Local theatre legend bequeaths gift to theatre department

Lucille Lortel, whose support of the theatre and new and struggling artists was legendary, has bequeathed $50,000 to Fairfield University for its Theatre program.

"Lucille Lortel dedicated her life to making the theatre accessible to as many people as possible," commented Tom Zingarelli, director of the Regina A. Quick Center of the Arts at Fairfield University. "She was especially committed to helping emerging playwrights." He recalled Ms. Lortel visiting the Fairfield campus on several occasions, to see a play in the former Playhouse and to speak to audiences about her work. "In 1987 she received an honorary degree from Fairfield for her devotion to the theatre."

The gift to Fairfield will be used to establish a fund to finance annually the Lucille Lortel Series of Distinguished Lecturers and New Plays. Dr. Marti LoMonaco, director of theatre in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, expressed her delight, saying, "This bequest is, in the theatre world, tantamount to receiving the 'Good Housekeeping seal of approval.'"

She noted that Ms. Lortel "was a principal benefactor of two of the most prestigious graduate playwrighting programs in the country, at Yale and Brown Universities. Ms. Lortel's support is a great honor for Fairfield's undergraduate program, which nurtures the development of original student work in playwrighting, directing and designing."

Ms. Lortel, affectionately called the "Queen of Off-Broadway" for paving the way for successful Off-Broadway theatre, opened the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Conn., in 1947, where she provided young playwrights with a place to showcase their work.

In 1950 she began producing plays in New York City. Ms. Lortel, who had given up a promising acting career when she married industrialist Louis Schweitzer, received the Theatre de Lys in 1955 as an anniversary gift from her husband. Located on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village, the theatre was renamed the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 1980. Among the many playwrights whose works she presented were Samuel Beckett, Sean O'Casey, Athol Fugard, Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Terrence McNally and Edward Albee.

Ms. Lortel died on April 4, 1999, at age 98. Her husband of 40 years, Louis Schweitzer, died in 1971.


Lucille Lortel, of the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Inc., Obituary

Lucille Lortel, the theater producer and patron who was known as the Queen of Off Broadway for her pioneering efforts to bring innovative productions to the American stage, died on April 4, 1999 at age 98.

Lortel began her 70-year career in the theater as an actress, a profession she gave up in 1939 at the request of her wealthy husband, Louis Schweitzer. In 1947, she began White Barn, an experimental summer theater for American and foreign plays and playwrights at the couple's summer estate in Westport. Her husband gave her a Manhattan theater, now known as the Lucille Lortel Theater, in 1955 as a 24th wedding anniversary gift. Originally called the Theater de Lys, the theater was the setting for a seven-year run of an adaption of Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera," as well as an experimental matinee series that lasted 20 years and many other notable productions.

Over the course of her career, Lortel produced or co-produced some 500 plays, 5 of which were nominated for Tony Awards. She was also a generous donor in theatrical circles beyond New York, establishing the Lucille Lortel Fund for New Drama at Yale University and the Lucille Lortel Fellowship in Playwriting at Brown University. She also gave money for the annual Drama Circle awards and made sizable financial contributions to dance and music groups.

FCnote: Lucille Lortel was donor and president of the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Inc. (NY), which had assets of $4,380,604 and made grants totaling $173,600 in the fiscal year ending 6/30/97.

FCnote: Lucille Lortel was donor and president of the White Barn Theatre Foundation, Inc.(NY), an operating foundation which had assets of $237,394 in the fiscal year ending 6/30/97.

Nemy, Enid. "Lucille Lortel, Patron Who Made Innovative Off Broadway a Star, Is Dead at 98." New York Times 4/6/99, p. A25.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 15, 2000

Vol. 32, No. 147

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