overview

Opened as the Cort Theater in 1912, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Laurette Taylor, Ma Rainey, Clyde Fitch, Thornton Wilder, George Cukor, and Marlene Dietrich, among others.

An early play with a gay character, even if rather subtle, was the 1930s production of The Green Bay Tree, in which Laurence Olivier played the spoiled ward of a gay foster-father.

The venue was renamed the James Earl Jones Theater in 2022.

Header Photo
Credit: Sarah Sargent/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

History

Since its opening, the Cort Theater has presented many productions with LGBT associations. Despite the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage, and which remained on the books until 1967, the Cort had one early play with a gay character, even if rather subtle. Laurence Olivier played the spoiled ward of a gay foster-father in Mordaunt Shairp’s The Green Bay Tree (1933-34), also with Jill Esmond. The theater’s first play, and a big hit, was Peg O’ My Heart (1912-14), with Laurette Taylor, which was also revived in 1921. The single biggest LGBT-associated hit was The Magic Show (1974-78), directed and choreographed by Grover Dale, and with actor David Ogden Stiers.

Plays by LGBT playwrights at the Cort included:

  • Under Cover (1914-15) by Roi Cooper Megrue
  • Beau Brummell (revival, 1916) by Clyde Fitch
  • Mother Carey’s Chickens (1917) by Rachel Crothers
  • Behold the Bridegroom (1927-28) by George Kelly, and with Judith Anderson
  • Maggie the Magnificent (1929) by George Kelly
  • Most of the Game (1935) by John Van Druten
  • Lady Windermere’s Fan (revival, 1946-47) by Oscar Wilde, with scenic, costume and lighting design by Cecil Beaton and with Beaton
  • Make Way for Lucia (1948-49) by John Van Druten, based on the novel by E.F. Benson, and with actor Cyril Ritchard
  • The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden by Thornton Wilder
  • The Respectful Prostitute (1948) by Thornton Wilder
  • The Hostage (1960) by Brendan Behan
  • Sex and Longing (1996) by Christopher Durang

 

Productions with LGBT designers at the Cort included:

 

LGBT performers at the Cort included:

 

The venue was renamed the James Earl Jones Theater in 2022.

Entry by Jay Shockley, project director (June 2019, with multiple additions).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Thomas W. Lamb
  • Year Built: 1912

Sources

  1. Adam Hetrick, “The Work of Broadway’s Gay and Lesbian Artistic Community Goes on Display Nov. 14 When the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation Gallery Presents ‘StageStruck: The Magic of Theatre Design’,” Playbill, Nov. 14, 2007.

  2. Cort Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987).

  3. Internet Broadway Database.

  4. Kaier Curtin, “We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians”: the Emergence of Lesbians and Gay Men on the American Stage (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1987).

  5. The 1st List of: Gay/Lesbian/Bi Industry People, Both in Front and Behind the Camera,” Internet Movie Database, May 31, 2013.

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43 Sites

Broadway Theater District

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