I came to the United States with my mother, Moyna, sister Angela and identical twin brother, Bruce during the Second World War. It was in 1940 and the ship was The Dutchess of Athol, the last refugee boat to make it across. German U-Boat “wolf packs” were busy in the North Atlantic, and she never made it back to home port.
We lived initially in upstate New York on Lake Mahopac in a house owned by a wealthy American who also provided a modest monthly stipend to guarantee that we would not become an expense to the state. My mother had been a successful actress on the London stage under the name of Moyna MacGill and soon moved us into a small one-room apartment in Greenwich Village where she could re-establish her career in New York while Angela finished her studies to be an actress at the Feigen School of Dramatic Art. Meanwhile my brother and I pursued our studies on scholarships at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut.
It was not long before Moyna and Angela found their way to Los Angeles with the intention of getting employment in the film industry, both eventually landing contracts at MGM. Angela began her film career at that time with two Academy Award nominations for her roles in “Gaslight” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and subsequently for her role in “The Manchurian Candidate.” She has since become phenomenally successful in every branch of the entertainment industry. My brother and I soon followed them to California, and completed our school careers at the University High School in Santa Monica, California. By that time I was showing some interest in becoming a sculptor, and was studying drawing and painting at the Otis Art Institute and for two years as an undergraduate at U.C.L.A. Brother Bruce was learning to write, and eventually became a CBS programming vice-president and wrote and produced Angela’s hit series “Murder She Wrote.”
In 1951 the Korean war was in full swing and I was drafted into the army and served two years, one full year in an artillery service battery in Korea. Back in the States, I set about deciding what to do for a living. When offered a job building scenery at a New Hampshire summer theater run by an old family friend, the innovative Museum Director “Chick” Everett Austin, I grabbed the opportunity. After all, it was theater, the family business! I returned to New Hampshire the following summer, having supported myself in New York City during the winter on a small G.I. stipend, working as a typist for “Employers’ Temp,” and designing several off-Broadway shows that helped to establish my credentials as a scenic designer. After three more years in stock and off-Broadway, my skill and a modest reputation had grown sufficiently that I was offered a job in Los Angeles as Art Director at the ABC Television affiliate KABC. In 1955 I married Rose Kean and started a family. Rose is the daughter of Robert Kean, who for twenty years represented New Jersey in the House of Representatives. From ABC I went across town to CBS Television City and for the next six years was a staff Art Director during the so-called “Golden Age” of Television designing “live” dramatic shows such as Playhouse 90, Studio One, Climax!, and variety shows of all kinds. For many years I was Art Director for The Red Skelton Show. While at CBS I had the opportunity to work for John Houseman who was one of the Producers of Playhouse 90.
Houseman came to New York in 1968 and with Michel Saint-Denis and Margot Harley established the Drama Division of the Juilliard School. He held the first graduating class together as a company dedicated to training young actors in the classic traditions and touring them throughout the country in colleges, regional theaters and under-served communities. He called it The Acting Company, and asked me to come on the fledgling Board of Directors, which I did and have served on it for the past forty years, currently as Chairman Emeritus.
The lure of Broadway and New York was ever present. In 1962, I and my family, now growing with three boys, James, Michael, and David (Brian and Kate would follow) flew East where I started a new job as Art Director for Channel13, their first year on the air. Following Channel 13, I became Art Director for the ABC series “The Defenders” and while there came across a script by my friend, and budding playwright, Frank D. Gilroy who knew that I had an interest in getting into producing. Frank had been unable to attract interest in his new play from any established producers and suggested that if, after reading it, I liked the play, I could produce it, design it, or produce and design it. I certainly did like the play, and agreed to produce and design it. The play was called, “The Subject was Roses” and was cast with Irene Daley, Jack Albertson, and a very young Martin Sheen. It was directed by Ulu Grosbard and opened at the Royale Theater on the proverbial shoestring in May 1964 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award, the Critics’ Circle Award, and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award and launched my career as a Theatrical Producer.
In 1968 I produced the film with Patricia Neal, Jack Albertson, and Martin Sheen. I subsequently produced over thirty Theater Productions, Eleven Films, and an assortment of television productions. In 1969 with my partner, Joseph Beruh, I took a ten year lease on a hotel ballroom on Broadway at 76th Street and designed and built a three hundred seat off-Broadway theater. At the same time, we were in rehearsal for a stylish new musical by the composer Al Carmines and librettist/lyricist Irene Fornes entitled “Promenade.” It was the first show to go into the theater which we named, appropriately, The Promenade Theater. The musical was a great critical success but did not run as long as it should have. The theater did, however, and became a favored venue for the full extent of it’s existence.
Of my work in the theater I am particularly proud of the musical “Promenade,” “The Subject Was Roses,” the musical “The Magic Show,” with Doug Henning that re-introduced magic to the Great White Way, a revival of the musical “Gypsy,” that starred sister Angela in New York, London, and elsewhere in the U.S., the musical “Godspell,” in productions in New York, London, Paris, and throughout the U.S., David Mamet’s Broadway debut, “American Buffalo,” the musical “Lennon,,” “As Bees in Honey Drown,” that won a Drama Desk Nomination, the first revival of “Waiting for Godot,” directed by Allan Schneider, and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” with a cast that included Robert Ryan, Stacey Keach, and Geraldine Fitzgerald.
45 years later I am remarried to Louise Peabody, who is a formidable artist with whom I share studios in Soho and Southampton, where I can indulge my love of Painting and Sculpture to my heart’s content. During my life as a producer in theater, television, and film, I have also been closely involved in several not-for-profit artistic and philosophical institutions. In my teens I became interested in the Russian Painter, opera Designer, and Philosopher Nicholas Roerich. When I returned to New York in the early 60's I was invited by the then President, Sina Fosdick, to join the Board of the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Sitting at 319 West 107th Street in a beautiful old brownstone, it houses several hundred of Roerich’s extraordinary paintings of Northern India and the far East and is an archival research center concerned with his life and art. I have been president of the Board since Sina Fosdick’s passing in the 1970’s. Linked to my connection to the Roerich Museum is my interest in the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York, a superb chorus head by Nikolai Kachanov that performs in concerts throughout the city and elsewhere across the country. I have been on its board since it was founded in 1984.