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Playbill Vault’s Today in Theatre History: August 7

1886 Future stage actor and second wife of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., Billie Burke is born in Washington, D.C. Born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton, Burke spends her childhood in England, where her father is a popular clown performer. For this reason, most of Burke’s early stage successes are in London, not New York. In fact, Burke only appears in one American musical, 1924’s Annie Dear, produced by her husband. Other New York stage appearances include The Truth Game, This Rock, and Rose Briar. In the 1930s Burke lends her name as a producer to many editions of her husband’s Follies and make some film appearances. Burke is best-preserved on film as Glinda, the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

1919 Actors’ Equity calls the longest strike in American theatre history. Francis Bacon’s Lightin’ and 12 other Broadway shows go dark as the fledgling union’s struggle for recognition moves to the picket lines. Four days later, the chorus in Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.’s Follies form Chorus Equity and elect Marie Dressler as their first President. After 30 days, 37 closed productions and 16 prevented openings, and a loss of $3 million, the strike is settled and managers sign a five year contract. Responding to Equity’s call for recognition, producer, director, and actor George M. Cohan says “I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors’ union.” A sign later appears in Times Square saying “Elevator Operator Wanted: George M. Cohan need not apply.”

1950 Two-time Academy Award winner Luise Rainer stars in a revival of Henrik Ibsen‘s The Lady from the Sea as part of the Festival Theatre‘s season at the Fulton Theatre. Directed by Sam Wanamaker, the cast also includes husband-and-wife actors Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.

1965 Tony Award winner Carol Channing says “Goodbye” to the original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! after her August 7 performance to join the California company fo the show. Although Channing is immortalized as Ms. Dolly Levi (and returns to the role in two revivals) the production also thrives with many new “star” Dollys. Among them are Ginger Rogers (who succeeds Channing the next week), Pearl Bailey, Betty Grable, and Ethel Merman, for whom the show was originally written.

1984 David Rabe‘s Hurlyburly opens on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Mike Nichols directs a star-studded cast that includes Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Ron Silver, Jerry Stiller, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, and Judith Ivey. The play about show business men trying to find themselves transferred from Off-Broadway where Christopher Walken played the role taken over by Silver.

1986 Honky Tonk Nights opens at Broadway’s Biltmore Theatre. With music by Michael Valenti and a libretto by David Campbell and Ralph Allen (Sugar Babies), the show follows a Black vaudeville troupe as they move from Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem. The troupe’s star duo gets extra opportunities from white show business that require personal compromise and threaten to tear the group apart. The cast stars a young Joe Morton (Raisin, TV’s Scandal), Ira Hawkins (The Tap Dance Kid) and Teresa Burrell (Thoroughly Modern Millie). The show was cut short and closed after only 14 previews and four regular performances.

2003 A Stoop On Orchard Street, a musical set in New York City’s Lower East Side and exploring Ellis Island-era immigrant life, opens quietly at Off-Broadway’s Mazer Theater, but builds into a sold-out hit almost exclusively on the strength of word of mouth. Jay Kholos, a 63-year-old former TV writer and producer, wrote music, lyrics, and book.

2016 The world premiere of Steve Martin‘s play Meteor Shower opens at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. Jenna Fischer, Greg Germann, Alex Henrikson, and Josh Stamberg star in the comedy about two married couples who gather to watch a meteor shower in the night sky. The play opens on Broadway a year later, in a production starring Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti, and Jeremy Shamos.

Today’s Birthdays: Kermit Love (1916–2008), Robert Moore (1927–1984), John Glover (b. 1944), Wayne Knight (b. 1955), Rachel York (b. 1971), Michael Shannon (b. 1974), Karen Olivo (b. 1976), Alex Timbers (b. 1978).

Watch Cynthia Nixon talk about appearing in two Broadway plays—Hurlyburly and The Real Thingat the same time:

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