Ellis Rabb: 1930-1997

By O'Brien, Jack | American Theatre, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Ellis Rabb: 1930-1997


O'Brien, Jack, American Theatre


Ellis Rabb died in January at 67 at his home in Memphis, Tenn., and for many of us, the world is quite suddenly divided into two categories: those for whom he is irreplaceable, and those who simply didn't know him.

It is both sad and shocking to realize how many theatre professionals, especially younger ones, fall into the latter category. Though Ellis was largely absent from the theatre scene during the last 10 years of his life, what a life preceded those years! Educated at Carnegie Mellon when it was still called Carnegie Tech, Ellis and his professional sibling, William Ball, arose from Pittsburgh like inspired twins, filled with idealism and a passionate love and belief in classical theatre - especially American classical theatre. After acting for Arthur Lithgow at the Antioch Shakespeare Festival and for John Houseman at the American Shakespeare Festival in Connecticut, Ellis formed New York's famed APA (Association of Producing Artists) Repertory Company in 1960 with his eternal muse, Rosemary Harris, to whom he was married for most of the decade.

As a director, Ellis knew no boundaries - he mined the riches of the popular comedies of Kaufman and Hart as comfortably as he plumbed the depths of classics by Shakespeare, Shaw and Pirandello. As an actor he was equally eclectic - he played everything from Hamlet to Lady Bracknell, lending his own histrionic elegance to each role. He insisted that artists needed to be in control of their own creative destinies, so APA - which included such actors as George Grizzard, Nancy Marchand, Paul Sparer, Richard Easton, Keene Curtis, Clayton Corzatte, Patricia Conolly and Dorothy Dee Victor - began its adventure with an engagement in Bermuda that would eventually take them to Princeton, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Toronto and Ann Arbor, Mich. …

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