Academy Award-winning actor John Houseman's main contribution to American culture was not his own performances on film but rather, his role as a midwife to one of the greatest actor-directors-cinematic geniuses his adopted country ever produced (Orson Welles) and as a midwife to a whole generation of actors as head of the drama division of The Juilliard School.
Born Jacques Haussmann on September 22, 1902, in Bucharest, Romania, he was educated in England and emigrated to America, establishing himself in New York City, where he directed "Four Saints in Three Acts" for the theater in 1934. He founded the Mercury Theatre along with Orson Welles (whom he affectionately called "The Dog-Faced Boy"). Their most important success was a modern-dress version of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," in which the spectre of Hitler and Mussolini's Fascist states were evoked.
As a producer assigned to Unit 891 of the Federal Theater Project funded by the government's Works Progress Administration, he produced the legendary production "Cradle Will Rock," a musical about the tyranny of capitalism, with music by Marc Blitzstein, creative input from Welles, and starring leftists Howard Da Silva and Will Geer. The production was so controversial, it was banned before its debut, although the did manage to stage one performance.
On Broadway, apart from the Mercury Theatre and the WPA, Houseman directed "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1939) and "Liberty Jones" and produced "Native Son" (1941). During World War Two, Houseman went to work for the Office of War Information and was involved in broadcasting radio propaganda for the Voice of America. After the war, Houseman returned to directing and produced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1953 version of Julius Caesar (1953).
He had produced his first film, Orson Welles' Too Much Johnson (1938), while with the Mercury Theatre. He was involved with the pre-production of Citizen Kane (1941) but fell out with Welles due to Welles' already legendary ego. He produced a score of major films and was involved in three television series before devoting his life to teaching.
He helped establish the acting program at New York's famous Julliard School for the Arts, where he influenced a new generation of actors. Ironically, he had appeared in only one major movie, in a supporting role, before being tapped to replace James Mason in The Paper Chase (1973). He won an Oscar for the role and began a 15-year career as a highly sought after supporting player.
Houseman, who wrote three volumes of memoirs, Run-Through (1972), Front and Center (1979) and Final Dress (1983), died in 1988 after making major contributions to the theater and film.
|Joan Houseman||(11 November 1952 - 31 October 1988) (his death) 2 children|
|Zita Johann||(1929 - 13 September 1933) (divorced)|
Houseman was a producer of unit 891, the government theatre project funded by the WPA. He was producer of the legendary "Cradle Will Rock" which sent shock waves of paranoia from New York to Washington D.C.
He and Orson Welles were the founders of the famous Mercury Theatre Players.
Taught acting at Julliard School of Fine Arts for awhile.
Had 2 sons with his second wife, Joan Houseman.
During his teaching days at Julliard, one of his students was Robin Williams, whom Houseman admired. The actor later advised the future comedian that he should quit Julliard since he was wasting his talent, and strike out on his own as a comedian which Williams soon did.
He died soon after filming The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) but before its theatrical release. Coincidentally, actress Ethel Merman's final film role was in another Zucker film, Airplane! (1980).
Member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1962
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 435-437. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
Formerly a close friend and collaborator of Orson Welles during their theater days, they had two fallings-out as Welles began his screen career. Welles originally planned to make his screen debut with an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, starring himself as Kurtz. Many production factors failed to fall into place by the start-of-shooting deadline that had been set by RKO Pictures, and RKO executives declared they would not pay the cast if no progress were made by December 31, 1941. Welles offered to pay the cast himself if that happened. Houseman told him during a studio dinner that their business did not have enough money to pay them all. Welles called him a bloodsucker and crook. Houseman began to leave, and Welles starting throwing dinnerware at him. The two later reconciled during the writing of Citizen Kane, when Welles asked Houseman to "babysit" Herman J. Mankiewicz, meaning to keep him from drinking too much. After Mankeweicz delivered his script, Welles made a few changes before going into production. Welles later publicly claimed to have substantially re-written the script. Houseman, based on having been with Mankeweicz during the writing, publicly disagreed, that most of the credit belonged to Mankeweicz, with a little guidance from himself. This led Welles to permanently end their friendship.
His hatred for his former partner Orson Welles was notorious, and he never lost an opportunity to attack Welles, often on very personal grounds. He is known to have given a great deal of information, most of it false or misleading, to Pauline Kael for her much-criticized essay, "Raising Kane". Yet he could never escape from Welles's shadow, and even contrived to die on the 50th anniversary of the famous "War Of The Worlds" broadcast. On his deathbed, he admitted to Welles biographer Simon Callow that "meeting Welles was the most important event of my life".
[on Robert Ryan] A disturbing mixture of anger and tenderness who had reached stardom by playing mostly brutal, neurotic roles that were at complete variance with his true nature.
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