Haila Stoddard, a Broadway artist who transitioned from actress to producer during a lengthy theater career, died at her Weston home Feb. 21. The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest. She was 97.
As an actress, Stoddard performed in a variety of Broadway plays in the 1930s and 1940s, and she experienced great success as a producer in the 1950s. Her sole Tony Award nomination was as producer of the 1961 musical "Sail Away."
Born Nov. 14, 1913, in Great Falls, Mont., to Canadian Mormons, her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 8, and she attended the University of Southern California. She began her career in 1934 in a California production of Kaufman and Hart's "Merrily We Roll Along." The next two years, she toured with the popular hit "Tobacco Road." The play was adapted for the stage by Jack Kirkland, who later became the second of her four husbands. Together, they had two children.
Perhaps her best-known stage performance was as one of the Marthas who followed Uta Hagen in the original production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Frequently, she understudied stars such as Jessica Tandy, Rosalind Russell and Greer Garson.
She was also one of the founders of the Bucks County Playhouse, once one of the primary summer stock theaters in the Northeast. There, she appeared in 16 productions and reigned for several seasons as the playhouse's leading lady.
Many of her Broadway producing efforts featured future stars at the beginnings of their careers, including Christopher Walken, Charles Durning, F. Murray Abraham, Mary Alice, Nathan Lane and Brent Spiner.
As a producer, she did not shy from tough decisions. During the rehearsals of "The Last Sweet Days of Isaac," she grew concerned that director Word Baker couldn't get the quirky musical to come together properly. Previews were troubled. Stoddard responded by ordering that the sets be removed immediately after opening. Once the reviews came out and were raves, the sets stayed, of course.
Three of her marriages ended in divorce. The fourth, to Whitfield Conner, ended with his death in 1988. She is survived by son Christopher Kirkland; daughter Robin Kirkland MacDonald of Manhattan; stepdaughter Erin Connor; and seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
To read the entire Haila Stoddard obituary by Robert Simonson, visit Playbill.com .
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