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Charles Ludlam

Charles Ludlam

American actor, writer and director
Charles Ludlam
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actor, writer and director
Was Actor Stage actor Television actor
From United States of America
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 12 April 1943, Floral Park, Nassau County, New York, U.S.A.
Death 28 May 1987, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (aged 44 years)
Peoplepill ID charles-ludlam
The details (from wikipedia)


Charles Braun Ludlam (April 12, 1943 – May 28, 1987) was an American actor, director, and playwright.


Early life

Ludlam was born in Floral Park, New York, the son of Marjorie (née Braun) and Joseph William Ludlam. He was raised in Greenlawn, New York, on Long Island, and attended Harborfields High School. The fact that he was gay was not a secret. He performed locally in plays with the Township Theater Group, Huntington's community theater, and worked backstage at the Red Barn Theater, a summer stock company in Northport. While he was in his senior year of high school, he directed, produced and performed with a group of friends, students from Huntington, Northport, Greenlawn, and Centerport. Their "Students Repertory Theatre" in the loft studio beneath the Posey School of Dance on Northport's Main Street was large enough to seat an audience of 25; their audiences were appreciative and enthusiastic, and the house was sold out for every performance. Their repertoire included Madman on the Roof by Kan Kikuchi, Theatre of the Soul [1], their own Readers' Theater adaptation of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, as well as plays by August Strindberg and Eugene O'Neill. He received a degree in dramatic literature from Hofstra University in 1964, by which time he had officially come out. It was at Hofstra that Ludlam met Black-Eyed Susan (actor), whom he cast in one of his college productions. The two became close friends and over the next 20 years, Black-Eyed Susan acted in more of Ludlam's plays than any other actor, except Ludlam.


Ludlam joined John Vaccaro's Play-House of the Ridiculous, and after a falling out, became founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City in 1967. His first plays were inchoate exercises: however, starting with Bluebeard he began to write more structured works, which, though they were pastiches of gothic novels, Lorca, Shakespeare, Wagner, popular culture, old movies, and anything else that might get a laugh, had more serious import. Theater critic Brendan Gill after seeing one of Ludlam's plays famously remarked, "This isn't farce. This isn't absurd. This is absolutely ridiculous!". Yet on his own work Ludlam had commented:

I would say that my work falls into the classical tradition of comedy. Over the years there have been certain traditional approaches to comedy. As a modern artist you have to advance the tradition. I want to work within the tradition so that I don’t waste my time trying to establish new conventions. You can be very original within the established conventions.

Ludlam usually appeared in his plays (particularly noted for his female roles), and had written one of the first plays to deal (though tangentially) with HIV infection. He taught or staged productions at New York University, Connecticut College for Women, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University. He won fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. He won six Obie Awards, the last one 2 weeks before his death, and won the Rosamund Gilder Award for distinguished achievement in the theater in 1986. His most popular play, and the only one to enter the standard repertory, is The Mystery of Irma Vep, in which two actors manage, through a variety of quick-change techniques, to play seven roles in a send-up of gothic horror novels. The original production featuring Ludlam and his lover Everett Quinton was a tour de force. In order to ensure cross-dressing, rights to perform the play include a stipulation that the actors must be of the same sex. In 1991, Irma Vep was the most produced play in the United States; and in 2003, it became the longest-running play ever produced in Brazil.

Ludlam was diagnosed with AIDS in March 1987. He attempted to fight the disease by putting his lifelong interest in health foods and macrobiotic diet to use. He died a month later of PCP pneumonia in St. Vincent's Hospital, New York. The street in front of his theatre in Sheridan Square was renamed "Charles Ludlam Lane" in his honor.

In 2009, Ludlam was inducted posthumously into the American Theater Hall of Fame. After his death, "Walter Ego", the ironically named dummy character from Ludlam's play "The Ventriloquist's Wife" was donated to the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, where it remains on exhibit today; the puppet was designed and built by actor and noted puppetmaker Alan Semok.

Plays (as playwright)

  • Big Hotel (1967)
  • Conquest of the Universe, or When Queens Collide (1968)
  • Turds in Hell, an adaptation of The Satyricon (1969)
  • The Grand Tarot (1969)
  • Bluebeard, an adaptation of H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau (1970)
  • Eunuchs of the Forbidden City (1971)
  • Corn (1972)
  • Camille (1973)
  • Hot Ice (1974)
  • Stage Blood, an adaptation of Hamlet (1975)
  • Tabu Tableaux (1975)
  • Caprice (1976)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Der Ring Gott Farblonjet, an adaptation of The Ring Cycle
  • The Ventriloquist's Wife
  • Utopia, Incorporated
  • The Enchanted Pig
  • Elephant Woman
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Reverse Psychology (1980)
  • Love's Tangled Web (1981)
  • Secret Lives of the Sexists
  • Exquisite Torture
  • Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde, an adaptation of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
  • The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984)
  • Salammbo (1985), an adaptation of Flaubert's novel of the same name
  • Galas (1983), inspired by the life of Maria Callas
  • The Artificial Jungle (1986]
  • How to Write a Play

Puppet shows

  • Professor Bedlam's Educational Punch and Judy Show
  • Anti-Galaxie Nebulae

Plays (as actor)

  • The Life, Death and Assumption of Lupe Velez by Ronald Tavel (as The Lesbian)
  • The Life of Lady Godiva by Ronald Tavel (as Peeping Tom)
  • Indira Gandhi's Daring Device by Ronald Tavel (as Kamaraj)
  • Screen Test by Ronald Tavel (as Norma Desmond)
  • Hedda Gabler (title role)American Ibsen Theatre, Pittsburgh (1984) Directed by Mel Shapiro (Dramaturg: Micheael X. Zelenak; Assistant to the Director: Hafiz Karmali).

Plays (as director)

  • Whores of Babylon by Bill Vehr (1968)
  • The English Cat by Hans Werner Henze, American premiere, at the Santa Fe Opera in 1985.
  • Die Fledermaus at the Santa Fe Opera

Films (as actor)

  • Lupe (1967)
  • Underground and Emigrants
  • Reel 6: Charles Ludlam's Grand Tarot (1970)
  • Imposters (1980)
  • Museum of Wax
  • Doomed Love (1983)
  • The Big Easy (1987)
  • Forever, Lulu (1987)
  • She Must Be Seeing Things (1988)

Television (as actor)

  • Miami Vice
  • Tales from the Dark Side
  • Oh, Madeline!
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