Broadway Theater Named After James Earl Jones 64 Years After His Debut There

The 110-year-old Cort Theater on Broadway will be renamed after the 91-year-old actor James Earl Jones, the Shubert organization announced today.
“That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question.” said Robert E. Wankel, Shubert CEO and board chair. Jones’s Broadway career began in 1957, and in 1958 he played his first role at the Cort Theatre in “Sunrise at Campobello.”
“For me standing in this very building sixty-four years ago at the start of my Broadway career, it would have been inconceivable that my name would be on the building today,” Jones is quoting as saying.

Cort Theater Exterior 1937

 The Cort Theater was built in 1912, designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, and named for its owner, John Cort (1861-1929,) who at one time owned more legitimate theaters than anyone else in the United States. The Shubert Organization bought it in 1927.  

Inside the Cort Theater, 2000, view from left Mezzanine

James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi on January 17, 1931. He is a 21-time Broadway veteran (most recently in “The Gin Game” in 2015) three-time Tony winner (“The Great White Hope,” the 1968 play about boxer Jack Jefferson that catapulted I’m to fame, “Fences,” and life-time achievement); a performer in more than 90 films, including the voice of Darth Vader (Star Wars) AND Mufasa (Lion King). He is one of the few “EGOTs” (winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.) He also won seven Drama Desk Awards and has been awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor.

Jones grew up on a farm, a shy kid who stuttered when he spoke…and so barely spoke. (“When you are mute, you become a good listener – it’s all one-way. You appreciate the written word. You appreciate the sound.”)  He studied to be a physician in college, joined the Army,  contemplated the priesthood. He worked as a janitor when first he moved to New York (“Some of the most famous off-Broadway theaters you can imagine, I washed the toilets in those places”)….He’s been an actor for nearly seven decades.

Seeing a recording of him as King Lear streaming recently reminded me of one of the times I saw him in the role at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, when I worked as an usher there. Just as he bellowed “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” it started to pour! One of the most memorable moments of live theater in a lifetime of theatergoing.

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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