Charles Norris Houghton (26 December 1909 – 9 October 2001) was a renowned theatre visionary whose career spanned seven decades. Credited with over 50 theatre productions, he was stage manager, scenic designer, producer, director, theatre manager, academician, author, and public policy advocate: these myriad roles reflect his chosen life as a "generalist," a multifaceted "theatre man." Houghton is known for accomplishments that reflect this span: as the premier American expert of 20th-century Russian Theatre; as a major force in creating the "off-Broadway" movement; as a student and educator of global theater; and as an influential advocate of arts education.
Houghton's career culminated with his accomplishments as a distinguished scholar and teacher, selected to teach and promote theatre as part of a liberal education in such prominent universities as Princeton, Columbia, and Vassar; his academic career was completed at the State University of New York, where he helped create the SUNY Purchase campus and served as founding Dean of Theatre and Film. A prolific author, this multifaceted life is documented in his books and articles, and his work has been the subject of analysis and commentary by admiring colleagues and reviewers in numerous articles, books, journals, and newspapers. His books and papers are preserved for study in prestigious university and college library, archives, and rare book collections.
Early life and introduction to the theatre
Charles Norris Houghton was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the youngest of three children of Grace Norris and Charles Houghton of Oxford, Ohio. After his parents separated in 1921 he was raised by his devoted, quiet, intellectual mother and her sister, Sarah. He remained close to them throughout their lives and their many influences included a lifetime of resilient faith.
Houghton discovered the stage at age seven, when he was taken by his maternal grandfather to see E.H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe in The Taming of the Shrew, and the following year to a musical brought from London, Chu Chin Chow. Live theater ("the road") was a predominant form of entertainment, but this introduction was more than a shared cultural experience: in theater he discovered his life's plan. By age 14, Houghton offered festivals of short plays in the family home, recruiting and training the Stringscraft Players of nine young marionetteers. This period revealed the role he would pursue throughout his long life: "finding (or writing) the play, peopling it with performers, both the marionettes themselves and the manipulators of their strings; the former must be costumed, the stage decorated and lighted...and the whole put together by an impresario (myself)." By age 16 at the New Gothic style sanctuary of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church he created two Christmas pageant tableaux extravaganzas for 150 performers, including coaching the choir and an organist in unfamiliar excerpts of Monteverdi and Pergolesi.
With a record that included captain of the debate team and senior class president, Houghton was admitted to Princeton, chosen over Harvard because of Princeton's Triangle Club, the oldest collegiate musical-comedy group in the nation. That choice gave him an early introduction to New York City theatre, an easy commute from Princeton. Many Triangle Club members became lifelong friends who helped shape modern theatre. He flourished as stage and costume designer as well as the Triangle's vice-president in this company that included Joshua Logan, Jose Ferrer, James Stewart, Erik Barnouw, Myron McCormick, Alfred Dalrymple, Bretaigne Windust, and Lemuel Ayers. As an undergraduate he balanced the student-run dramatic arts organization with studies in humanistic educational traditions, including highest honors thesis research in 17th Century English Masque productions.
The University Players Guild
At graduation from Princeton in 1931, Houghton had two choices: a fellowship at Princeton Graduate College to pursue English Literature or an invitation to join the University Players Guild. The U.P.G.—started as summer theatre in Cape Cod, aspiring to become a year-round venture—was founded in 1928 by Bretaigne Windust and Charles Leatherbee with involvement of Josh Logan. Houghton chose the U.P.G., which melded his interests in theatrical productions with gifted artists. As with associations during his undergraduate years, he would know his U.P.G. friends as colleagues and notables who would dominate stage and screen for decades. In Houghton's first year with the U.P.G. (the group's fourth summer season) Leatherbee, Logan and Windust espoused "the idea of theatre artists working together over a long period of time subordinating themselves to the whole and finding therein a satisfaction beyond that accruing from individual glory." Performances emerged without long rehearsals; actors learned roles in several days; sets were designed with the sketchiest of preliminary layouts. Each summer provided adventures and emotional upheavals, chronicled in Houghton's account of the U.P.G. Players, But Not Forgotten. This concept of a collective ensemble would persist throughout Houghton's career. More than a concern for long term stability, it reflected his concept of advancing beyond tradition to open channels for new forms of creativity. While the U.P.G. did not succeed as a long term venture, Houghton recalled "we had the memory of a dream that was not yet really proved vain. It had been a glorious prelude to a life in the theatre."
Throughout this period, ranging from full to empty houses, Houghton never regretted rejecting the offer of assistant stage manager job for Mourning Becomes Electra with New York City's Theatre Guild, the nation's ace theatrical production company. Such coveted opportunities reflected both on Houghton's rapidly growing reputation and the evolution of his unique life plan; similar conflicts in decision making would recur throughout his life. History shows that he was guided by Leatherbee's advice to avoid alliance with the dated, no matter how distinguished. Houghton would persist in becoming a contributor to the future rather than remaining in the safety of the past.
