Now, 400 years after the Globe stood at the centre of London's entertainment industry - and six months after Wanamaker's death - his vision is being realised, helping to restore Bankside as an artistic and cultural neighbourhood.
Wanamaker's obsession, derided by some in the theatrical world, puzzled and sometimes infuriated his friends and family.
Just why this dream so obsessed the Chicago-born Wanamaker, his family still cannot quite fathom. His daughter, the actress Zoe Wanamaker, said: 'It unquestionably affected us all. The Globe bug became all-consuming. It dominated all our lives, and we were sceptical about it. We thought it would just go away. He was completely obsessed. If you look at pictures of him at an early age, he looks very determined. It was just part of his nature.
'This obsession wasn't just about being an actor. It was social anthropology - the life that surrounded Shakespeare's time. He knew more about Southwark than anybody else I know. He wanted to discover Shakespeare - to find out how he would be received in his own time, how the language would change by being in its own habitat. He wanted it to be as near as possible to the original Globe - but he wanted it to be a kind of university, a place to learn.'
Wanamaker's ambition to reconstruct the Globe took root after he first came to London 40 years ago. He went to the south bank of the Thames to search for the Globe, only to discover just a grimy black plaque on a bottling plant wall marking where Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Twelfth Night were premiered.
Today, the wooden bays of the new Globe , just a few hundred yards from the original theatre close to Southwark Bridge, can be seen from across the Thames. The auditorium is up, and the theatre should soon be operative.
Like its Elizabethan predecessor, the theatre will be a wooden structure with layer upon layer of seats, providing a wall of faces opposite the actors. There will be no roof over the stage, no artificial light, no heating, no recorded sound effects and music, no amplification, no cuts in the text. This will be as near to the Elizabethan experience of Shakespeare as possible.
The original Globe was built when theatre-going ranked alongside bull-baiting, bear-baiting and even horse-baiting as a pastime - so audiences expected full-blooded entertainment on stage.
It was the era when modern drama began. The first purpose-built theatre was founded in 1578, when the population of London was around 160,000 yet at least 20,000 people a week went to the theatre.
The Globe saw the greatest flowering of English drama as the King's Players put on Shakespeare, with Richard Burbage in the leading roles.
The theatre could accommodate 3,000 people. Long runs were unknown, and Elizabethan actors had to keep up to 40 parts in their head. Short rehearsal periods led to more frequent, and more audible prompting. Frequent changes of play meant an absence of scenery. This then is the intimate, physical and energetic world of theatre which Sam Wanamaker longed to rebuild.
Wanamaker's new Globe will be a 24-sided building of timber, wattle and daub, with a thrust stage 14 metres wide and nine metres deep, three tiers of galleries and a trapdoor.
'He was pioneer, I think,' explained his daughter. 'I think being an American made him see things in a different light - where someone English might shrug, he was shocked at finding little to show for the Globe, so he decided to do something about it. This struck his imagination in such a powerful way. He had a constant thirst for learning - about painting, sculpture, politics, all sorts of things.'
In 1970 he founded the Globe Playhouse Trust, to build the Globe and provide facilities for Shakespearean scholars. He also supervised a Shakespeare festival, which came to a sudden end when the tent in which Vanessa Redgrave was playing Cleopatra blew down in a storm.
Economic recession in the Seventies and a three-day week brought the project to a standstill. Then in the early Eighties, the left-wing Labour-controlled Southwark borough council decided that the scheme was elitist and that the site should he used to provide housing and employment. A lengthy court battle ended in a resounding victory for Wanamaker in 1986 and a 125-year lease in 1989 from the council for a nominal rent.
By then the grand plans for the Globe had engulfed the Wanamaker family. In the Sixties they had bought
a dream home in north London, but Wanamaker sold it to move to
Ms Wanamaker said: 'He felt he should be near the project and if he wasn't he would be seen as not involved in the community. They lived in the Surrey Dispensary and for years they weren't allowed to do anything
to it. It was a house Mai Zetterling
had had, and it was a mess. My mother cooked on a Baby Belling for four years.
'The plans would be strewn all over the dinner table. He lived incredibly long hours, going from meeting to meeting, always enthusiastic.'
The money to build the Globe had to be raised through endless fund-raising and campaigning - no public money has been forthcoming.
The project is likely to cost at least pounds 18m. The Globe itself will cost pounds 3m, of which pounds 2m has been raised. The International Shakespeare Globe Centre will comprise not just the 'wooden O' but a smaller 17th century theatre built to surviving specifications by Inigo Jones, shops, a lecture hall, archive rooms, and homes.
The work involves painstaking craftmanship. There are no surviving plans of the original Globe, which was burnt down in 1613, rebuilt and then closed by the Puritans. The builders have relied on contemporary engravings and archaeological remains discovered in 1989.
Imitating the original will enable actors and producers to carry out Wanamaker's key wish - to discover through this theatre-cum-laboratory how Shakespeare would have been realised.
Teams of craftsmen, well-versed in ancient techniques, are using oak posts and framing with lathing on the outside. The building will be painted on both sides. 'We are using exactly the same methods as the original builders,' said the architect, Theo Crosby.
Fire regulations, however, require concessions to the 1990s. 'We have about half the number of seats for that reason - but also because people today would not want to have people sitting between their knees. Much will be the same though. When it rains some of the audience is going to get wet.'
Nor did Wanamaker want a Disney-style theme park, and was keen for some experimental theatre to be put on. 'He didn't want baggy tights and terrible wigs, which is what I first imagined,' explained his daughter.
She has taken over the role of family representative, but she is a busy actress and the Globe does not have her total involvement. 'It's not my thing. I'm not the same as my father.'
A new exhibition about the rebuilding of the theatre, Shakespeare and Elizabethan Bankside opens at the Globe on 1 August. Visitors will be able to have a guided tour.
Shakespeare's Globe Museum in Bear Gardens will close to the public on 31 July but remain open for educational activities.
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