Kirk Browning, American Master of Live Television, Dies
February 11, 2008
By Andrew Salomon
Kirk Browning, the longtime director of Live From Lincoln Center and other telecasts that brought great performances of theatre, opera, and popular music to millions of Americans who might have never seen them otherwise, died Feb. 10 from cardiac arrest in Manhattan, a Lincoln Center spokesperson announced. Browning was 86 and lived in Manhattan.
Over the course of six decades, Browning directed quite a few telecasts of celebrated Broadway shows, many of them live, including José Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac (1955); Phil Silvers and Lee Remick in Damn Yankees (1967); Eva Le Gallienne, Rosemary Harris, and Ellis Raab in The Royal Family (1977); Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July (1982) with Richard Thomas, Cynthia Nixon, Swoosie Kurtz, and Jeff Daniels; Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Tony Award-winning adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath (1991) with Terry Kinney, Gary Sinise, Lois Smith, and Sally Murphy; the Tony-winning revival of Death of a Salesman (2000) with Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz; and Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s musical The Light in the Piazza (2006).
Browning also oversaw performances by master interpreters of the American songbook, including Frank Sinatra and Audra McDonald, and a Madison Square Garden concert by Luciano Pavarotti. He directed elaborate operas starring Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo as well as an evening of Shakespearean monologues delivered by Ian McKellen alone on stage with no props or costumes.
Much of Browning’s work was performed under the pressure-filled circumstances of live television, but he was fearless, a Lincoln Center spokesperson stated, employing “a probing camera, constantly in motion, that vividly explores character and dramatic conflict.”
As for how he handled the rigors, Browning once said, “You just have to be terribly focused and organized and at the same time remain objective enough so that if disaster strikes, you never lose your cool… . There’s nothing better or more thrilling than capturing the spontaneity of a live performance.”
I have fond memories of Kirk – as I worked with him in my early years in New York (at the Met). He was the most gracious of men – treating my very young self as if I wasn’t . Running into him years later at Tanglewood, he was the same – funny, kind and full of life.