Robert Whitehead

Producer, Director, Performer

Male

Born: March 13, 1916
Montreal, Canada

Died: June 15, 2002
Pound Ridge, New York

Robert Whitehead, who, over a 50-year career produced landmark productions of everything from Arthur Miller to Euripides to Terrence McNally, and who received a 2002 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre just two weeks ago, died June 15, 2002, at his home in Pound Ridge, NY. He was 86 and had been ailing for some time. Robert Whitehead, who, over a 50-year career produced landmark productions of everything from Arthur Miller to Euripides to Terrence McNally, and who received a 2002 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre just two weeks ago, died June 15 at his home in Pound Ridge, NY. He was 86 and had been ailing for some time.

Whitehead's like has disappeared from the Broadway producing circles of today. He had more than 70 credits to his name and focused almost exclusively on plays. His name is inextricably linked with serious, high minded fare. Often his projects hosted commanding acting turns by the likes of Paul Scofield, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Julie Harris, Ethel Waters, Kim Stanley, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Jason Robards, Elizabeth Ashley, Blythe Danner and Raul Julia.

Obituary: At the peak of his activity, Whitehead produced three to four plays a season, usually with his longtime partner Roger L. Stevens. Together they formed The Producers Theatre. From 1960 to 1964, he was co-artistic director with Elia Kazan of the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center. His productions there included After the Fall, Tartuffe and The Changling.

When Whitehead formed alliances with playwrights, directors and other artists, the bond often had a longer life—lasting decades rather than years—than is often the case in the theatre. Among the producer's most lasting and rewarding relationships was that with Arthur Miller. Whitehead produced many of the playwrights' mid-careers efforts, including the original stagings of The Price, After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, A Memory of Two Mondays/A View from the Bridge and The Creation of the World and Other Business, as well as a revival Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffman).

Whitehead also worked repeatedly with Harold Pinter, producing the U.S. premieres of No Man's Land, Betrayal and Old Times. Other important partnerships included those with costume designer Jane Greenwood, set designer Ben Edwards (who married Greenwood and designed Whitehead's Pound Ridge house) and Harold Clurman.

Whitehead and Clurman were honored by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting on May 13, when two new adjoining studios were named after the two legendary showman. Whitehead was at the event, looking as dashing as ever, in dark jacket and pocket handkerchief, in one of his final public appearances.

Ellen Adler, the daughter of Clurman and Stella Adler, recalled the oddness of the two men's friendship, given that Whitehead was all polish and class and Clurman was loud and on the course side. But each, everyone agreed, had a love and passion for the theatre that they enjoyed talking about for hours on end. Others remembered Whitehead's zest for discussing theatre for hours on end.

Clurman and Whitehead first collaborated on the 1949 Broadway production of The Member of the Wedding, which Clurman directed and Whitehead produced. They went on to work together on Bus Stop, Orpheus Descending , The Waltz of the Toreadors, A Touch of the Poet, The Time of the Cuckoo and Incident at Vichy—some of the highest peaks in both men's careers.

Other Whitehead credits include The Flowering Peach; The Visit (with Alfred Lunt and Joan Fontanne in their final Broadway performance); A Man for All Seasons (for which he won a Tony Award); Bus Stop (with Kim Stanley); Separate Tables; The Physicists; A Few Good Men; and Lillian, Master Class and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, all starring Zoe Caldwell, Whitehead's wife. He directed Caldwell in Medea.

Whitehead first produced under his own name in 1947, backing the famous Judith Anderson-John Gielgud production of Medea.

Rare encounters with musicals included Goldilocks in 1958 and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1976. Neither was a success.

His most recent producing credit was McNally's Master Class, which won a Tony Award for Best Play, Best Actress in a Play for Zoe Caldwell, and Best Featured Actress in a play for Audra McDonald. The show was also his second longest-running hit, playing 610 performances. A Man for All Seasons had 638.

Whitehead was born in 1916 in Montreal. He began his theatrical career as an actor, first appearing on Broadway in 1936.

