peoplepill id: sam-wanamaker
3 views today
21 views this week
Sam Wanamaker
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actor
Was Actor Film actor Film director Stage actor Theatre director Theater professional Television actor
From United States of America
Type Arts Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 14 June 1919, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Death 18 December 1993, London, England, UK (aged 74 years)
Star sign Gemini
Children: Zoë Wanamaker Abby WanamakerJessica Wanamaker
Relatives: Marc Wanamaker
Drake University
Laurence Olivier Award  
Benjamin Franklin Medal 1989
Commander of the Order of the British Empire  
The details


Sam Wanamaker, CBE (June 14, 1919 – December 18, 1993) was an American actor and director who moved to the UK after being put on the Hollywood blacklist in the early 1950s. He is credited as the person most responsible for the modern recreation of William Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, where he is commemorated in the name of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the site's second theatre.

Early years

Sam Wanamaker was born as Samuel Wanamaker on June 14, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, to Maurice Wattenmacker (Manus Watmakher), a tailor, and Molly (née Bobele). His parents were Ukrainian Jews from Nikolayev. He was the younger of two brothers, the elder being William, a long-term cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

Wanamaker trained at the Goodman Theatre in 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.


Wanamaker began his acting career in traveling shows and later worked on Broadway. In 1942 he starred with Ingrid Bergman in the play Joan of Lorraine and directed Two Gentlemen from Athens the following year.

In 1943, Wanamaker was part of the cast of the play Counterattack at the National Theatre, Washington, D.C. During the play, he became enamored of the ideals of communism. 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 moving to Hollywood, quit the Communist Party.

He made his green debut in 1948, playing the role of Mark Denek in Elliott Nugen's My Girl Tisa, opposite Lilli Palmer. 1950 saw his television debut with the "Manhattan Footstep" episode of the TV series Cameo Theatre.

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 Army during World War II, Wanamaker learned that he had become blacklisted while he was filming Mr. Denning Drives North in the UK. Wanamaker consequently decided not to return to the United States. Instead, he reestablished his career in Britain, as actor on stage and screen, director and producer.

In 1957, Wanamaker was appointed director of the New Shakespeare Theatre, in Liverpool. He brought a number of notable productions to the theatre, such as A View From the Bridge, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo, and Bus Stop. In 1959, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, playing Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello in Tony Richardson's production that year. In the 1960s and 1970s, he produced or directed several works at venues including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and directed the William Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations in 1974.

As Stanley Goldblum in The Billion Dollar Bubble (1976)

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, including the world premiere production of Michael Tippett's opera The Ice Break. In 1980, he directed Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" starring Luciano Pavarotti at San Francisco Opera (now broadcast version released as DVD). He was also featured as the widowed and very ruthless department store owner Simon Berrenger on the short-lived drama Berrenger's in 1985.

His last screen appearance was in 1994, in the role of Kingston Parker in Tony Wharmby's TV movie Wild Justice, starring Roy Scheider and Patricia Millardet. And his last work as a director was on Grand Deceptions episode of the TV series Columbo.

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. Though, as in the late 16th and 17th centuries, the 20th century Royal family were more or less supportive, British officialdom was far less so: English Heritage, which controlled the site of the real Globe nearby, refused to allow the archaeology Wanamaker requested in order to ascertain its precise dimensions.

In a 1996 New York Times article titled Sam Wanamaker's Great ObsessionKarl E. Meyer said of Wanamaker: 

The Shakespeare project helped Mr. Wanamaker keep his sanity and dignity intact. On his first visit to London in 1949, he had sought traces of the original theatre and was astonished to find only a blackened plaque on an unused brewery. He found this neglect inexplicable, and in 1970 launched the Shakespeare Globe Trust, later obtaining the building site and necessary permissions despite a hostile local council. He siphoned his earnings as actor and director into the project, undismayed by the skepticism of his British colleagues.

On the south bank of the River Thames 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 river-side wall of the theatre, and the site's Jacobean indoor theatre, opened in January 2014, is named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse after him.

For his work in reconstructing the Globe Theatre, Wanamaker, in July 1993, was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was also honored with the Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society of Arts in recognition of his contribution to theatre.

Also in tribute to Wanamaker's contribution, when multi-Tony Award-winning British actor Mark Rylance accepted his third Tony on stage in New York City during the televised ceremonies on June 8, 2014, he did so with a substantial note of thanks to this American savior of the Globe.

The BBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast on 24 February 2009, which featured Wanamaker's daughter Zoë Wanamaker, revealed that the FBI had kept a substantial investigation file for him, including incriminating witness statements, and that the House Un-American Activities Committee had intended to subpoena him as a witness. His activities were also reportedly monitored by MI5.

Personal life

In 1940, Wanamaker married Canadian actress Charlotte Holland. In the 1970s, he began a long-standing relationship with then-widowed American actress Jan Sterling.

In her 2014 memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, Lee Grant claimed that during the production of the film Voyage of the Damned (1976), Wanamaker engaged in an affair with British actress Lynne Frederick, who was twenty-one at the time (and Wanamaker in his mid-50s).

