Harvey Cocks Jr. has taken his final bow and left the stage.
Harvey may not have been “born in a trunk,” as the saying goes, but as the scion of a theatrical family, he did sleep in one as a baby. He was born April 3, 1925 in Glen Cove, Long Island. His father, Harvey Sr., was a promoter for Paramount Pictures and the trunk he used to transport posters and publicity stills by day served as Junior’s crib by night. The Cocks family first moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana briefly in 1929 and again in 1939 when, prodded by his wife to settle down, Harvey Sr. took on management of the Emboyd Theatre (now the Embassy). With a family in showbiz, it’s no wonder some of Harvey’s earliest memories included watching from the wings as Al Jolson sang and a trip to the barbershop with a guy named Bing Crosby.
After high school, Harvey was accepted to but passed up Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) for the bright lights of Broadway. In a story he later shied away from telling students lest it sound too easy, he booked his first Broadway show just a few days after getting off the bus in NYC. Broadway, touring, stock, radio and television roles soon followed. Most notably, Harvey acted for three-and-a-half years in the original Life with Father, still the longest-running play in Broadway history. He also spent time as partner in a summer stock theatre, an industrial advertising show director and film production manager.
In 1958, he married actress/dancer Jean Hansen and added two children, Ann & Christopher, to their family. When his father, by then owner of Quimby Village (and what is now the Clyde Theatre), passed away and left his son the business, Harvey came home to Fort Wayne. He thought he would be here six weeks. But, echoing his mother’s words decades earlier, Jean convinced him Fort Wayne, not New York, was the place to raise their children. So, they stayed.
After selling Quimby Village and a few short-lived professional ventures, Harvey received the phone call that would change his life and the lives of thousands of young artists. The year was 1977 and Fort Wayne Youtheatre needed a new director. Once again underestimating his longevity, he figured he’d stay a few years. In the end, he led as Youtheatre’s Executive/Artistic Director until 2010, when he became Artist-in-Residence, for a total of 45 years with the theatre.
At Youtheatre, he found his true life’s calling, making better actors and better people of all who entered its halls. During his tenure, he taught thousands of students in over 800 Saturdays of acting classes and directed hundreds of plays and musicals, many of which he wrote himself. Among his most popular plays was The Boy from Fairmount, in which he chronicled the life of another Hoosier actor he knew from their New York days, James Dean. In 2014, Harvey celebrated his beloved Youtheatre’s 80th anniversary by writing and directing his final play, an adaptation of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. He taught his final class in 2019 at age 94. Even after that, he remained a constant and vital presence at the theatre, which most recently revived his adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 2020. Even in his mid-90s, it took a global pandemic to stop him from coming into the theatre three days a week.
While his name has become synonymous with Youtheatre, Harvey was also a popular performer and director with the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, Arena Dinner Theatre, First Presbyterian Theater and (I)PFW Theatre. He was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from Arts United, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and Youtheatre, as well as the Fort Wayne Historical Society’s “Johnny Appleseed Pioneer Spirit” Award. Youtheatre’s annual “Volunteer of the Year” Award is named in his honor. Harvey’s most lasting professional achievement, though, is his profound effect on the generations of young performers who owe their confidence, poise, love of the arts and, in many cases, their careers to his direction, care and encouragement.
Harvey Cocks played many roles in his lifetime: Artist, Teacher, Leader, Gentleman, Raconteur, Husband, Father, Friend, Legend. He lost his leading lady, Jean, in 1994, but is survived by his children, Ann and Christopher, plus countless friends who rightly consider him family. Harvey Cocks will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the countless people he inspired…and those they have inspired…and those they will inspire…and those they will inspire…
“Everyone at Fort Wayne Youtheatre is heartbroken over the passing of former longtime Executive Director Harvey Cocks. We send our deepest sympathies to his family. Harvey was the heart and soul of Youtheatre for over 40 years, passionately believing in and promoting the social and educational value of theatre arts in the lives of young people. In the Fort Wayne arts community, he was a beloved and respected individual who helped create the vibrant and creative theatre community we have today. They say success is achieved by standing on the shoulders of giants. Harvey Cocks was truly one of those giants. Youtheatre owes so much of who we are to him. He will be missed.”
Editorial by Todd Espeland, Executive/ Artistic Director, Fort Wayne Youtheatre