New York to Moscow
Houghton was both an advocate of global theater and dedicated to the live theater of New York City. He moved there to await his chance, livened by his Princeton companions and the U.P.G. weekly beer parties on West 47th Street that brought together the older "alumni" and new young aspirants such as Burgess Meredith, Broderick Crawford, John Beal and Karl Malden. His first break came with an appointment as assistant to Robert Edmond Jones, an acclaimed designer who moved stage design into an integral part of stage productions; scenic design and artistic direction was a lifelong passion of Houghton's. Varied opportunities followed but none included a permanent position, so Houghton accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship for a year of study abroad. Following the suggestion of Henry Allen Moe, Guggenheim Director General, the fellowship transformed Houghton's career: it introduced him to the renowned but little understood Russian theatre, and led to a future that included expository writing appealing to both academic experts and a public audience. The experience and his writings led to his reputation as the preeminent American student and teacher of the Russian theater, illumined by his relationship with the major 20th-century Russian theater figure, Stanislavski. This year of study also ripened to a global perspective that remained a constant throughout his life.
Moscow rehearsals: the definitive work on Russian theatre
Gaining admission at audience level to the famed Russian theatre, Houghton experienced art as a revered and honored cultural mission in contrast to the glitter of New York theatre. Welcomed by giants of Russian theatre: Konstantin Stanislavski, distinguished actress Olga Leonardovna Knipper-Chekhova (Anton Chekhov's widow), Alexander Tairov, and the revolutionary director Vsevolod Meierhold, Houghton was accepted at rehearsals at Stanislavski's world-famous Moscow Art Theatre—an essential for any informed scholarship about Russian theatre. Houghton noted that observing Stanislavski gave him "an understanding of the difference between Soviet and American attitude toward the arts"—a distinction not complimentary to the American perspective. Houghton's career coincided with the emergence of the postmodern era in the arts, and he was a keen observer of its effect in the theater and a reporter whose writing clarified complex concepts for his readers. Observing Russia's Realistic Theater, with its goal of comingling audience and actor, Houghton noted "...spectators and actors look much the same... there will be Red Army uniforms on the stage and in the house; there will be shawl-shrouded women and rough-bloused men in both places." These experiences enabled Norris Houghton to become the preeminent American authority on Russian theatre and challenged him to look beyond fashionable modes, to understand art through experiential training, and to infuse those values in his productions. Konstantin Stanislavsky presented his book, My Life In Art, to Houghton with the inscription: "To Charles Norris Houghton, my dear comrade in art, with this friendly advice: love the art in yourself and not yourself in art."
In 1935, the first draft of Moscow Rehearsals complete, Houghton returned to New York City. Stage manager of a production of Libel! directed by Otto Preminger in his first American appearance, the play was still running when reviews of Houghton's book on the Russian theatre hit the presses. They were so extraordinary that Houghton said "I was taken aback." Renowned critic John Mason Brown wrote in the New York Times: Mr. Houghton's book is not only the best book on the Soviet stage that I have seen...It is a volume that ought to be devoured by every director, manager, actor and critic in our theater. In addition to repeat trips during "cold war" decades to Russia and a second book, Return Engagement, Houghton also used his knowledge of Russian culture to write and edit favorably reviewed volumes on Russian plays and writing. The accolades for the publication increased his recognition as a major cultural icon and led to requests that he travel and report on regional, national, and international theater. Those travels became an important part of his understanding of the diversity of theater outside of New York; the experiences also became part of the foundation for his intention to provide off-Broadway theater in New York and led to additional contributions to the study of theater through books, articles and productions designed in keeping with his determination to go beyond current traditions.
Challenges and legacies from Broadway and beyond
In those pre-WWII years, Houghton was engaged as stage manager on various productions, working with former U.P.G. friends, Kent Smith, Jose Ferrer, Myron McCormick, and some established stars such as Ethel Barrymore, Ruth Gordon, Claude Rains. In 1939 he became art director of the St. Louis Municipal Opera. The "Muny," as its devoted audience call it, then held summer performances on an enormous stage in Forest Park before 11,000 people seated on an open hillside. Houghton's success in meeting the challenge of designing scenes for an outdoor stage that included two gigantic oak trees led to three seasons of invitations as art director.
