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Eric Russell Bentley (born September 14, 1916) is a British-born American critic, playwright, singer, editor, and translator. In 1998, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the New York Theater Hall of Fame, recognizing his many years of cabaret performances.
Born in Bolton, Lancashire, Bentley attended Oxford University, receiving his degree in 1938. He subsequently attended Yale University (B. Litt. in 1939 and PhD in 1941), where he received the John Addison Porter Prize.
Yale University, New Haven, CT
Beginning in 1953, Bentley taught at Columbia University and was a theatre critic for The New Republic. He became known for his blunt style of theatre criticism, and was threatened with lawsuits from both Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller for his unfavorable reviews of their work. From 1960–1961, Bentley was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University.
Bentley is one of the preeminent experts on Bertolt Brecht, whom he met at the University of California, Los Angeles as a young man and whose work he has translated extensively. He edited the Grove Press issue of Brecht's work, and recorded two albums of Brecht's songs for Folkways Records, most of which had never before been recorded in English.
In 1968, he signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
His play The Red, White, and Black was produced at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in 1971 in collaboration with the Columbia University School of the Arts Theatre Division. Beginning in 1975, Andrei Serban directed multiple productions of Bentley's translation of Brecht's Good Woman of Setzuan at La MaMa, with music by Elizabeth Swados. The 1975 production was followed by a production in 1976 and another production in 1978. The Great Jones Repertory Company also took the show on tour to Europe in 1976.
Bentley was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1969. That same year, he made his homosexuality public. In an interview in the New York Times on November 12, 2006, he claimed he was married twice before coming out at age 53, at which time he left his position as the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia to concentrate on his writing. He has cited his homosexuality as an influence on his theater work, especially his play Lord Alfred's Lover, based on the life of Oscar Wilde.
He won an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre from the American Theatre Wing in 2006 and a Robert Chesley Award in 2007.
Bentley became an American citizen in 1948, and currently lives in New York City. He turned 100 on September 14, 2016.
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