Born in 1930 in Knoxville, Tennessee, John Cullum has worked on the stage for nearly half a century, playing leading roles in Broadway musicals as well as classical theater. His honors include two Tony Awards® for Best Actor in a Musical.
After studies at the University of Tennessee, he made his first appearance on Broadway in 1960 at the Majestic Theatre, playing Sir Dinadan in the original cast of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, alongside Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet. As an understudy for Burton, he played King Arthur on a few occasions. Continuing his association with Burton, Cullum played Laertes in John Gielgud’s 1964 production of Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, in which Burton played the title role.
Already in 1966 Cullum landed a starring role in a Broadway musical, playing Dr. Mark Bruckner in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner. He was nominated for a Tony® and won the Theatre World Award for his performance, and he is featured on the Grammy®-winning original Broadway cast recording.
In the later 1960s and early 1970s, he starred in the musicals Man of La Mancha as Don Quixote and 1776, in which he played Edward Rutledge, a part he reprised in the 1972 film version. He also played Lord Bothwell in Robert Bolt’s play Vivat! Vivat Regina!
In 1975 he once again took center stage, starring in the original Broadway production of Shenandoah, a hit musical (based on the Jimmy Stewart film of the same name) by Gary Geld and Peter Udell. The production enjoyed a total of 1,050 performances, and for his performance – one of his most notable triumphs – Cullum received a Tony® for Best Actor in a Musical. He is featured on the original Broadway cast recording.
He starred in 1976 in the short-lived Kings, a Sophoclean drama adapted by Cullum and his wife Emily Frankel. The following year he starred in The Trip Back Down, a play by John Bishop.
Starring opposite Madeline Kahn and Imogene Coca, Cullum returned to musical comedy in On the Twentieth Century (1978), by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, playing Broadway producer Oscar Jaffee. For his performance, Cullum again won the Tony® for Best Actor in a Musical, and he sings on the original Broadway cast recording.
Returning to plays, Cullum starred in the Broadway premieres of David Wiltse’s Doubles (1985), playing opposite Ron Leibman, and Bernard Sabath’s The Boys in Autumn (1986), a two-man play in which his onstage partner was George C. Scott.
Cullum kept busy with stage work throughout the 1990s, and in 2001 played in Urinetown, a musical by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. For his performance as Caldwell B. Cladwell, Cullum earned a Tony® nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, and he can be heard on the original off-Broadway cast recording.
More recently, Cullum played opposite Audra McDonald in the 2007 Broadway revival of 110 in the Shade (by N. Richard Nash, Harvey Schmidt, and Tom Jones), for which he received a Tony® nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, and he assumed the title role in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre in 2007–08. He appears in a new musical drama by Kander and Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys, opening October 31, 2010, at the Lyceum.
Notable off-Broadway stage performances include Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Cullum’s UK debut in Miller’s Mr. Peter’s Connections, Wasserstein’s Old Money, the erotic chamber musical Wilder (by Erin Cressida Wilson, Jack Herrick, and Mike Craver), Neil Simon’s Rose’s Dilemma, Michael Murphy’s Sin: A Cardinal Deposed, and the musical Candide at Lincoln Center.
While the stage has dominated Cullum’s career, he is also a familiar presence on television, having appeared in such series as Northern Exposure, ER, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Mad Men. His films include The Prodigal, Sweet Country, Inherit the Wind, Held Up, and Blackwater Elegy.
In 2007, Cullum was voted into the Theater Hall of Fame.