Gene Frankel Theater

View Larger Map
Eugene "Gene" Frankel (ca. 1920 – April 20, 2005) was an American actor and director, especially notable in the off-Broadway scene. Frankel served in the Army during WWII in entertainment and as a member of an aerial crew.
Frankel's direction of the off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks was regarded as a crucial production in promoting African-American theatre during the civil-rights movement which opened in 1961 and ran for more than 1,400 performances at the St. Mark's Theatre.
He began his own career as an actor and was one of the earliest members of the Actors' Studio. He moved behind the scenes and became a theater director on and off Broadway. His most notable Broadway production was Arthur Kopit's Indians starring Stacy Keach, who won the 1970 Tony Award as Best Actor for his portrayal of Buffalo Bill. The production was also nominated for a Tony Award for best play of 1970.
His other Broadway productions included A Cry of Players (1968), Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars (1972) and Harry Chapin's The Night That Made America Famous (1975). His off-Broadway productions included Brecht on Brecht, (starring Viveca Lindfors, Lotte Lenya, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson), and To Be Young, Gifted and Black starring Cicely Tyson. He directed and worked with Arthur Miller on one of his plays as well and to meet his wife Marilyn Monroe.
As well as directing over 200 shows and managing at least twelve theaters throughout his career, Frankel taught acting, writing and directing. His last stage was the Gene Frankel Theatre and Film Workshop at 24 Bond Street in Greenwich Village. Frankel said that the heart of successful acting was ""Truth. I don't let my actors tell lies. The camera doesn't lie, the stage doesn't let you lie". He was a visiting professor in theater at various institutions of higher learning including Columbia University, Boston College, and New York University.
On August 4, 1973, his Mercer Arts Center, a complex of seven small theatres, which had been located on the first two floors of the residential Broadway Central Hotel, physically collapsed. Frankel, who had been conducting a rehearsal at the time, noticed the ceiling and walls beginning to buckle and heroically led the actors and several residents to safety. Five people died in the collapse. Only his last theater was a financial success, serving as home to Artistic Director Christopher Groenwald's New Mercury Players and as a satellite location for Artistic Director Marilyn Majeski's Grove Street Playhouse.
Frankel was awarded the first Obie award for directing, with his production of Volpone (1958) and then won two more also for directing. He also received the first Lola d'Annunzi and Vernon Rice awards for outstanding achievement in theatre.

1960-1961 Obie Award - Best Play - Jean Genet's The Blacks
1959-1960 Obie Award - Best Director - Machinal
1956-1957 Obie Award - Best Director - Volpone
Drama Desk - Vernon Rice Award - Outstanding Achievement in Theatre
Lola D'Annunzio Award - Lifetime Achievement In Theatre

Frankel had two children, Laura Frankel and Ethan Frankel, from his marriage which ended in divorce. He was survived by his daughter, Laura Frankel. His son, an aspiring actor, who studied at his father's school had struggled with marijuana use and psychiatric illness which led him to leap off the top of a 17-floor-building during 1995 in Manhattan during a psychosis from which he miraculously survived. Upon recovery Ethan was placed in a group home where he was murdered by a fellow resident the following year. Frankel created a scholarship at his theater in his son's name.