Leontine Sagan (1889-1974) was an actress and director of theatre and film.
Born in Budapest on 13 February 1889, she was raised in South Africa and Austria, and trained in theatre with with Max Reinhardt (). An illustrious ccareer in the stage and film industry followed, in Germany, England and South Africa. In her later years, Sagan married publisher and writer Dr. Victor Fleischer, and in May 1947 she returned to South Africa permanently with her husband. He passed away in 1950 and she died in 1974.
Her autobiography (Light and Shadows), edited by Loren Kruger, was published by University of the Witwatersrand Press in 1996.
Born as Leontine Schlesinger, she came to South Africa in 1899 with her family to join her father. Initially educated at the German School in Johannesburg. In August 1902 she travelled to Europe with her mother. They settled in Vienna with relatives, where Leontine was further educated. Two years later they returned to Johannesburg. Leontine worked at the Austro-Hungarian Consulate as a secretary since she was about sixteen. When she turned twenty-one money became avialable ans she was able to return to Vienna and from there to Berlin. After an audition with Dr Legband, director of the Reinhardt school, she was allowed as a pupil.
She studied at the Max Reinhardt school in Berlin for a year until July 1911 and left because her teachers advised her to get practical experience. She spent two seasons in Teplitz and then received a contract for the Albert Theatre in Dresden.
She had a notable stage career in Germany, and in 1933 she toured South Africa for three months on contract with African Consolidated Theatres, she also went on to direct a number of Ivor Novello musicals, the only woman ever to direct musicals at the Drury Lane Theatre.
Sagan also directed three films early in her career, all of which are notable, the best remembered perhaps Mädchen in Uniform (1931).
She returned to South Africa in 1939 at the instigation of Prof. D.P. Inskip and worked with the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society and other amateur dramatic societies across South Africa. She directed a successful production of Shaw’s The Doctor's Dilemma, at the Little Theatre for example. Swiftly becoming a legend in the theatre here, working as a fine director with all the notable performers amateur and professional, including the Krugersdorp Municipal Dramatic and Operatic Society (KMDOS) in 1942, the Johannesburg REPS , the East Rand Theatre Club, the Bloemfontein Repertory Society.
In May 1943 she returned to London until 1946 when she and her husband returned to settle in South Africa.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
In 1939 she was invited by Prof Donald Inskip to South Africa to produce plays for the Little Theatre and for the Johannesburg Repertory Players. Toured with The Corn is Green in 1940, Sagan herself in the role of Miss Moffat.
The intention was to stay for three months but, because of the outbreak of war, she could return to Britain only in May 1943. During her prolongend stay in South Africa she joined the Jan H. Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg and taught the students dramatic art. Among the graduates of the college are Gibson Kente and Evelyn Caluza.
Plays produced during this period were inter alia Night Must Fall and The Corn is Green starring André Huguenet under the aegis of African Consolidated Theatres in 1940, They Walk Alone (1940), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), Six Characters in Search of an Author (1941) and Clare Booth’s The Women (1942) for the Johannesburg REPS , Puppets' Party (1941), Passport to Limbo (1941), Candida, How He Lied To Her Husband, Amphitryon 38 (Little Theatre Cape Town and Standard Theatre Johannesburg).
In the year of her return to South Africa (1947) she became director of the English-language section of the newly-established National Theatre.
In February 1948 she directed the NTO's first English production Dear Brutus by J.M. Barrie, followed by An Inspector Calls. Molnar’s The Guardsman, was directed by Leontine Sagan in 1949 for the National Theatre. Directed In Theatre Street for the East Rand Theatre Club in 1950.
See Binge, 19**; Kruger, 1996; Du Toit, 1988; [TH, JH]
An Inspector Calls programme notes, 1948.
Kruger, Loren (ed.) 1996. Lights and Shadows: The Autobiography of Leontine Sagan. Witwatersrand University Press.
Go to ESAT Bibliography
Return to ESAT Personalities S
Return to South African Theatre Personalities
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page