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Milton Stanzler remembered as a champion of civil liberties and the arts

March 7, 2012

head shot of Milton Stanzler

Milton Stanzler, who died yesterday at age 91, is being remembered for his considerable contributions to the arts and civil liberties in Rhode Island.

Steve Brown, executive director of the state chapter of the ACLU, offered this statement:

With courage, wisdom and foresight, Milton Stanzler founded the Rhode Island ACLU in 1959. It was a period when censorship of plays, books and movies in the state was rampant, and an epic battle was being fought over legislative efforts to ban housing discrimination on the basis of race. Thanks to his leadership, the Affiliate became an important force in the community on these and hundreds of other issues during his decades of involvement with the organization. His work as a volunteer attorney in dozens of important cases and his authorship of a history of the Rhode Island ACLU also leave a lasting legacy. We mourn his loss, but he will be fondly remembered for both his generosity of spirit and his lifelong commitment to the indivisibility of freedom.

Stanzler was involved in defending the Columbus Theatre on Federal Hill from efforts to prevent it from showing adult movies, as I reported in 2003: The defense helped preserve the beautiful theater and prevent the city from taking it by eminent domain

“There must have been 10 or 15 cases over the years where they tried to stop him showing films and they were never successful,” says lawyer Milton Stanzler, who represented [theater owner Jon] Berberian after having helped to establish the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Although some judges didn’t follow the pertinent law, the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed such decisions, Stanzler says, adding, “It was a running battle down through the years.”

Stanzler is also being remembered for his work with Trinity Rep, which offered this statement:

Artistic Director Curt Columbus states, “This is a very sad day for Trinity Rep, for Rhode Island, and for theater. Truly, we owe our very existence today to Milton and his indefatigable vision to create a vibrant home for artistic expression in Providence. None of us would be here without Milton Stanzler.  His legacy lives on in thousands of palpable, important ways every day at Trinity Repertory Company.”

Milton Stanzler was one of the founding fathers of Trinity Repertory Company, supporting and crafting the organization from its modest roots as small community theater, to its place today – almost 50 years later – as a professional, Tony-award winning regional theater.

Born in New York City in 1921, he moved to Rhode Island at the age of ten with his family, attended Hope High School in Providence, and went on to study at the University of Rhode Island. During World War II, he served in military intelligence as a Japanese translator at the University of Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest. He earned his law degree at Boston University and ran his own successful legal practice for over 40 years. …

In the spring of 1962, Milton Stanzler first proposed his vision of establishing a professional theater in Providence to friends Norman Tilles, Robert Kaplan and actress Barbara Orson. While the challenges facing the group were many, over the next year they pursued their common goal of making Milton’s dream a reality. They soon assembled of a core company of actors, hired then New York-based theater director Adrian Hall as their first artistic director, and in 1964, they opened the doors to the Trinity Square Playhouse’s first production, Brendan Behan’s The Hostage.

[Photo: Underground Rhode Island]

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marie Hennedy permalink
    March 7, 2012 11:25 pm

    God bless you, Milton Stanzler! And thank you, God, for blessing us with him!

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