The Story of Spelvin: A History of Broadway's Long-Running Acting Legend

By Steven McCasland
03 Apr 2014

Playbill relaunches a theatregoing tradition with the Spelvin Society. We look back at the history of the "insider" society and the mystery man of the stage for whom it was named.

In February Playbill announced the return and reinvention of its underground theatrical tradition, the Spelvin Luncheon. Created in 1966 by former Playbill editor Leo Lerman, these luncheons allowed members of the theatre industry and surrounding disciplines to get together with actors, writers, directors, designers and other creatives and break bread, indulge in a glass of wine (or three), and share their candid and honest views on art in an open air forum free from the prying eyes of the press or nosey marketers. Frequent guests included Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Elaine Stritch and many more.

Playbill reinvents the wheel with The Spelvin Society, which offers theatregoers a unique night out on the town. The evening begins with dinner at a local restaurant, a preview performance of a current Broadway production and ends with a post-performance talkback and nightcap. Learn more about the Spelvin Society at

But how did Leo Lerman first arrive at the name "Spelvin"? Who is Spelvin and why is he the society’s namesake? The mysterious name first appeared long before these legendary luncheons began. It was discovered in an 1886 program for Karl the Peddler, a play by Charles A. Gardiner. Used to hide the identity of an actor playing multiple roles, or the secret of a character never to enter, "George Spelvin" quickly became the most-used pseudonym in American theatre.

With help from The Playbill Vault, readers can go back and see "George Spelvin" in dozens of classic Playbills.

Here are just a few looks at George Spelvin through the years:


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