Among the rough, boisterous showman of Times Square, he was an anomaly: clean-cut, classy and well-spoken. Pictures of him at the height of his career (always sporting the signature pencil-thin moustache) show a figure more akin to Barrymore than Belasco.

He was recently invoked in Elaine Stritch's one-person show At Liberty as "elegant, dishy Robert Whitehead." (Stritch starred in Bus Stop and Goldilocks.) That opinion was apparently shared by many others, if the remembrances at the Stella Adler event are representative. Many a speaker remembered how the debonair producer was a figure of admiration to both amorous women and envious men. Director Gen Saks said "I want to be suave and elegant like that," joked Saks, "and affect the ladies that way." He then joked, "But then I found out he was Canadian."

Mr. Whitehead's first wife, Virginia, died in 1965, according to the New York Times. He married Caldwell in 1968. He is survived by his wife and two sons, Charlie and Sam.

—By Robert Simonson

 

Roles

Playbill Cover - The 54th Annual Tony Awards - 2000 The 54th Annual Tony Awards - 2000
Jun. 4, 2000 - Jun. 4, 2000
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 53rd Annual Tony Awards - 1999 The 53rd Annual Tony Awards - 1999
Jun. 6, 1999 - Jun. 6, 1999
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 52nd Annual Tony Awards - 1998 The 52nd Annual Tony Awards - 1998
Jun. 7, 1998 - Jun. 7, 1998
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 51st Annual Tony Awards - 1997 The 51st Annual Tony Awards - 1997
Jun. 1, 1997 - Jun. 1, 1997
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 50th Annual Tony Awards - 1996 The 50th Annual Tony Awards - 1996
Jun. 2, 1996 - Jun. 2, 1996
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Master Class Master Class
Nov. 5, 1995 - Jun. 29, 1997
Producer
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 48th Annual Tony Awards - 1994 The 48th Annual Tony Awards - 1994
Jun. 12, 1994 - Jun. 12, 1994
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Broken Glass Broken Glass
Apr. 24, 1994 - Jun. 26, 1994
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The 47th Annual Tony Awards - 1993 The 47th Annual Tony Awards - 1993
Jun. 6, 1993 - Jun. 6, 1993
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 46th Annual Tony Awards - 1992 The 46th Annual Tony Awards - 1992
May 31, 1992 - May 31, 1992
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Park Your Car in Harvard Yard Park Your Car in Harvard Yard
Nov. 7, 1991 - Feb. 22, 1992
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The 45th Annual Tony Awards - 1991 The 45th Annual Tony Awards - 1991
Jun. 2, 1991 - Jun. 2, 1991
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The Speed of Darkness The Speed of Darkness
Feb. 28, 1991 - Mar. 30, 1991
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The 44th Annual Tony Awards - 1990 The 44th Annual Tony Awards - 1990
Jun. 3, 1990 - Jun. 3, 1990
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Artist Descending a Staircase Artist Descending a Staircase
Nov. 30, 1989 - Dec. 31, 1989
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Few Good Men A Few Good Men
Nov. 15, 1989 - Jan. 26, 1991
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The 43rd Annual Tony Awards - 1989 The 43rd Annual Tony Awards - 1989
Jun. 4, 1989 - Jun. 4, 1989
Artistic Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The 41st Annual Tony Awards - 1987 The 41st Annual Tony Awards - 1987
Jun. 7, 1987 - Jun. 7, 1987
Creative Consultant
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The Petition The Petition
Apr. 24, 1986 - Jun. 29, 1986
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Lillian Lillian
Jan. 16, 1986 - Feb. 23, 1986
Director
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Death of a Salesman Death of a Salesman
Mar. 29, 1984 - Nov. 18, 1984
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Medea Medea
May 2, 1982 - Jun. 27, 1982
Director
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The West Side Waltz The West Side Waltz
Nov. 19, 1981 - Mar. 13, 1982
Producer
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Lunch Hour Lunch Hour
Nov. 12, 1980 - Jun. 28, 1981
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Betrayal Betrayal
Jan. 5, 1980 - May 31, 1980
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - No Man's Land No Man's Land
Nov. 9, 1976 - Dec. 18, 1976
Producer
(Original)
 
