Helen Menken

Actress Helen Menken’s greatest contribution to Broadway history was her work as theatrical producer for the innovative wartime effort Stage Door Canteen, offering entertainment to servicemen and women. Menken began performing on stage at age three, taking on a starring role in Major Pendennis by age fifteen and making her Broadway debut in 1917 in Parlor, Bedroom and Bath. She took on a variety of challenging roles throughout the 1920s, including playing a lesbian in The Captive in 1926, for which she was arrested during a performance. Her performance as Elizabeth I in Mary of Scotland in 1933 was praised as the most important of her career. That year, she also began producing plays, beginning with Saint Wench, in which she also starred, but her most important and enduring production was the 1942–1946 Stage Door Canteen through the American Theater Wing, where Broadway stars performed for servicemen and women as well as cooking and waiting tables. She was a co-founder of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater and Academy and president of the American Theater Wing, and served as vice president of both the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled and the Society for the Facially Disfigured.


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Helen Menken with Basil Rathbone in the notorious production of "The Captive" in 1926.

Date of Birth

New York,
United States

Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Helen Menken." (Viewed on January 28, 2020) <https://jwa.org/people/menken-helen>.


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