Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton
Impresario William W. Lockwood, Jr. Is Always on the Lookout for Talent
It has been a grand adventure for William Lockwood, Jr. A true "Princeton Personality" in every sense, he is an impresario of renown, whose career has spanned four decades (now well into a fifth), and has taken him to such arts centers as McCarter Theatre, Lincoln Center, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
The foundation of it all, he is quick to point out, is McCarter Theatre and his hometown of Princeton, where he still lives.
"I think I have the longest relationship to McCarter of anyone here," he says. "My first McCarter experience was in the 1940s. The PTA ran a series of weekday afternoon programs, and as a child, I attended these. It was fun and a good introduction."
"Then, when I was around 10, I began to go to Princeton University concerts with my parents at McCarter. The first real play I saw at McCarter was a touring company of "Mr. Roberts" in 1951. My first real classical ballet was the Ballet Theatre in 1954, and my first exposure to all of these art forms was here at McCarter. McCarter has always been a constant in my life."
His other anchor has been Princeton. Born in New York City, the oldest child of William, Sr. and Virginia Lockwood, he moved here in 1941 at the age of four. Brother Stephen and sister Julia were later arrivals to the family.
"My parents met in Cambridge, Mass., when my father was getting a graduate degree at Harvard," recalls Mr. Lockwood. "My mother, a teacher and poet, was from Maine. She taught at The Dalton School in New York, and later at Miss Fine's in Princeton, and Princeton Country Day.
"My father was in the State Department and was commuting to Washington, so they came to Princeton to be closer to D.C. Then during World War II, he was commissioned a Captain in the Army, and spent 1941 through 1945 in China with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services)."
After the war, Mr. Lockwood, Sr. joined the Princeton University faculty and taught politics and international affairs. He was instrumental in developing the East Asian Studies Department and also the Woodrow Wilson School, and was assistant director there. He remained at Princeton for the rest of his career.
"So, I was a 'faculty brat'," continues Mr. Lockwood. "I went to Miss Mason's School here, then Nassau Elementary, Quarry Middle School, and Princeton High School."
He has especially warm memories of Princeton High School. "It was a special place. In fact, we will have our 50th reunion this year at the Nassau Club. There were so many wonderful teachers at Princeton High. Jessica Bartlett taught American history, and Jeanne Wright taught Latin, which I took for four years.
"Another teacher I very much admired was Florence Burke. She was a math teacher and dean of girls. She was a wonderful teacher, and also administered the operettas at the high school. She got me involved. We did Carousel (the first high school in the country to perform it) and The Desert Song. I worked behind the scenes and sang in the chorus."
He also gravitated toward the written word, he adds, and was co-editor of The Tower, the school newspaper. In addition, he sang in the PHS choir. Music was a very important part of his life, he recalls, and he was surrounded by it in his home.
Subhead; Afternoon Opera
"My father played the violin, and we had music in the house constantly. I played the piano, and we always listened to the Saturday afternoon operas from the Met on the radio. I attended my first opera at a student matinee of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci."
Also during high school, he went to New York on many weekends to attend concerts and see Broadway shows. "I'd stay with my grandmother, and see things Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and go to a concert with her on Sunday afternoon. We heard Toscanini!"
Singing in the PHS choir was one of the most memorable aspects of his high school career. "It was the crown jewel of the music program, which was under the direction of Thomas Hilbish, a graduate of Westminster Choir College," recalls Mr. Lockwood.
"He brought the high school music program and choir to national prominence. Thomas Hilbish was one of my mentors, and had a very important influence on me in high school."
Growing up in Princeton was a happy time, he reports. Winters brought ice skating, both on Lake Carnegie ("It seemed to be frozen longer in those days"), and at Baker Rink. Summers were mostly spent in Maine, where his mother's family had a home. "It was right on the water," he remembers, "and it was wonderful. We'd go sailing, and I have very happy memories of my childhood there.
"I greatly admired my father," he continues. "He was a big influence on me, as Thomas Hilbish was later."
His father's influence did not quite extend to Bill, Jr.'s going to Harvard, however. Despite his father's advanced degree from that prestigious university, and although he was accepted there, Bill chose Princeton.
"Children of faculty could attend Princeton tuition-free then, and that was an important factor," he explains. "Also, I was a home town boy, and I liked the idea of staying here."