In 1940, he was approached by Harcourt Brace to write a book on American theatre beyond Broadway. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Houghton criss-crossed the U.S.A., visiting 70 stages. Children's theatre, college campus theatre, outdoor history pageants, union workers' theatre, summer stock, middle-American "nightclub" variety theatres, the "road" sites for touring Broadway hits, community theatres often more social than artistic: this montage was critiqued, applauded, reprimanded, and encouraged as evidence of theatrical aspirations more democratic than the commercial Broadway model. Enthused by these experiences, they heightened Houghton's disappointment about the dearth of original plays by young Americans, and the failure of recognized American playwrights to ally themselves with regional theatres. In the resulting book, Advance From Broadway, Houghton asserted "...my declaration of independence from the commercial theatre and a call for decentralization of our professional stage." Houghton resonated to the parting advice of a "living legend" among theatre aficionados, Edward Sheldon, who had advised him: "Seek out the people who put these things in motion. They're what matter." Many fine men and women were out there in America. "It's they I must remember."
Houghton's call for theatrical renaissance and independence from Broadway strictures was overwhelmed temporarily by World War II. The war became a memorable interlude in Houghton's life, after recruitment into a service that would utilize his skills in the Russian language. In early 1945 he became part of the support staff for the Big Three conference in Yalta, a meeting that shaped post-war Europe. He later chronicled his experiences in The New Yorker as "That Was Yalta: Worm's Eye View." His war experiences led into encounters that reflected the charisma of this man, including a meeting with Michael Redgrave in a piano bar in London where Lt. Houghton (j.g.) USNR had been posted as part of a naval communications unit. That encounter blossomed into a lifelong friendship with the Redgraves and a production of Macbeth starring Michael, directed by Houghton, in London and New York in 1947 and 1948.
The decade following World War II marked a period of change in American theatre. He enjoyed a key role in this period, including the associate editorship of a primary resource in the theatrical world, Theatre Arts. In 1945 he became director, producer and pioneer of what would become known as Off-Broadway: the creation of Theatre Incorporated, to which Houghton became a founding board member with Beatrice Straight, Penelope Sack and Robert Woods. This was an innovative initiative that altered not only Houghton's career but the theatre environment of New York City and beyond. In two triumphal seasons, Theatre Inc presented Gertrude Lawrence in Pygmalion, London's Old Vic in repertory of four classics featuring, among others, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, and Margaret Leighton; The Playboy of the Western World with Burgess Meredith, and the "primitive and violent" Macbeth on which Redgrave and Houghton had collaborated originally in London. Brooks Atkinson reviewed Macbeth: "Under Norris Houghton's direction, Macbeth gives us, for the first time in my memory, the sweep and excitement of the drama as a whole. Not played for the big scenes alone, it is a unified work of the theatre."
A major motivation: the rejection of Billy Budd
These experiences crystallized into action by a series of events following Houghton's receipt of a manuscript dramatizing Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Foretopman co-authored by his fellow Princetonian Robert Chapman. Successfully finding backing for a production of Louis O. Coxe and Chapman's Billy Budd, with restaging by Josh Logan, the show opened on Broadway on February 10, 1951. Despite laudatory reviews by Brooks Atkinson and the attempt of others to prolong the run, the play was posted for closing on its third week. With financial sacrifices by the company, the show continued for two more months. Houghton learned that the Pulitzer Prize panel had selected this drama for its annual award. For the first time in history, the Board repudiated the jury choice and instead elected to award no award for drama that year. In 2009, the confidential papers chronicling decisions about Pulitzer prizes for drama were published and included facsimiles of correspondence from the panel to the judges who make the final decision. One letter verifies the recommendation that Billy Budd receive the award.
Television did not prove a viable "elsewhere." In his brief engagement as producer/director of the CBS Television Workshop, Houghton directed 14 programs. The series ended when CBS failed to find a show sponsor and Houghton found the TV environment "decivilizing," not allowing time for any of the cultural activities that enriched the life he might bring to his productions.
The phoenix rises
Houghton's commitment to an off-Broadway theater coincided with a confluence of experimental theatres in the 1950s, including the Living Theatre of Julian Beck and Judith Malina, focused on poetic dramas and the Circle in the Square organized by Jose Quintero and Theodore Mann that showcased young talent in revivals of plays not commercially successful on Broadway. In 1953 Houghton and an acquaintance, T. Edward Hambleton, agreed to establish a new theater based on a mutual "off-Broadway" dream. They agreed on principles that emerged from Houghton's two decades of experiences: their theatre would be separate from Times Square; it would be a "permanent" company; they would produce four to five plays for limited engagements; in contrast to the star system, actors would be listed alphabetically; the ticket price would be half of Broadway's top, with tickets available also for one dollar; the management structure would be a traditional limited partnership, but contributors would be asked to fund an entire season rather than each production. They named it the Phoenix, and it operated from 1953 to 1982, managed in its later years by Hambleton as Houghton moved into academia. The Phoenix experiment became a pioneer in the off-Broadway movement; its origins and history are perhaps the accomplishments for which Houghton is best known.
