Our beloved friend, family member, colleague, and den mother to all, Barbara Leah Warner Howard died on November 9, 2022, peacefully at home while listening to Ella Fitzgerald, surrounded by family and friends.
Barbara was born on September 30, 1934. She was the daughter of one of the great Hollywood moguls, Jack Warner, founder of Warner Bros., and Anne Page Warner. She recalled riding her tricycle around the studio lot as a toddler. Judy Garland sang at her Sweet 16, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor attended her debutante ball, and everyone from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra to Delores Del Rio were guests in her parents’ home. She told a story of climbing through a window at the Brown Derby Restaurant while on a date with Robert Evans to escape his fast-moving hands.
Though Barbara was born into a kind of American royalty most of us could only dream of, she aspired to escape it. So she headed east for her education, first in Switzerland and then at the Spence School in New York City, which at the time was a boarding school for girls. College at Sarah Lawrence followed.
An encounter with the debonair owner of the famed La Tour D’Argent restaurant in Paris, Claude Terrail, led to marriage and Barbara’s only child, Anne Terrail. Claude had been a member of the French Resistance during World War II, his job to listen in and report on the conversations between the Nazis who used his restaurant as their personal canteen. The couple eventually divorced. Barbara later married jazz musician Raymond Lesénéchal and lived with him in Paris until they divorced.
On a trip back to Los Angeles to visit her parents, she ran into Cy Howard, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, director and producer she’d known many years. They fell in love, married and remained deeply in love until the end of his life in 1993. Often asked if she was interested in dating again, Barbara would reply, “I had the love of my life with Cy; I’m good.”
A dedicated patron of the arts, Barbara became a founding member of the New York Theatre Workshop and remained an integral figure for over 40 years, serving on the board and as Board Chair. She was an early backer of many shows that transferred to Broadway, including Rent, Once, Hadestown and What the Constitution Means to Me. Her decades-long support and significant financial contributions nurtured the early careers of many prominent artists including Tony Kushner, Doug Wright, Ivo Van Hove, Lisa Kron, the Five Lesbian Brothers, James MacDonald, Michael Greif, Lisa Peterson, Will Power, Noor Theatre Company, Lileana Blain-Cruz and Heidi Schreck.
Barbara’s support of the NYTW community knew no bounds. She could be seen making meatballs for early fundraisers, painting scenery, and most memorably, performing as an extra in Far Away by Caryl Churchill. She opened her home regularly on behalf of the theatre, whether to raise money, welcome interns or celebrate an artist’s new project. She hosted warm, delightful dinners for her wide, diverse circle of friends who, after a few drinks, invariably took turns holding the Oscar statuettes her father had won for Casablanca and My Fair Lady. Barbara loved nothing more than a fun, stimulating get-together and she was no stranger to FOMO. True to form, she had invited several friends months ahead of time to join her for the opening night of Merrily We Roll Along at NYTW this December, which she was so eager to see.
Barbara is survived by her devoted daughter, Anne Terrail, who was by her side through the last months of her life, and by her grandchildren Eva Bergeret and Felix Bergeret. She is also survived by a nephew, Gregory Orr. A great lover of chihuahuas, Barbara leaves behind Chico Howard, a joyful companion to the end. Zorro Howard predeceased her several years ago.
Barbara will be remembered as a tireless force for good in the New York theatre scene – someone who actively eschewed attention and thanks, always redirecting the spotlight to the theatre-makers she so believed in. Generous, gracious, loyal and fun, she loved deeply and was deeply loved in return.
Written by Heather Randall & Lucy Kaylin.
Categories: NYTW Spotlight.