Houseman was born Jacques Haussmann in Bucharest, the son of a British mother of Welsh and Irish descent and an Alsatian-born Jewish father who ran a grain business. He was educated in England at Clifton College, became a British citizen and worked in the Grain trade in London before emigrating to the United States in 1925, where he took the stage name of John Houseman. He became a citizen of the U.S. in 1943. Houseman died of spinal cancer in 1988 at his home in Malibu, California.
Along with Orson Welles, Houseman founded the Mercury Theatre, best remembered for their 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Their collaboration was portrayed in Tim Robbins's 1999 movie Cradle Will Rock.
Houseman produced numerous Broadway productions, including Heartbreak Hotel, The Three Sisters, The Beggar's Opera, and several Shakespearean plays. He also directed Lute Song, The Country Girl, and Don Juan in Hell, among others.
During the Second World War, Houseman worked for the Voice of America, managing its operations in New York.
Houseman produced more than two dozen films, including the 1946 film noir, The Blue Dahlia and the 1953 film adaptation of Julius Caesar (for which he received an Academy Award nomination for "Best Picture"). He first became widely known to the public, however, for his Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning role as Professor Charles Kingsfield in the 1973 film The Paper Chase. He reprised his role in the television series of the same name from 1978-1986, receiving two Golden Globe nominations for "Best Actor in a TV Series - Drama".
He was the Executive Producer of CBS' landmark Seven Lively Arts series. Houseman also played Energy Corporation Executive Bartholomew in the 1975 film Rollerball and parodied Sydney Greenstreet in the 1978 Neil Simon film, The Cheap Detective.
In the 1980s, Houseman became more widely known for his role as grandfather Edward Stratton II in Silver Spoons, which starred Rick Schroder, and for his commercials for brokerage firm Smith Barney, which featured the catchphrase, "They make money the old fashioned way...they earn it." Another was Puritan brand cooking oil, with "less saturated fat than the leading oil", featuring the famous 'tomato test'. He also made a guest appearance in John Carpenter's 1980 movie The Fog as Mr. Machen. He played the Jewish professor Aaron Jastrow in the 1983 miniseries The Winds of War (receiving a fourth Golden Globe nomination).
Houseman taught acting at The Juilliard School where his first graduating class included Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. Unwilling to see his first class immediately disbanded by the testing world of stage and screen, he formed them into a touring repertory company appropriately named the Group 1 Acting Company. They later shortened their name simply to The Acting Company and are still touring the country today.
In 1988, he appeared in The Naked Gun and Scrooged, which were released after his death.
In 2001, he was portrayed by Jonathan Rigby in the Doctor Who audio adventure Invaders from Mars.
In February 2008, filming began on the movie Me and Orson Welles. The film tells the story of Houseman's relationship with Orson Welles when running The Mercury Theatre in New York in the late 1930s. The film is using The Gaiety Theatre on the Isle of Man to replicate The Mercury.
John Houseman's memoir's - 'Unfinished Business'. Please click on the image to see some of the contents. The book is a signed copy from the Foundation's repository
Download as PDF (0.6MB)
Link to John Houseman Filmography (IMDb)