Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: January 17 | Playbill

Playbill Vault Playbill Vault's Today in Theatre History: January 17

Happy birthday, James Earl Jones.

James Earl Jones in The Gin Game Joan Marcus

1911 Love is never easy, especially when a woman is the object of affection for The Scarecrow. Percy MacKaye uses Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 "Feathertop" as a starting point for the drama, and Edgar Selwyn stages the production. 

1931 Birthday of James Earl Jones, resonant-voiced, two-time Tony Award-winning actor: for The Great White Hope in 1969 and Fences in 1987. Broadway appearances include Othello, Les Blancs, A Lesson From Aloes, Of Mice and Men, Paul Robeson, Driving Miss Daisy, and The Gin Game. He's also known for voicing the characters of Mufasa in Disney's film The Lion King and Darth Vader in Star Wars.

1938 Opening night for One Third of a Nation, a "living newspaper" revue of sketches about life during the Depression, created by the Federal Theatre Project of the WPA. It runs 237 performances at the Adelphi Theatre.

1967 The Promise, Aleksei Arbuzov's Russian play about three young people who've survived the siege of Leningrad, runs at the Fortune Theatre in London. Judi Dench, Ian McShane, and Ian McKellen star. It plays 289 performances.

1968 A double-bill of Israel Horovitz plays runs at Astor Place Theatre in New York: The Indian Wants the Bronx starring John Cazale, Al Pacino, and Matthew Cowles, and It's Called the Sugar Plum starring Marsha Mason. James Hammerstein directs.

1969 Broadway composer Vernon Duke dies at age 65. Duke's music filled theatres from the West End to Broadway. Among many memorable songs are "April in Paris" with E.Y. Harburg and "I Can't Get Started" with Ira Gershwin.

1991 Laurence Luckinbill stars as Lyndon B. Johnson in Off-Broadway's Lyndon at the John Houseman Theatre. The solo show by James Prideaux is based on Merle Miller's Lyndon: An Oral Biography.

2004 Ray Stark, 88, the Tony Award-nominated producer who brought the musical Funny Girl to Broadway and later to the movies (his mother-in-law was Fanny Brice), dies of heart failure in West Hollywood.

2008 In the midst of the presidential primary season, David Mamet opens his political comedy November, about an entertainingly corrupt U.S. President (played by Nathan Lane), who tries to leverage a turkey-pardoning into a surprise second term. It runs 205 performances at the Barrymore Theatre.

2012 The Broadway premiere of Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca, a three-actor play about an expressive, inspirational South African artist, played by Rosemary Harris, and the forces that wish to quiet her (Jim Dale) and celebrate her (Carla Gugino), opens at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre.

2013 Broadway swelters as the past, present, and an uncertain future perfume the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where a revival of Tennessee Williams' 1955 family drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker, opens in a limited 15-week engagement.

More of Today's Birthdays: Mack Sennett 1880. Nora Kaye 1920. Eartha Kitt 1927. Shari Lewis 1933. Sheree North 1933. Andy Kaufman 1949. Warren Leight 1957. Denis O'Hare 1962. Daniel H. Jenkins 1963.

Watch highlights from Driving Miss Daisy, starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury:

More Today in Theatre History

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