“It would have been lovelier if Jerry were standing here,” host Marian Seldes said — referring to originally designated emcee Jerry Orbach — at the January 24 Theater Hall of Fame “Lifetime in the Theater 2004 Induction Awards” ceremony at the Gershwin Theatre.
Lynn Meadows, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, described honoree set/costume designer Santo Loquasto (“Grand Hotel,” “Ragtime,” “Cafe Crown”) as “a da Vinci… and innovator who, with a shmatte… [can] put Botox over a sagging scene.” Zachary Hines accepted a posthumous award for his father, actor Gregory Hines (“Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Sophisticated Ladies”). Kate Burton posited that she was picked to accept the award on behalf of [working] actor Sir Ian McKellen (“Amadeus,” “Richard III”) “because I’m of British origin.” Elaine Orbach recalled honoree/actor Len Cariou’s (“Sweeney Todd,” ‘Copenhagen”) “longtime friendship with Jerry” on and off the golf course. “It’s not fair. I so do miss him,” Cariou said.
Presenters Richard Kornberg, James Nederlander and Gil Parker helped induct actress Estelle Parsons (“Mornings at Seven”), producer Elizabeth McCann (“Amadeus,” “Dracula”), and British actor Brian Murray (“Noises Off,” “Uncle Vanya”). Murray declared: “I fell in love with this country… [and] city.… Here’s where I can really act… this is my home.”
Founded in 1971 by Earl Blackwell, James M. Nederlander (father of the presenter), Gerard Oestreicher and L. Arnold Weissberger, the annual ceremony produced by Terry Hodge Taylor honors individuals with more than five major credits whose career on Broadway spans 25 years. The more than 450 inductees include Jacob Adler, Stella Adler, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Zero Mostel, Clifford Odets, Jerry Orbach, Tony Randall, Arthur Miller and Ossie Davis.
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I first met Ossie Davis (who died February 4) at the July 1991 garden party attended by more than 1,000 and hosted by then mayor David Dinkins — a devoted THOF attendee — at Gracie Mansion to honor the city’s film industry, as well as to honor film director Spike Lee and Lorne Michaels, producer of “Saturday Night Live.” My last chat with Davis was at the November 2003 “Stella by Starlight” gala, where he and his wife, actor Ruby Dee, received the Stella Adler Studio of Acting’s “Group Theatre Award.”
In 1995, after accepting his THOF award, Ossie Davis recalled “Jeb,” his first Broadway play, which premiered in 1946. “I came home as a veteran, the doors on Broadway were open and America was ready to see that race was no longer a negative force.… Those were heady days.… We raised funds to fight lynching in Mississippi; debated the great ideas of the day with Paul Robeson, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando and Arthur Miller; fought passionately against what we in the theater felt was the criminal decision [regarding] Julius and Ethel Rosenberg….” Davis went on to say how he had been influenced by Sholom Aleichem and “exposed to those folks from Chelm who were the catalyst that inspired me to write ‘Purlie Victorious.’” I asked Davis how the Chelmner naronim (fools) inspired him. “After reading about those fools, I realized that they not only existed in Poland, but we had our own ‘wise’ fools in Cotton Patch.… However, I regret that… this humor is no longer accessible.”