They compromised on a deserted movie house on the southwest corner of East 12th Street and Second Avenue in the East Village. Located far from Broadway, larger than they wanted, its design was adequate, if not ideal, for their productions. The Phoenix opened December 1, 1953: the first production was Madam Will You Walk?, the posthumous performance of a new play by deceased Pulitzer Prize winner Sidney Howard, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. A midnight review on CBS cited "an exciting and new theatrical adventure born tonight amidst laughter and hearty applause of 1200 enthusiastic people who stirred away from their TV sets to see a very witty and provocative play by Sidney Howard. The evening was exciting in another way, however, because it saw a theatre which had been dark brought to light—brought to life again...When the lights are on at the Phoenix—and you are the only ones who can keep them on—there's theatre magic in abundance to be heard and seen and enjoyed."
Good reviews alone could not keep the lights on because opening night was the eve of a Manhattan newspaper strike. Curtain speeches appealing to audiences to spread the news in New York City yielded a sold-out Saturday night. The next production was Coriolanus, starring Robert Ryan and Mildred Natwick, directed by John Houseman, proclaimed by Morehouse of the New York World-Telegram and Sun as "one of the finest Shakespearean productions I've seen in a lifetime of playgoing."[This quote needs a citation] Then came the challenge of an off-beat musical take on the Trojan War, The Golden Apple, written by John LaTouche, music by Jerome Moross. Brooks Atkinson called it "a light, gay, charming production...the only literate new musical of the season..",[This quote needs a citation] while others, notably Wolcott Gibbs in The New Yorker quibbled "Oh I liked her, but not very much."[This quote needs a citation] Mixed reviews recurred throughout Phoenix' life, but the New York Drama Critics' Circle named The Golden Apple the Best New Musical of the 1953/54 season, and it received the cover and inside-spread photo coverage of Life Magazine and was transferred to Broadway by Roger L. Stevens and Alfred de Liagre.
To conclude the Phoenix opening season, Houghton approached Montgomery Clift, an acquaintance since Houghton designed the set for Clift's 1939 Broadway debut in the Theatre Guild's Dame Nature. The outcome was The Seagull with Clift as Constantin and Houghton as director. Other major roles were taken by Maureen Stapleton, June Walker, George Voskovec, Sam Jaffe, Will Greer, John Fiedler and Judith Evelyn. As rehearsals moved forward, the attempt to hurry a complex Chekhovian play into production and Clift's offstage instability took its toll. The Seagull was well received by audiences despite numerous problems and mixed reviews.
The Phoenix opening season was judged a resounding success. As the seasons progressed Phoenix compiled an honor roll of memorable productions, more awards, and theatre luminaries including British actors Pamela Brown, Michael and Rachel Redgrave, Peggy Ashcroft; directors and producers Elia Kazan, John Houseman, Robert Whitehead, Alfred de Liagre; writers and designers Sidney Howard, Robert Sherwood, John Latouche, Jerome Moross, Donald Oenslager, Bill and Jean Eckart; American stars Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Millie Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Robert Ryan, Montgomery Clift, Kaye Ballard; professional colleagues and friends, Howard Lindsay, Russel and Anna Crouse, Jo Mielziner, Oscar Hammerstein II, Clinton Wilder, Peggy Wood, William Inge, Arthur Miller. Examples of the span of productions include: The Doctor's Dilemma (George Bernard Shaw), The Master Builder (Henrik Ibsen), Story of a Soldier (music drama, Igor Stravinsky), Six Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello), The Mother of Us All (opera, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein), Measure for Measure (William Shakespeare), Livin the Life (musical based on Mark Twain's Mississippi River Tales), The Good Woman of Szechuan (Bertolt Brecht), Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare), Anna Christie (Eugene O'Neill).
Balancing these successes were two major impediments to Houghton's long term alliance to the Phoenix: their model resulted in a frenetic pace to their productions and they had persistent financial problems. Houghton recognized that they did not have a stable organizational structure or method to present theatre under a business plan that required appreciation by both establishment critiques and audiences. Most unsettling was the opinion that the Phoenix had not developed an appropriately unique viewpoint recognizable by respected critics. Houghton recognized other personal problems: he had become frustrated that the role of theatrical producer did not include his talents as designer and director.
