Smith, (John) Geddeth (Jr.) 1934-
SMITH, (John) Geddeth (Jr.) 1934-
PERSONAL: Born February 28, 1934, in Columbia, SC; son of John Geddeth (a postal supervisor) and Dorothy (a teacher; maiden name, Irby) Smith; married Francesca Cirillo (a pianist and teacher), April 17, 1960; children: Thomas, Adrienne. Ethnicity: "Anglo-Scots-Irish." Education: University of South Carolina, A.B., 1956. Politics: Independent. Religion: Associate Reformed Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Languages, travel.
CAREER: Writer, 1967–. Actor, 1958–; Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble, associate artist; stage appearances with American Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, CT, include A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, and A Winter's Tale, all 1958; King Lear, Comedy of Errors, Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, Richard III, and Caesar and Cleopatra, all 1963–64. Stage appearances with New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Madison, include roles in Much Ado about Nothing, Titus Andronicus, and Cyrano de Bergerac, all 1977; Arms and the Man and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, both 1978; A Christmas Carol, Romeo and Juliet, Cymbeline, Tartuffe, Da, and The Entertainer, all 1980–81; Our Town and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both 1982; War of the Roses, 1983; Othello, Merchant of Venice, The School for Scandal, All the Way Home, The Crucible, Henry VIII, A Man for All Seasons, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Plough and the Stars, Light Up the Sky, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Two Noble Kinsmen, all between 1984 and 1986; The Taming of the Shrew, Coriolanus, The Winter's Tale, Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Two Gentlemen of Verona, All's Well that Ends Well, Titus Andronicus, As You Like It, Pericles, Tom Jones, Waiting for Godot, Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and King John, all between 1988 and 1990; and Richard II, 2004. Toured in productions of Mary Stuart, National Phoenix Theater, 1959–60; Mary Stuart and Elizabeth the Queen, both National Repertory Theater, 1961–62; Madwoman of Chaillot, The Rivals, and The Trojan Women, all National Repertory Theater, 1965–66; Tonight at 8:30, A Touch of the Poet, and The Imaginary Invalid, all National Repertory Theater, 1966–67; Macbeth, Berkshire Theater Festival tour, 1969; Hamlet, Woodfall-Twain tour, 1969. Other stage credits include roles in The Golden Six, York Playhouse, New York, NY, 1958; Fashion, Royal Playhouse, New York, NY, 1958; Tonight at 8:30, A Touch of the Poet, and The Imaginary Invalid, all American National Theater and Academy Theater, New York, NY, 1966–67; The Lion in Winter and The Play's the Thing, both Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT, 1967; A Knickerbocker Portrait, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 1969; Misalliance, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT, 1970; Hamlet and Boys in the Band, both Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope, PA, 1970; Henry V, Hartford Stage Company, 1971–72; The Cherry Orchard and The Estate, both Hartford Stage Company, 1975–76; Saint Joan and Hobson's Choice, Philadelphia Drama Guild, Philadelphia, PA, 1978; Angel Street, Cohoes Music Hall, Cohoes, NY, 1978–79; Titus Andronicus and A Midsummer Night's Dream, American Players Theater, Madison, WI, 1980; Just across the Border, Virginia Museum Theater, Richmond, 1982; Alice in Wonderland, Virginia Theater, New York, NY, 1982; Da and Dial M for Murder, both Barter Theater, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, 1983–84; The Big Knife, Walnut Street Theater, Philadelphia, 1987; The Corn Is Green and Peg o' My Heart, both Barter Theater, 1992; In Spite of All, East Lynne Company, Cape May, NJ, 1993; Hamlet, Iowa Shakespeare Project, Des Moines, 1994; Valley Song, Portland Stage Company, Portland, ME, 1997; Brigadoon, Gateway Playhouse International, 1997; A Delicate Balance, Charlotte Repertory Theater, Charlotte, NC, 1998; The Shaughraun and The Shadow of a Gunman, both Irish Repertory Theater, New York, NY, 1998–99; Twelve Angry Men, Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell, MA, 1999; Camping with Henry and Tom, Charlotte Repertory Theater, 1999; Waiting in the Wings, New York, NY, 1999–2000; A Fair Country, Huntington Theater Company, Boston, MA, 2000; A Child's Christmas in Wales, Irish Repertory Theater, 2000; Valley Song, Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble, 2001; A Delicate Balance, Two River Repertory Company, Spring Lake, NJ, 2001; Cobb, Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble, 2002; Sons of Ulster, Huntington Theater Company, 2002, then Lincoln Center Theater, New York, NY, 2003; Noises Off, Bloomsburg Theater Company, 2004; John Bull's Other Island, GeVa Theater Center, Rochester, NY, 2004; and Restoring the Sun, Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland, OH, 2005. Television appearances include roles in Mary Stuart, Public Broadcasting Service, 1960; "A Knickerbocker Portrait," CBS Camera Three, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 1967; "Israfel" and "Ulalume," CBS Camera Three, CBS, 1970; Man without a Country, American Broadcasting Companies (ABC), 1972; The American Short Story: Blue Hotel, Public Broadcasting Service, 1974; "Milligan," broadcast on American Parade, CBS, 1974; appeared in an episode of the series One Life to Live, ABC, 2000. Actors and Directors Lab, faculty member, 1984–85; American Musical and Dramatic Academy, affiliate, 1994–95. Military service: U.S. Army, Signal Corps, 1956–58.
