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A great Broadway theater is newly named for James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones accepts the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre during the 2017 Tony Awards in 2017.
Theo Wargo
/
Getty Images
James Earl Jones accepts the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre during the 2017 Tony Awards in 2017.

A historic Broadway theater where James Earl Jones appeared early in his career has now been named after him.

The Cort Theatre, originally named for impresario John Cort, opened at 138 West 48th Street in 1912. While it's currently dark, the Cort is one of Broadway's great theaters, where household names such as Jane Fonda and Grace Kelly made their debuts. Over the years, the house has been home to legendary productions ranging from a 1950 As You Like It starring Katharine Hepburn, to Saint Joan the following year with Uta Hagen to Purlie Victorious with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in 1961. More recently, the theater was home to the Tony Award winning production of Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in 2010.

Jones, a legend and a pioneer in the performing arts, was born in Arkabutla, Miss., 91 years ago. Raised on a farm by his grandparents, he considered medical school before becoming an actor. Jones' Broadway career began in 1957; his indelible performances since then have ranged from voicing Darth Vader in multiple Star Wars movies to starring in plays such as Othello and On Golden Pond.

"The Shubert Organization is so incredibly honored to put James—an icon in the theatre community, the Black community, and the American community—forever in Broadway's lights," said Robert Wankel, Shubert CEO and board chair in a statement. "That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question."

Jones is technically an EGOT – meaning he's won at least one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award, although his Oscar statue was an honorary one, not for a specific performance. He's won four Tonys, including a lifetime achievement award in 2017. Jones first performed at the theater that now bears his name in 1958. He played his first role at the Cort Theatre in the play Sunrise at Campobello.

"For me standing in this very building sixty-four years ago at the start of my Broadway career, it would have been inconceivable that my name would be on the building today," Mr. Jones said in a statement. "Let my journey from then to now be an inspiration for all aspiring actors."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.