At Princeton, the early glimmering of his future career began to emerge. He majored in English literature, and was very active in Princeton's famous Triangle Club shows.
"Triangle was a big part of my college life," he says. "I was an administrator, actively working behind the scenes. I'm still involved with Triangle, in fact, serving as faculty advisor and graduate treasurer.
"I took as many theater courses as I could," he continues, "and I did my senior thesis on David Belasco, the great producer and director. Also, one of my work/study jobs was in the Theater Collection at Firestone Library, working under Marguerite McAneny. This was at the time, in 1955-56, when they were having a restrospective to mark McCarter's 25th anniversary.
"Also, while I was working in the Theater Collection, I was a ticket-taker at McCarter. I guess in a way, this is really my 50th anniversary at McCarter!"
During his senior year, the enterprising entrepreneur got a taste of what his future would hold. He and two classmates decided to present a series of productions at McCarter, which was then "dark."
"Alan Downer, my faculty advisor, was the drama guy on the English faculty, and he was another mentor to me," says Mr. Lockwood. "He was helpful because he wanted to keep the lights on at McCarter. He became very involved in the development of McCarter as a producing company.
"So, in the fall of 1958, my two classmates and I went to the Sol Hurok offices in New York, and convinced them to give us some shows. We were young and naive, but it worked! Katharine Cornell came in Dear Liar, Emlyn Williams in a one-man show as Dylan Thomas, and there were musical concerts by The Weavers, Pete Seeger, and Tom Lehrer, also Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, and Carl Sandburg, who had never read his poetry in Princeton before."
After graduation in 1959, Mr. Lockwood had a six-month stint in the Army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma (his first trip west) and then at Ft. Dix, followed by many years in the Reserve.
In the spring of 1960, he headed even farther west, when he and former classmate and fellow entrepreneur, Tom Sternberg, went to San Francisco.
"We had the bug and wanted to see if we could do this as full-fledged professionals," says Mr. Lockwood. "We'd gotten to know Sol Hurok and his organization. They suggested we go to San Franciso, and they'd give us all their good stuff to present there."
Even at a starting salary of $5,000 a year and take-home pay of $77.11 a week, "We loved it," reports Mr. Lockwood. "We were now known as Dana Attractions, and within a year, we became major producers of classical productions in San Francisco. We had the Kirov Ballet, Van Cliburn, Segovia, and Rubenstein. Overnight we were in business. And all the important Russian performers were coming. Talk about learning on the job!
"All the best stuff came through Hurok: Buster Keaton in Once Upon A Mattress, for example. He and I went out after the show for meat loaf sandwiches, and he'd tell wonderful stories. I wish I had taped some of those! Also, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein, who was an absolute super star then. We also had the D'Oyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, Helen Hayes, and Maurice Evans, and many others."
One memory, an incident which could have brought his career to a sudden stop, stands out from those San Francisco days, says Mr. Lockwood. "In the fall of 1962, Hurok had successfully engaged the Bolshoi Ballet, which we were to present at the Fox Theatre in San Francisco. This was our quintessential moment.
"Then, four days before the company was to open, President Kennedy blockaded Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. People were very worried and didn't know what would happen. The last thing they thought about was buying tickets for anything, especially from Russia.
"This was supposed to be our crowning achievement, but we ended up with a very small audience. The house was only 40 percent full. Hurok, being a man of considerable principle, came to our aid. He restructured the financial arrangement, so we could continue. And he also wanted to keep San Francisco well-represented."
After three years in San Francisco, however, Mr. Lockwood decided to come back east, and it was home to Princeton, McCarter, and then New York.
Place to Be
"We'd both decided we'd gone about as far as we could there," he explains. "We were both easterners, and the real source of the action, the place to be, is New York."
Mr. Lockwood had been offered a job as booking director and publicity director at McCarter by Milton Lyon, then executive director of the theater.
"Milton Lyon had directed some Triangle shows, and now he needed someone to expand McCarter's programming since it had become a performing arts center," explains Mr. Lockwood.
"Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1963, Milton Lyon left, and Arthur Lithgow took his place. I didn't know him, but he honored Milton's commitment to me. Arthur was a man of great class, a wonderful human being, and his son, John, the actor, is too. The Lithgows were almost a second family to me."
