Historic, but not famous

Charles Ludlam, founder Ridiculous Theatrical Company

Charles Ludlam (1943 – 1987) was an actor, director, and playwright born on Long Island NY. He started his theater career while still in high school, performing with friends and in school plays. He received a degree in dramatic literature from Hofstra University in 1964.

Ludlam joined John Vaccaro’s Play-House of the Ridiculous, and after a falling out, founded his own Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967. His first plays were rudimentary exercises, but they eventually moved into structure plays by Lorca, Shakespeare and Wagner. Some plays he wrote were based on popular culture and were humorous plays with dark or serious undertones. His goal was to be absurd or ridiculous while making a social point.

He won six Obie Awards over the course of his career, as well as working with New York University, Connecticut College, Yale University and Carnegie Mellon. Ludlam often appeared in his plays, and was noted for his female roles.

Ludlam was diagnosed with AIDS in March 1987. He died one month later of pneumonia. The block in front of Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village is named in his honor.

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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

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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Historic, but not famous

Ida Rauh, suffragist, actress, sculpture, poet

Ida Rauh (March 7, 1877 – February 28, 1970) was a lawyer, suffragist, actress, sculptor, and poet who helped found the Provincetown Players in 1915. The group originally performed in Provincetown, RI, but moved to MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. She directed the first production of O’Neill’s one-act play “Where the Cross Is Made”, and in the Village she became known for her intensely emotional acting.

Ms. Rauh graduated from New York University Law School in 1902, but had little hope of practicing law as the profession did not allow women to present cases. She moved her interest to Union organization and helped with the first strike of the “shirtwaist” makers in the Village in 1909 and also became involved in the suffrage movement. She married writer and editor Max Eastman in New York in 1911 (divorced in 1922), but kept her own name, something considered very scandalous at that time. Eastman credited her with introducing him to socialism. During her years in Greenwich Village, Rauh supported a variety of feminist causes, among them Margaret Sanger’s campaigns. She was arrested in 1916 for distributing birth-control information and  charged with obscenity. She received a suspended sentence.

Rauh left the theater in 1920 to pursue sculpture, painting, and other interests. Her accumulated work includes writing, sculpture, painting and scripts. She died in New Mexico a couple months after her son.

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