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.

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.

A big LGBT-associated early hit was the theater’s first play – 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. Modest hits here were Under Cover (1914-15) by Roi Cooper MegrueThe Swan (1923-24), with Eva Le GallienneLady Windermere’s Fan (revival, 1946-47) by Oscar Wilde, with scenic, costume and lighting design by Cecil Beaton and with Beaton; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984-85) about blues singer Ma Rainey; and The Heiress (revival, 1995), based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James, with Cherry Jones (Best Actress in a Play Tony Award).

Plays by LGBT playwrights at the Cort included Beau Brummell (revival, 1916) by Clyde FitchMother Carey’s Chickens (1917) by Rachel CrothersBehold the Bridegroom (1927-28) and Maggie the Magnificent (1929) by George Kelly, the former with Judith AndersonMost of the Game (1935) and Make Way for Lucia (1948-49) by John Van Druten, the latter based on the novel by E.F. Benson, with Cyril RitchardThe Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden and The Respectful Prostitute (1948) by Thornton WilderThe Hostage (1960) by Brendan Behan; and Sex and Longing (1996) by Christopher Durang.

Productions with LGBT designers included Suds in Your Eye (1944), with costume design by Kermit LoveIn Any Language (1952),with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du BoisAdvise and Consent (1960-61), with scenic design by Rouben Ter-ArutunianThe Riot Act (1963), with scenic design by William RitmanThe Jockey Club Stakes (1973), with costume design by Albert WolskyKing Richard III (revival, 1979), with scenic design by Tony Straiges; and An American Daughter (1997), with scenic design by John Lee Beatty and lighting design by Pat Collins.

LGBT performers here included George Cukor in A Regular Feller (1919); Edna May Oliver in Her Salary Man (1921); Blythe Daly in A Most Immoral Lady (1928-29) and Bridal Wise (1932); Georgette Harvey in Five Star Final (1930-31); Spring Byington in Ladies of Creation (1931); Katharine Cornell in Antigone (1946) and Candida (revival, 1946), the latter also with Marlon BrandoWill Geer in On Whitman Avenue (1946); Katharine Hepburn in As You Like It (revival, 1950); John Dall in Champagne Complex (1955); Anthony Perkins in Harold (1962); Judith Anderson in Medea (revival, 1982); Brian Bedford and Victor Garber in Two Shakespearean Actors (1992); and Edward Hibbert in The Green Bird (2000). Marlene (1999) was about the legendary Marlene Dietrich.

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,” www.imdb.com, May 31, 2013.

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