And he liked the job too. He had a lot of discretion to shape the programming and engage up and coming talent.
"I really had a blank canvas to work on," he remarks, "and I introduced a dance series, a classical music series, and a film series. This is a performing arts center, and we wanted to represent all art forms. There was already a strong drama program.
"What I tried to do then and continue to do is to introduce new faces and strike a balance with those performers the audience knows with the stars of tomorrow, whose names are not as familiar yet. For example, next year, we will have a jazz series with Dave Brubeck, who I first heard in the '50s. He's 84 now, and going strong. We will also have jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti, a 21-year-old, who is still a student at UCLA. We had Harry Connick, Jr. before people really knew him, and he could only fill half of the house."
After two years at McCarter, Mr. Lockwood wanted to explore other opportunities as well.
"I said to myself, I'd like to work at Lincoln Center," he remembers, smiling. "It had just gotten underway, and there was a connection. My father knew the key point man for John D. Rockefeller III in the development of Lincoln Center, and he sent me over to see Schuyler Chapin, vice president for Programming.
"He was looking for a bright young assistant to help develop programming, and he hired me. He was another of my mentors, another wonderful man. He later became New York's Commissioner of Cultural Affairs."
Mr. Lockwood went to work for Lincoln Center in 1965, at the same time keeping his McCarter job as special programming director. It took some balancing, but a man of high energy, Mr. Lockwood managed it handily.
"I should have bought a pied à terre in New York then," he says, a bit ruefully. "I was there five or six days a week, and I commuted. I was here at McCarter in the evening for performances, and I'd leave notes for people late at night and in the morning. I was something of a phantom, as I was so rarely seen, except at night."
Those years were very productive for him and for both arts centers. As his long-time friend, Nancy Shannon Ford, Princeton resident and former McCarter general manager, notes, "During the time when Bill was with Lincoln Center, he was at McCarter for every single special event, and he was at Lincoln Center during the day. Those years at McCarter were the happiest of my life, and Bill Lockwood contributed to that.
"His genius is in knowing what audiences will buy into and come to. He has a gift that is quite extraordinary. I've always been in awe of Bill and his ability to know what the audience likes, whether it's rock or classical.
"The people he has met and the people he has brought to McCarter are amazing. Who else could get Artur Rubenstein to come to Princeton and play in Dillon Gym! Andre Watts has been here on a number of occasions, too. The quality of the performers Bill has brought here is extraordinary. He has my highest admiration."
Another friend and Lincoln Center colleague, Jane Gullong, now executive director of New York City Opera, shares in this admiration of Mr. Lockwood's skills.
"In the arts community, if there is anyone who is the dean of presenters, it's Bill. He's a legend all over the country. Presenting is more institutionalized now, and that is due to Bill. He introduced the 'Mostly Mozart' series at Lincoln Center, and was instrumental in so many more.
"The thing about Bill that makes him unique and so good at what he does is that he has such catholic tastes not just classical, opera, pop, or jazz. He has such a wide range. He has an eye and ear for the culture and an ability to sense quality, whether it's The Rolling Stones or Twyla Tharp. It's such a gift.
"I also think his ability to do so well is that he's such an old-fashioned fan. He's not at all jaded. It's fun to go to performances with Bill."
At Lincoln Center, Mr. Lockwood's focus was primarily on classical music. Along with the Great Performers series, one of his most successful programs was the enormously popular "Mostly Mozart" series, which is still an audience favorite.
"The President of Lincoln Center pointed out to us that nothing was happening in the summer at Philharmonic Hall," explains Mr. Lockwood. "'Why don't we do a festival devoted totally to the music of one composer' he asked. 'No one else has anything like that.'
"We decided the only composer we could do night after night was Mozart. His work was vocal, orchestral, chamber he wrote in every format. It's a four-week festival, and at first it wasn't called 'Mostly Mozart'. But we had added some Hayden and Bach, so I coined the phrase, 'Mostly Mozart', and it caught on."
During the years at Lincoln Center and McCarter, he continued his professional balancing act with aplomb, and some of his most successful programming occurred at both places.
For example, at McCarter, programs in dance, jazz, pop, folk, and rock continued to expand, as did the one-man/woman performances. A memorable McCarter occasion took place in 1984, when famous movie actor Cary Grant appeared in "An Evening With Cary Grant" during which he reminisced about his Hollywood days and answered questions from the audience.
