Henry Gleditsch

Also known as: Henry Cochrane Williamson Gleditsch

Henry Gleditsch (1902-1942) was a Norwegian actor, director, theatre manager and playwright.

Henry Gleditsch was responsible for establishing Trøndelag Theatre in 1937, and he managed the theatre until his death in 1942. He was a significant defender of freedom of speech and the rights of the theatres during World War II, and the 6th of October 1942 he was executed for his efforts.

The biography of Henry Gelditsch is written by Thoralf Berg, professor at Høyskolen i Sør-Trøndelag. It is published with permission from the author.


(Objekt ID 19584)
Object type Person
Also known as Henry Cochrane Williamson Gleditsch
Born Navember 9, 1902 (dead October 7, 1942)
Functions Director, Instructor, Actor, Dramatist/Playwright, Theatre director
Nationality Norwegian
Gender Male
Adresse Oslo, Bergen Trondheim, Stavanger, Norway

Henry Gleditsch was born and raised in Oslo (at the time still called Kristiania). He studied social economics prior to deciding to become an actor. The season of 1922–23 he read with actor Thomas Thomassen at The National Theatre, at the time the most common form of education for an actor.

The spring of 1923 Gleditsch was called to the Trondheim theatre ensemble called Trondhjems Teater, where he made his debut April 25 1923 as Freddy in W. Somerset Maugham's comedy Mrs. Dot and worked for the theatre until 1924. He worked for Stavanger Theatre in 1924-1925, and next he played a season at Casino in Oslo, before switching to Centralteatret. He worked there from 1927 to 1931. Next was The National Stage in Bergen (1931–32). During this time Henry Gleditsch made his debut as an instructor.

Gleditsch ran outdoors theatres the summers of 1931 and 1932, and the autumn of 1934 he started the theatre Søilen Teater in Keysers gate 1 in Oslo, after working with Einar Sissener at Chat Noir's secondary stage called Søylesalen. After only a season the venture ended. Next, he managed his own touring theatre, and the autumn of 1936 he led the jubilee tour of Ragna Wettergreen, starting in Trondheim.

Through his touring he had become well aware of the theatre situation in Trondheim, and he was in touch with central persons in the community there. There was a building well suited to be used as a theatre and sufficient audience potential in the town, but no ensemble. The spring of 1937 Gleditsch worked actively to re-establish a regular acting ensemble in the town. He examined the opportunities, arranged discussion meetings, lobbied, led a working committee and made sure stock holders were recruited. The result was the opening of Trøndelag Theatre October 14, 1937, with Henry Gleditsch as the artistic director and CEO. With his theatre he played visiting performances in the counties of Trøndelag and Northern Norway.

From the very first day of war Gleditsch stood up with an unambiguous national, anti-German attitude. As a private citizen and a theatre manager he used any opportunity to signal, mark and make clear his and the theatre's attitude towards the new regime. After the fighting of the spring 1940, he reopened the theatre with a revue and cabaret, using satire and hints referring to the current situation. A matinee called Norsk aften (literally: Norwegian evening) contained only Norwegian poetry and music, opening with the following declaration by Gleditsch: "We build the evening on what bridges what was and what is to come."

The final number was Per Sivle's Vi vil oss et land som er frelst og fritt (literally: We want a country saved and free). Even though the text belonged to another time, the national attitude was noticed by the occupation power and its supporters.

Gleditsch wanted no contact between Norwegian and German actors, knowing it could be taken advantage of in propaganda. He opposed exchanging Norwegian and German performers and fronted the actors' strike of May 1941. During a German visiting performance Gleditsch gave his actors time off and ordered everyone to stay away from the theatre. Of course he also "forgot" about flowers for the visitors.

During another visiting performance all tickets were sold out early in the day, but only a few spectators had arrived when the performance was to start. The explanation was an organised audience boycott, managed by Gleditsch. He had convinced the dentists of the town they should buy the tickets without using them.

When the Quisling party National Union (Nasjonal Samling) arranged a meeting in Trondheim in November 1941 and raising the flags were made mandatory, he made sure no flags were raised outside of the theatre, a public building. It was commented upon, but Gleditsch removed the flag poles, explaining that a most necessary renovation had to take part the days of the meeting.

For the NS government, Gleditsch represented resistance. Through Trøndelag Theatre he made his position in the battle for attitudes clear, and he used the theatre as part of the resistance.

October 6, 1942, the theatre was to open his version of Ibsen's The Wild Duck, and he was to play the part of Doctor Relling. Instead this became the day of his arrest. He was executed the same night.

The production, ready for opening, was postponed. After two weeks the opening took place. When curtain fell, the audience stood up and remained silent, before everybody, still silent, left the hall. At the following performances of The Wild Duck there was no applause, either. This was how the audience said farewell to Henry Gleditsch.

Of the many parts Gleditsch performed, he found that Count Danilo in Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow was among the funniest. The prince of Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's Old Heidelberg he also appreciated greatly, as well as the roles of engineer Borgheim in Ibsen's Little Eyolf and the farm boy Sigurd in his own play Brødrene* (The Brothers).

As a director he staged plays for touring and at Trøndelag Theatre, including Ibsen's Brand and The Wild Duck, plus Kjeld Abell's Anna Sophie Hedvig. Gleditsch also took part in movies including Laila, Brudeferden i Hardanger (literally: The Bridal Procession in Hardanger), Fjeldeventyret (literally: The Mountain Adventure), and Syv dager for Elisabeth (literally: Seven Days for Elisabeth).

Gleditsch wrote a number of prologues and songs and translated plays. With his colleague Egil Hjorth-Jenssen the wrote the comedy Kari, Mari og prinsen* (Kari, Mari and the Prince) for children, opening at Centralteatret in 1928. His play Brødrene* (The Brothers) was performed for the first time at The National Stage in 1932.


Store Norske Leksikon, Henry Gleditsch, http://snl.no/.nbl_biografi/Henry_Gleditsch/utdypning

Trøndelag Theatre's repertoire database, donated by Trøndelag Theatre. Imported to the Sceneweb database 24.09.2014

*Not yet translated into English. The title within parentheses is the Norwegian title's literal meaning.

Title Premiere Role
Brødrene* (The Brothers) Script – Author
Kari, Mari og prinsen* (Kari, Mari and the prince) 1928, Script, Children and youth, Comedy, Fairytale – Author
Trøndelag Fjernsyn* (Trøndelag Television) Script – Author