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Gene Frankel

Legit director and acting teacher

Legit director and acting teacher Gene Frankel died April 20 of heart failure in Manhattan. He was 85.

An early member of the Actors Studio, he began his career as an actor, but soon moved behind the scenes.

He produced Off Broadway shows and toured as an actor before starting to offer classes in directing, writing and acting, even as his own directing career was taking off.

In 1957, he won an Obie — then one of the few Off Broadway awards — for his direction of Ben Jonson’s 17th-century comedy “Volpone.” Three years later, he won again for a revival of Sophie Treadwell’s feminist tragedy “Machinal.”

In 1961, he directed Jean Genet’s avant-garde drama “The Blacks” at St. Marks Playhouse, a groundbreaking all-black production that included the talents of James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett Jr. and Maya Angelou. The production, which ran for more than three years and toured Europe, led to Frankel’s third Obie award.

Between 1961 and 1975, Mr. Frankel directed seven Broadway productions, including “A Cry of Players,” a William Gibson drama with Anne Bancroft, Frank Langella and Rene Auberjonois in 1968, which was followed by Arthur Kopit’s controversial drama “Indians,” with Stacy Keach and Raul Julia, in 1969.

“The Night That Made America Famous,” a short-lived 1975 Harry Chapin musical, was his last Broadway credit, but he worked extensively on the regional theater circuit and in Europe, and directed several of his productions for television. Until the end of his life, he continued to be active with his workshop, students ranged from Loretta Swit to James Coco.

After several of the workshop’s homes fell through — one, at the Mercer Arts Center on West Fourth Street, literally collapsed in 1973 — the Gene Frankel Theater opened on Bond Street in 1988.

Frankel is survived by a daughter.

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