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A Gambler's Instinct

The Story of Broadway Producer Cheryl Crawford

Milly S. Barranger

Publication Year: 2010

A Gambler’s Instinct offers a rare glimpse of one of the first female producers in American theater. Active in the Group Theatre, the Actors Studio, and on Broadway, her success with Tennessee Williams plays and the musicals of Kurt Weill and Marc Blitzstein, among others, highlight her persistence and expertise.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xiii


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pp. xv-xvii

Part One: Lighting the Fire, 1902-1936

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1. Three Brothers and a Sister

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pp. 3-10

Every evening she went to bed in a comfortable two-story house on a pleasant Akron street lined with maples and elms. Her mother tucked her in and then moved along the hallway to look in on the younger children—Alden, Newell, and later Robert, born when Cheryl was thirteen. She dreamed of being a missionary and soothing the unconverted in far-off jungles...

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2. Signs of a Calling

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pp. 11-22

Sometimes in the night she dreamed about a golden Buddha and a mythical goddess dressed in a silver tunic with silver-painted body. She awoke to the reality that she had traveled over a thousand miles to New England and Smith College but the distance from Akron to Northampton proved far greater than mileage. It was a distance measured by personal freedom...

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3. The Producer's Apprentice

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pp. 23-39

By the time Cheryl Crawford arrived in their offices on the top floor of the building on West Fifty-second Street, the Theatre Guild had been in business for seven years. During her waning days at Smith, she had scrutinized Theatre Arts each month and learned that the Guild was starting an acting school in the fall. She thought of the school as an entr

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4. Raising the Roof

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pp. 40-56

Three years into the Group experiment, Cheryl Crawford sat among a stack of unread scripts in theater owner Lee Shubert’s office on West Forty-fourth Street. For weeks, she read dull plays until she came across Crisis, a medical drama by Sidney Kingsley, soon to be known for his realistic social melodramas. Crawford was already facing the fact that the idealistic Group enterprise...

Part Two: Doors to Everywhere, 1937-1961

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5. Dizzy Spells

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pp. 59-67

By March of 1937, Crawford was without prophets or signposts pointing her to the next open door. At thirty-five, disconnected and alone, she reassessed her tenuous foothold on a theatrical career: I had lost my religion in college. Then for seven years my religion had been my faith in the ideals and values of the Group. Now that had dissolved, and I was thrown back on myself, a solitary individual. It was...

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6. No Wooden Nickels

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pp. 68-82

The adult Cheryl Crawford in 1942 was no longer the sturdy girl of Harold Clurman’s recollection. With the Broadway success of Porgy and Bess, she was interviewed, photographed, and featured in About Town sitting languidly in an armchair dressed for the evening in white silk blouse, long black skirt, and...

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7. Producers in Skirts

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pp. 83-102

The coy label awarded by male producers to the distaff side applied to very few women in the New York theater in the forties.1 Cheryl Crawford was virtually alone as an independent producer, shortly to be joined by Margaret Webster and Eva Le Gallienne in a doomed enterprise called the American Repertory Theatre. Crawford’s collaboration with the Anglo...

Gallery of Illustrations

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8. Musical Adventures

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pp. 103-116

The year 1947 was a very good one for Cheryl Crawford. She produced another smash hit on Broadway and satisfied her zealotry for a good cause by cocreating the Actors Studio with Elia Kazan and Robert Lewis. Queried about her success in a tough profession, she told a feature writer, “I make my decision...

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9. The Oyster Bed

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pp. 117-129

The Actors Studio, or the oyster bed for cultivating pearls as Cheryl Crawford referred to the new workshop, was the third phase of her adventures in 1947. The Studio opened on October 5, 1947, in a room in the old Union Methodist Church on West Forty-eighth Street, later demolished and converted into a parking lot for Mama Leone’s restaurant. Juggling her responsibilities...

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10. Four by Tenn

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pp. 130-148

For ten years, Cheryl Crawford had a loving, rewarding, contentious, and exhausting relationship with Tennessee Williams. During the decade of the fifties when most film and stage artists were contending with the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, she produced four of his plays: The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Period of Adjustment...

Part Three: A Tattered Ensign, 1962-1986

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11. Who's Minding the Store?

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pp. 151-169

The year was 1962, and Cheryl Crawford was sixty years old. With the Tennessee Williams decade behind her, her immediate future lay with plans to initiate a theater under the auspices of the Actors Studio. Foster Hirsch suggested that the idea of a producing theater had been in the air since the founding of the Studio in the fall of 1947.1 The possibility to test training in production...

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12. Dreams Deferred

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pp. 170-191

Just as writing was Tennessee Williams’s life, so producing was Cheryl Crawford’s. Following the collapse of the Actors Studio Theatre, Crawford was thrust once again into the world of the independent producer. From 1962 to 1972, she produced seven Broadway shows, with varying success, along with four Off Broadway productions that provided spiritual uplift but were...

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pp. 193-198

Cheryl Crawford’s story is one of improbable dreams fulfilled. In contrast to playwrights and actors, producers are not creators in the true sense of those who invent and embody stories, situations, and people who then live on in theatrical literature and world stages—Porgy and Bess, Princess Kosmonopolis, Chance Wayne, Regina Giddens, Serafina della Rosa, and Big Daddy...


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pp. 201


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pp. 203-224

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 225-230


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pp. 231-243

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Author Bio

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Milly S. Barranger is distinguished professor emerita at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she served as chairman of the Department of Dramatic Art and producing director of PlayMakers Repertory Company. She is author...

Series Statement

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Other Books in the Theater in the Americas Series

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809385706
E-ISBN-10: 0809385708
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329588
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329581

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 14 B/w halftones
Publication Year: 2010