Sam Wanamaker, an actor/director who grew up in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, has been regarded as something of a cranky nuisance by diverse elements in his adopted land.
"I am kind of a curiosity in England," the longtime American in London conceded during a recent visit to his hometown. "Beneath the veneer, there's a kind of resentment over what I'm doing."As the founder of the internationally funded Shakespeare Globe Trust, what he is doing - and has been doing for 20 years - is spearheading the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's plays originally were produced, in the seedy Bankside area, on the south bank of the Thames across from St. Paul's Cathedral. The cost has been estimated at $35 million, and the opening rescheduled for April 23, 1993, the Bard's 429th birthday.
Labor Party types have groused that his dream is "elitist," a radical leftist politician has denounced Shakespeare as "a lot of tosh" and some of their countrymen have expressed fears that the outlander is creating a sort of Elizabethan Disneyland.
"Years ago, my English friends told me that Stratford-upon-Avon was enough," Wanamaker said. "Well, I didn't think it was enough. This is more than just a sentimental monument. I mean, the Globe is the most famous theater in the Western world.
"The British have absolutely neglected it. It's an embarrassment to them that they haven't done anything about it. When I first visited the site in 1949, there was only a plaque on a brewery wall. It was in a pretty bleak industrial area, bombed out from the war. It was a scary place, with lots of vandalism."
In addition to the Globe - which will have a permanent company of about 25 actors - Wanamaker said the complex also will include a smaller indoor playhouse, a major exhibition area, an audio-visual archive and a small cinema.
Wanamaker first became interested in Shakespeare at age 14, when he attended the Century of Progress exposition in 1933. "While I was hanging around where Sally Rand was appearing - I did manage to sneak in - I went next door where they had a mock Globe theater. They did cut versions of the plays, and I think I saw `The Taming of the Shrew."'
Wanamaker, who turned 71 in June, attended Drake University before enrolling at the Goodman School of Drama, where Karl Malden was a year ahead of him. One of his classmates was his future wife, Charlotte Holland. The two did radio soap operas in Chicago in the 1930s, then moved with the shows in 1940 to New York, where he made his Broadway debut in "Cafe Crown," the first play directed by Elia Kazan.
After serving with the Army's special services during the war - inadvertently seeing combat on Iwo Jima ("We came under fire as we were unloading crates of baseball bats and library books") - he directed and appeared with Ingrid Bergman in "Joan of Lorraine," and later found himself a victim of the McCarthy era's blacklisting.
As for the Globe: "What we're not doing is museum theater. We're not imposing any conditions on the interpretations of the plays. But the physical conditions of the building should be respected and not violated. For instance, we're not having theatrical lighting but `augmented daylight' - concealed lights - which will light both actors and audience.
"There's really no other place like it - a magnet for people all over the world interested in Shakespeare," he said.