Partner Dorothy Patten, Ruth Norman, Friend Charlotte Abramson, buried together with Abramson

Queer Places:
Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA
Pride House, Beach Walk, Yaphank, NY 11980
Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester County, New York, USA

CherylCrawford1.jpgCheryl Crawford (September 24, 1902 – October 7, 1986) was an American theatre producer and director. [1]

Born in Akron, Ohio, the only daughter of realtor Robert Kingsley Crawford and Luella Elizabeth Parker, Crawford majored in drama at Smith College. Following graduation, she moved to New York City and enrolled at the Theatre Guild's school. By then she knew that she didn't want to pursue an acting career, but saw no other way to gain access to the organization producing the highest quality theatre of its time. Finishing their training in 1927, she was hired by Theresa Helburn, the Guild's Executive Director, as a casting secretary. She then worked her way through various backstage jobs, including assistant stage manager, to assistant to the “Board of Managers,” an importantant administrative job.[2] While working at the Guild, she met Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg who had also been working there as play reader and actor, respectively. She was impressed with these two young men and joined their animated discussions about the need for a radically new form of American theatre. In 1930 Crawford urged Clurman to start giving semi-public talks to groups of like-minded actors. After he followed her suggestion and the talks attracted more people than could fit in Clurman's apartment, Crawford arranged for the use of a showroom at the Steinway Piano Company. In 1931, Crawford, Clurman and Strasberg announced the formation of The Group Theatre and invited 28 young actors who had been attending Clurman's talks to join them for a twelve-week-long summer of training and rehearsal at Brookfield Center, Connecticut.[3]

Crawford had a major role in selecting the early plays produced by The Group, beginning with their first one, The House of Connelly by North Carolina playwright Paul Green, whom she later introduced to composer Kurt Weill. She encouraged their subsequent collaboration, Weill's first American project, the musical Johnny Johnson, which was the last production she worked on before resigning from The Group Theatre in 1937 to become an independent producer.[4]

In the 1930s she had an affair with Dorothy Patten; Crawford rented her apartment to Aaron Copland so that she could move in with Patten. Their vacations together included visits to their family homes in Akron and Chattanooga.

Among Crawford's early productions was Family Portrait (1939), starring Judith Anderson and directed by Margaret Webster.

Crawford also found success with a stock company in Maplewood, New Jersey, where her weekly productions featured the talents of Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Barrymore, Edna Ferber, José Ferrer, Helen Hayes, Canada Lee, Paul Robeson, and Gloria Swanson, among others. In the 1940s and 1950s many of her closest associates (both personal and professional) vacationed on Fire Island, including Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Oliver White and Janet Flanner, among others. Crawford frequently rented Pride House with Ruth Norman and served on the advisory board for the Cherry Grove Follies during its first season. As it became more diversified in terms of class, Crawford and Norman joined the migration of "ladies" from Cherry Grove to the Connecticut countryside. Their weekend guests at their Eastham estate included, among many others, neighbors Mary Martin and Richard Halliday, as well as Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. Eastham, four miles from Norwalk, CT, was destroyed by fire in the late 1960s.

Crawford was influential in the early careers of such actors as Bojangles Robinson, Mary Martin, and Ingrid Bergman, among many others. In 1946, she, Margaret Webster and Eva Le Gallienne founded the American Repertory Theatre.

Crawford produced plays for the American National Theatre and Academy, notably, Galileo (1947), starring Charles Laughton. In 1947, together with former Group Theatre members Elia Kazan and Robert Lewis, Crawford founded The Actor's Studio, which trained Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Martin Landau, Shelley Winters, Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel, Jack Nicholson, John Astin and many more. Former partner Strasberg joined them as artistic director in 1951.[5]

Crawford was the longtime partner of Ruth Norman, a restaurateur and cookbook author. Biographer Milly S. Barranger reports that while Crawford was “taciturn” about her personal life, she wore her lesbian identity “undisguised in her tailored clothes, her hair style, her masculine tone of voice, and her circle of women friends.”

Crawford remained active in the theater almost up until her death. One day in June 1986, she was climbing the stairs to the office of New Dramatists, an organization that trains playwrights and develops plays, when a student opened a door from the inside and accidentally sent her falling backward onto the sidewalk. She never recovered from her injuries, and died in October of that year. She is buried together with her friend, Charlotte Abramson (July 3, 1920 – July 6, 2001).

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