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Oscar Brockett dies: “I miss him sorely,” says dean

Distinguished professor Oscar Brockett, 87, a leading theatre historian, died on Nov. 6. His colleagues in the Department of Theatre and Dance and the College of Fine Arts reflect on his achievements and say they are fortunate to have known him.

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Professor Emeritus Oscar Brockett, 87, the world’s leading theatre historian and one of The University of Texas at Austin’s most distinguished professors, died on Nov. 7  due to complications following a massive stroke.

Oscar Brockett died on Nov. 7.

Brockett was the recipient of multiple lifetime achievement awards, including the Career Achievement Award from the Association of Theatre in Higher Education, the Texas Educational Theatre Association and the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology. He was also the recipient of multiple grants and fellowships including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship, and was a Fellow of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center. In 1998 the College of Fine Arts presented him with the E. William Doty Award, recognizing him as an individual of distinction in his field who has demonstrated extraordinary interest in the college.

“Oscar Brockett quite literally invented the study of theatre history,” said Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Brant Pope. “Before his work, we studied the history of the drama, but Dr. Brockett was the first and foremost man of the theatre to write about the relationship between the drama and the production of those works on the stage.

“As was every student of the theatre in my generation, I was introduced to my chosen field by studying the works of Oscar Brockett. How incredibly fortunate I am that this man, who so shaped my understanding of what being a theatre artists means, was also my friend. As I write this, his greatest book, ‘Century of Innovation’ sits on my desk. At this moment when we grieve his loss, it gives great comfort to think how many future students of the theatre will encounter Oscar Brockett in the ideas, and images and imagination he poured into his work.”

Brockett was dean of the College of Fine Arts in 1978 and stepped down in 1980 to join the Department of Theatre and Dance and head its doctoral program. Within nine years the doctoral program was the number one theatre history program in the nation. A prolific and influential author, Brockett wrote several books, including “History of the Theatre,”(1968) the top-ranked and highest-selling theatre history text of the 20th century. Translated into several languages including Chinese, Arabic, Czech and Farsi, his books have worldwide readership. It is now in its 10th edition and has been a part of every American theatre student’s education for about four decades.

“He was a prolific, meticulous scholar,” said Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts,” into the very last year of his long career. Only two weeks ago, his most recent book, ‘Making the Scene,’ received a book award from the University Cooperative Society. He leaves a legacy that will last as long again as his long life. To those whom he touched, he leaves an enormous space in our lives. I miss him sorely.”

Brockett grew up in rural Tennessee on a tobacco farm and was the first in his family to attend college, which he left to serve in World War II where he captained a troop transport ship. After the war he returned to his studies and eventually earned his doctoral degree in theatre from Stanford University. He taught in Iowa, Florida, California and at Indiana University prior to joining the University of Texas at Austin as dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Brockett is survived by his daughter, Francesca Brockett, and her husband, James Pedicano of Austin.