Celebrated theater, radio and television director Martin Magner, who helmed major European theater productions and later classic American TV including the landmark program “Studio One” as well as theater productions in L.A. just two years ago, died Friday Jan. 25 of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A. He was 101.
Stettin, Germany, native was the son of Lutheran father who was a shipping line manager and Jewish mother who was a concert pianist. He began acting in the Hamburg Chamber Theater at age 18 and was named the company’s general director when the Jewish director was purged.
At one point in his early career, he directed the first German production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Too True to Be Good,” which Shaw witnessed. After seeing Magners’ production, Shaw reportedly said, “I now see that youth is not always wasted on the young.”
With the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, he fled to Vienna, where he became friends with Sigmund Freud, who encouraged him to become a lay analyst, an invitation Magner declined.
For two years, he was director of drama and opera at the main theater in Prague and also directed in Breslau, Poland, but with the Nazis invading, Magner again fled, making his way to New York and Chicago, where his friend from Prague, Kurt Adler, settled to work in theater. (Adler would later serve at the director of the San Francisco Opera for more than 30 years.)
In Chicago, Magner directed opera and theater, taught at nearby Northwestern U. and also began directing radio shows for CBS, where he hired a young actor named Studs Terkel.
He was transferred to New York in 1943, transitioning to television and directing hundreds of shows for CBS and NBC during the next decades, including “Studio One,” “The Goldbergs,” “Lamp Unto My Feet” and other episodic shows with such stars as Ethel Barrymore and Helen Hayes.
Although he retired in 1965, he became artistic director for the Inglewood Playhouse and then the New Theatre Inc., which he started, and directed at least one play a year, including one when he was 99. He was given a lifetime achievement award in 1989 by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
Widower had no immediate survivors. His second wife was Marion Palfi, renowned photographer of oppressed people.