MEMBER: American Society for Theater Research, South Carolina Society, South Carolina Historical Society, Episcopal Actors Guild, New York University Biography Seminar.
The Brief Career of Eliza Poe (biography), Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Cranbury, NJ), 1988.
Thomas Abthorpe Cooper: America's Premier Tragedian, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Cranbury, NJ), 1996.
Also author of television scripts "A Knickerbocker Portrait," 1967, "Israfel," 1970, and "Ulalume," 1970, all broadcast on CBS Camera Three, Columbia Broadcasting System.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A biography of actor and manager Walter Hampden.
SIDELIGHTS: Geddeth Smith's long career as an actor began in the late 1950s. He is also the author of television scripts and books about actors. The first, The Brief Career of Eliza Poe, chronicles the short life and career of the mother of Edgar Allan Poe. Eliza Poe was born in England, daughter of the actress Elizabeth Arnold; and she made her performing debut in Boston at the age of nine, shortly after she and her mother immigrated to the United States. Eliza was twice married: first to the actor Charles Hopkins, who died leaving her a young widow; and then to the actor David Poe, who abandoned her. She died in Richmond at the age of twenty-four, leaving three children: David, Edgar, and Rosalie.
Welford D. Taylor wrote in the Richmond News Leader that Smith "gives a full account" of Eliza's professional life during which she played approximately three hundred roles, performing as singer, dancer, and actress. She won praise from audiences and critics alike. Taylor noted Smith's "rich experience as an actor" and "his meticulous scholarly approach…. The book is refreshingly free of scholarly jargon … brimful of fact and sound judgment … written in lean, clear prose. The multitude of facts he has marshaled add up to a sound well-defined portrait." Kenneth Silverman noted in the PSA Newsletter: "Smith observes Eliza Poe's career from an actor's-eye view. He makes vividly clear each step in her rise, as she builds her repertoire, takes on more challenging roles, and is cast against more skilled and better-known actors…. As a student of theatrical history … [he] helps us see Eliza Poe, not as background material, but as a person." And in the Kennesaw Review, Cynthia Gilliam described Geddeth Smith as "a graceful writer … his own experiences as a professional actor reward the reader with an insider's insight into the working world of the theater…. Using information gleaned from playbills, review, theatrical posters, and relevant extracts patiently collected from the lives of Eliza's more fully documented contemporaries, Smith stages the brief hour of this small, talented, twice married, always painfully young, mother of three who took her final call at the age of twenty-four."
Smith's biography, Thomas Abthorpe Cooper: America's Premier Tragedian, was called "authoritative, impressively literate, and rich in detail," by Frank Fuller, Jr., in the North Carolina Historical Review. The subject of Smith's book was born in London on December 16, 1776. Cooper's theatrical career spanned the terms of America's first eleven presidents. He journeyed east of the Mississippi River to act in theaters in New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Baltimore, Columbia, and New Orleans, often traveling hundreds of miles in a horse-drawn rig to perform in classical plays. In later life, Cooper was honored by Presidents John Tyler and James K. Polk with a position as customs inspector in New York, NY, in recognition of his contributions. Cooper died in Bristol, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1849. Fuller wrote that Smith's biography of Cooper "goes a long way toward giving Thomas Abthorpe Cooper the overdue recognition he deserves for his many hours of labor and achievement in the early American theater."
Smith once told CA: "It is but a short step from actor to biographer. Both are interpretive arts that portray human character.
"I began writing biography after twenty-five years' experience as an actor, and I continue to work as both actor and biographer today. As an actor, I have been fortunate enough to have appeared in some of the finest plays in both the English and the American repertories. I have played over fifty roles in Shakespeare's plays, and I have also performed in the plays of Sheridan, Shaw, and Samuel Becket, as well as those of Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee, among many others. Studying, memorizing, and speaking the lines of these writers has, I believe, taught me something of the power and beauty that language can have, and I try to use this in my work as a biographer.
"Some of the biographers whose work I admire and who have taught me about the craft of biography are Plutarch, Lytton Strachey, Andre Maurois, Catherine Drinker Bowen, and Richard Marius. I strive to compose language that has the vigor, clarity, and brilliance of Edith Hamilton's prose. I do not trust the socalled 'warts-and-all' approach to biography. I believe that it is misleading, that it seeks to diminish the stature of its subject, and that in its zeal for exposing what is eccentric and petty it loses sight of what is extraordinary and important. It is also cynical; it attempts to rob us of our heroes.
"I have chosen to write about American actors because our theatrical history is rich and fascinating, and it is important that we do not lose touch with it. Its lifeblood has been its actors, and we must not forget their stories. We owe them too much."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kennesaw Review, summer, 1989, Cynthia Gilliam, review of The Brief Career of Eliza Poe.
North Carolina Historical Review, July, 1997, Frank Fuller, Jr., review of Thomas Abthorpe Cooper: America's Premier Tragedian.
PSA Newsletter (Pennsylvania State University, DuBois, PA), spring, 1990, Kenneth Silverman, review of The Brief Career of Eliza Poe.
Richmond News Leader, May 18, 1988, Welford D. Taylor, review of The Brief Career of Eliza Poe.