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Brunoniana

From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Brown, Benjamin W.

Benjamin Williams Brown (1897-1955), professor of English and director of Sock and Buskin, born in Danielson, Connecticut, on December 1, 1897, was a direct descendant of Roger Williams. By the time he graduated from Brown in 1919, he had already begun his dramatic career, spending a summer with the Albee stock company and six weeks playing the Keith circuit. He taught at Deerfield Academy in 1920-21. After earning his master of arts degree at Brown in 1921, he was appointed to teach drama, public speaking and playwriting. He also took on Sock and Buskin, which had been staging one performance a year in a downtown theatre, and introduced a year-round program of dramatic productions. He was promoted to assistant professor of English and public speaking in 1926 and associate professor in 1936. He was named director of dramatic productions in 1939 and full professor in 1951. He was interested in theatre in other countries, and studied in Touraine in 1925 and in Salzburg in 1927. After a visit to Russia he wrote Theatre at the Left, on the Russian theatre, in 1938. During the Second World War he was on leave for three years to work with the American Red Cross as first assistant manager in the North Atlantic region. He published Upstage, Downstage, an instructional volume on play production, in 1947. When classes resumed in January 1955 after the Christmas recess, Ben Brown did not appear. A colleague who went to his apartment found him disabled by a stroke apparently suffered two days earlier on January 3. He died in the hospital on January 7. In the memorial minute at the faculty meeting, Professor George K. Anderson said of him:

“He belonged to what seems to be, unfortunately, an ever-decreasing group of true individualists. He was, in the best sense of the word, a “character,” a legend while still alive. Nowhere, not even on the stage, was his individual personality more evident and more valuable than in the classroom. His students remembered what he taught them because of the originality of his insights, the wealth of his analogies and comparisons, and the force of his delivery. His lectures were performances and each performance was an educational experience not to be forgotten.”
Leslie Allen Jones ’26, who worked closely with Brown on Sock and Buskin productions, recalled:
“He was, I think, a genius. His best teaching (and he was a good teacher) was done at midnight when he talked with the tired cast grouped about him on the stage.... I have never seen another man get so much out of undergraduates. He did not spoon-feed, he made them think. His standards were higher than some professionals.... He was child-like. There was his childish, petulant voice, when someone had done him wrong.... He was arrogant and willful, wrapped in his own delusions, and many people could not understand him. He liked that and went out of his way to shock and confound his academic colleagues.... He would bruise the undergraduates, who would then come to me bewildered at having discerned feet of clay or cloven hoof. And sometimes it was my good fortune to make them understand the sweet childishness of the man. For he was gentle at heart.”

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.


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