A man sits before a model box of a circular timber structure theatre

SAM WANAMAKER.

Explore the life and times of the founder of Shakespeare’s Globe

Samuel Wanamaker CBE (1919–1993) was an American-born actor- director who moved to the UK and founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust. He led the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre and is also remembered today in the name of our more-recently built Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

‘If you won’t do it, I will!’

Sam Wanamaker

It all started when Sam was 14 years old. 

Whilst attending the Chicago World Fair, he saw a mock reconstruction of the original Globe theatre and his love affair with Shakespeare began.

Fast forward to 1936 and Sam’s first acting job as a student (at the Great Lakes Exhibition in Cleveland, Ohio) sees him perform in a reconstruction of the Globe. The performances were a success and it was an idea that stayed with him.

A man wearing thick-framed glasses stands by a plaque marking the location of the original Globe Theatre

Sam standing by the original plaque that commemorated the Elizabethan playhouse.

A man leans his cheek upon his hand, smiling.

We owe so much to Sam Wanamaker CBE (1919–1993). Photographer: Tom Boutling.

‘I was shocked to find that the site was in fact a rundown redundant riverside industrial area. I was particularly saddened, as by this time, the concept of Globe reconstructions had taken a stronghold in the US, and this was part of and contributed to a great revival and interest in Shakespeare and America’s English language heritage.’

– Sam Wanamaker

When Sam arrived in England in 1949, he was amazed to find the only commemoration of Shakespeare’s life and work in London was a dirty bronze plaque on a brewery wall in Southwark. He later wrote:

‘He needs, and we need, something more substantial than that.’

From 1969 until his death, Sam worked to provide just that: not just a recreation of the Globe theatre, but an international education and research centre, a permanent exhibition, and an indoor theatre too.

An artist’s illustration of a roofless theatre from above

An architects illustration created of the Globe Theatre prior to construction. Design by: Pentagram.

DID YOU KNOW?

It was always Sam Wanamaker’s intention that the site of Shakespeare’s Globe should include an indoor theatre – the brick shell for the Playhouse was built at the same time as the rest of the site. It wasn’t until 2012, however, that work began to turn the shell into a playing space.

In 1989, he described the campaign:

‘Endless successions of planning meetings, a world-wide fundraising campaign, a titanic struggle (an epic journey through an ocean of icebergs, though we managed not to sink).’

It is hard to imagine just how difficult it was to get the Globe Theatre built. And like a hero in a Shakespearean tragedy, Sam Wanamaker died before the project was finished.

We have so much to thank him for.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Sam’s life including important moments that built his relationship with and contribution to Shakespeare and British theatre.

1919

Born on 14 June in Chicago, Illinois, USA

1933

At 14 attends the Chicago World Fair and sees a mock reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe theatre

1936

Joins Blackfrairs Company as a drama student and performs Shakespeare’s plays

1936

Has first acting job is in a replica of the Globe at the Great Lakes Exhibition, Cleveland, Ohio

1940

Marries actress Charlotte Hollander (later they have three daughters together: Abby, Zoë and Jessica Wanamaker)

1942

Has his Broadway ‘big break’ starring alongside Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Lorraine

1943–1946

Serves in the US army

1949

Visits UK for first time, films Give Us This Day, goes to look for the site of Shakespeare

1951

Is back in the UK for Winter Journey filming

1957

Becomes Director of New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, UK

1959

Performs in Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

1970

Sets out to build a new Globe Theatre, founds The Shakespeare Globe Trust and International Shakespeare Globe Centre

1993

Made an Honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II

1993

Died on 18 December after a battle with prostate cancer

1997

In June, the Globe Theatre is opened by Her Majesty the Queen

PHOTOS

DISCOVER

WE STILL NEED YOUR DONATIONS

After the most challenging year in our charity’s history, we still need our supporters to help us recover.

Please donate to help fund the future of Shakespeare’s Globe.

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