Joshua Logan was a director and creator of many of the warmest moments in entertainment history.
The producer, director and author, who brought "Mister Roberts," "South Pacific" and "Picnic" to the Broadway stage and then remade them all as triumphant motion pictures, was 79 when he died at his Manhattan home from supranuclear palsy.
A consummate professional for nearly 50 years, Logan's career was marked by a series of widely praised and commercially successful theatrical ventures in which he was surrounded by some of the brightest lights in the show business firmament. But his life was starkly accented by personal tragedy.
He was a millionaire by the time he was 40 who was alternately referred to as a boy genius and one of the "genuine SOBs in the theater." And he was a driven man who once told an interviewer that what he really wanted was to find a way of life "that is not so turbulent and full of pressure."
That was in the late 1940s between his first mental breakdown in 1940 and the second in 1953.
Logan was born in Texarkana, Texas, in 1908 to a father who sold lumber and a mother who taught him Shakespearean sonnets before he was old enough to read them himself. His father died when he was quite young and his mother, who soon was to remarry a man who became a major influence on Logan's life, let him stage plays of his own imagination in a small room off the family living quarters.
The Army colonel that his mother married encouraged young Joshua Lockwood Logan to develop his body as well as his mind. His stepfather enrolled him in a military school in Culver, Ind., where the family had moved, and the boy began boxing and working with weights. His summers were spent in an ROTC camp near Manhattan, and it was during his first three months there that he began a love affair with the theater that lasted his entire life.
When the teenage cadet was through with his classes and drills during the day he would go into the city and watch Will Rogers, Fanny Brice and W. C. Fields in the "Ziegfeld Follies" or Walter Huston in "Desire Under the Elms." He saw 50 productions during his first summer alone.
From military school he went to Princeton where his major, he wrote in his autobiography, "was the high jinks of bootlegged liquor during Prohibition and all-night parties."
But between parties he joined a new stock company called the University Players — a group of Yale, Harvard, Smith and Vassar writers and actors bent on staging productions beyond those approved by their respective schools.
Among his colleagues were Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan and, later, a lanky sophomore architectural major named Jimmy Stewart.
Through friends he went to Moscow to study under Constantin Stanislavsky. Logan returned to the United States after eight months but not to finish his senior year at Princeton. Instead, he and Charles Leatherbee of Harvard, who later wed Logan's sister, took the University Players to Baltimore for their first winter season of repertory.
But the Depression crippled that enterprise and in 1933 Logan used one of his last five nickels to call a playwright friend who found him work as sixth assistant stage manager of "She Loves Me Not," a Broadway play starring Burgess Meredith. To pick up extra money he understudied nearly all of the male roles in the play and that, coupled with his ability to manage the complexities of the play itself, formed the basis of his reputation for versatility.
David O. Selznick offered Logan a job as dialogue director on "Garden of Allah," a 1936 movie starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer. He stayed to direct Boyer's next film, "History Is Made at Night," and a third Hollywood production, "I Met My Love Again," which he also co-wrote.
He was drafted into the Army where he became an assistant director for Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army."
He celebrated his return to civilian life by directing Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun" with Ethel Merman, which ran for 1,147 performances after it opened in 1946.
From the Old West of Annie Oakley, Logan moved to the Pacific of World War II with "Mister Roberts," which he adapted and then directed from Thomas Heggen's novel about a wayward cast of characters on a Navy cargo ship.
He stayed nautical for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who thought that there might be a musical drama in James A. Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific."
The result was "South Pacific," with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, and it was a production that taxed even Logan's talents.
After its debut in 1949, Logan told the New York Times how difficult it was to maintain the mood and story flow through the cheering and applause that followed each song.
"Our songs were to be done as scenes. . . . We tried to figure out ways of presenting the songs and immediately going on with the story without encores."
He borrowed a technique from films and used dissolves—in which the following scene begins before the preceding one ends, minimizing the disruptions.
It won a Pulitzer Prize and Logan took the production to London where earlier he had staged "Mister Roberts." He also took both to films with Fonda re-creating his role while Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi subbed for Martin and Pinza.
The film successes followed the stage triumphs "Fanny" and "Picnic."
He also made pictures of plays he hadn't directed — "Camelot" for one — and continued to direct and write some of Broadway's biggest postwar triumphs: "Wish You Were Here," "The World of Suzie Wong," "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright" and "Ready When You Are, CB."
Sandwiched between all this was his second breakdown, again for a prolonged period and, as he wrote in his autobiography, were it not for lithium carbonate he might have remained a mental patient for the rest of his life.