Karl Genus, Founding Artistic Director of PA's Totem Pole Playhouse, Dead at 84

Obituaries   Karl Genus, Founding Artistic Director of PA's Totem Pole Playhouse, Dead at 84
Karl Genus, founding artistic director of Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania from 1951 to 1953, died of a heart attack May 29 in his home in Asheville, NC.

Mr. Genus was 84. According to the Pennsylvania summer theatre, Mr. Genus was a pioneer in television production and one of the key directors in forming the Directors Guild of America. He directed hundreds of programs during the Golden Age of Television including soap operas, "Studio 1," "Playhouse 90" and Westinghouse Summer Theater including "I Don Quixote" with Lee J. Cobb, Eli Wallach and Colleen Dewhurst, the television play by Dale Wassermann which led to Man of La Mancha. He also directed "American Primitive" with Lloyd Bridges, "Early Morning of a Bartender's Waltz" with Robert Duvall and "Mr. Arcularis."

Mr. Genus was known as the first to take the early video tape recorders out of the studio for major productions. He shot, on remote, the first drama, "A Sleep of Prisoners"," with John Voight for National Educational Television in 1965, the first full length dance presentation "Carmina Burana (Netherlands Dance Theater) for NET in 1964 and a first music documentary, "New Orleans Jazz," for WYES and NET in 1962.

Born Genus Carl Benson to Swedish-American parents in Bridgeport, CT, in 1919, Mr. Genus did not learn English until three years of age. The family soon moved to Detroit where they were active with the Swedish Lodge. His bright red hair and tall, gangly frame earned him the nicknames of "Red" and "Swede." He overcame his shyness with ballroom dancing and then developed a theatrical persona that served him all his life, according to friends.

Taking the stage name, Karl Genus, he trained at the Pasadena Playhouse graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1941. He also studied at Michigan's Albion College.

He worked with the National Catholic Dramatic Movement in Milwaukee and directed at the Michiana Shores Summer Theater with Richard Kiley and Steve Allen as apprentices. The war years were spent in the Army Air Force using his theatre and language background to oversee the "Chinese Detachment" in which 10,000 Chinese Nationalists were taught enough English to take flight training from American instructors. Beginning again after the war, Mr. Genus was the principal director for the Kalamazoo Civic Theater and later for the Harrisburg Civic Theater. In 1951, with his wife Muriel and their two children, he founded Totem Pole Playhouse and acted as artistic director until 1953.

Later that year, he moved to New York City, joined forces with CBS and helped guide theatrical directors and stage managers into the relatively new medium of television.

The last 20 years of his life were devoted to developing spiritual film projects, a quest which too him to India, England, Florida and back to Black Mountain, NC, near his home in Asheville.

He is survived by his partner, Beverly Jones, his former wife, Muriel Benson, two children T.C. Benson of Washington, DC, Terry Benson, a stage manager in New York City and two grandchildren, Ross and Kara.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Caledonia Theatre Company, the not-for-profit producing organization of Totem Pole Playhouse in memory of Karl Genus.

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