May 31, 1925|
Washington Heights, New York
|Died||September 14, 1985
New York City, New York
|Occupation||Film actor, stage actor, stage director, poet, painter|
|Spouse(s)||Judith Malina (2 children)|
Julian Beck (May 31, 1925 – September 14, 1985) was an American actor, director, poet, and painter. He is best known for co-founding and directing The Living Theatre, as well as his role as Kane, the malevolent preacher in the 1986 movie Poltergeist II: The Other Side.
Beck was born in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, the son of Mabel Lucille (née Blum), a teacher, and Irving Beck, a businessman. He briefly attended Yale University, but dropped out to pursue writing and art. He was an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1940s, but his career turned upon meeting his future wife. In 1943, he met Judith Malina (born 1926) and quickly came to share her passion for theatre; they founded The Living Theatre in 1947.
Beck co-directed the Living Theatre until his death. The group's primary influence was Antonin Artaud, who espoused the Theatre of Cruelty, which was supposed to shock the audience out of complacency. This took different forms. In one example, from Jack Gelber's The Connection, a drama about drug addiction, actors playing junkies wandered the audience demanding money for a fix. The Living Theatre moved out of New York in 1964, after the Internal Revenue Service shut it down when Beck failed to pay $23,000 in back taxes. After a sensational trial, in which Beck and Malina represented themselves, they were found guilty by a jury.
Beck's philosophy of theatre carried over into his life. He once said, "We insisted on experimentation that was an image for a changing society. If one can experiment in theatre, one can experiment in life." He was indicted a dozen times on three continents for charges such as disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, possession of narcotics, and failing to participate in a civil defense drill.
Besides his theatre work, Beck published several volumes of poetry reflecting his anarchist beliefs, two non-fiction books: The Life of the Theatre and Theandric and had several film appearances, with small roles in Oedipus Rex (1967), Love and Anger (1969), The Cotton Club (1984), 9½ Weeks (1986), and his role in Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). Beck also appeared in an episodes of Miami Vice.
Beck and Malina were life partners in an open marriage, and Beck had a long-term relationship with Ilion Troya, a male actor in the company. Malina and Beck shared a lover in Lester Schwartz, a bisexual shipyard worker who was the third husband of Andy Warhol acolyte Dorothy Podber. Beck and Malina had "two offstage children", Garrick and Isha.
Beck was diagnosed with stomach cancer in late 1983, and died two years later on September 14, 1985, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, aged 60. He was survived by his wife, their two children, Garrick and Isha, and a brother. He was interred at Cedar Park Cemetery, in Emerson, New Jersey.
- Julian Beck Film Reference biography
- Peter R. Prifti. Socialist Albania since 1944: Domestic and Foreign Developments. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1978. p. 140.
- Obituary of Dorothy Podber, The Daily Telegraph, February 26, 2008
- "Julian Beck, 60, is dead; Founded Living Theater", Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, September 17, 1985
- "Theater honors put women in the spotlight". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 28, 2004.
- Living Theater Records, circa 1947-2007 (344 boxes) are housed in the Yale University Beinecke Library.
- Julian Beck Collection, at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
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