Arthur Storch, Artistic Director of Syracuse Stage, Dies at 87
By Robert Simonson
Arthur Storch, the founding producing artistic director of Syracuse Stage and former chair of Syracuse University’s department of drama, has died. He was 87.
The Brooklyn-born Mr. Storch came to Syracuse Stage in 1974 after a long year career as a Broadway performer and director. He made his Broadway debut in 1953 as an actor, performing in End As a Man, Calder Willingham's stage adaptation of his own military-set novel. (He later appeared in the film version, "The Strange One.") He went on to take roles in Time Limit!, Girls of Summer, the hit Thomas Wolfe adaptation Look Homeward, Angel, The Night Circus, The Long Dream and Gore Vidal's The Best Man, in which he stepped into the part of brash presidential hopeful Joseph Cantwell.
In the early '60s, Mr. Storch switched gears, cutting his teeth as a director, staging Off-Broadway productions of plays by William Saroyan, Murray Schisgal and Elaine May, including Schisgal's 1963 The Typists and the Tiger, which starred Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson and won numerous awards.
He returned to Broadway as the director of the hit 1964 romantic comedy The Owl and the Pussycat, produced by Philip Rose, starring Alan Alda and Diana Sands. It was a success. He followed this up with a second hit, the Alan King domestic comedy The Impossible Years, which ran for nearly two years. Mr. Storch had less luck with his next effort, The Best Laid Plans, which closed in three performances in 1966; or Under the Weather the same year, shuttering in 12 performances.
After a string of flops—The Chinese and Dr. Fish, Golden Rainbow, Promenade, All!, The Enemy Is Dead, 42 Seconds from Broadway—Mr. Storch enjoyed a nominal hit with Bernard Slade's Tribute, which starred Jack Lemmon and ran half a year in 1978.
As the producing artistic director for Syracuse Stage, Mr. Storch directed 30 plays ranging from Shakespeare to Beckett and supervised the productions of more than 100 others—everything from Shaw and Shakespeare to Shepard and Beckett. He directed the world premieres of Olwen Wymark’s Loved, Arnold Wesker’s Love Letters on Blue Paper, Roma Greth’s A Quality of Mercy and William Gibson’s The Butterfingers Angel. He also directed Cyrano de Bergerac starring John Cullum, which later went on national tour; and Twice Around the Park starring Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, which transferred to Broadway in 1982.
In 1980, he spearheaded the renovation of Syracuse Stage’s 500-seat Archbold Theatre. As a professional artist and educator, he was integral in creating the unique relationship between Syracuse Stage and SU Drama. He left Syracuse in 1992 with the Mayor’s Achievement Award. The Arthur Storch Theatre in the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama complex was named in his honor.
In addition to serving almost 20 years as producing artistic director of Syracuse Stage, he served three years as artistic director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Mr. Storch's best-known film credit was as the psychiatrist in the 1973 film "The Exorcist."
At the time of his retirement in 1991, Mr. Storch said, "I think what I am most proud of, as far as Syracuse Stage is concerned, is that we created a standard of quality that does not cater to the lowest common denominator. The bottom line has always been: This is the best play and these are the best people, not this play will sell the most tickets."
He ended his career at Syracuse by returning to his first love, acting in a production of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters. The director was a close colleague: himself.
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