Actor, Director, and Producer. He is best remembered for his portrayal as the crusty old law professor 'Charles Kingsfield' in the film "The Paper Chase" (1973) for which he won an Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He reprised the role in the subsequent television series adaptation of "The Paper Chase." Born Jacques Haussmann in Bucharest, Romania, his father was an Alsatian-born Jew who ran a grain business and his Christian mother was British. He received his formal education at Clifton College, in Bristol, England and became a British subject, working in the grain trade in London before emigrating to the United States in 1925, where he took the stage name of John Houseman and became a US citizen in 1943. Following the 1929 stock market crash, he turned his interests to the theater and in 1933 he received his first directing role for "Four Saints in Three Acts." In 1934 he was looking to cast a play he was producing based on a drama by Archibald MacLeish, "Panic," concerning a Wall Street financier whose world crumbles about him when consumed by the crash of 1929. Although the central figure is a man in his late fifties, Houseman became obsessed by the notion that a young man named Orson Welles he had seen in a Cornell Company production of Romeo and Juliet was the only person qualified to play the leading role. Welles consented and, after preliminary conversations, agreed to leave the play he was in after a single night to take the lead in Houseman's production. "Panic" opened at the Imperial Theatre on March 15, 1935 but only ran for a mere three performances. In 1935 he hired Welles and assigned him to direct "Macbeth" for the Federal Theater Project's (FTP) Negro Theater Unit, a production that became known as the "Voodoo Macbeth", as it was set in the Haitian court of King Henri Christophe (and with voodoo witch doctors for the three 'Weird Sisters'). The play premiered at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, New York City, New York on April 14, 1935, to enthusiastic reviews, selling out for each of its nightly performances, and was regarded by critics and patrons as an enormous, if controversial success. In 1936 he and Welles were running a Works Progress Administration unit in midtown Manhattan for classic productions called Project Number 891. Their first production would be Christopher Marlowe's "Tragical History of Dr. Faustus" which Welles directed and played the title role. In June 1937, Project Number 891 would produce their most controversial work with Marc Blitzstein's musical "The Cradle Will Rock." The show was thought to have had left-wing and unionist sympathies, and became legendary as an example of a "censored" show. Shortly before the show was to open, FTP officials in Washington announced that no productions would open until after July 1, 1937, the beginning of the new fiscal year. All the performers had been enjoined not to perform on stage for the production when it opened on July 14, 1937. The cast and crew left their government-owned theatre and walked 20 blocks to another theatre, with the audience following. The performers, who were part of the audience, each stood up and performed their singing parts, and the "oratorio" version of the show was born. The event was so successful that it was repeated several times on subsequent nights, with everyone trying to remember and reproduce what had happened spontaneously the first night. However, the incident led to Houseman being fired and Welles's resignation from Project No. 981. After leaving the FTP, he and Welles did "The Cradle Will Rock" as a full independent production on Broadway and founded the acclaimed New York drama company, The Mercury Theater. In the summer of 1938, the Mercury Theatre was featured in a weekly dramatic radio program on the CBS network, initially promoted as "First Person Singular" before gaining the official title "The Mercury Theatre on the Air." An adaptation of "Treasure Island" was scheduled for the program's first broadcast, but Welles replaced it with Bram Stoker's "Dracula," a week before the show was to air, with him playing the infamous vampire. "The Mercury Theatre on the Air" subsequently became famous for its notorious 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds," which had put much of the country in a panic. While Houseman was teaching at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, he produced Welles' never-completed second short film, "Too Much Johnson" (1938), that was never publicly screened. In 1939 the Welles-Houseman collaboration moved to Hollywood, California, where they signed a two-picture deal with RKO Studios. In a dispute over funding for the first film, their partnership and friendship broke up. However, during the production of "Citizen Kane" (1941), Welles asked Houseman to return to Hollywood to 'manage" its screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz. After parting ways with Welles, he directed "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1939) and "Liberty Jones" and produced the Welles stage version of "Native Son" (1941) on Broadway. In Hollywood, he became a Vice-President of David O. Selznick Productions. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US went to war, he quit his job and became the head of the overseas radio division of the Office of War Information (OWI), working for the "Voice of America" while also managing its operations in New York City. Between 1945 and 1962 he produced 18 films for Paramount, Universal and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, including "The Blue Dahlia" (1946) and the film adaptation of "Julius Caesar" (1953) (for which he received an Academy Award nomination for the category of Best Picture). However, he first became widely known to the public for his Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning role as Professor Charles Kingsfield in the film The Paper Chase (1973). He reprised his role in the television series of the same name from 1978 to 1986, receiving two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a TV Series - Drama. He was the executive producer of CBS' landmark "Seven Lively Arts" series. He played Energy Corporation Executive 'Bartholomew' in the film "Rollerball" (1975) and parodied 'Sydney Greenstreet' in the Neil Simon film "The Cheap Detective" (1978). During this time he also appeared in episodes of the television science-fiction series "The Bionic Woman" and "The Six Million Dollar Man." In the 1980s he became more widely known for his role as grandfather 'Edward Stratton II' in the television sitcom "Silver Spoons," which starred Rick Schroder, and for his commercials for the brokerage firm Smith Barney, which featured the catchphrase, "They make money the old fashioned way... they earn it." Another was Puritan brand cooking oil, with "less saturated fat than the leading oil," featuring the famous 'tomato test'. He also made a guest appearance in John Carpenter's horror movie "The Fog" (1980) as 'Mr. Machen'. He played the Jewish author 'Aaron Jastrow' (loosely based on the real life figure of Bernard Berenson) in the highly acclaimed 1983 miniseries "The Winds of War" (receiving a fourth Golden Globe nomination), based on Herman Wouk's novel. He declined to reprise the role when Wouk's sequel "War and Remembrance" was made into a miniseries. Houseman was the founding director of the Drama Division at The Juilliard School in New York City, where his first graduating class included Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. Unwilling to see his first class immediately disbanded by the testing world of stage and screen, he formed them into a touring repertory company appropriately named the Group 1 Acting Company (later shortened to The Acting Company). During his career, he produced numerous Broadway productions, including "Heartbreak House," "Three Sisters," "The Beggar's Opera," and several Shakespearean plays, in addition to directing "Lute Song," "The Country Girl," and "Don Juan in Hell," among others. In 1988 he appeared in his last two roles, cameos in the films "The Naked Gun" and "Scrooged" playing himself. Both films were released after his death. He died of spinal cancer at the age of 86. He was portrayed by actor Cary Elwes in the Tim Robbins-directed film "Cradle Will Rock" (1999). Actor Eddie Marsan played the role of Houseman in Richard Linklater's film "Me & Orson Welles" (2009). He was played by actor Jonathan Rigby in the "Doctor Who" audio drama "Invaders from Mars," set around the "War of the Worlds" broadcast.
Bio by: William Bjornstad