Houghton considered as a solution to this dilemma an academic life that would allow him to couple academia with the role of theatre partner to T. Edward Hambleton, who would remain with the Phoenix until it closed. Initially, Houghton's movement into what would eventually become his full-time work as an academic was a mixture of teaching, writing, travel, and theater management. Houghton accepted a position as adjunct drama professor for the academic year 1959/1960 at Vassar College. In 1961 he returned to the Phoenix as co-managing director and helped achieve the goal to move into more appropriate space. The new home was a 300-seat house on East 74th Street, relieving them of the technical and financial issues related to the previous over-sized space. Their first production there was the spoof on Theatre of the Absurd written by Arthur Kopit, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, staged with wit and style by Jerome Robbins in his debut (and finale) as director of a straight play. (1,2,3,33,34,35)[clarification needed]
Houghton then accepted a full-time position as professor, department chair and director of the Vassar Experimental Theatre, attempting a compromise of living in the Hudson valley while continuing to work in New York City. After three years, the transition to academia was completed: Houghton committed to a full-time academic life and Hambleton continued the Phoenix for another twenty years.
By the time of its closing in 1982, the Phoenix continued to nourish dramatists and young actors, including Marsha Norman and Wendy Wasserman, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Mary Beth Hurt. "Off-Broadway" is now its own tradition of New York theater, and an impetus for many of the regional theatres that developed throughout the nation. Newer Phoenix theaters dedicated to similar principles have risen around the country: when a New York Phoenix opened less than a decade after the Houghton-Hambleton Phoenix closed, Bram Lewis contacted Houghton and Hambleton for permission to use the name. Houghton responded "Go ahead and good luck ... we remember when Sir Tyrone Guthrie went out and spoke up on our behalf. That's the proper way to proceed in theater."
Academia: transmitting theatre to a new generation
Houghton's academic career followed a non-traditional pattern for a number of years. Beginning in the 1950s, he was offered coveted positions in a number of prestigious colleges and university, for years he moved in and out of these positions, combining them with an active life in the theater and as an analyst, interpreter, and author of global theater. In 1960, he returned to Russia on a second Guggenheim Fellowship that led to Return Engagement, the postscript to Moscow Rehearsals. In 1965, he went to Germany at the invitation of the West German government to tour its theatrical centers. Shortly after returning he received an invitation to visit Korea, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to guide a theatre project in Seoul. From Korea he was welcomed to visits in Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, and Kathmandu, augmenting his understanding of theatre.
Eventually, Houghton settled into a full-time academic life, first at Vassar and then at SUNY Purchase. His academic curriculum vitae in the archival collection of papers at Vassar chronicles positions, some overlapping with these trips and his co-management of the Phoenix, as lecturer, adjunct professor, visiting professor, professor and dean at additional institutions: Columbia, Princeton, Smith College, Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Vassar College, New York University, Harvard, University of Louisville, Lynchburg College, Shanghai Drama Academy and the State University of New York at Purchase. At an earlier stage he taught theatre history from 1936 to 1939 at the Finch School in New York City, a small prestigious liberal arts college no longer in existence. After his World War II service ended, he rejoined Princeton to participate full-time in the Creative Arts Program while completing his book Advance From Broadway. For six years, beginning in 1948, he accepted an invitation from Columbia University to take over a course in modern drama. In 1954, he was again sought for an academic position, this time at Barnard College as adjunct professor and director of a new experimental theatre.
At Vassar College, from 1962 to 1967, he finally assumed the life of full professor and chair of the drama department, where he is still celebrated for encouraging a young generation to practice high standards. Symbolic of his tenure at Vassar is an announcement in a Norwalk newspaper: "Vassar is bringing... part of the curriculum of one of its most active undergraduate departments in a play written and staged completely by college seniors... The Drama Department believes each of its students should have as complete a knowledge of the living theater as possible. The... Chairman is Norris Houghton who has achieved great professional acclaim as co-founder of the Phoenix Repertory Theater... this particular play reflects Mr. Houghton's high standards both on and behind stage..."
An interesting opportunity was presented by Nancy Hanks, later chair of the newly created National Endowment for the Arts. She suggested Houghton consider joining the State University of New York's newly envisioned college at Purchase, New York. In 1967, Houghton left Vassar to become professor and dean of theatre arts at SUNY Purchase. There, he contributed not only to the beginning of a major college program, but influenced the formation of the SUNY concept for its Purchase campus. Houghton finished his SUNY career as Dean Emeritus with enthusiasm and a legacy noted by the College, which includes in its description: The Purchase College Conservatory of Theatre Arts & Film is an international leader in professional training. Since 1972, it has built on the legacy of its renowned founder, American director/ producer Norris Houghton, an associate of Stanislavski and Meyerhold, and the founder of the Phoenix Theatre.
