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Esteemed Critic, Translator, and Playwright Eric Bentley Dies at 103

Bentley is widely known for introducing the plays of Bertolt Brecht to America.

Eric Bentley
(image via YouTube)

Noted playwright, critic, and translator Eric Bentley has died at the age of 103.

Born in Lancashire, Bentley attended Oxford University and received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1941. He succeeded Howard Clurman as drama critic for The New Republic in 1952, becoming known for a blunt style of theater criticism, particularly toward American theater. Playwrights including Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller allegedly threatened him with lawsuits for what he wrote about their work.

Bentley was known for being the first English translator of the plays of Bertolt Brecht, and he's widely believed to have introduced Brecht's work to American audiences for the first time. A playwright himself, Bentley's stage works includes A Time To Live & A Time To Die (1967), Are You Now or Have You Ever Been: The Investigations of Show-Business by the Un-American Activities Committee 1947–1958 (1972), and Lord Alfred's Lover (1979), among others.

He wrote many books on theater criticism, the most notable being 1946's The Playwright as Thinker. His 1947 biography, Bernard Shaw, received great acclaim, with Shaw himself saying that it was the best book ever to be written about him. He helped Brecht with his 1950 production of Mother Courage and Her Children in Munich, and directed the German-language premiere of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh.

Bentley was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998, and received an Obie for Lifetime Achievement in 2006. Married twice (his first, to Maja Tschernjakow, ended in divorce; his second, to Joanne Davis, ended in separation), Bentley came out in the late 1960s and lived openly as a gay man ever since. He is survived by both Davis and his sons Philip and Eric Jr., as well as four grandchildren.


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