John Herbert (playwright)

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John Herbert
Born John Herbert Brundage
(1926-10-13)October 13, 1926
Died June 22, 2001(2001-06-22) (aged 74)
Toronto, Ontario
Nationality Canadian
Notable works Fortune and Men's Eyes (1967)

John Herbert was the pen name of John Herbert Brundage (13 October 1926 – 22 June 2001), a Canadian playwright and theatre director best known for his 1967 play Fortune and Men's Eyes.


Herbert was born in Toronto on October 13, 1926.[1] After completing high school he worked in the advertising department of Eaton's and began competing in drag pageants.[2] In the late 1940s[nb 1] Herbert was the victim of an attempted robbery while he was dressed as a woman. When the police arrived his assailants falsely claimed that Herbert had solicited them for sex. Their lie resulted in Herbert, himself, being arrested and charged with "gross indecency" under Canada's same-sex sexual activity law, which was not repealed until 1969. Herbert was sentenced to six months in a youth reformatory in Guelph, Ontario.[3][4][5]

After being released from the reformatory, he spent some time travelling across North America, doing odd jobs to support himself, before returning to Toronto in 1955 where he studied at the National Ballet School of Canada and at Dora Mavor Moore's New Play Society.[1] Herbert co-founded the Garret Theatre with his sister Nana Brundage in 1960.[6][nb 2]

VHS cover for the film

Herbert wrote Fortune and Men's Eyes in 1964 based on his time in jail.[5] He included the character of Queenie as an authorial self-insertion.[2] The play was first staged as a Stratford Festival workshop directed by Bruno Gerussi, in 1965, but Herbert was unable to find a theatre company willing to mount a full production in Canada.[3] It ultimately premiered as an off-Broadway play in New York City, produced by David Rothenberg and Mitchell Nestor, on February 14, 1967 at the Broadway Actor's Playhouse.[8] Because of the 1947 conviction, Herbert frequently faced difficulties entering the United States to attend productions of his work.[6]

Fortune and Men's Eyes remains the most widely produced play in the history of Canadian theatre, both in Canada and internationally.[1] It has been translated into more than 40 languages and staged internationally. A motion picture version of the work, based on a screenplay by Herbert, was directed by Harvey Hart in 1971.[8][4] The play had a profound impact on producer David Rothenberg who went on to found the Fortune Society, a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports incarcerated and formally-incarcerated people reintegrate into society.[6][9][3]

Although none of Herbert's other plays were as successful as Fortune and Men's Eyes,[1] Herbert remained active as a dancer, a theatre director, an acting teacher and a theatre lecturer at Ryerson University, Glendon College, York University and the University of Toronto.[2]

Herbert died in 2001.[6] The manual typewriter on which he composed Fortune and Men's Eyes is in the possession of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.[10]

Selected works[edit]

  • Felice (1955)
  • Pearl Divers (1956)
  • Beer Room (1957)
  • Close Friends (1958)
  • A Ruby Fell (1959)
  • Time To a Waltz (1959)
  • Private Club (1960)
  • A Household God (1961)
  • World of Woyzeck (1963)
  • Born of Medusa's Blood (1965)
  • Fortune and Men's Eyes (1967)
  • Omphale and the Hero (1971)
  • The Dinosaurs (1973)
  • The Token Star (1976)
  • The Power of Paper Dolls (1979)
  • Magda (1981)
  • The Butterfly and the Nightingale (1984)
  • The Biographers (1985)
  • Blanche and Rose's Dream Song (1986)
  • The Primadonna (1988)
  • Broken Antique Dolls (1991)
  • Merchants of Bay Street (1993)
  • Family of a Monster (1995)
  • Marilyn at Seventy (1995)
  • Marlene Richdiet (1998)
  • One Castle Court (1999)


  1. ^ The date of the attack is unclear and often ranges in available references from 1945-1948. The confusion may be due this arrest's conflation with a subsequent arrest for gross indecency after Herbert's release from the Guelph reformatory. He served another sentence for gross indecency at reformatory in Mimico in 1948.[2]
  2. ^ The decision to drop Brundage from his professional name was made to avoid brother-sister associations with as Nana who had already established a name for herself using the family name.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d John Herbert at The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ a b c d John Herbert at the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ a b c ""That Man's Scope" John Herbert Now". The Body Politic. 10: 12–13, 25. 1973. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Dickinson, Peter (2002). "Critically Queenie: The Lessons of Fortune and Men's Eyes" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Film Studies. 11 (2). Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  5. ^ a b John Herbert at The Literary Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ a b c d "John Herbert Dies at 75; Wrote of Prison Life". The New York Times, June 27, 2001.
  7. ^ Shirley, Don (28 June 2001). "John Herbert; His Play Exposed Prison Life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  8. ^ a b McLeod, Donald W. (1996). Lesbian and gay liberation in Canada: a selected annotated chronology, 1964-1975 (PDF). Toronto: ECW Press/Homewood Books. p. 29. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  9. ^ "Our Founder David Rothenberg to be honored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation!". The Fortune Society. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  10. ^ Richardson, Gordon. "What's in the Archives? John Herbert's Typewriter | CLGA Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives". Retrieved 2 August 2016. 

External links[edit]