Gerald Alan Freedman was born on June 25, 1927, in Lorain, Ohio. His father, Barnie, was a dentist, and his mother, Fannie (Sepsenwol) Freedman, was a teacher. Both were Jewish immigrants from czarist Russia. They steeped their home in art and music, he said, a foundation for his love of the arts.
After graduating from Lorain High School he attended Northwestern University, earning a bachelor’s degree there in 1949 and a master’s degree the next year. In 1951 he took a train to New York with vague ideas about becoming a painter or singer or actor. An acquaintance told him that, with his high tenor singing voice, he could earn enough money to get by through singing at religious services.
“On Friday nights, I could do two Jewish services at different temples,” he said in an interview for “The School of Doing: Lessons From Theater Master Gerald Freedman,” a 2017 book by Isaac Klein. “On Saturday morning, I could do another Jewish service. On Sunday, I could do usually two churches. An early Mass, Presbyterian or Episcopalian, and in late afternoon there would be another Mass. And with five services, I could live off that for the next week.”
He was hired to design and paint scenery at a summer stock company in Massachusetts and then, in 1952, to direct “As You Like It” at Equity Library Theater in New York. Someone from Columbia Pictures saw it and gave him a contract that took him to Hollywood, where one of his first assignments was as dialogue director on “It Should Happen to You,” a George Cukor movie whose stars included Judy Holliday.
She became a friend. In 1956 when Ms. Holliday was hired for the musical “Bells Are Ringing” on Broadway, Jerome Robbins, the director, who Mr. Freedman said was somewhat intimidated by the star, hired him to assist on the production.
“It was either to placate Judy or as insurance,” Mr. Freedman said. “I never knew which.”
The partnership was Mr. Freedman’s big break. He was Mr. Robbins’s assistant again the next year on “West Side Story,” and in 1959 on “Gypsy.” He not only played a significant role in directing those productions; he also served as a buffer between the actors and Mr. Robbins, who could be abrasive.
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