Historic, but not famous

Howard Otway, revival movie theater
Howard and Florence Otway

Howard Otway (1922 – 1994, an actor, author and singer owned and directed Theater 80 St. Marks, the longest continuously running movie house devoted exclusively to revival films and plays in New York City. His theater, at 80 St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, began its film revival program in 1971 with an opening-night celebration at which Gloria Swanson was the host. Designed and built by Mr. Otway in 1966, the theater was previously the home of the Manhattan Festival Ballet and of theatrical productions that included the 1967 musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Mr. Otway began his professional career at the age of 14 as a band and radio vocalist in the Middle West. He moved to New York at the age of 19, acted in stage productions and toured with Ms. Swanson in “Let Us Be Gay” in the early 1940’s.

He bought the building at 80 St. Marks Place in the East Village in 1964 from known Gangster Walter Scheib and found safes that had been left by  Frank Hoffman, a Bavarian-born bondsman turned bootlegger , but they were empty. Scheib held the mortgage until the $64,000 was paid for the building. Otway did fall behind in payments for about 6 months and hid from Scheib, but that all changed in 1967 when You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was successful and allowed him to pay off the loan.

The building is now occupied by Theatre 80 St. Marks, The Museum of the American Gangster and the William Barnacle Tavern. It is owned by Lorcan Otway, Howard’s son.

The Theater is struggling. You can support the theater by going to one of its many shows or making a contribution through their website.  

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Historic, but not famous

George Holland, actor

George Holland (1791–1870) was an English American stage actor, born in London. He discovered the stage during a six weeks long vacation. It was at Astley’s Amphitheatre he made his first appearance and started a 53 year long career. He found work in Liverpool, Dublin and London and arrived on the stage in New York City in 1827.

His first appearance in NYC was at the Bowery theater, aka the New York Theater. He acted in “A Day After the Fair,”  a hit and he traveled to many large cities in the USA with the acting troop. His work was always well reviewed and celebrated, but he was rarely the star of the show.

 

He was the father of at least 4 children and continued holding jobs while supporting his acting career for much of his life. He died almost in poverty at his home on 3rd avenue in Manhattan.

His death was followed by controversy when the Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Sabine refused to allow the funeral of an actor at his church and it was suggested they try and bury him at the Church of the Transfiguration, on West Twenty-ninth Street. The church became known as the little church around the corner and remains a legend of an American story.  The church has been mentioned by many writers and artists including Mark Twain.

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Historic, but not famous

John Bunny, comedian, silent film star

John Bunny (September 21, 1863 – April 26, 1915) was an actor who was often described as “the first internationally recognized film comedian.” Between 1909 and his death in 1915, Bunny was one of the top stars of early silent film, as well as an early example of celebrity.

Bunny was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn. The son of English immigrants, he initially worked as a clerk in a general store before joining a small minstrel show at the age of twenty. His stage career spanned over 30 years and included work in tour and stock theater companies around the US until he worked his way onto the Broadway stage. His performance as Bottom in a Midsummer Nights Dream brought great acclaim and he decided to move to the movies after seeing how film was effecting the stage.

He approached Vitagraph studios and started working with them in 1910, accepting a lower rate of pay than he made on Broadway. He ended up starring in over 150 films for the studio.  They often paired Bunny with the comedian Flora Finch, with whom he made over one hundred popular comedies that came to be known as “Bunnygraphs” or “Bunnyfinches”.

Headstone in Evergreen Cemetery

Bunny had been acting in films for only five years when he died from Bright’s disease, a kidney disease, at his home in Brooklyn on April 26, 1915. He was survived by his wife and two sons and interred in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York

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Historic, but not famous

Judith Malina, living theater co-founder

Judith Malina co-founded the Living Theater with her husband in 1947 and they remained at the forefront of stage experimentation in the 1950s and 1960s. They were an integral part of the “Counter-culture” of the time. She was only 21 when they started the theater. She had studied acting and directing and remained involved in both throughout her life.

Ms. Malina was born in Kiel, a port city in northern Germany, on June 4, 1926. The family moved to New York City when she was very young. She met Mr. Beck in 1943, when she was just 17, and together they attended the theater, visited museums and read modernist writers like Joyce, Pound and Cocteau. Ms. Malina worked as a singing waitress in a Greenwich Village bar and eventually enrolled in Piscator’s workshop at the New School for Social Research.

Ms. Malina was arrested multiple times for various offenses large and small,  and the theater was evicted from various spaces throughout NYC. They brought productions to multiple countries. She published books on her experiences with the theater which are still available. The Living Theater is the oldest experimental theater group in the United States. They still perform in NYC, continuing in the ideals of Ms. Malina (died 2015) and Mr. Beck (1995).

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