Caroline Burke

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Caroline Burke
Woman with dark hair facing right
Burke in her 1933 college yearbook photo
Born Caroline Flora Berg
(1913-07-07)July 7, 1913
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Died December 5, 1964(1964-12-05) (aged 51)
New York City, U.S.
Resting place Beth Israel Cemetery Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Other names Caroline Swann
Education Catlin Hillside School
Alma mater Bryn Mawr College
Occupation Actress, theater and television producer, art collector
Years active 1942–1964
Cyrus Max Adler (m. 1945)

Erwin Swann (unknown; her death 1964)

Caroline Burke (née Berg; July 7, 1913 – December 5, 1964)[1] was an American actress, theater producer, television producer, writer, and art collector. She appeared in several films in the early 1940s before becoming a theater producer in New York City, notably producing several stage productions of Harold Pinter plays and Broadway productions. She also worked as a producer for NBC in the 1950s, and at the time was the company's only female producer.[2]

The daughter of a prominent Portland, Oregon businessman, Burke studied art history at Bryn Mawr College before embarking on a short-lived career as an actress. Her first role was a starring part in The Mysterious Rider (1942), which she followed with three minor film appearances before retiring from film acting. In the 1950s, she transitioned into executive and production work for NBC, as well as theatre producing for various Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. In addition to her career in entertainment, Burke also taught television production at Columbia University, and was the founder of the art history department at Reed College. She died of undisclosed causes in 1964 while in the midst of producing a second Harold Pinter stage production, which opened the week following her death.

Burke and her husband, business executive Erwin Swann, owned a significant art collection of modernist paintings and sculpture—including works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Auguste Rodin—which has showed at several national art museums. Additionally, the couple's collection of cartoon and caricature artwork is owned by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Early life

Burke was born Caroline Flora Berg on July 7, 1913 in Portland, Oregon[3] to Saidee (née Rosenberg) and Charles F. Berg, the latter of whom was a prominent Portland news radio executive and President of the Pacific Coast Advertising Men's Association.[4] Her father, a native of San Francisco, also founded the Charles F. Berg Company, a local Portland women's clothing chain,[5] and co-produced "The Hoot Owls," a pioneering radio sketch show for KGW.[6] The Charles F. Berg Building, an Art Deco building in downtown Portland that served as one of the Berg storefronts, is named for her father, who died there of a heart attack in 1932.[7][8] She had one elder brother, Forrest Talbott Berg,[3] from her father's previous marriage.[9]

Burke graduated from the Catlin Hillside School (now Catlin Gabel School),[10] after which she attended Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania,[3] where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history in 1933.[11]


In 1941 and 1942, Burke appeared on Broadway in productions of Brooklyn, U.S.A. and Gilbert Miller's Heart of a City, respectively.[3] In the spring of 1942, she relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film.[12] It was noted in a July 1, 1942 article in the Detroit Free Press:

Some weeks ago, a petite New York miss named Caroline Burke came to Hollywood. Object: Screen career. Experience: Two bits in Broadway shows and some radio appearances. Hollywood producers were not sufficiently interested to give her interviews. Agents were too unimpressed to represent her... Instead of encouraging her, [agents] stressed the difficulties of crashing studio gates. But pint-size Miss Burke is a person of determination. "Ohers have done it," said she, "and so can I."[12]

Burke appeared in a total of four films, with her first and only leading role as Martha Kincaid in The Mysterious Rider (1942) opposite Buster Crabbe.[3] While appearing in films in Hollywood, she simultaneously worked as an advertising and radio editor in California.[3] From 1946 to 1956 she was one of the first women producers in television, producing, writing and directing network series for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), including the award-winning telecast of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[3] In the 1950s, she served on NBC's radio show, Monitor, and interviewed various public figures, including actor Marlon Brando.[13]

She spent her later life living and working in New York City, where she was a theatrical producer, co-producing Broadway stage productions of Paddy Chayefsky's The Tenth Man, and Brendan Behan's The Hostage.[3] In 1962, she produced the first stage productions of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and The Collection at the Cherry Lane Theatre.[3] In her later life, she was also a contributing editor for Diplomat magazine, and taught television production at Columbia University.[3] At the time of her death in 1964, she was in the midst of producing an Off-Broadway production of Pinter's first play, The Room.[3]

