By Albert Amateau
Anna Minot Warren, a Village resident for more than 50 years and an actress with the Pearl Theatre Company whose credits span the Broadway stage, Off-Broadway, television and film, died June 2 in Reno, Nev., where she moved recently to be near her son. She was 89.
“She was a wonderful woman of the theater who was proud to be called a ‘journeyman’ actress and my very dear friend,” said Joanne Campbell, an associate director and member of the Pearl Theatre acting company.
Anna Minot played on Broadway with Frederick March and Florence Eldridge and in the first production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” as well as off Broadway in “Steel Magnolias,” in live television in the 1950s, in “As the World Turns,” a daytime drama from 1966-’71, in films including “Condition Red” in 1995 and for the past 20 years in classic repertoire of The Pearl Theatre Company at 80 St. Mark’s Pl.
Campbell recalled that, some years ago, when the curator of famed lyricist Billy Rose’s manuscript collection asked Anna for memorabilia of her career and the career of her late husband, Joseph Warren, she remarked that the curator wouldn’t be interested because neither of them were well known.
“The curator surprised her with the remark, ‘My dear, to the contrary, the journeyman actor is the backbone of the American theater.’ And the word sums up Anna’s 70-year career, which took her to dozens of cities and towns from Maine to Texas,” Campbell said.
“When she wasn’t acting, she was stage managing or for the last 20 years doing readings with New Dramatists,” said Campbell.
Born near Boston, Anna Minot took her first stage role as a chickadee in a grade school musical production, and by the time she was in high school she was acting in community theater productions. When she graduated at the age of 16 she came to New York and told a producer she was ready to grace the American stage, but the producer advised her to go to college first.
She went to Vassar because Halley Flanagan, a prominent drama teacher was on the faculty. While at Vassar, Anna also acted in community theater and summer stock. By the time she graduated from Vassar in 1939, she was a member of Actors’ Equity and went back in New York where she took a “day job” as a Broadway theater usher.
In 1940, she learned that producer Albert Johnson was casting a musical for the World’s Fair with a few walk-on parts. She cornered him in the theater where she was ushering and said, “You’ve got to give me one of those [walk-ons] Mr. Johnson. You don’t know what you’ll be doing for the American theater.” That was how she went from the theater aisles to the stage.
During World War II she worked for a time as a lineman’s helper for Florida Power and Light Company between regional theater productions.
She married Arthur Franz, an actor, in 1945, had a son, and was divorced about a year later. In 1946, she was hired as an understudy for one of the prostitutes in the Theater Guild’s Broadway production of O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Three months later she replaced Jeanne Cagney, whose part she had understudied.
Someone asked her why she didn’t include the fact that she was a member of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa in her “Iceman Cometh” Playbill biography. She replied, “What! And ruin my stage career?”
Campbell recalled a story about 1950 when Anna was in Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” with March and Eldridge on Broadway. An actor missed an entrance, whereupon March ad-libbed, “I’ll be in my study,” and made an exit. Eldridge followed with the line “I’m going to the library,” leaving Anna onstage to improvise a speech until the wayward actor came on.
“A friend of the stage manager who had seen the show that night and the night after told his friend, ‘That ingénue is brilliant but she’s very erratic. She dropped a whole speech last night,’” Campbell recalled.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s during the golden age of live television, she played in Television Playhouse specials, Ford Theater, Studio One and various shows, including “Hands of Destiny,” “Famous Jury Trials,” “Rocky King, Inside Detective,” “My True Story” and “Big Story.” One year she was in 26 live TV shows. Between 1958 and 1971 she was in soap operas, including “Edge of Night,” “A World Apart” and “As the World Turns.”
Anna Minot married the actor Joseph Warren in 1950 and appeared with him in several Pearl Theatre productions. He died in 1993. At the Pearl, Ann played in works by the American playwright Clyde Fitch — whose hit plays were playing around the turn of the last century — and classics by Ibsen, Sheridan, Molière and Shakespeare.
Campbell recalled that Anna told her a few years ago that at the end of a summer stock season in Brattleboro, Vt., in the 1940s she was offered a full-time insurance company job that paid $10,000 a year.
“I was a single mother and struggling financially and that was a nice sum of money in the 1940s. But I said, ‘You don’t understand. I stay alive by doing something I’m crazy about. I consider myself part of the aristocracy.’ That’s the way I’ve always felt about acting,” Anna said.
Her son, Michael Franz, and two granddaughters survive. The Pearl Theatre Company is planning a memorial to be announced later.