1921 Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, starring Pauline Lord and George Marion, opens tonight at the Vanderbilt Theatre. Critics check their high praise for the show with reservations about the play's "happy ending," suggesting that O'Neill is making concessions to commercial theatre. O'Neill considers the show "a failure," but it will run for 177 performances and will win the author his second Pulitzer Prize.
1937 George M. Cohan stars in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right, which opens tonight at the Alvin Theatre. Cohan stars as a man he hates, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The book, written by Hart and George S. Kaufman, follows Roosevelt's attempts to balance the budget in order to finance a young couple's wedding. The show will run for nine months, with the first of those having Cohan in a leg cast.
1949 Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary by starring in S. N. Behrman's comedy. I Know My Love, which opens tonight at the Shubert Theatre. Oddly enough, the show focuses on a couple looking back over 50 years of marriage. The Lunts will also appear on the cover of Life next week in honor of the event.
1950 George Bernard Shaw dies today. The Irish born playwright and critic was 94 years old. Shaw will be remembered for his contributions to the theatre through his plays Pygmalion, Major Barbara and Saint Joan.
1971 Barbara Cook makes her final (so far!) appearance in a Broadway book musical in the Truman Capote tuner The Grass Harp, also featuring Karen Morrow, Max Showalter and Russ Thacker. It runs just 7 performances at the Martin Beck Theatre, but the cast album of the charming Claibe Richardson/Kenward Elmslie score lifts it to minor cult status.
1989 A splashy stage adaptation of the movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis opens at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway tonight with Betty Garrett, George Hearn and Donna Kane (in the role originated on film by Judy Garland). It runs 252 performances.
2006 The oddball and sad story of real-life Hamptons cat ladies "Little" Edie and Edith Bouvier Beale makes an unlikely hit musical, Grey Gardens, which transfers to the Walter Kerr Thetre from a sold-out Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons. Written by Scott Frankel, Michael Korie and Doug Wright based on the cult classic documentary, the production earns Tony Awards for stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson.
More of Today's Birthdays: Dennis King 1897. Paul Ford 1901. Peggy Conklin 1906. David Schwimmer 1966.