“If they want to go into theater, by all means, go. If they have to ask me if they should go, I'd say no, don't go. They have to have a passion.”
Famed Broadway producer and Tony Award winner Elliot Martin, who attended the University of Denver from 1943–46, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in New York on Jan. 30.
Martin studied theater under one of DU's most noted professors, Camden Bell. Instead of completing his bachelor's degree, Martin followed Bell's advice to get to New York — and fast.
"He called me into his office one day and told me to leave for New York immediately because there'd be 45,000 GIs all heading to there to go into theater," Martin says. "And he was absolutely right."
Martin says four weeks after he landed in the Big Apple he had to compete against 3,000 other men — many of them soldiers who had returned to the states at the end of World War II — for a part in the renowned musical Oklahoma!
"There was a line around the block; I looked like a real hayseed and all the GIs looked great with their slicked-back hair," Martin says.
But Martin won a part. The pay? Just $55 a week.
What followed was a prodigious career as an actor, stage manager and producer. Martin has been involved in some 50 Broadway productions since 1949. He won a special Tony Award for Moon for the Misbegotten in 1973.
He's also a Tony award nominee as producer for A Touch of the Poet, Angels Fall, American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Circle, Shadowlands and She Loves Me.
Martin says he learned a lot from Bell: "He was a wonderful professor, and he gave us a great basic grounding of theater in body language, presence and the whole thing."
He also has praise for DU's theater department. "It has wonderful equipment," he says. "I walked through it a couple of years ago and it's got a lot going for it."
His advice for students looking to choose a career: "If they want to go into theater, by all means, go. If they have to ask me if they should go, I'd say no, don't go. They have to have a passion. Wild horses couldn't keep them from going if that's their passion. If there are any questions, they should be when to go or how do you go."
Martin joins extraordinary company in the hall of fame, including Fred Astaire, Samuel Beckett, W.C. Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Helen Hayes, James Earl Jones, Eugene O'Neill and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
His name joined those and others when it was etched into the Gershwin Theatre in New York as part of his hall of fame induction. Terry Hodge Taylor, executive producer of the American Theater Hall of Fame, says Martin's induction was long overdue.
"He was selected due to his enormous 60-plus years of producing on Broadway," Taylor says. "He's the last of the great gentlemen producers."
The Theater Hall of Fame was founded in 1971 to honor those who've made outstanding contributions to American theater. Nominees must have a minimum of five major credits and 25 years in the Broadway theater. Inductees are voted on by the American Theater Critics Association and theater hall of fame members.