Houghton's contributions to academia are recognized through the continued use of his writings and memorialized in a portrait hung at Vassar of Houghton by his close friend and portraitist Bill Draper, and through books, personal papers, playscripts, and other writings in collections at the Century Club in New York City and in university libraries and rare book collections, including Vassar, Princeton, Columbia, and Ohio State (8,9,11,12,13)
Advocacy for arts education as national policy
In 1973, concurrently with his deanship at Purchase, Houghton became president of the American Council for the Arts in Education, an organization established to work toward an improved environment for arts as an educational essential. Houghton proposed a public panel report from distinguished objective citizens, rather than established arts educators, about arts education as a crucial national priority. David Rockefeller Jr., chair of what became the Arts, Education and Americans Panel, was recruited by vice-chair Houghton. That made fundraising and attraction of a high level panel easier. The short term effects of this effort are seen in the 1977 panel report, Coming To Our Senses: The Significance of the Arts for American Education, and numerous national programs supporting the arts in educational settings. For Norris Houghton that effort represented the culmination of a life devoted to theatre on terms he helped create, balanced with devotion to future generations through teaching and public policy supporting arts as a priority.
After retirement, Houghton lived an active life with such stints as Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Louisville reflecting the long term devotion of Barry Bingham, head of the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper dynasty, and with writing his memoir, Entrances and Exits: A Life In and Out of the Theatre. John Russell, reflecting on this memoir, wrote in the New York Times: "By his own account Norris Houghton is the most contented of men, and rightly so. When he was 11 years old, all of 70 years ago, he decided his role in life would be to put on good plays and get people to come and see them. He did it at home, he did it in school and he did it at Princeton University, where as an undergraduate he fell in with more than one future luminary of the American theater. He did it everywhere and all the time. It did not... win him either fame or fortune, but some great adventures resulted. And if today there is first-rate theater in New York that is not on Broadway, and if there are towns all over the United States that pride themselves on their local theaters, something may be owed to the example of Norris Houghton."
His 90th birthday, like his 70th, was celebrated by a "Diversity of Friends". He died in 2001 and was celebrated by a full-choir funeral ritual at First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, where as long-time member and Elder he had coaxed the historic Manhattan church into sponsoring a Phoenix series of plays by Nobel prizewinners including dramas with religious themes. One of his eulogizers, in salutation to the urn containing his ashes, noted that "Norris Houghton is the best reason I know of to encourage human cloning."[This quote needs a citation]
Norris Houghton Articles in: American Scholar; Arts in Society; Atlantic Monthly; Educational Theatre Journal, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, New Theatre Magazine, The Russian Review, The New York Times; The Drama Review; The Saturday Review; Stage; Theatre; Theatre Arts.
- Guggenheim Fellowships, 1934–1935; 1960–1961
- Rockefeller Foundation Grant-in-Aid, 1940–1941
- Excellence in Theater Award, 1958 New England Theater Conference
- Advisory Council, Institute for Advanced Studies in Theatre Arts, 1959
- Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Denison University, 1959
- Obie Award 1961–1962 for best set to Norris Houghton, Who'll Save the Plowboy?
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund Panel on Performing Arts 1962–1964
- Fellow, Salzburg Seminar for American Studies, 1972
- President, National Theatre Conference, 1969–1971
- President, American Council for the Arts in Education, 1973–1975
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival, 1976
- Vice Chairman, Arts, Education and Americans Panel and A.E.A. Inc, 1977–1980
- Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1962–1992
- Fellow, American Theatre Association, 1980–1992
- National Theater Conference Award, 1991
- Klein, Alvin (July 10, 1988). "Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
the origin of a new Phoenix Theater with reference to the original Phoenix and Norris Houghton's response when asked for permission to reuse the name.
- "Finding aid for Norris Houghton collection at The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute Collection". Ohio State University Libraries. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
- "Guide to the Norris Houghton Papers 1915–1998". newspaperarchives.vassar.edu. Vassar College. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
- "Symposium Explores Religion and Drama". Miscellany News. XXXXIV (19). Vassar College. March 2, 1960. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
Tom Faw Driver, literary and theological scholar, and Norris Houghton, director of Vassar's Experimental Theatre and founder and co-managing director of the Phoenix Theatre ...will present a symposium on religious drama ... the symposium will be a combination of lecture and discussion...with Mr. Houghton responding. ...Mr. Houghton and Mr. Driver will discuss ... the ways in which the theatre and dramatists bring light to bear on the spiritual feelings of today.
