Jacques Haussmann was born September 22, 1902 in Bucharest. He emigrated to America in 1925 and adopted the Americanized, stage name of John Houseman.

Houseman and Orson Welles founded The Mercury Theatre with the aid of the Federal Theater Project, where they staged revolutionary theatrical shows such as Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, an retelling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (set in fascist Italy), and their famous “voodoo” version of Macbeth – which featured an all African American cast.

Watch a clip of the finale of “Voodoo” Macbeth

Houseman served as Producer and co-writer on the War of the Worlds broadcast. He was mainly responsible for script maintenance during the performance, once the pages we handed over by Howard Koch (who was not present during the broadcast).

During the Second World War, Houseman served for the Voice of America where he managed operations in its New York office. He later went on to produce dozens of films as well as award winning television programs on CBS.

Many television fans of the 1980’s remember Houseman as the sophisticated grandfather on Silver Spoons, and as a commercial pitchman for such products as Puritan cooking oil. He set a cultural trend when he uttered the words, “Smith Barney – They make money the old fashioned way… They earn it!”

Watch an example of Houseman’s commercial work.

Even in his later years, Houseman’s ability in acting was unquestionable. Appearances in films like Scrooged, The Fog, The Paper Chase, and Ghost Story would lend credibility and add respectability simply by having Houseman appear in a cameo.

Watch Houseman’s prologue from John Carpenter’s The Fog.

He was responsible for founding the Group 1 Acting Company (now known simply as The Acting Company) which included Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone in its first incarnation. One of his last projects was championing a re-imagined version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Directed by Shozo Sato), in which the entire play was performed in traditional Japanese Kabuki style. Houseman remained active as an actor, producer and director, until he passed away from spinal cancer on October 31, 1988.

~ by Peter Overstreet on May 20, 2008.

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