Happy 133rd Birthday George Abbott

Today is the 133rd birthday of the man who had an influence over American Theatre for 90 years: George Abbott. The world is a better place because he was in it.

NAME: George Abbott
DATE OF BIRTH: 25-Jun-1887
PLACE OF BIRTH: Forestville, NY
DATE OF DEATH: 31-Jan-1995
PLACE OF DEATH: Miami Beach, FL
CAUSE OF DEATH: Stroke
REMAINS: Cremated
Kennedy Center Honor
National Medal of Arts

1955 Tony Award for Best Musical – The Pajama Game
1956 Tony Award for Best Musical – Damn Yankees
1960 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – Fiorello!
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

BEST KNOWN FOR: George Francis Abbott was an American theater producer and director, playwright, screenwriter, and film director and producer whose career spanned nine decades.

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, 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. Under Baker’s tutelage, he wrote The Head of the Family, which was performed at the Harvard Dramatic Club in 1912. 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.

Abbott started acting on Broadway in 1913, debuting in The Misleading Lady. While acting in several plays in New York City, he began to write; his first successful play was The Fall Guy (1925). 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 hit was Broadway, written and directed in partnership with Philip Dunning, whose play Abbott “rejiggered”. 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 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. He introduced the “fast-paced, tightly integrated style that influenced” performers and especially directors such as Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, and Hal Prince.

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. 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. His third wife was Joy Valderrama. They were married from 1983 until his death in 1995.

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.

In addition to his wife, who died in 2020 at 88, 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.

Stage

1915: The Yeomen of the Guard (actor)
1918: Daddies (actor)
1920: The Broken Wing (actor)
1923: Zander the Great (actor)
1924: Hell-Bent Fer Heaven (actor)
1925: The Fall Guy (playwright)
1926: Love ’em and Leave ’em (playwright, director)
1926: Chicago (director)
1926: Broadway (playwright, director)
1928: Gentlemen of the Press (director)
1932: Lilly Turner (playwright, director, producer)
1932: Twentieth Century (director, producer)
1934: Small Miracle (director)
1935: Three Men on a Horse (playwright, director)
1935: Jumbo (director)
1936: On Your Toes (book)
1937: Room Service (director, producer)
1937: Brown Sugar (director, producer)
1938: The Boys from Syracuse (book, director, producer)
1939: Too Many Girls (director, producer)
1940: Pal Joey (director, producer)
1940: The Unconquered (producer, director)
1944: A Highland Fling (play) (producer, director)
1944: On the Town (director)
1945: Billion Dollar Baby (musical) (director)
1947: High Button Shoes (director)
1948: Where’s Charley? (book, director)
1949: Mrs. Gibbons’ Boys (producer, director)
1950: Call Me Madam (director)
1951: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (book, director, producer)
1953: Wonderful Town (director) Me and Juliet (director)
1954: The Pajama Game (book, director)
1955: Damn Yankees (book, director)
1957: New Girl in Town (book, director)
1959: Once Upon a Mattress (director)
1959: Fiorello! (book, director)
1960: Tenderloin (book, director)
1961: Take Her, She’s Mine (director)
1962: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (director)
1962: Never Too Late (director)[18]
1964: Fade Out – Fade In (director)
1965: Flora, The Red Menace (book, director)
1965: Anya (book, director)
1967: How Now, Dow Jones (director)
1968: The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (director)
1969: The Fig Leaves Are Falling (director)
1970: Norman, Is That You? (director)
1976: Music Is (book, director)
1987: Broadway (revival, book, director)
1994: Damn Yankees (revival, book, consultant, script revisions)

Filmography

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

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