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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Elaine Steinbeck: the Westport Connection

Todays New York Times obit of Elaine Anderson Steinbeck, one of the first women to become a Broadway stage manager and who in later years kept bright the artistic torch of her late husband John Steinbeck, notes her Westport connection.

Steinbeck, who died on Sunday in Manhattan at the age 88, lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y.

She was active in the theater before her marriage to the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author in 1950 and remained so after his death in 1968, the newspaper said.

The Times said she studied drama at the University of Texas, where she met her first husband, Zachary Scott, the actor, when both were involved in theater there. They were married in 1934 and several years later came east.

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had recommended the couple to Lawrence Langner of the Theater Guild (which the Times misspells as “Langer.”) The result was a summer job at the Westport Country Playhouse, which Langner, a Weston resident, founded in 1931 with his wife, Armina Marshall.

One of the plays the Langners produced in Westport was “Green Grow the Lilacs,” which later became in its musical incarnation “Oklahoma!”

The Times reported she was the stage manager of the Theater Guild’s production of “Oklahoma!,” becoming one of the first women to achieve that position on Broadway. It opened in 1943 and ran five years. (Playbill.com reported she was “a replacement assistant stage manager.” )

Another Westport connection—Westporter Max Wilk’s 1993 book (reissued in 2002) “Ok!: The Story of Oklahoma!,” documents the Guild’s undertaking of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical from conception to SRO box-office success and mentions Steinbeck’s role.

Wilk told WestportNow she worked as assistant stage manager at the age of 26 when “Green Grow the Lilacs” had its Westport revival in 1940 and then took the same job when it became “Oklahoma!” three years later on Broadway.

Soon after, she became one of the first women to take a show on the road, organizing and supervising the national tour of “Othello” with Paul Robeson, according to the Times.



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