She was called the Queen of Off-Broadway but you could call her the Queen of Way-Off-Broadway, too, by way of Connecticut.
She was Lucille Lortel, and The Courant described her as "a woman of vim, vigor and vinegar. ... With Lortel's aggressive charm, stylish harts and generous purse she was a theatrical producing pioneer, paving the way for the adventuresome, the innovative and the experimental."
"I was attracted to plays that had something different to say, that were different," she told The Courant in 1993. Lortel, who began as an actress in the 1920s studying under Max Reinhardt in Berlin, made her Broadway debut in George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" with Helen Hayes. "I was the whore on the wharf," she said demurely.
Since 1955, Lortel owned and produced for Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village that became one of New York's legendary venues and a cornerstone of the off-Broadway movement. (It is now called the Lucille Lortel Theatre.)
But she preceded that venture in 1947 when she created the White Barn Theatre next door to her home on its 18-acre estate in Westport and operated it for the rest of the 20th century.
Lortel produced or co-produced about 500 plays at her two theaters and gave stages and support to acting legends: Jean Genet, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Athol Fugard, Luise Rainer, Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, Paul Zindel, Edward Albee, Kim Hunter, Somerset Maugham, Sada Thompson, Langston Hughes, Lanford Wilson, Eugene Ionesco, Canada Lee, Richard Burton, Siobhan McKenna, William Finn, Larry Kramer, Molly Picon, Rod Serling and Donald Margulies.
When asked how she discovered the plays and playwrights, she told The Courant: "They find me, dear."