Ethel Barrymore Theater

243 W 47th St #251 New York

LGBT Theater District/Ethel Barrymore Theater
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Written By NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.

Overview

Despite the passing of the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage, lesbian and gay characters did make it onto the Broadway stage. At the Ethel Barrymore Theater, plays by such gay and lesbian playwrights as Noel Coward, Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, and John Van Druten were performed.

History

Early 20th-century censors, excited about “controversial” subjects being explored in New York’s theaters, focused mainly on sexuality – in particular, homosexuality and interracial relationships. In 1927, the New York Legislature passed the Wales Padlock Law, which made it illegal “depicting or dealing with, the subject of sex degeneracy, or sex perversion,” and offending theaters could be closed. (Similarly, Hollywood movies were subjected to the infamous Motion Picture Production (Hays) Code of 1930.) Although the New York law was not often enforced, and was protested by the theater community, it had a huge and censorious effect on the Broadway stage. Despite the law, which remained on the books until 1967, lesbian and gay characters did manage to make it to Broadway, often in the works of lesbian and gay playwrights.

At the Ethel Barrymore Theater, for instance, there were a number of important productions with subtle gay themes: Design for Living (1933) by Noel Coward, with Coward, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne; A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), by Tennessee Williams, with Marlon Brando (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award); Bell, Book and Candle (1950) by John Van Druten; and Tea and Sympathy (1953) by Robert Anderson. A Raisin in the Sun (1959), by Lorraine Hansberry, was the first work on Broadway by an African-American woman and winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

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Other productions of note at the Barrymore, with LGBT creators and performers, included: The Truth Game (1930) by and with Ivor Novello; Gay Divorce (1932) with music by Cole Porter; Jigsaw (1934) with Spring Byington; Night Must Fall (1936) by and with Emlyn Williams; No Time for Comedy (1939) with Katharine Cornell and Laurence Olivier; Pal Joey (1940), lyrics by Lorenz Hart, with Van Johnson; The Three Sisters (1942) with Katharine Cornell and Judith Anderson; Foxhole in the Parlor (1945) with Montgomery Clift; The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1945) with Katharine Cornell; The Medium/ The Telephone (1947) and The Consul (1950) by Gian Carlo Menotti; Misalliance (1953) with Roddy McDowall; Look Homeward Angel (1957) with Anthony Perkins (winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award); The Irregular Verb to Love (1963) with Claudette Colbert and Cyril Richard; The Amen Corner (1965) by James Baldwin; Inner City (1971) directed by Tom O’Horgan; Holiday (1973) with John Glover; Noel Coward in Two Keys (1974) by Coward; Romantic Comedy (1979) with Anthony Perkins; and West Side Waltz (1981) with Katharine Hepburn.

Building Information

Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp Year Built: 1928

Sources

Jay Shockley, LGBT Research File, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2014.

Cover Photo

Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017.

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