Helen Hayes Theatre
Helen Hayes Theatre (image from Internet Broadway Database)
The Little Theatre (image from the Shubert Archives)
The Little Theatre Tea Room (image from the Shubert Archives)
Helen Hayes, First Lady of the American Theatre (image from Helen Hayes official website)
Backstory and Context
Originally opened as Little Theatre on March 12, 1912, the Helen Hayes Theatre was designed by archtiects Ingalls and Hoffman for Winthrop Ames. When it opened, the theater seated 299 (one more seat would have required a ten-foot walkway on either side of the auditorium, per fire regulations). Ames had studied architecture at Harvard, and worked with Paris-educated Harry Creighton Ingalls and F. Burrall Hoffman (neither of whom had prior theater experience) on the design. His vision was an intimate venue, with a colonial New England look for the exterior and a neo-Colonial/Federal interior--an understated, informal look for a Broadway venue.
The Little Theatre expanded its seating in the 1920s, with Herbert J. Krapp as the architect. The new design improved acoustics and added a balcony to increase seating to 500. In 1931, Ames retired and sold the theater to the New York Times Company. It was renamed for producer, director, and writer Anne Nichols in 1936. Nichols wrote Jewish-Irish plays and had been married to Henry Duffy from 1915-1924. In 1941, the theater was renamed New York Times Hall, and functioned as a lecture/conference hall until 1959. Reverting to its original name in 1959, it was leased to CBS Radio and ABC TV (1959-1963) and sold to Westinghouse Corporation (1965-1974). For the year of 1964, the venue was named the Winthrop Ames in honor of its original manager. The Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation sold the venue to Marty Markinson and Donald Tick in 1978, and had its first hit play in Henry Feirstein's Torch Song Trilogy. Though the original building was renovated in 1979, it was demolished for the construction of the New York Marriott Marquis. In its place, Markinson and Tick constructed the Helen Hayes Theatre in 1983, named for the First Lady of the American Theatre--the only independently owned Broadway theater, and the smallest Broadway theater at only 599 seats.About Helen Hayes:
Helen Hayes (1900-1993) was an actress on stage and screen, with an 85-year career and Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy Awards to her name. She began her professional career on Broadway with Lew Fields (of Weber and Fields comedy team) at the age of eight. She married journalist and playwright Charlie MacArthur, with whom she had a daughter, Mary, and an adopted son, James. In 1931, Helen and Charlie both worked on Helen's first movie, The Sin of Madelon Claudet--Charlie rewrote the original script after a bad preview, and Helen won the first Academy Award for Best Actress to be given to a stage performer. Beginning in 1933, Helen starred in Broadway roles including the parts of Mary Stuart and Queen Victoria. She retired from the stage in 1971 due to resiratory problems, but continued to work in film and television, wrote books, and worked with former First Lady Bird Johnson to create teh Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for the preservation of natural resources and landscapes. Helen died of congestive heart failure on March 17, 1993.
"Helen Hayes Theatre." Internet Broadway Database. Accessed Web, 5/11/17. https://www.ibdb.com/theatre/helen-hayes-theatre-1238.
"Biography." Helen Hayes. Accessed Web, 5/11/17. http://www.helenhayes.com/about/bio.html.