Sam Wanamaker

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Sam Wanamaker

Sam Wanamaker - 1961.jpg
Wanamaker in 1961
Samuel Wattenmacker

(1919-06-14)June 14, 1919
DiedDecember 18, 1993(1993-12-18) (aged 74)
London, England, U.K.
EducationArt Institute of Chicago
OccupationActor, director
Years active1934–1993
Charlotte Holland
(m. 1940)
Children3; including Zoë
RelativesMarc Wanamaker (nephew)

Samuel Wanamaker, CBE (born Wattenmacker; June 14, 1919 – December 18, 1993) was an American actor and director who moved to the United Kingdom after becoming fearful of being blacklisted in Hollywood due to his communist sympathies. He is credited as the person most responsible for saving The Rose Theatre, which led to the modern recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, where he is commemorated in the name of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the site's second theatre.

Early years[edit]

Wanamaker was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of tailor Maurice Wattenmacker (Manus Watmakher)[1] and Molly (née Bobele). His parents were Ukrainian Jews from Nikolayev. He was the younger of two brothers, the elder being William, long-term cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

He trained at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University) and began working with summer stock theatre companies in Chicago and northern Wisconsin, where he helped build the stage of the Peninsula Players Theatre in 1937.


Wanamaker began his acting career in traveling shows and later worked on Broadway. In 1942 he starred with Ingrid Bergman in the play Joan of Lorraine and directed Two Gentlemen from Athens the following year.[2]

In 1943, Wanamaker was part of the cast of the play Counterattack at the National Theatre, Washington, D.C. During the play, he became enamored of the ideals of communism. He attended Drake University prior to serving in the U.S. Army between 1943 and 1946, during the Second World War. In 1947, he returned to civilian life as an actor and director.

As Stanley Goldblum in The Billion Dollar Bubble (1976)

In 1951, Wanamaker made a speech welcoming the return of two of the Hollywood Ten. In 1952, at the height of the McCarthy "Red Scare" period, Wanamaker, who was then acting in the UK, learned that despite his distinguished service in the Army during World War II, his years as a communist sympathizer could lead to his being blacklisted in Hollywood.[a] He consequently decided to remain in England, where he reestablished his career as a stage and film actor, along with becoming a director and producer.[4] He explained:

In 1950 I went to England to do a play, and around that time the whole McCarthy witch-hunting era had taken hold in Hollywood—so I just stayed in Britain. I knew that because I had worked with actors who had problems in Hollywood, I might have difficulties.[5]

In 1952, he made his debut as both actor and director in London in Clifford Odets' Winter Journey. The play, which co-starred Michael Redgrave, was considered "sensational" by critics.[4] He later appeared in other plays, including The Big Knife, The Shrike, The Rainmaker, and A Hatful of Rain.[4] In 1956 he directed the British premiere of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's musical play The Threepenny Opera (revived in New York in 1954 in a translation by Marc Blitzstein.)[6]

In 1957, he was appointed director of the neglected New Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool. He brought a number of notable productions to the theatre, such as A View From the Bridge, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo and Bus Stop. It was also transformed into a lively arts centre as a result of including other cultural attractions, such as films, lectures, jazz concerts and art exhibits.[4]

As a result of all his various activities, Wanamaker became London's "favourite American actor and director", noted The Guardian.[4] In 1959, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre company at Stratford-upon-Avon, playing Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello in Tony Richardson's production that year.[7] In the 1960s and 1970s, he produced or directed several works at venues including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and directed the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations in 1974.

As a director and actor, he worked in both films and television, with roles in The Spiral Staircase (1974), Private Benjamin (1980), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), and Baby Boom (1987).

In 1968, he produced and directed the pilot episode of the Western TV series Lancer; this is depicted in the 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with Wanamaker portrayed by Nicholas Hammond.

He also directed stage productions, including the world premiere production of Michael Tippett's opera The Ice Break.[8] In 1980, he directed Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti at San Francisco Opera (now broadcast version released as DVD). He was also featured as the widowed and very ruthless department store owner Simon Berrenger on the short-lived television drama Berrenger's in 1985.

Restoring the Globe Theatre[edit]

He was a hard-headed romantic—and a genuinely courteous man—driven by a passion for Shakespeare. The Globe will be his lasting monument.

The Guardian, London[4]

In 1970 Wanamaker's career took a dramatic turn after he was annoyed that while a number of replicas of the Globe Theatre existed in the United States, the site of the original in London was marked by only a plaque on a nearby brewery. He then made it his goal to restore an exact replica of the Globe to feature plays and a museum.[4]

It became Wanamaker's "great obsession" to restore Shakespeare's Globe Theatre at its original location. He secured financial support from philanthropists and fellow lovers of Shakespeare, such as Samuel H. Scripps, to see that it would be created.[4] Wanamaker then founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust, which raised well over ten million dollars.[4]

London's restored Globe Theatre in 2014

Though, as in the late 16th and 17th centuries, the 20th century Royal family were more or less supportive, British officialdom was far less so, since they wanted to develop the site for new high-rise housing and commercial use.[4] English Heritage, which controlled the site, refused to give Wanamaker the precise dimensions of the original Globe.[9][10]

According to Karl Meyer of The New York Times:

The Shakespeare project helped Mr. Wanamaker keep his sanity and dignity intact. On his first visit to London in 1949, he had sought traces of the original theatre and was astonished to find only a blackened plaque on an unused brewery. He found this neglect inexplicable, and in 1970 launched the Shakespeare Globe Trust, later obtaining the building site and necessary permissions despite a hostile local council. He siphoned his earnings as actor and director into the project, undismayed by the scepticism of his British colleagues.[9]

