Albert E. ("Jeff") Jeffcoat, a former Wall Street Journal bureau chief and founding chairman of Manhattan Theatre Club, died at his home on Bainbridge Island, WA, after a long battle with cancer.
Mr. Jeffcoat was 77. He was a 1946 Williams College graduate who, after a period in the naval service, became a London based Wall Street Journal correspondent and served as the paper's Paris bureau chief 1954-55.
Upon his return to the U.S., he was instrumental in founding Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club and, as founding chair, hired MTC's current artistic director, Lynne Meadow in the early 1970s when MTC was still a scrappy Off-Off Broadway showcase. He served as MTC chairman 1970-82.
MTC is known for giving voice to new playwrights and has staged many New York premieres and world premieres (some earning Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prizes), including Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, Mass Appeal, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Proof, Crimes of the Heart, Collected Stories, Sight Unseen, The Piano Lesson, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, Ain't Misbehavin' and many more. The nonprofit company is currently renovating Broadway's Biltmore Theatre to give MTC a Broadway home that will complement its two Off-Broadway stages in City Center on 55th Street.
Mr. Jeffcoat's wife, Jan, told Playbill On-Line that when he was working in London, before they were married, he was fond of attending a small fringe theatre there, where new works were seen and theatregoers would mingle with performers after shows. When he was back in New York, he and a handful of dreamers sought to recreate an organization that could be devoted to new plays, and where artists and audience might meet for drinks and discuss the work. Jan Jeffcoat said the idea was a kind of nonprofit "neighborhood theatre where new playwrights could have a chance" and where it was "not as expensive as Broadway." "He thought New York lacked a theatre for new plays," Jan Jeffcoat said, adding that it was extremely difficult to get funding and support to build a new organization, particularly since the Jeffcoats were raising a family and he was running his own business. Some of the original founders fell away from the idea, but Mr. Jeffcoat persevered as the primary force. He is still listed in MTC Playbills as "honorary founder chairman."
"He wasn't a man with millions," said Jan Jeffcoat, "but this is something he wanted to do." She added that he knew how to network, something vital to any startup arts organization.
Mr. Jeffcoat, a 20-year resident of Larchmont, NY, served in senior communication positions with IBM and Ford Motor Company, and was president of his own firm, Jeffcoat, Schoen & Morrell. In 1993, Mr. Jeffcoat and his wife moved to Bainbridge Island in Washington state. He settled down in a second career as an author and penned a history of American optimism, "Spirited Americans," and was working on a second book at the time of his death.
Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Jan, of Bainbridge Island, sons Peter, John and Ross; daughters Lindsay and Catherine; and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held April 11 in Larchmont, NY, at St. John's Episcopal Church.
— By Kenneth Jones