Born in New York in 1922 to Jewish immigrant parents, Wynn Handman showed early promise as a jazz musician and an English student, but pivoted to become one of the most influential acting instructors of his time. He passed away on April 11 as a result of complications due to COVID-19.

Serving as a junior officer on a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker in the seas of the North Atlantic during World War II, he patrolled the coast of Greenland and saw action when he participated in the capture of a German weather station and its crew.

Returning to New York after the war, Handyman joined an acting conservatory and spent 11 years there—first as a student and eventually as a teacher. He began teaching his own classes in 1952 and went fully independent two years later, quickly establishing himself as a key player in the industry.

In 1963, Handyman established the American Place Theatre to put on theatrical productions of plays that otherwise wouldn’t be seen. He nurtured the careers of countless creative types and playwrights and gave opportunities to many African-Americans writers who were trying to break into the world of theater.

Despite having his own facility, Handyman preferred to teach the art of acting in more cramped studios. During the course of his legendary 65-year career, he mentored numerous young actors and actresses who would go on to become award-winning household names.

Handman didn’t slow down in his later years, founding Literature to Life in 2008—an initiative aimed at retelling stories from contemporary American literature through the voice of a single actor, inspiring audiences to understand how the story could affect their own lives.

After his retirement, Handman’s life and methods were profiled in the 2014 book, Wynn Place Show: A Biased History of the Rollicking Life & Extreme Times of Wynn Handman and the American Place Theatre, and the 2019 documentary “It Takes a Lunatic” on Netflix.

Predeceased by his wife, Barbara (“Bobbie”), in 2013, he is survived by their two daughters, Laura and Liza Handman; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

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