14 June 1919
Chicago, Illinois, USA
|Died||18 December 1993 (aged 74)
|Spouse(s)||Charlotte Holland (1940-1993)|
Wanamaker was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants from Nikolayev, tailor Morris Wanamaker (Manes Watmacher) and Molly Bobele. Wanamaker trained at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, and began working with summer stock theatre companies in Chicago and northern Wisconsin, where he helped build the stage of the Peninsula Players Theatre in 1937.
In 1943, Wanamaker was part of the cast of the play Counterattack at the National Theatre, Washington D.C.. During the play he became struck by the ideals of Communism and joined the American Communist Party. He attended Drake University prior to serving in the U.S. Army between 1943 and 1946 during the Second World War. In 1947 he returned to civilian life and, before relocating to Hollywood, left the Communist Party.
In 1951, Wanamaker made a speech welcoming the return of two of the Hollywood Ten. In 1952 at the height of the McCarthy "Red Scare" period, despite his distinguished service in the U.S. Army during World War II, Wanamaker learned that he had become blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC), which he discovered while filming Mr. Denning Drives North in the UK. Wanamaker consequently decided not to return to the United States. Instead, he reestablished his career in England, as actor on stage and screen, director and producer.
The BBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast on 24 February 2009, which featured Wanamaker's daughter Zoë, revealed that the FBI had kept a substantial investigation file for him, including incriminating witness statements. His activities were also reportedly monitored by MI5.
In 1957, he was appointed director of the New Shakespeare Theatre, in Liverpool. In 1959, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre company at Stratford-upon-Avon. In the 1960s and 1970s, he produced or directed several works at Covent Garden and elsewhere including the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations in 1974. In the 1970s, Wanamaker began an intimate, long-standing relationship with the then-widowed American actress, Jan Sterling.
He worked both as a director and actor in both films and television, and his appearances included such movies as The Spiral Staircase (1974), Private Benjamin (1980), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), and Baby Boom (1987). He also directed stage productions. In 1980, he directed Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" starring Luciano Pavarotti at San Francisco Opera (now broadcast version released as DVD). He also was featured as the widowered and very ruthless Department Store owner, Simon Berrenger on the short lived drama Berrenger's in 1985.
Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust to rebuild the Globe Theatre in London, and played a central role in realizing the project, eventually raising well over ten million dollars. According to the New York Times, it became Wanamaker's "Great Obsession" to realize an exact replica of William Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, eventually securing the financial support of philanthropist and fellow lover of Shakespeare, Samuel H. Scripps.
According to Karl Meyer of The New York Times:
On the south bank of the Thames River in London, near where the modern recreation of Shakespeare's Globe stands today, is a plaque that reads: "In Thanksgiving for Sam Wanamaker, Actor, Director, Producer, 1919-1993, whose vision rebuilt Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on Bankside in this parish".
There is a blue plaque on the riverside wall of the theatre.
Wanamaker died of prostate cancer in London in 1993 at the age of 74, before his dream could be finalized, and prior to the grand opening by the Queen in June 1997. He was survived by three daughters, Abby, Jessica and the actress Zoë Wanamaker.