Actress Zoë Wanamaker is his daughter and film historian Marc Wanamaker is his nephew.


Wanamaker died of prostate cancer in London on December 18, 1993, at the age of 74, before the grand opening of the Globe by Queen Elizabeth II on 12 June 1997. He was survived by three daughters, Abby, Jessica, and Zoë.


In the 2019 Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Wanamaker is portrayed by Nicholas Hammond.

For his work in reconstructing the Globe Theatre, Wanamaker, in July 1993, was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was also honoured with the Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society of Arts in recognition of his contribution to theatre.

When multi-Tony Award-winning British actor Mark Rylance accepted his third Tony on stage in New York City during the televised ceremonies on June 8, 2014, he did so with a note of thanks to Wanamaker.

Plaque honoring Wanamaker's restoration




  • Holocaust (1978 TV Mini-Series) as Moses Weiss
  • Cameo Theatre in "Manhattan Footstep" (episode # 1.4) June 7, 1950
  • Danger Man – as Patrick Laurence in "The Lonely Chair" (episode # 1.8) October 30, 1960
  • The Defenders – as Dr. Ralph Ames in "The Hundred Lives of Harry Simms" (episode # 1.7) October 28, 1961
  • The Defenders – as James Henry David in "A Book for Burning" (episode # 2.27) March 30, 1963
  • Man of the World – as Nicko in "The Bandit" (episode # 2.1) May 11, 1963
  • Espionage – as Sprague in "Festival of Pawns" (episode # 1.10) December 11, 1963
  • The Outer Limits – as Dr. Simon Holm in "A Feasibility Study" (episode # 1.29) April 13, 1964
  • The Defenders – as Edward Banter in "Hollow Triumph" (episode # 3.35) June 20, 1964
  • The Defenders – as United States Attorney Brooker in "A Taste of Ashes" (episode # 4.8) November 12, 1964
  • The Wild Wild West – as Dr. Arcularis in "The Night of the Howling Light" (episode # 1.14) December 17, 1965
  • Gunsmoke – as Asa Longworth in "Parson Comes to Town" (episode # 11.31) April 30, 1966
  • Run for Your Life – as Major Joe Rankin in two episodes
  • The Baron – as Sefton Folkard in "You Can't Win Them All" (episode # 1.19) February 1, 1967
  • Judd for the Defense – as Shelly Gould in "The Gates of Cerberus" (episode # 2.8) November 15, 1968
  • Thirty-Minute Theatre in "A Wen" (episode # 1.233) December 27, 1971
  • Rafferty – as Hollander in "Rafferty" (Pilot) (episode # 1.1) September 5, 1977
  • Return of the Saint – as Domenico in "Dragonseed" (episode # 1.22) February 25, 1979


  • The Defenders (TV series) – episode "Eyewitness" (1965)
  • Court Martial (TV series) – episode "The Bitter Wind" (1966)
  • Hawk (TV series) – episodes "Do Not Mutilate or Spindle", "Game with a Dead End" and "How Close Can You Get?" (1966)
  • Cimarron Strip (TV series) – episode "Broken Wing" (1967)
  • Custer (TV series) – episode "Sabers in the Sun" (1967)
  • Dundee and the Culhane (TV series) – episode "The Jubilee Raid Brief" (1967)
  • Coronet Blue (TV series) – episodes "The Rebels", "Man Running", "Saturday" and "The Presence of Evil" (1967)
  • Lancer (TV series) – episode "The High Riders" (1968)
  • Premiere (TV series) – episode "Lassiter" (1968)
  • The Champions (TV series) – episode "To Trap A Rat" (1968)
  • The File of the Golden Goose (1969)
  • The Executioner (1970)
  • Catlow (1971)
  • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
  • Columbo: The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977) (TV)
  • David Cassidy - Man Undercover (TV series) – episode "Cage of Steel" (1978)
  • Hart to Hart (TV series) – episode "Death in the Slow Lane" (1979)
  • Return of the Saint (TV series) – episode "Vicious Circle" (1979)
  • Mrs. Columbo aka Kate Loves a Mystery (TV series) – episodes "A Puzzle for Prophets" and "Falling Star" (1979)
  • The Killing of Randy Webster (1981) (TV)
  • Columbo: Grand Deceptions (1989) (TV)
To cite the article
We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you notice a mistake, please contact us. Below the article, you will find links to the references used.
Article Title: Sam Wanamaker: American actor - Biography and Life
Author(s): PeoplePill.com Editorial Staff
Website Title: PeoplePill
Publisher: PeoplePill
Article URL: https://peoplepill.com/people/sam-wanamaker/
Publish Date: 30 Dec 2016
Date Accessed: 24 Nov 2020
comments so far.
Reference sources
arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up arrow-down instagram whatsapp myspace quora soundcloud spotify tumblr vk website youtube stumbleupon comments comments pandora gplay iheart tunein pandora gplay iheart tunein itunes