"He had never been to Princeton before, and he wanted to see the campus," remembers Mr. Lockwood. "So we got permission for the limousine to drive him around. I was like a tour guide for him and his wife. He'd get out occasionally and walk. He was a very nice person, and I got to introduce him to the McCarter audience before the performance.
"By the way," he adds in an aside, "when the Princeton Playhouse movie theater opened in 1938, the first movie it showed was The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. When it closed some 40 years later, it showed the same movie."
Mingling with the famous is all part of the job for Mr. Lockwood, and he has made some lasting friendships.
"The nice thing is that after 45 years, I have developed a personal relationship with a number of performers, including Wynton Marsalis, Hal Holbrook, Emanuel Ax, and Richard Thompson. The performers especially look forward to coming back to McCarter. They know McCarter, and they know me. Marcel Marceau was here 19 times!"
In 1993, after 28 years helping to develop Lincoln Center's programming to its current level of excellence, Mr. Lockwood decided to concentrate exclusively on McCarter. As luck would have it, that lasted two years, and once again, he was called on to share his talents elsewhere.
"New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) called me, and one thing I had never done was to be present at the creation of a new arts center, and begin programming from scratch," he explains. "So, in 1995, we began hiring a team to put together special programming in music, dance, Broadway musicals, and recitals. It was a new adventure and new people."
It has been a tremendous success, he adds. At first people questioned the Newark location, but as he points out, "It has helped revitalize downtown urban Newark. This is the most populated part of the most densely populated state. From Morristown up, the New Jersey audience is 4 and a half million. Now in our eighth season, NJPAC gets half a million people a year."
It's a nice synergy with McCarter, too, he adds. "We have a lot of performances in both places. The markets don't overlap.
"I think one of the advantages I am able to bring to the theaters is that I am equally at home and comfortable in every genre whether it's Beethoven or The Grateful Dead," he explains. "My own taste is so eclectic. I'm knowledgeable about jazz, rock and pop, classical, and the cinema. I think I have been able to contribute as much as I have because I know enough about a lot of things."
Indeed. His experience at McCarter has also included introducing the summer cinema series at Kresge Auditorium from 1975 to 1991, and in addition, he has curated the film series, "Second Chance" for the Princeton Adult School the past seven years. Among his responsibilities are creating the film notes and introducing the movie before it is shown. He calls this a "labor of love."
In fact, it has all been a "labor of love" for Bill Lockwood which is good, since his busy schedule leaves little time for anything else.
"I constantly watch people perform," he says. "Five or six nights a week, I'll be seeing performances. In a typical week, I could see a jazz concert in a Village club in New York, a classical performance at Carnegie Hall, or a dance event at the Joyce Theater. And if I'm not attending something, I am listening to CDs or watching videos and DVDs."
Never one to pass up an opportunity for something new, Mr. Lockwood was involved in the establishment of the Kimmel center in Philadelphia in the fall of 1991, all the while carrying out his responsibilities at McCarter and NJPAC.
"The KImmel Center appealed to me because it was a different kind of situation than NJPAC or McCarter," he notes. "It's in a big city, with a built-in, indigenous audience a concert hall built for the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. My job was to put together other kinds of performances there.
"E-mail saved my life during that time, he says. "For two years, I had things going on in three places: Newark, Princeton, and Philadelphia. Three different venues and three different seasons. It takes a lot of advance planning."
Planning is a constant in Bill Lockwood's world. Because he does have interests outside of the performing arts tennis, gardening, cooking, and river rafting, to name some favorites he plans his life carefully to include these.
He became a master gardener during the 1993-95 period when he was exclusively at McCarter, and gardening is one of his biggest pleasures.
"I am a passionate gardener! I grow all my own vegetables, and my flowers are all perennials. I love it! There's just nothing like getting your hands in the dirt.
"I am also a cook," he continues. "In life, if you're not married, you either decide to eat out or learn to cook. I enjoy cooking, and I especially eat a lot of fish. I have a great relationship with Nassau St. Seafood. And, of course, I have all the vegetables from my garden."
