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Lives Across The Pond: Sam Wanamaker

Each month we feature a person included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography who was either born in the United States, and made their name in the UK, or came to the US from the British Isles. This month we feature the actor and director Sam Wanamaker, born in Chicago on 14 June 1919 and best known in Britain as the inspiration behind London’s Globe Theatre.


Sam Wanamaker (1919–1993), actor and director, was born Samuel Watenmaker on 14 June 1919 in Chicago, USA, the second son of Morris Watenmaker his wife, Molly Bobele. His parents were first generation Russian-Jewish immigrants. It is quite possible that his stage début as a teenager in a plywood and paper replica of the Globe at the Chicago World Fair in 1934 was the cathartic experience which inspired his lifelong devotion to the Bard and brought into being the Shakespeare Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank …

… Actively opposed by London council and disparaged by members of his own profession who viewed the American bardolator as ‘an upstart crow’, Wanamaker persevered with architects, scholars, artists, and backers who shared his vision. These eventually included the duke of Edinburgh and a bevy of distinguished supporters such as Sir John Gielgud, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Opened for ‘Workshop’ and ‘Prologue’ seasons in 1995 and 1996, and finally formally opened in 1997 by the queen, ‘Wanamaker’s Folly’ quickly established itself as one of London’s most irresistible attractions.

Continue reading the Oxford DNB biography of Sam Wanamaker.

In addition to this biography, the Oxford DNB also offers a free ‘Life of the Day‘ sent daily to your in-box, plus topical lives in our free monthly Reading Room and favourite people available in a free biography podcast.

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