1895 Birthday of Charles MacArthur (1895-1956), newsman-turned-playwright, whose wisecracking oeuvre includes The Front Page, Twentieth Century (the play on which the musical On the Twentieth Century is based), Johnny on a Spot, Lulu Belle, Ladies and Gentlemen and the libretto to the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical Jumbo. He was also married to actress Helen Hayes.
1923 Leon Gordon's popular melodrama White Cargo opens at the Greenwich Village Theatre and stays for 257 performances. Billed as "a vivid play of the primitive," it's the story of British plantation owners who succumb to the African jungle heat and moisture — and sexual charms of "halfbreed" temptress Tondelayo. It will be filmed five times, most notably in 1942 with Hedy Lamarr as Tondelayo.
1941 Summoned by a medium, the spirit of a wife returns in ghost form to flirt with her still-living husband, and bedevil is new wife in Noël Coward's sparkling comedy, Blithe Spirit, which opens today at the Morosco Theatre, and brightens wartime Broadway for 650 performances.
1943 Birthday of playwright Sam Shepard, one of the cornerstones of the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 1960s, with plays like The Unseen Hand and The Tooth of Crime, who went slightly more mainstream with works including True West, All for Love and Pulitzer-winner Buried Child. Contributed a sketch to the long-running revue Oh! Calcutta!.
1951 On the cover of Life today is Ginger Rogers, "Back On Broadway" in Love and Let Love. However, the show, plagued by feuding in its tryout period, will play only 51 performances, losing about $30,000.
1968 The Living Theatre's production of Paradise Now, which was intended to liberate the individual, and thus start a non-violent anarchist revolution, plays tonight at the MIT campus in Massachusetts. However, the show is stopped when hecklers, naked students, and small fires in the audience cause disruption. Elliot Norton of the Boston Critic calls the show a "phony attempt to break the boundaries of conventional theatre, done as if by dirty schoolboys."
1973 Peter Hall succeeds Laurence Olivier as director of the English National Theatre, leading the company through many successful years and a Queen-appointed change of name to the Royal National Theatre.
1980 Christopher Reeve, Swoosie Kurtz, and Amy Wright are the stars in Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson, which opens tonight at the New Apollo Theatre. The show was a success Off-Broadway as a Circle Rep production in 1978, and will also be a success on Broadway, running for 511 performances and winning Kurtz a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award.
1987 Stephen Sondheim's elaborate interweaving of many fairy tales, Into the Woods, opens tonight at the Martin Beck Theatre. The famous score includes the hits "No One Is Alone" and "Children Will Listen," along with the title song. James Lapine, who also wrote the book, directs Joanna Gleason and Bernadette Peters in this show.
1995 Master Class, Terrence McNally's play about opera diva Maria Callas, opens on Broadway at the Golden Theatre. Zoe Caldwell stars as Callas, with Audra McDonald playing one of her students. It will go on to win Tony Awards for Caldwell, McDonald, and Best Play. Dixie Carter and Patti LuPone will take on the role of Callas later in the 598 performance run.
2002 Vinnette Carroll, a Tony Award nominee who was the first black woman to direct on Broadway, and one of the creators of the gospel sensation, Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, along with Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and But Never Jam Today, dies in her sleep at her home in Lauderhill, FL, at age 80.
2010 Broadway and Hollywood actress Jill Clayburgh, an Oscar nominee for "An Unmarried Woman" whose short spell of film superstardom as a 1970s symbol of female liberation was framed on either side by several prominent stage turns, dies at age 66. Her theatre credits included the original Broadway productions of The Sudden & Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson, The Rothschilds, Pippin, Jumpers and A Naked Girl on the Appian Way.
2012 The New York City premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, a harrowing character study of the roots of dysfunction in the life of a morbidly-obese 600-pound man, opens Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Shuler Hensley stars as Charlie, the mentally vibrant but emotionally (and mostly couch-bound) lost soul.
2015 On Your Feet!, the musical based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, opens on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre. Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra star.