A gay theatrical and motion picture actor, Alexander Kirkland became smitten with theater as an undergraduate at Princeton. Upon graduation, he enrolled for a term in the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City. He signed on with the Theatre Guild and appeared filling minor roles in "He Who Gets Slapped," and "R.U.R."
At this juncture Eva Le Gallienne's enlisted him into circle of gay and lesbian confreres where he played in "Sandro Botticelli." He was signed by manager Stuart Walker and replaced leading man Gregory Kelly in "Seventeen." In the mid-1920s he worked in Detroit playing in and co-managing the Garrick Theater there. In 1927 La Gallienne brought him east to play in "Cradle Song" (1927).
The great stroke of his early career was founding the Berkshire playhouse at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1928 for the performance of artistic plays during the summer. Later that year Kirkland created one of his most artistic roles, Lightfoot, a poetic young inventor, in the Theatre Guild's rendering of "Wings Over Europe." As the Stockbridge Players gained greater fame each summer with their daring mix of new plays and reimaginings of repertory classics, Kirkland's time was increasingly absorbed in arranging the Berkshire Theater's activities.
Because of the press of demands, he chose to go into motion pictures for three years, playing in a range of films including "Tarnished Lady" (1931) and "Strange Interlude" (1932), while producing and acting in Berkshire in the summer. In autumn 1933 he turned again to theatrical work, associating with Lee Strasburg and the Group Theatre in their hit play, "Men in White." He would act in most of the important Group Theatre productions of the mid-1930s. Yet his most important performance in the 1930s may have been in Otto Preminger's revival of "Outward Bound" in 1938, an experiment in unconventional dramaturgy.
Kirkland in the 1920s appeared youthful and clever in his roles. In the 1930s there was a febrile edge to his performances that made him sometimes seem to embody the anxiety of the Depression, yet he had a decided talent for comedy, and surprised his contemporaries with his zaniness. In the 1950s he played in television's early drama omnibus programs, and had a final movie role in 1956's "A Face in the Crowd."
He was married twice, including a stint with Gypsy Rose Lee, but these can be described as exercises in socially acceptable heteronormativity. The truth of his sexual orientation is better revealed in Forman Brown's 1933 gay romance, Better Angel. David S. Shields/ALS