Art collection

In addition to her career in entertainment, Burke was an avid art collector, and founded the art history department at Reed College in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.[3][14] She and her husband's art collection included works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Édouard Vuillard, Georges Rouault; and sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, and William Zorach.[3] The collection was displayed at Huntington Hartford's Gallery of Modern Art in New York and at the Portland Art Museum in 1964.[3][15]

The Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon is owned by the Library of Congress, and contains 2,085 drawings, prints, and paintings related to the art of caricature, cartoon, and illustration.[16]

Personal life

On August 7, 1945, Burke married camera manufacturing magnate Cyrus Max Adler at the Portland home of her brother, Forrest, in a private Jewish ceremony.[10]

Burke later married advertising executive Erwin D. Swann, who worked for the Foote, Cone & Belding Ad Agency; the couple resided in Manhattan at 24 West 55th Street.[3]


Burke died of undisclosed causes at Memorial Hospital in Manhattan on December 5, 1964.[3] She was survived by her husband, as well as her mother, Saidee Berg, and her brother, Forrest Berg.[3] She is interred in a family plot at Beth Israel Cemetery in Portland, alongside her mother (1884–1970), father (1871–1932), and brother (1901–1997).[17]


Year Title Role Notes
1942 The Mysterious Rider Martha Kincaid Only starring role
1943 Silent Witness Nurse
1943 Spy Train Minor role
1945 Rhapsody in Blue Party Guest

Stage credits


Year Title Contribution Notes Ref.
1959–61 The Hostage Producer Broadway [18]
1960–61 The Tenth Man Associate producer Broadway [18]
1962 The Collection Producer Off-Broadway [3]
1962–64 The Dumb Waiter Producer Off-Broadway [3]
1964 A Slight Ache Producer Off-Broadway [3]
1964 The Room Producer Off-Broadway [3]

As performer

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1941–42 Brooklyn, U.S.A. Broadway [3]
1942 Heart of a City Patsy Broadway [19]


  1. ^ Doyle, Billy H. (1999). The Ultimate Directory of Silent and Sound Era Performers: A Necrology of Actors and Actresses. Scarecrow Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-810-83547-4.
  2. ^ "Hollywood". The Cumberland News. Cumberland, Maryland. November 16, 1951. p. 28 – via
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "CAROLINE SWANN STAGE PRODUCER". The New York Times. December 7, 1964. Archived from the original on April 5, 2018. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  4. ^ "Special Events of the Week". The Oregon Daily Journal. Portland, Oregon. July 8, 1917. p. 39 – via
  5. ^ "Charles F. Berg Company Fashion Show". The Oregon History Project. The Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  6. ^ Kramer, Ronald. "KGW Hoot Owls" (PDF). The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  7. ^ "Charles F. Berg photographs collection, 1900-1974". Archives West. Retrieved April 5, 2018 – via Orbis-Cascade Alliance.
  8. ^ "Charles F. Berg Dies In Portland". Medford Mail Tribune. Medford, Oregon. September 4, 1932. p. 7 – via
  9. ^ "Testamentary Trusts Created Under the Last Will of Charles F. Berg". Court of Appeals of Oregon. May 3, 2000. Retrieved April 5, 2018 – via FindLaw.
  10. ^ a b "Portland Rites Of Interest". Statesman Journal. Salem, Oregon. August 9, 1945. p. 6 – via
  11. ^ "Bryn Mawr College Yearbook. Class of 1933". Bryn Mawr College Repository. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Short True Story". Detroit Free Press. July 1, 1942. p. 10 – via
  13. ^ "Actor, Marlon Brando, Monitor's Caroline Burke". Getty Images. December 6, 1955. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  14. ^ Jefferson's Legacy: A Semiannual Planned Giving Newsletter. 2. Library of Congress. 1996. p. 10.
  15. ^ Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, from the Collection of Caroline & Erwin Swann: "The Pleasures of the Eye"; an Exhibition Organized 1964 by the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon. Portland Art Museum. 1964. p. 24 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon". Library of Congress. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  17. ^ "Caroline Swann Berg". Find a Grave. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  18. ^ a b "Caroline Swann". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  19. ^ "Heart of a City". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved April 5, 2018.

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