John Herbert, the Canadian playwright whose “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” became an international cause celebre, died in his sleep on June 22. He was 75.
Herbert, whose full name was John Herbert Brundage, was arrested in Toronto when he was a teenager. His six-month experience in Guelph Reformatory was the subject of “Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” written 20 years after his release. A reading of the play at the Canadian Shakespeare Festival prompted the drama critic for the Toronto Star to send it to New York publicist David Rothenberg, who became the play’s producer.
“Fortune and Men’s Eyes” opened in February 1967, running for more than a year before moving to Herbert’s hometown of Toronto, where it was a great success. Eventually, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” was to play in over 60 countries, including a production in Turkey, directed by James Baldwin. Sal Mineo staged a revival of the play in New York City.
“Fortune and Men’s Eyes” also became the catalyst for an ex-offender self-help program, the Fortune Society, which literally began on the stage of the Off Broadway Actor’s Playhouse where the play was being presented. Discussions with the audience, after the performances, mobilized a constituency for social awareness and change concerning the prison system.
Herbert served on the Fortune Society’s Advisory Council. He was also a lifetime member of the Actors’ Studio in New York and an honorary member of Compositeurs et Dramatiques (France).
Herbert was the founder and artistic director of Toronto’s Maverick Theater for the last 25 years.
He is survived by five sisters and a brother.