Bernie Sahlins: Founder of the Second City theatre group


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The Independent Online

Bernie Sahlins, who died on 16 June at the age of 90, co-founded Chicago's Second City theatre and nurtured the early careers of many of Saturday Night Live's biggest stars.

Sahlins and his business partners Howard Alk and Paul Sills opened The Second City in December 1959, and it quickly helped establish Chicago as a vibrant comedy town. In his 2002 memoir, Days and Nights at The Second City, he wrote that he hadn't set out to build another theatre. "We had been burned enough times doing that. This was still the Beat generation, and we started out to found a coffee house where we idlers, including the actors whom we had been with for years, could loll around and put the world in its proper place."

But The Second City caught on despite smoney problems and other issues, and became instrumental in the rise of improvisational and sketch comedy. Sahlins hired and nurtured the early careers of such future stars as John and Jim Belushi, Joan Rivers, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. Shortly after Saturday Night Live began in 1975, Second City became a breeding ground for the show. The Second City producer Joyce Sloane, who died in 2011, said Sahlins once half-jokingly commanded her to lock Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live, out of the building.