Sam Wannemaker: A Shakespearean Hero
sam wannemaker at shakespeare's globe

sam wannemaker at shakespeare's globe

It’s a wise child that knows its own father. (That’s a reversal of ‘It’s a wise father that knows his own child’ from ‘The Merchant of Venice’!)

There is a BBC television show – ‘Who do you think you are?’ where well-known people are offered resources and researchers to look into their background and then present an account of that on television.

Recently, Zoe Wannemaker, daughter of Sam Wannemaker, the American actor who built the Globe Theatre in London, was one of the show’s subjects.

How long has it taken us to learn some of the lessons Shakespeare’s plays offer us? Even in 1956 the two democracies of Britain and the United States were persecuting people for their beliefs and opinions. Sam Wannemaker was a victim of persecution in both democracies, as Zoe discovered as a result of her research for the TV show.

Wannemaker became a communist in 1943 after playing a Russian soldier at the National Theatre in Washington. He moved to Britain in 1951 as the communist witch-hunt was hotting up and actors were prevented from working.

The US Foreign Office was in close contact with MI5, however, and while the pursuit of communists was not as ferocious in the UK, his ‘ciminal’ files follwed him and MI5 recommended that the Wannemaker family be interned. That wasn’t done but his application for permanent residence in the UK was turned down when he applied in 1955.

In 1957 the UK authorities changed their mind and he was granted indefinite stay in Britain. The file entry includes ‘The Wanamakers have not come to adverse security notice for some years.’

Sweet.

Wannemaker went on to be a national treasure and hero because of his work on the Globe project, and the Theatre stands, not only as a wonderful memorial to Shakespeare, but a fitting one to Wannemaker too.

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