1931 – 1969: The Goodman School of Drama
Throughout the 1930s and ’40s the Goodman School of Drama garnered a national reputation for the excellence of its training. Through the doors of the school passed such future theater greats as Karl Malden, Sam Wanamaker, Geraldine Page, Linda Hunt and Jose Quintero. And the Goodman’s acclaimed children’s theater provided many young Chicagoans with their first experience of live performance.
But as the School’s success grew, its profile as a Chicago institution shrank; wary of criticism that could harm their students’ development, the heads of the program kept theater critics away. Audiences gradually diminished, and by the mid-1950s, the Goodman was in the words of one writer, “the best-kept secret in town.”
Enter John Reich, an Austrian émigré who had found success as a director off-Broadway and in the fledgling field of television drama. Appointed as the Goodman’s Artistic Director in 1957, he immediately set out to raise the profile of the theater through aggressive marketing and subscription campaigns, more compelling onstage work and a plan to bring in high-profile professional “guest artists” to star in student productions. Through the next decade, such luminaries as Sam Wanamaker, Morris Carnovsky, Lillian Gish, James Earl Jones, Zoe Caldwell and Eugenie Leontovich took the Goodman stage, attracting sizable new audiences and nurturing Reich’s dream of returning the Goodman to its former status as a professional company.
In the fall of 1969 this dream was realized when a company of New York and Chicago-based actors was assembled for the full six-play season. The professional future of the Goodman Theatre was finally assured.