Sparkling Theresa Helburn Sets out to Conquer Hollywood
Menu JTA Search

Sparkling Theresa Helburn Sets out to Conquer Hollywood

Download PDF for this date

Theresa Helburn, guardian angel of he Theatre Guild, who has accomplished the incredible feat of creating an art theatre that actually pays its way, is going to Hollywood.

Not altogether, of course, for New York could never do without her vibrant personality, without her tact, her understanding, her willingness to give the new and unusual a chance. But Miss Helburn will go for six months every year. Six months in which she will devote her rich experience, her instinctive flair for the theatre and theatrical successes to creating motion pictures that will be worthy of the plays with which the Theatre Guild is identified.

If one doubtfully asks Miss Helburn whether Hollywood and the Theatre Guild do not represent two antagonistic points of view, whether the aims of the one and the aspirations of the other are not utterly different she firmly denies the charge.


“In the last five years,” she says, the talking pictures have made tremendous strides, and what was formerly merely an industry purveying a cheap amusement to the masses has now become an artistic institution that creates works appealing to the cultured taste, to a public that has intelligence and discrimination.

“The theatre itself for economic reasons has become the pleasure of the few. It is distinctly aristocratic. Yet there are many who live either away from the centers where stage successes can be enjoyed or who have not the means to pay the price a theatrical organization has to ask in order to exist at all. For those the new, the modern talking picture, the picture that is not written, staged, and produced for the lowest cultural denominator, offers the most enticing possibilities. And this special public is constantly growing.


“Formerly we sold perhaps one or two of our plays to the motion picture. Now almost every stage success is desirable material for film production. Who knows whether the Theatre Guild itself will not in the future produce its own pictures, for the stage and the motion picture have become intimately connected and interdependent. “

A telephone rings, her secretary comes to the door, a dozen different demands are made on her at the same time, for she is perhaps the busiest of all women executives, still she preserves her unmuffled calm and poise and remains delightfully unhurried. When the interruptions are disposed of she returns to her topic.

“All this can be done,” she says, “provided we are not hampered by a local censorship which for narrow political reasons is interfering with the new development. Of course, I am more than anyone else against everything that is vulgar, coarse and objectionable. Such things must be fought, but fought by the industry itself. Outside censorship is a menace, for true art can only exist where freedom of expression is safeguarded. “


Miss Helburn herself, petite, charming, gowned with striking simplicity, has an exquisite perfection, a graciousness of appearance and manner that is perhaps the secret of her success.

Originally a playwright, author of “Alison Makes Hay,” “Other Lives,” “Full Cup” and “Denbigh,” she undertook to direct a group of theatre enthusiasts, the present Board of the Guild, for two weeks. Since then she has been the managing director of the most important theatrical organization in America, perhaps in the world.

From one adventure to the other she has steered the Guild. Under her leadership the Guild Theatre was built, and not only New York but all America has become the field for the Guild’s plays and the Guild’s actors.

Now Hollywood is the next step and she takes it with the enthusiasm for new and exciting ventures so characteristic of her dynamic personality.

“I’m going first to learn the technique,” she says smilingly, she who has staged more than 150 plays, “and then we will see.” And when she says this one feels that she promises us a new pleasure, a new delight, a new art, and that if anyone could, Theresa Helburn will fulfill this promise.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund