Theresa Helburn

Called the “'Top Man' on Broadway” by the New York Woman, Theresa Helburn created a venue for great American playwrights as director of the Theatre Guild and played a key role in the history of the modern American musical. Helburn studied playwriting at Radcliffe and the Sorbonne and worked as a drama critic for The Nation before becoming executive director of the newly formed Theatre Guild in 1919. While her title changed to administrative director in 1933, she ran the company for over forty years. Helburn focused on producing the work of promising American playwrights like Eugene O’Neill and Maxwell Anderson. She was responsible for putting Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Agnes De Mille to work on adapting Lynn Riggs’s novel into the wildly successful Oklahoma! in 1943. The play revolutionized modern musicals with songs that showcased characters and furthered the plot, instead of interchangeable pieces that could be tacked on to any show. Rodgers and Hammerstein then created Carousel for her in 1945. Helburn also helped find funding for the offshoot of the Theatre Guild, the more experimental Group Theatre. While she wrote plays of her own throughout the 1920s, as well as an autobiography, A Wayward Quest, published posthumously, Helburn is most remembered for the many ways she furthered the talents of others.


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Theresa Helburn in 1919.

Courtesy of Lawrence Langner's G. B. S. and the Lunatic published in 1963.

Date of Birth

New York, NY
United States

Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Theresa Helburn." (Viewed on May 18, 2021) <>.


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