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Julian Beck (May 31, 1925 – September 14, 1985) was an American actor, director, poet, and painter.
Beck was born in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, the son of Mabel Lucille (Blum), a teacher, and Irving Beck, a businessman. He briefly attended Yale University, but dropped out to pursue writing and art. He was an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1940s, but his career turned upon meeting his future wife. In 1943, he met Judith Malina and quickly came to share her passion for theatre; they founded The Living Theatre in 1947.
Beck co-directed the Living Theater until his death. The group's primary influence was Antonin Artaud, who espoused the Theatre of Cruelty, which was supposed to shock the audience out of complacency. This took different forms. In one example, from Jack Gelber's The Connection, a drama about drug addiction, actors playing junkies wandered the audience demanding money for a fix.
The Living Theater moved out of New York in 1974, after the Internal Revenue Service shut it down when Beck failed to pay $23,000 in back taxes. After a sensational trial, in which Beck and Malina represented themselves, they were found guilty by a jury.
Julian Beck's philosophy of theatre carried over into his life. He once said, "We insisted on experimentation that was an image for a changing society. If one can experiment in theatre, one can experiment in life." He was indicted a dozen times on three continents for charges such as disorderly conduct, indecent exposure, possession of narcotics, and failing to participate in a civil defense drill. Beck and Malina were life partners in an open marriage, and Beck had a long-term relationship with Ilion Troya, a male actor in the company.
Besides his theatre work, Beck published several volumes of poetry reflecting his anarchist beliefs, two non-fiction books: The life of the theater and Theandric, and had several film appearances, with small roles in Emergency, Edipo Re, The Cotton Club, 9½ Weeks, "Miami Vice (Prodigal Son)", and a major role in Poltergeist II. His intense, vivid film acting, such as his sadistic gangster in The Cotton Club, gives an idea of what his stage acting was like.
Beck was diagnosed as having stomach cancer in 1983, and died 2 years later at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City at the age of 60. He was survived by his wife, a brother, and two children, Garrick and Isha. Beck was interred at Cedar Park Cemetery, in Emerson, New Jersey.
- Julian Beck, 60, is dead; Founded Living Theater, by Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, September 17, 1985