The following is a guest post written by Theater Specialist Walter Zvonchenko.
Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Yanne Norup Schmidt and Mr. Kristian Schmidt, the Library of Congress soon will release a website dedicated to the life and work of Swedish theatrical producer Lars Schmidt [1917-2009]. Schmidt was born in Uddevalla near Gothenburg in Sweden. His career in theater had much to do with very successful production across Europe of some of the most noteworthy American musicals and dramas of the mid-twentieth century, often referred to as a golden age of American theater. He also was responsible for the presentation of some of the finest in modern European drama.
Over a period of several decades, first from his office in Gothenburg in Sweden, then from London, and finally from Paris at 6 Avenue Velasquez, Schmidt developed and administered one of the world’s largest and most complex theater companies and theatrical licensing organizations. In Paris, working with his extremely capable associate of many years, Jerome Hullot, Schmidt achieved stunning success in administering several theaters, including the Théâtre Montparnasse and the Athenée, and dealing with the formidable tasks of productions large and small and concomitant productions across the map of Europe.
Schmidt was meticulous in crafting every aspect having to do with his presentations. He had a sharp instinct for gauging which plays should go to which cities and which should not, under what carefully tailored circumstances. He worked with the world’s finest actors, actresses, designers, writers and production staff.
Perhaps the best known of the many successes of Schmidt’s career were his astonishing achievements with multiple productions of My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Theatergoers across the continent waited with high anticipation for the arrival of the My Fair Lady production carefully tailored for their city’s audience.
Schmidt’s very first effort in theater was a solid success – the macabre American comedy of Joseph Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace, produced in 1942 in Scandinavia. Schmidt, citizen of neutral Sweden in the course of World War II, got the rights for the production after a most difficult and dangerous journey to New York during which his ship, bound for Havana, was sunk by the German military. Then he was transferred to a ship that was hardly less hazardous. No great pleasure either was his return home via neutral Portugal and Spain into France, on through Germany and, finally, Sweden, his plane from Germany barely making it home.
Schmidt made it his business to travel to New York to meet the foremost American theater producers and artists of the 1940s, 1950s and later. Among these was Oscar Hammerstein II whose Oklahoma! and Carousel came to the continent under Schmidt’s banner. Oklahoma! was seen in wholly different productions in Europe.
Other productions from American musical theater included Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate and Can Can, Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, and Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Before establishing himself in Paris, Schmidt was involved in production in London of Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson, Janus, written by Carolyn Green, and, through the International Playwrights’ Theatre, Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real. His work caught Williams’ notice. He insisted that Schmidt produce his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Paris. This was the event which incited Schmidt’s transfer of operations to Paris for the remainder of his career. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starred the renowned Jeanne Moreau as Maggie the cat.
Subsequent productions through Schmidt of American drama included Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf . He presented also some of the most successful American comedies of the time, including Sunday in New York, and drama including ‘Night Mother.
Among his notable productions of European drama was Jean Cau’s Les yeux crevés starring Alain Delon in Paris in 1968 at Théâtre du Gymnase. Cau also adapted Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Paris.
One of Schmidt’s last productions was a staging of an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphoses, seen first in Paris with Roman Polanski in the central role, and subsequently in New York City in a co-production with Roger L. Stevens with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Because Schmidt’s career and contacts were so far ranging, the Schmidt collection relates well with a large number of collections in the Library of Congress. It will constitute a noteworthy addition to the Library’s strength as a primary resource for broad-ranging research in theater in the western world.