- http://findingaids.princeton.edu/simpleSearch?text1=Norris+Houghton&maxdisplay=50 Abstracts and finding aids for Norris Houghton collections at Princeton libraries and listing of Princeton classes; listing for Norris Houghton as undergraduate and as alumnus. Advance from Broadway by Norris Houghton, 1941: Abstract: Consists of manuscripts for Norris Houghton's book. Advance from Broadway. Location: Manuscripts Division Call Number:C0167 Princeton Playgoers, Inc. Records, 1941–1942: Creator Princeton Playgoers, Inc. . Abstract: Princeton Playgoers, Inc. was a theater production company formed in 1942, during the wartime period when the engagements of Triangle Club were limited. Location: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Princeton University Archives. Call Number:AC315 Theatre Intime Records, 1919–2011: Creator: Princeton University. Theatre Intime. Abstract: "...contains records of the Princeton University student-run theatre...and includes correspondence, clippings, photographs, playbills, Posters, scripts, designs, and promotioonal materials. Location: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library Call Number ACO22 Miscellaneous Playscripts Collection, 1882–1961: Creator:Princeton University Library Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections. Abstract: includes some playscripts stamped or addressed by theater agencies in Chicago, New York City, and Hollywood...others were used at McCarter Theater or by the Princeton University Players. Location: Manuscript Division Call Number TCO30 McCarter Theatre Records, 1928–2007: Creator: McCarter Theatre Center. Abstract: "The McCarter Theatre was conceived as a permanent home for the Princeton University Triangle Club. McCarter began as a booking theater but moved ...producing its own performances. The ...records document the history of the McCarter Theatre, including administration, performances and productions, and the building..." Location: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library Princeton University Archives. Call Number: AC131 Princeton University Class Records, 1798–2011: Creator:Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Abstract:...consist of a diverse set of materials documenting the history and activities of Princeton University Classes during their time as undergraduates and as alumni...correspondence, newsletters, publications, photographs, and memorabilia, all of which pertain to a particular Princeton University graduating class. Location: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Princeton University Archives. Call Number: AC 130
- 11. www. Beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid. Norris Houghton collections in the Princeton Firestone Library and Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
- Yale University Library Collections. . Archibald MacLeish Collection. Finding Aid for Phoenix Theatre: Box 19.
- http://www.clio.cul.columbia.edu. Finding aid Norris Houghton Book collection at Columbia University.
- Houghton, Norris. Entrances and Exits, Limelight Editions, 1990. 377 pages. An autobiographical memoir of Norris Houghton's life
- Vassar College records. Norris Houghton curriculum vitae. The standard curriculum vitae record for faculty. Similar record at other colleges where Norris Houghton held faculty and administrative status.
- In the summer of 1931 "Guild" was dropped from the name of the University Players at the request of The Theatre Guild in New York City, which was then subsidizing the fledgling Group Theatre. After its 1931 summer season in West Falmouth, the University Players rebranded itself the "University Repertory Company" for its 18-week winter season in Baltimore. In the summer of 1932, it incorporated as "The Theatre Unit, Inc." See generally, Houghton, Norris, But Not Forgotten: The Adventure of the University Players. William Sloan Publishers, New York: 1951.
- Houghton, Norris. 1952. But Not Forgotten. Praeger. Reprinted 1975, 346 pages. Memoir of the University Players.
- The Oxford Companion to American Theatre 3rd edition. 2004. Oxford University Press. ed. Gerald Bordman and Thomas S. Hischak. History of Princeton University Players: "...a group founded by Bretaigne Windust and Charles Leatherbee in 1928 as the University Players Guild. ...In the last year the company changed its name to the Theatre Unit, Inc., ... Among figures... who ... became famous were Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick, Mildred Natwick, Kent Smith, James Stewart, and Margaret Sullavan. Norris Houghton ... wrote the history of the company in But Not Forgotten."
- Houghton, Norris. 1936. Moscow Rehearsals. Octagon Books. Reprinted 1962, 1975, 291 pages.
- New York Times. April 1936. Review by Lewis Nichols of Moscow Rehearsals: "The Stage Behind the Soviet Proscenium; Moscow Rehearsals."
- Houghton, Norris. 1962. Return Engagement, Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 214 pages Memoir of repeated visit to Russian theater.
- New York Times. April 1962. Review by Howard Taubman of The Theatre in the USSR by Norris Houghton
- "RETURN ENGAGEMENT by Norris Houghton - Kirkus Reviews". Holt Rinehart and Winston. April 9, 1962.
- http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2175023. Great Russian_Short_Stories Review of Norris Houghton edited book.
- http://www.betterworldbooks.com/advance-from-broadway-id-0836956532.aspx Lists Norris Houghton books and reviews.
- http://www.optimumgambling.com/section/Books/Books/%27Norris%20Houghton%27 Lists Norris Houghton books.
- Houghton, Norris, ed. 1958. Great Russian Short Stories, Dell Laurel Editions, 383 pages Selection of Russian Short Stories and their literary significance.
- http://www.muny.org History of the St. Louis Municipal Opera; for three years Norris Houghton was art director
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette. May 1940. Local Scrappings. Reports on visit of Norris Houghton, Artistic Director of St. Louis Municipal Opera, to gather material for Rockefeller Foundation Grant on theater in America.