On the south bank of the River Thames in London, near where the modern recreation of Shakespeare's Globe stands today, is a plaque that reads: "In Thanksgiving for Sam Wanamaker, Actor, Director, Producer, 1919–1993, whose vision rebuilt Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on Bankside in this parish".[9] There is a blue plaque on the river-side wall of the theatre,[11] and the site's Jacobean indoor theatre, opened in January 2014, is named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse after him.[12]

Plaque honoring Wanamaker's restoration

For his work in reconstructing the Globe Theatre, Wanamaker, in July 1993, was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[2] He was also honoured with the Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society of Arts in recognition of his contribution to theatre.

When multi-Tony Award-winning British actor Mark Rylance accepted his third Tony on stage in New York City during the televised ceremonies on June 8, 2014, he did so with a note of thanks to Wanamaker.

Personal life[edit]

In 1940, Wanamaker married Canadian actress Charlotte Holland.

In her 2014 memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, Lee Grant claimed that during production of the film Voyage of the Damned (1976), Wanamaker engaged in an affair with British actress Lynne Frederick, who was twenty-one at the time.[13]

Actress Zoë Wanamaker is his daughter and film historian Marc Wanamaker is his nephew.[14]


Wanamaker died of prostate cancer in London on December 18, 1993, aged 74,[15] prior to the grand opening of the Globe by Queen Elizabeth II on 12 June 1997.[16] He was survived by three daughters, Abby, Zoë, and Jessica. In the 2019 Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Wanamaker is portrayed by Nicholas Hammond.




  • Holocaust (1978 TV Mini-Series) as Moses Weiss
  • Cameo Theatre in "Manhattan Footstep" (episode # 1.4) June 7, 1950
  • Danger Man – as Patrick Laurence in "The Lonely Chair" (episode # 1.8) October 30, 1960
  • The Defenders – as Dr. Ralph Ames in "The Hundred Lives of Harry Simms" (episode # 1.7) October 28, 1961
  • The Defenders – as James Henry David in "A Book for Burning" (episode # 2.27) March 30, 1963
  • Man of the World – as Nicko in "The Bandit" (episode # 2.1) May 11, 1963
  • Espionage – as Sprague in "Festival of Pawns" (episode # 1.10) December 11, 1963
  • The Outer Limits – as Dr. Simon Holm in "A Feasibility Study" (episode # 1.29) April 13, 1964
  • The Defenders – as Edward Banter in "Hollow Triumph" (episode # 3.35) June 20, 1964
  • The Defenders – as United States Attorney Brooker in "A Taste of Ashes" (episode # 4.8) November 12, 1964
  • The Wild Wild West – as Dr. Arcularis in "The Night of the Howling Light" (episode # 1.14) December 17, 1965
  • Gunsmoke – as Asa Longworth in "Parson Comes to Town" (episode # 11.31) April 30, 1966
  • Run for Your Life – as Major Joe Rankin in two episodes
  • The Baron – as Sefton Folkard in "You Can't Win Them All" (episode # 1.19) February 1, 1967
  • Judd for the Defense – as Shelly Gould in "The Gates of Cerberus" (episode # 2.8) November 15, 1968
  • Thirty-Minute Theatre in "A Wen" (episode # 1.233) December 27, 1971
  • Rafferty – as Hollander in "Rafferty" (Pilot) (episode # 1.1) September 5, 1977
  • Return of the Saint – as Domenico in "Dragonseed" (episode # 1.22) February 25, 1979



  1. ^ The BBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast on 24 February 2009, revealed that the FBI had kept a substantial investigation file for him, including incriminating witness statements, and that the House Un-American Activities Committee had intended to subpoena him as a witness. His activities were also reportedly monitored by MI5.[3]


  1. ^ "Who do you think you are – Zoë Wanamaker" BBC/2008.
  2. ^ a b "Actor Sam Wanamaker, 74; rebuilt Globe Theater", Chicago Tribune, Dec. 19, 1993
  3. ^ Michael Buchanan (31 August 2009). "Sam Wanamaker 'monitored by MI5'". BBC News.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Hard-headed Romantic", The Guardian, London, 20 December 1993
  5. ^ "The McCarthy Era Kept Him Away", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan 23, 1985
  6. ^[bare URL]
  7. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, The New Press, New York, 1989, p. 476.
  8. ^ Inlay notes to recording on Virgin Classics VC 7 91448-2.
  9. ^ a b c Edward Chaney, "Sam Wanamaker's Global Legacy", Salisbury Review, June 1995, pp. 38–40.
  10. ^ "Sam Wanamaker's Great Obsession," by Karl E. Meyer, The New York Times, 29 December 1996.
  11. ^ Louise Jury (24 February 2012). "Globe theatre appeal … stage two". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
  12. ^ Moore, Rowan (12 January 2014). "Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – review". The Observer. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  13. ^ Grant, Lee (2014). I said yes to everything : a memoir (1st ed.). Plume. p. 302. ISBN 9780147516282.
  14. ^ "Marc Wanamaker". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  15. ^ Obituary for Sam Wanamaker, The New York Times, 19 December 1993.
  16. ^ "Shakespeare's Globe :: Sam Wanamaker". Archived from the original on 2008-08-07. Retrieved 2007-09-12.

External links[edit]