Margaret Webster

A Life in the Theater
Milly S. Barranger
A sweeping drama of the life and times of one of America's most innovative woman directors


Margaret Webster: A Life in the Theater is an engrossing backstage account of the life of pioneering director Margaret Webster (1905-72).

This is the first book-length biography of Webster, a groundbreaking stage and opera director whose career challenged not only stage tradition but also mainstream attitudes toward professional women.

Often credited with first having brought Shakespeare to Broadway, and renowned for her bold casting of an African American (Paul Robeson) in the role of Othello, Webster was a creative force in modern American and British theater.

Her story reveals the independent-minded artist undeterred by stage tradition and unmindful of rules about a woman's place in the professional theater. In addition to providing fascinating glimpses into Webster's personal and family life, Margaret Webster: A Life in the Theater also offers a who's-who list of the biggest names in New York and London theater of the time, as well as Hollywood: John Gielgud, Noël Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Uta Hagen, Sybil Thorndike, Eva LeGallienne, and John Barrymore, among others, all of whom crossed paths with Webster. Capping Webster's amazing story is her investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy and HUAC, which left her unable to work for a year, and from which she never fully recovered.

Milly Barranger is Alumni Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was formerly Chairman of the Department of Dramatic Arts and Producing Director of the PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina.

Praise / Awards

  • "In Milly Barranger, Margaret Webster has found the perfect biographer. In Margaret Webster, Milly Barranger has found her perfect subject. She brings to vivid life a fascinating and important theatre figure whose public and private lives were of equal interest. In this carefully researched book, Webster's colleagues, lovers and friends shine as brightly as she did. I wish she were here to read it."
    —Marian Seldes
  • "Margaret Webster is a highly welcome addition to our knowledge of the first important female director in American theater. Remember now especially for her staging of Othello with Paul Robeson, Uta Hagen, and Jose Ferrer, Margaret Webster was probably the best-known, in-demand, and admired director of Shakespeare in America in the 1940s and 1950s. Fascinating throughout, the book's discussions of working with Robeson, and of HUAC, which targeted her just as her career was reaching a peak, make for especially engrossing reading."
    —Oscar Brockett, University of Texas
  • ". . . [a] first-rate biography. . . The definitive biography of Margaret Webster, providing a fascinating glimpse into the director's personal and family life, while chronicling every aspect of Webster's professional career."
  • ". . . this solid, readable, nicely illustrated, and well-documented biography will be valuable to those pursuing women's studies and studies in sexuality, as well as theater studies."
  • "The story of Webster's all too full life is told in great detail, presenting the wide range of her work. She seems rarely to have rested from her intermingled activities of acting, directing plays and operas, committee work for ANTA and other groups, touring Shakespeare throughout the country, lecturing, and writing such books as Shakespeare without Tears. Clearly, Barranger's book has been a labor of love and readers will find it both informative and enjoyable."
    Theatre History Studies

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6.125 x 9.25.
  • 400pp.
  • 19 B&W photographs in a section.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11390-3

Add to Cart
  • $49.95 U.S.

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  • John Gielgud, Noël Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Uta Hagen, Sybil Thorndike, Eva LeGallienne, John Barrymore, director, Shakespeare, Broadway, Othello, American Repertory Theatre