Tennis at least four times a week, summer and winter and running are also on his list of activities, as "Exercise is a must for me. Another passion is white water rafting. I've been a dozen times to the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. The Colorado has the biggest rapids. It's quintessential river rafting. You have to be conditioned to paddle all day and hike as well. I've gotten a lot of Princeton friends to go, and we have a trip planned for 2006."
One of those friends is Helmut Weymar, a Princeton resident since 1965, when he met Mr. Lockwood through tennis.
"I'm a fellow 'river rat'," he says. "We've probably paddled the lower half of the Grand Canyon seven times. We go every two or three years or so. For me, it's kind of a peak spiritual experience.
"Bill is a friend of long-standing, and he's a real character. He has a wonderful sense of humor, somewhat acerbic and bantering.
"There are many reasons for loving to live in Princeton, but for my wife and me, nothing is more important than McCarter and our friends," continues Mr. Weymar. "Obviously, a major part of that is Bill Lockwood. We're blessed in this community to have all of the performing arts here through Bill, who has been America's leading impresario over much of his career. I don't know of anyone who is a larger figure."
Because of Mr. Lockwood's contributions over many years to McCarter, one of the new lobbies in the theatre's expansion, was named for him, notes Mr. Weymar.
"Because of the extremely high quality of the programming Bill has put together, and combined with personal friendship, we have been actively interested in supporting McCarter financially. I thought it would be effective for fund-raising and completely deserved that one of the new lobbies be named for Bill. It turned out to be a natural: The Lockwood Lobby."
It was a big moment for Mr. Lockwood, who was unaware of the tribute. As he says, "It was a real surprise and such a high honor. You wonder how you'll be remembered, and nothing beats something physical."
Princeton resident, author, and former editor of People Magazine, Landon Jones spoke at the occasion of the lobby's dedication. A friend of Mr. Lockwood since the 1970s, when they both regularly commuted to New York, he commented on Mr. Lockwood's contribution to Princeton's cultural life.
"Bill is a major definer of Princeton's cultural character. He brings in performers from every genre and venue, who are appealing to every age, and all very high quality. Some of the most memorable performances I've seen have been people Bill brought to McCarter. He has impeccable taste.
"At the dedication, I talked about how the lobby is a halfway house of the imagination. People come to the lobby before the performance and during the intermission, while preparing to enter into the world of the imagination between the work day world and the world of art.
"Another thing worth mentioning about Bill is that when we were commuting, and I was editor of People, he'd ask, 'have you done a story on so and so?' and I'd never even heard of some of these people. So, I'd go back to the office and check it out. Princeton is lucky to have him."
And McCarter has been lucky, too, to have had his expertise all these years. Saturday, April 16 is a big night at McCarter Theatre Center. Celebrating its 75th anniversary with a grand gala, it will present an evening starring Lily Tomlin and a special video highlighting the theatre's history.
A good part of that history has been shared with Mr. Lockwood, and he has written a "McCarter Memoir" in honor of the occasion.
"McCarter is so much a part of me," he points out. "These last three months, writing its history, have been particularly exciting because I've had a chance to go back and look at McCarter's history, some of which is mine really 60 years, from when I first began attending performances.
"No one else could have written about it in quite the same way," he continues. "The deep recesses of my attic yielded material that didn't exist elsewhere. For example, contracts with Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead. It's a treasure trove of McCarter memorabilia.
"Also," he adds, When I think of some of the things that have happened while I've been at McCarter, one of those I am proudest of is introducing performers from other countries to American audiences. Music and dance from Bali or India unless you've been there, you wouldn't experience it.
"I'm a missionary in this respect. I believe it's part of McCarter's responsibility and priority at this time, in this day and age, to bring in the culture and artists of other lands. We have had great success in this regard with the music from Africa, and it's building all the time."
The night of the gala will be a special one for McCarter and for Mr. Lockwood, but in certain ways, it will be similar to so many other evenings he has spent there and in other theaters.
"The biggest pleasure for me is to stand in the back of the house. I do this for most performances," he says. "I rarely sit down. I'm used to standing. I pace a lot. I can get a sense of what is happening in the theater that way.
"Is that chemistry happening between the audience and performer? This is the ultimate reward. Is the audience listening? Is the connection being made between those 1,000 people in the audience and that performer? Are people discovering something they were not aware of before? Hearing a piece of music or an artist they hadn't seen before? And are they connecting? It's a magical moment, and that's what it's all about."