A Classic Player: Howard Lindsay, 1889-1968


By C. CLAIBORNE RAY


Howard Lindsay's decade of success as president of The Players, from 1955 to 1965, is perhaps not surprising, considering that he found success in almost every venture he tried, especially those with his writing partner, Russel Crouse, also a Player. Their partnership lasted longer than that of Gilbert and Sullivan, and much of what they touched turned to gold.


With Crouse he wrote both the wildly popular The Sound Of Music (1959, book) and Life With Father (1939) and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning State Of The Union (1945).  Other collaborations included Arsenic And Old Lace and musicals including Red, Hot And Blue, Mr. President, and Call Me Madam, as well as the live-broadcast TV musical Cinderella. They operated the Hudson Theater together for several years.


But Lindsay had also routinely experienced success without Crouse, both as an actor (in Life With Father, which ran for a record seven years and co-starred his wife Dorothy Stickney) and as a screenwriter (Swing Time, 1936). He also found time to produce, direct and stage plays and to help Crouse revise other people's work, such as their first collaboration, Anything Goes, in 1934. The partnership received a special Tony in 1959.


At the Players, Lindsay helped restore the Club to financial health and presided over the extension of the dining room over the storm-damaged back garden, which nearly tripled the room's capacity. Extensive renovations and improvements were carried out elsewhere. The Hampden Memorial Library was chartered as a separate institution. And the Club's doors were opened more frequently to women, a preview of their complete integration in 1989.

Born Herman Siegmund Nelke in Waterford, N.Y., Lindsay made his Broadway debut in 1917 in the comedy Billeted. He made many more stage appearances over the years. He was married to Stickney from 1927 until his death in 1968. His earlier marriage, to Maria Virginia Frolich, ended in divorce. He had no children, but Crouse's daughter Lindsay Ann Crouse, an actress, was named for him.


His portrait by Gordon Stevenson hangs in the raised alcove adjoining the Kinstler Room.


Crouse produced a Pipe Night in Lindsay's honor at the Club in 1965, when he stepped down as president after the decade he had promised to serve. Among the theatrical figures who appeared were Alfred Drake, Dennis King, Frank McHugh, Robert Downing, Sir John Gielgud, Brooks Atkinson, Marc Connelly and Johnny Mercer. A recording of the event was made.


C. Claiborne Ray retired in 2008 as deputy obituary editor at The New York Times and still writes the Science Q&A column for Science Times. She has used the Players as her drawing room since 2014. 

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