IN THE LATE Fifties Fred Sadoff came to Britain from New York to join his friend Michael Redgrave, and start with him a theatrical production company, FES Plays Ltd.
Sadoff had appeared in comparatively small supporting roles in two legendary Broadway hits: South Pacific (1948) and Wish You Were Here (1952). He was a founder member of the Actors' Studio and brought to the somewhat genteel London theatre racy stories of his more illustrious colleagues at the studio. Young English actors would listen fascinated by his tales and imitations of Marlon Brando, Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton and Kim Stanley. Although he believed passionately in the ideals of his mentor, Lee Strasberg, and his very particular version of the Stanislavsky method, Sadoff was at heart a true child of Broadway, and loved the showbiz razzmatazz and energy of Ethel Merman and Mary Martin.
However, Sadoff's dedication to the theatre was somewhat strained by his determination to do everything. He had worked successfully as an actor in New York and showed promise as a director, but found it difficult to get work in England, and so launched himself as a producer with the sponsorship of Redgrave. Redgrave had already helped Sadoff get the job of assistant director to Glen Byam Shaw for the Hamlet (1958) Redgrave so memorably played first at Stratford and then on tour in the Soviet Union. But Sadoff was no fool and knew the company resented his presence as an American and, more important, were embarrassed by what appeared to be his very intimate and not particularly discreet relationship with Redgrave, who had a wife and three children.
The first FES production in the West End was a run-of-the-mill thriller but in 1960 Sadoff engaged the distinguished director Margaret Webster to put on Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings at the Duke of York's. The all-star cast featured Dame Sybil Thorndike, Marie Lohr, Mary Clare, Lewis Casson and Nora Nicholson. Sadoff delighted in the company of these senior actors, and proved himself both an excellent diplomat and impresario since, as well as battling with fading memories and difficulties with lines, some of the old stars were also battling with each other, off and on stage.
He now considered himself established as a producer, and confidently stayed on in London and presented other West End shows. His most interesting production was one he also directed: Hughie and Others, by Eugene O'Neill, at the Duchess in 1963. This was an evening of three one-act plays, loosely connected by a narration spoken by Burgess Meredith who came over specially to create the role of Erie Smith in the premiere of Hughie. Sadoff was more on home territory, for he also brought over the American actress Nan Martin, an old Actors' Studio friend, who performed the monologue Before Breakfast. The production was adventurous but received tepidly. Even then O'Neill was underestimated by the British critical fraternity.
Sadoff so enjoyed getting back to directing that he decided for his next production he would not only direct and produce, but also play the leading role and write it. His double bill Games, at the Arts Theatre in 1964, was a complete failure and provoked one of the most hostile notices ever penned by Bernard Levin, in the Daily Mail. Sadoff was crestfallen, but he knew he had made a fool of himself.
Somehow his determination had got the better of him. Still his naturally good nature kept him going, and when he felt his time was up he gave away the touring skips of FES Plays Ltd, and went back to the United States. He found work on television in Los Angeles with some difficulty, played off-Broadway, taught with great enthusiasm back at the studio, held workshops for young actors, and even wrote more, now unproduced, plays.
Sadoff was a demanding and needy friend, but always full of fun and curiosity. His unshaken belief that everything would soon be all right never wavered. He died of Aids in Los Angeles. Many of his old colleagues and students spoke at his memorial service in New York at the Actors' Studio, and loving messages were sent by friends from England, among them Vanessa and Corin Redgrave.