Retired UT professor, author dies

Nolan Hicks

Oscar Brockett, a former UT professor who was considered one of the world’s foremost theater historians, died early Sunday morning from a stroke. He was 87.

Brockett served as dean of the College of Fine Arts from 1978 to 1980. He left the post to run the Department of Theatre and Dance’s doctorate program, which he expanded from five students to 30.

“He was probably one of the most important theater historians, not only nationally but internationally,” said Richard Isackes, a UT theater professor who worked with Brockett. “He’s had a profound effect on theater students for the last three or four generations.”

Isackes said even though Brockett had retired from teaching full-time, he kept an office in the basement of the Winship Drama Building where he would talk to groups of graduate students throughout the day.

“He would regale them with stories about the department and about his teaching career,” Isackes said.

Theater professor Fran Dorn, who helped engineer Meryl Streep’s visit to the UT campus on Friday, said Brockett was known for empowering his students.

“He was frank and brilliant,” said Dorn, who moved into Rockett’s office after he retired. “Fortunately, I’m in his old office, and the vibe is very good in there.”

In 2001, the Winship Drama Building’s Theatre Room was renamed the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre in his honor. His friends and family also established a $500,000 trust to help pay for the theater’s productions and facility maintenance.

“I was totally shocked and surprised but very appreciative,” Brockett said after learning of the honor.

Born in 1923, Brockett grew up on a tobacco farm in rural Tennessee. He served aboard a troop transport ship in World War II, which delayed his undergraduate education. When he returned home from the war, he earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

His 1968 book, “History of the Theatre,” is one of the most widely used texts in theater history courses. It has been translated into almost a dozen languages and is in its 10th edition.

Throughout his career, Brockett received many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and Fulbright Award. He was also a fellow at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.