a musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, based on William Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors, as adapted by librettist George Abbott. The score includes swing and other contemporary rhythms of the 1930s. The show was the first musical based on a Shakespeare play. The Comedy of Errors was itself loosely based on a Roman play, The Menaechmi, or the Twin Brothers, by Plautus.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1938 and Off-Broadway in 1963, with later productions including a West End run in 1963 and in a Broadway revival in 2002. A film adaptation was released in 1940. Well-known songs from the score include "Falling in Love with Love", "This Can't Be Love" and "Sing for Your Supper".

The Pajama Game

The Pajama Game is a musical based on the 1953 novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell.

The book is by George Abbott and Richard Bissell; the music and lyrics are by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story deals with labor troubles in a pajama factory, where workers' demands for a seven-and-a-half cent raise are going unheeded. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Babe, the grievance committee head, and Sid, the new factory superintendent.

The original Broadway production opened on May 13, 1954, at the St. James Theatre, and ran for 1,063 performances, with a brief stop at the Shubert Theatre at the end of the run. It was revived in 1973, and again in 2006 by The Roundabout Theatre Company. The original production, produced by Frederick Brisson, Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, won a Tony Award for Best Musical. The 2006 Broadway revival won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The musical is a popular choice for community and school group productions.

The original West End production opened at the London Coliseum on October 13, 1955 where it ran for 588 performances.

The Pajama Game (film)

The Pajama Game is a 1957 musical film based on the stage musical of the same name. The principal cast of the Broadway musical repeated their roles for the movie, with the exception of Janis Paige, whose role is played by Doris Day, and Stanley Prager, whose role is played by Jack Straw. The choreography is by Bob Fosse, who also did the choreography for the stage production.

Three Men on a Horse

Three Men on a Horse is a play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holm. The comedy focuses on a man who discovers he has a talent for choosing the winning horse in a race as long as he never places a bet himself.

Too Many Girls (musical)

Too Many Girls is a Broadway musical comedy which was adapted for a 1940 film version starring Lucille Ball. The original Broadway production is noteworthy for advancing the career of musician Desi Arnaz. The music was composed by Richard Rodgers, the lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and the book was by George Marion, Jr.

Films directed by George Abbott
Awards for George Abbott

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