PLAYBILL VAULT'S Today In Theatre History: DECEMBER 19

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and Robert Viagas, Christopher Reichheld and Anne Bradley
19 Dec 2013

1865 Birthday of Mary Augusta Davey, who acted under the names Minnie Maddern, Minnie Maddern Fiske and Mrs. Fiske (1865-1932). Performer, director and producer of many dramas before and after the turn of the 20th century, most notably Becky Sharpe, Tess of d'Urbervilles, Hedda Gabler, The Light from St. Agnes and The Eyes of the Heart.



1902 Actor Ralph Richardson is born today in Gloucestershire, England. He will make his stage debut in 1921 as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, and go on to become one of the major actors of Great Britain in the post-World War II period.

1910 Jean Genet, a male prostitute and thief who turned to writing plays and novels about society's outcasts is born today. His works include The Maids, The Balcony, The Screens and The Blacks, the latter of which had a long Off-Broadway run in the 1950s. He lives until 1986.

1919 For the Defense details the shooting of a sinister hypnotist, the trial of an innocent girl, and the lawyer who loves her. This Elmer Rice melodrama stars Winifred Lenihan and Richard Bennett.

1928 J. Hartley Manners dies today in New York City. Born in England, Manners worked as an actor and arrived in America with Lillie Langtry. He authored more than 30 plays, and the best known is Peg O' My Heart, written for his wife Laurette Taylor.

1933 Owen Davis' Jezebel, about a high-spirited Southern belle whose decision to wear a scarlet dress destroys her life, opens today Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and stays for just 32 performances. It becomes a major hit, however, when Bette Davis does it for the movies in 1938.

1951 Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh open a limited engagement of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra at the Ziegfeld Theatre, in repertory with William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The production sells out more than half of its 67 performances before opening night.

1957 Robert Preston and Barbara Cook make musical theatre history in The Music Man which opens today at the Majestic Theatre. Meredith Willson triple headers writing the book, lyrics and score from a story he and Franklin Lacey devised. It marches on for 1,375 performances. The year 2000 would see a highly-acclaimed Broadway revival starring Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker. A TV adaptation with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth follows.

1985 A musical version of the children's classic Wind in the Willows opens a disappointing 4-performance run at the Nederlander Theatre, but boasts a cast that features Nathan Lane as Toad, David Carroll as Rat, Vicki Lewis as Mole, P.J. Benjamin as Chief Weasel, and a supporting cast that includes Nora Mae Lyng, John Jellison, Donna Drake and Scott Waara.

1989 Dustin Hoffman plays Shylock in a major revival of Shakespeare's #The Merchant of Venice. Notable moment: one of Shylock's tormentors spits on him full in the face.

1991 Patrick Stewart introduces his one-man holiday reading/performance of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which Stewart plays all the parts.

1996 Sarah Jessica Parker plays gawky Princess Winifred in a Broadway revival of Once Upon a Mattress. It runs 188 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre.

1997 Co-star of the long-running "Donny and Marie Show", Marie Osmond, makes her Broadway debut tonight as Mrs. Anna in The King and I. Osmond is replacing Faith Prince, who was the first replacement after the original Anna, the Tony Award-winning Donna Murphy.

2001 Barely three months after the 9/11 attacks, Pulitzer-winner Tony Kushner opens his play about Afghani politics and terrorism, Homebody/Kabul Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop.

2011 The world premiere of Molly Smith Metzler's comedy Close Up Space, starring Tony Award winner David Hyde Pierce as a harried book editor, opens at Manhattan Theatre Club's home at New York City Center Stage I.

More of Today's Birthdays: Mark "Moose" Charlap 1928. Mel Gussow 1933. Elaine Joyce 1945. Mary Catherine Garrison 1973.