- Tulane Drama Review. 1959. MIT Press Journals publisher. Article: The Phoenix Has Two Heads by Albert Bermel. Summarizes transition of Phoenix from Theater Inc; describes Phoenix' deficits as exemplary of high costs of theater; notes Norris Houghton's experiences prior to the Phoenix, including Art Director of the St. Louis Municipal Opera.
- Houghton, Norris. 1941. Advance from Broadway, Harcourt Brace & Company; reprinted 1971, 416 pages. Description of Norris Houghton's country-wide tour of regional theaters.
- The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. 2007 Cambridge University Press. Covers American theatre from its earliest history to the present, with special attention given to contemporary theatre throughout the United States.
- Norris, Ralph (May 1953). "That Was Yalta: A Worm's Eye View". New Yorker. New York. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
- The Entertainment Review. May 1948. Vol 79 Issue 4 p 93. Review of "Macbeth" by Lewis Theophilus. Abstract: The article reviews the theatrical production "Macbeth," directed by Norris Houghton and performed by Michael Redgrave and Flora Robson at the National Theater in New York. Accession #35237200
- Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Drama: Discussions, Decisions and Documents. 2009. Heinz-Dietrich Fischer, Erika J. Fischer. 2009. Walter de Gruyter 432 pages. Documents the complete history ... of ...awards in the category drama... mainly based on primary sources from the Pulitzer Prize Office... The most important sources are the confidential jury protocols, reproduced ... as facsimiles for the first time... providing detailed information about each year's evaluation process. Includes letter of the rejected recommendation for Pulitzer Prize to Billy Budd.
- https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0534274/fullcredits#cast. Productions of CBS TV Workshop during Norris Houghton's directorship.
- Tyler, Ralph (September 28, 1980). "Arts and Leisure. Off Broadway Marks an Anniversary and Launches a Fresh Season". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-21.
the biting musical that helped put Off Broadway on the map a quarter of a century ago...
- http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=24496. Internet Broadway Database archive. Lists Norris Houghton productions from 1937 to 1982; lists Theatre Incorporated productions, T. Edward Hambleton and Norris Houghton, Managing Directors, 1958-1961
- https://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/Phoenix+Theater New York Times listing of openings and reviews of Phoenix Productions
- http://www.lortel.org/lla_archive/ Archived 2015-11-08 at the Wayback Machine Internet Off-Broadway Database. Lists Phoenix plays 1953–1965
- Hambleton, T. Edward and Houghton, Norris. 1954. Theatre Arts Magazine. Article "Phoenix on the Wing."
- Educational Theatre Journal Coverage: 1949-1978 (Vols. 1–30) Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Descriptions of the off-Broadway movement including the Phoenix.
- http://www.dramacritics.org/dc pastawards.html. Drama Critics Awards, 1953/1954, the year the Phoenix production won the award.
- The New York Times. May 1954. Amusements. Review by Brooks Atkinson. "The Sea Gull, an incomparably beautiful play, has fallen heir to an interesting performance, which opened at the Phoenix last evening..."
- New York Times. May 1956. Article by Lewis Funke. "Gossip of the Rialto; New Revue and Drama Off Broadway" That new face the Phoenix Theater plans to put on in the fall already appears ... have made him the critics darling, is figuring on a Broadway invasion in the fall.
- New York Times. Arts and Leisure. February 1957. Review by Brooks Atkinson. "On Second Avenue; Phoenix and Off-Broadway Theatres Stage Plays of Literary Content." "Both plays were entitled to expect a more cordial reception. Shakespeare... Just how the Little Broadway of Second Avenue has high standards..."
- New York Times. June 1965. Article by Sam Zolotow. Phoenix Director Wins $500 Prize; ...the repertory company at the Phoenix Theater is this year's winner of the Lola D'Annunzio Award for his "outstanding contribution to the Off Broadway theater...
- New York Times. 1961. Article by Myron Kandel. Pirates of Penzance to Bow Downtown as New Phoenix Plans to Rise Uptown. Despite injections of large amounts of money and enthusiasm the Phoenix' attempt to provide large scale off-Broadway theatre at low prices has failed.
- Norwalk Hour. May 8, 1967. College Students to Stage Benefit for Vassar Club.
- http://www.Purchase.edu. Purchase College notes its traditions for excellence began with its founding Dean, Norris Houghton.
- http://www.rockarch.org/collections/rockorgs/miscorgs.php. Finding Aids Rockefeller Foundation Files. Arts, Education, and Americans Panel. Norris Houghton Files, Series 4. Papers of Norris Houghton as Chair of panel recommending arts education in America.
- Russell, John (18 August 1991). "A Dear Comrade in Art". New York Times.