overview

Opened as the Biltmore Theater in 1926 and renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in 2008, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Paul Jabara, Farley Granger, Noel Coward, Florence Klotz, and Claudette Colbert, among others.

Mae West’s Pleasure Man (1928) ran for only two performances here before being raided by police for depicting five female impersonators in the final scene. No Exit (1946), adapted by Paul Bowles, featured a very rare lesbian character on Broadway in the period from World War II to 1975.

Header Photo
Credit: Sarah Sargent/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019. ON THE MAPVIEW THE FULL MAP

History

This venue was originally known as the Biltmore Theater. Despite the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage, and which remained on the books until 1967, lesbian and gay characters did make it onto the Broadway stage at the Biltmore. Mae West’s Pleasure Man, which depicted five female impersonators in the final scene, ran for two weeks in the Bronx and Queens, but was raided by police after only two performances here on October 1 and 2, 1928. No Exit (1946), by Jean-Paul Sartre and adapted by Paul Bowles, featured a very rare lesbian character on Broadway in the period from World War II to 1975. Billy Budd (1951) based on the homoerotic novel by Herman Melville, was directed by Norris Houghton, and starred Charles Nolte as Billy. Several later shows featured gay male characters: Loot (1968) by Joe Orton, with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor George RoseFlowers (1974), a mime and music show by and with Lindsay Kemp, based on Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of the FlowersHair (1968-72 and 1977), with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and with actors Rado and Paul Jabara (opened at the Public Theater); and Deathtrap (1982) with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor Farley Granger (opened at the Music Box Theater). The latter two plays were the biggest LGBT-associated hits at the Biltmore.

Other productions by LGBT creators here included The Marquise (1927-28) by Noel CowardPhilip Goes Forth (1931) by George KellyTake Her, She’s Mine (1961-62), with costume design by Florence KlotzBarefoot in the Park (1963-67), a big hit with scenic design by Oliver SmithFind Your Way Home (1974), with scenic design by William Ritman (opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater); Knock Knock (1976), with scenic design by John Lee BeattyAppearing Nitely (1977) by Jane Wagner, with Lily TomlinUp in One (1979) by Peter Allen and Craig Zadan, with Allen; The Supporting Cast (1981) by George Furth, with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor Sandy Dennis; and A Talent for Murder (1981), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and with actor Claudette Colbert.

LGBT performers at the Biltmore included Claudette Colbert in The Barker (1927), Tin Pan Alley (1928), and The Kingfisher (1978-79), the latter also with George RoseEva Le Gallienne in Therese (1945) and To Grandmother’s House We Go (1981); Sanford Meisner in The Whole World Over (1947); Gary Beach in Doonesbury (1983-84); and André De Shields in Stardust (1987).

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp
  • Year Built: 1925-26

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. Biltmore Theater Interior 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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