A Texas Trilogy
Sep. 23, 1976 - Oct. 29, 1976
Producer
(Original)
 
    Producer
(Original)
 
    Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
May 4, 1976 - May 8, 1976
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Matter of Gravity A Matter of Gravity
Feb. 3, 1976 - Apr. 10, 1976
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Finishing Touches Finishing Touches
Feb. 8, 1973 - Jun. 30, 1973
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Creation of the World and Other Business The Creation of the World and Other Business
Nov. 30, 1972 - Dec. 16, 1972
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Old Times Old Times
Nov. 16, 1971 - Feb. 26, 1972
Co - Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Price The Price
Feb. 7, 1968 - Feb. 15, 1969
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Jan. 16, 1968 - Dec. 14, 1968
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Where's Daddy? Where's Daddy?
Mar. 2, 1966 - Mar. 19, 1966
Produced by arrangement with
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Physicists The Physicists
Oct. 13, 1964 - Nov. 28, 1964
Produced by arrangement with
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Marco Millions Marco Millions
Feb. 20, 1964 - Jun. 18, 1964
Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center Director
(Original)
 
Foxy
Feb. 16, 1964 - Apr. 18, 1964
First Produced at the Palace Grand Theatre, Dawson City, Yukon, July 2, 1962
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - After the Fall After the Fall
Jan. 23, 1964 - May 29, 1965
Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center Director
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Man for All Seasons A Man for All Seasons
Nov. 22, 1961 - Jun. 1, 1963
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Midgie Purvis Midgie Purvis
Feb. 1, 1961 - Feb. 18, 1961
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Conquering Hero The Conquering Hero
Jan. 16, 1961 - Jan. 21, 1961
Producer
(Original)
 
Goldilocks
Oct. 11, 1958 - Feb. 28, 1959
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Touch of the Poet A Touch of the Poet
Oct. 2, 1958 - Jun. 13, 1959
Original Producer
(Original)
 
The Waltz of the Toreadors
Mar. 4, 1958 - Mar. 29, 1958
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Orpheus Descending Orpheus Descending
Mar. 21, 1957 - May 18, 1957
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Hole in the Head A Hole in the Head
Feb. 28, 1957 - Jul. 13, 1957
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Waltz of the Toreadors The Waltz of the Toreadors
Jan. 17, 1957 - May 11, 1957
Producer
(Original)
 
A View from the Bridge
Sep. 29, 1955 - Feb. 4, 1956
Producer
(Original)
 
    Producer
(Original)
 
The Skin of Our Teeth
Aug. 17, 1955 - Sep. 3, 1955
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Bus Stop Bus Stop
Mar. 2, 1955 - Apr. 21, 1956
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Flowering Peach The Flowering Peach
Dec. 28, 1954 - Apr. 23, 1955
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker
Dec. 30, 1953 - Jul. 10, 1954
Producer
(Original)
 
The Emperor's Clothes
Feb. 9, 1953 - Feb. 21, 1953
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Time of the Cuckoo The Time of the Cuckoo
Oct. 15, 1952 - May 30, 1953
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Member of the Wedding The Member of the Wedding
Jan. 5, 1950 - Mar. 17, 1951
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Crime and Punishment Crime and Punishment
Dec. 22, 1947 - Jan. 24, 1948
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Medea Medea
Oct. 20, 1947 - May 15, 1948
Producer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Heart of a City Heart of a City
Feb. 12, 1942 - Mar. 7, 1942
Wing Commander Performer
(Original)
 
Mr. Big
Sep. 30, 1941 - Oct. 4, 1941
Nesbitt Performer
(Original)
 
 

Awards


Drama Desk Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1977 Outstanding New Play (Foreign) No Man's Land Nominee
1977 Outstanding New Play (American) A Texas Trilogy Winner

Tony Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
2002 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1965 Producer of a Play Tartuffe Nominee
1962 Producer of a Play A Man for All Seasons Winner
 
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