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Gene Persson Biography

  • Profession: Actor, Producer
  • Born: Jan 12, 1935
  • Died: Jun 6, 2008
  • Birth Name: Eugene Clair Persson



Today best known as
a theatrical producer, Gene Persson has also produced motion pictures and spent 15 years, from the mid-'40s until the dawn of the 1960s, as an actor on television and the big screen. Of Swedish ancestry, Persson was born in Los Angeles, and at age eight began his entertainment career as a child actor on radio and in movies, and later on television. His earliest credit movie appearance was in 1946, at age nine, in Frank Tuttle's postwar drama Swell Guy. Working mostly at Universal over the next few years, he appeared in a string of Ma and Pa Kettle movies and in Nicholas Ray's brilliant film noir On Dangerous Ground, at RKO. He also appeared in numerous television dramatic anthology series, including Studio One, Kraft Theater, and the U.S. Steel Hour. Persson served in the army during the final phase of the Korean War, and it was there, in Special Services, that he got his first real exposure to theater production, which he mastered sufficiently to become a producer during his time in uniform, staging entertainment that was seen all over the Pacific theater. By the time his service ended, he had hosted the first American-produced television show ever broadcast in Korea. Initially on leaving the service, Persson was forced to take work simply for the sake of working, which is how he ended up playing the young male lead in Bert I. Gordon's Earth vs. the Spider -- though he was 23 years old when it was made, Persson was able to pass for a teenager; curiously, it was around this time that he was dating Aneta Corsaut, who had starred in The Blob, another, slightly earlier movie that mixed teenagers and monsters. That same year, Persson also appeared in Paramount's release of The Party Crashers, a somewhat more upscale teen exploitation effort, sort of that studio's answer to Rebel Without a Cause, which had the distinction of being the final film of 1930s screen and stage legend Frances Farmer. In 1959, Persson married Shirley Knight, a very promising and serious stage actress -- he also turned his talents toward theatrical production, first in Los Angeles and later in New York City, where he brought such works as Leroi Jones' The Slave, The Toilet, and Dutchman to off-Broadway stages; the latter, seen by film editor Anthony Harvey while he was in New York, was later adapted to the big-screen by Harvey (with Persson producing), in a scintillating film version starring Al Freeman Jr. and Shirley Knight. Apart from that one credit as a movie producer, Persson has confined most of his activities to the stage in the decades since -- his big hit in that venue was You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which enjoyed a four-and-a-half-year run in New York and years more life on stages in other theaters and on the road (where Persson also directed it), turning Gary Burghoff into an off-Broadway star. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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