Actors' Equity Association will administer The Richard Seff Award, for performers over the age of 50 or with 25 years in the business. Equity also handles The Clarence Derwent Award, which honors promising newcomers.
The first Richard Seff Award will be handed out in spring 2004 and represent acting seen in the 2003-04 season on and Off-Broadway. The annual award is $1,000 to an actor and $1,000 to an actress, plus "a crystal momento of the occasion."
Seff, who was an actor between the ages of 19 and 25, became an agent in the television department of the Liebling Wood agency, and eventually represented such musical theatre names as Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Clark Gesner, Nancy Dussault and Linda Lavin in the 1960s and 1970s, first working with MCA and then in his own agency, Hesseltine Bookman Seff (HBS) in 1962; HBS was sold to CMA in 1969.
Seff returned to acting "in mid-life, in 1974-75," he told Playbill On-Line. As a playwright, his Paris Is Out!, starring Sam Levene, was produced on Broadway in 1970. He's now in his mid-seventies and said he wanted to give back to the acting community.
"I thought it was about time for supporting players — character actors who are often ignored at prize time — to be rewarded for performances that are special but may be in roles that are not large enough for major kudos," Seff told Playbill On-Line. "Equity will present them when they give the Clarence Derwent Awards for best debut performances. My award will celebrate the other end of a career. As Ruth Gordon said, at 70-plus when she won an Oscar for a supporting role in 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'this sort of thing can encourage a girl.'" As a character man in the 1970s and '80s, Seff appeared in Broadway's The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Herzl and Arthur Kopit's End of the World. Off-Broadway, he appeared in Joyce Carol Oates' The Truth Teller by Circle Repertory Company in 1995 and The Countess 1999-2000.
Regionally, Seff played in a pre-New York tour of Lanford Wilson's Angels Fall (for which he won a South Florida Carbonell Award for featured actor; Barnard Hughes played the role in New York), On Borrowed Time with Van Johnson at the Birmingham Theatre, Lend Me a Tenor at The Players Theatre in Columbus, The Cocktail Hour at Indiana Repertory Theatre and Established Price at Long Wharf Theatre with Jason Robards.
In 1951, as a young actor, he had a role in Sidney Kingsley's prison-set Darkness at Noon, which earned Claude Rains a Tony Award. He played in it for a season on Broadway and a season on the road; Edward G. Robinson toured in the Rains role.
"I had a key scene in the third act where I betrayed Claude Rains while I was under torture," Seff said.
Richard Seff is also librettist of the regionally-produced musical, Shine!, based on characters of Horatio Alger, which was revised in recent years and presented in Manhattan readings. A studio cast album is available, and the property, with music by Roger Anderson and lyrics by Lee Goldsmith, is licensed by Samuel French.
Seff is working on a theatrical memoir, "Supporting Player: A Life Among the Stars." The title refers to his work as an agent "supporting" artists and as a supporting actor.
"It's about doing work just for the joy of it — that's the reward, even if you're not a household name or filthy rich," Seff said.