Salem Ludwig, Veteran Stage Actor, Dies at 91

By Robert Simonson
April 4, 2007

Salem Ludwig, a journeyman stage actor whose credits include the original productions of plays by Tennessee Williams, Michael Weller, Arthur Miller and Horton Foote, died April 1, a spokesperson at the Actors Studio confirmed. He was 91.

Born in Brooklyn on July 31, 1915, Salem Ludwig made his first stage appearance in Long Beach in a 1938 play called The Drunkard. His New York debut did not come until after a stint in the military with the 1947 three-performance run of the Molnar play Miracle in the Mountains. His next gig, All You Need Is One Good Break was about as successful. But in the next few years, he finally got those good breaks, landing small roles in plays by Arthur Miller (An Enemy of the People), Tennessee Williams (Camino Real) and Horton Foote (The Trip to Bountiful).

He appeared as Mr. Goodfellow in the original Broadway production of Inherit the Wind in 1955 and played a professor in the successful stage adaptation of Budd Shulberg's The Disenchanted, starring Jason Robards, Jr., in 1958.

Mr. Ludwig was a devoted member of the Actors Studio. He studied the Stanislavsky Method with Robert Lewis and Tamara Daykarhanova, who was herself a student of Stanislavsky. A politically opinionated man, Mr. Ludwig was blacklisted in 1957. As a result, his early work in television and film came to a halt for a number of years. In later years, Mr. Ludwig shared stories on how his relatives and friends were trailed and threatened with various forms of retribution if they didn't deliver incriminating information about the actor.

Stage roles, however, continued to come. He acted in the New York premiere of Ionesco's Rhinoceros and later toured with the play. Lee Strasberg directed him as Ferapont in a 1964 production of Three Sisters. He was Uncle Murry in the debut of Weller's The Moonchildren and Miller again used him for the 1980 Broadway premiere of The American Clock.

He continued to work well into his 70s and 80s, taking parts in I'm Not Rappaport, A Month of Sundays, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard and What's Wrong With This Picture? About his performance in the latter, the New York Times wrote, "Salem Ludwig makes of the doddering grandfather not only a funny character but one with surprising depths of feeling as well not an easy trick." His last film role with in 2007's "The Savages."

Off-Broadway work included Tevya and His Daughters, The Brothers Karamazov, Prodigal and A Corner of the Bed. In 1995, he had a rare leading part as grandpa Jacob in a production of Awake and Sing! starring Tovah Feldshuh. He also frequently directed and worked as an acting teacher.

Never a major star or a leading player, Mr. Ludwig nevertheless managed to work in near proximity to the greats of his profession for half a century. One of Mr. Ludwig's most memorable jobs was actually as an understudy and Actors' Equity representative. The play was The Immoralist and it starred a nervous young unknown actor named James Dean. "He overcame his fear by pretending to be a tough guy. He was young, and this show was a big step in his career," remembered Mr. Ludwig. Herman Shumlin, the original director, indulged Dean's behavior, but Shumlin was fired and replaced by Daniel Mann, who antagonized Dean, trying to get the young performer to quit. The tactic worked, and Dean went to his dressing room to pack.

"Then I said, 'Jimmy, there are six blacklisted actors in this show who haven't worked in a long time. If you walk out and the show closes, they're out of a job'," Ludwig remembered. "There was a pause. Soon tears started to flow down Jimmy's cheeks and he said, 'I'll do it.'"

Mann continued to hassle Dean, but the actor took it in stride. "I know what he wants," the actor told Mr. Ludwig. "Screw him."