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Chester Erskine, 80, Dies; Hollywood, Broadway Director

Chester Erskine, a Shakespearean actor in his youth who became a successful director, producer and writer both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died Monday at the Beverly Hills Medical Center.

Erskine, 80, who studied at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, toured the United States in the early 1920s with a Shakespeare company before settling in New York, where he wrote and directed sketches for vaudeville.

His first Broadway success came in 1929 with an all-black cast in a drama titled “Harlem,” for that time an unusually realistic portrayal of life in the New York ghetto. He adapted, produced and directed the play.

The following year he directed “The Last Mile,” the Broadway prison melodrama that launched Spencer Tracy to stardom. He remained a close friend of Tracy’s and was listed as “creative consultant” on last month’s TV special devoted to Tracy and the late actor’s long relationship with Katharine Hepburn.

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Erskine came to Hollywood as an assistant director to Lewis Milestone on “Rain,” the film credited with making a dramatic star of Joan Crawford.

Over the years Erskine wrote, directed or produced “The Sailor Takes a Wife,” “The Egg and I,” “All My Sons,” “Androcles and the Lion,” “Witness to Murder” and “The Wonderful Country.”

He was the television producer of “Reader’s Digest,” dramatizations of stories that had appeared in the magazine. That show ran from 1955 to 1956 and was syndicated for many years.

Erskine is survived by his wife, Sally.

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