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Subject: Frankie Hewitt, 71, Catalyst for Revival of Ford's Theater

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Date Posted: March 04, 2003 12:25:16 EDT

Frankie Hewitt, who spearheaded the revival of Ford's Theater here and turned it into a showplace for plays and musicals, died Friday at her home in Kensington, Md. She was 71.

The cause was cancer, Ford's Theater announced.

Just one day earlier, President Bush had awarded her the National Humanities Medal, one of numerous honors she had won for turning a historical landmark into an important place to learn and enjoy American history and culture.

Mrs. Hewitt got involved with Ford's Theater in the 1960's when plans were being drawn up to renovate it. It had been used mostly as a government warehouse for a century after Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865.

A friend, Stewart L. Udall, then the secretary of the interior, described a plan to turn the building on 10th Street NW into a museum with a light and sound show. Mrs. Hewitt, who was then married to Don Hewitt, producer of "60 Minutes" on CBS, argued that it should be more than a testament to the awful historical episode and should make an active contribution to cultural life.

She went to work, negotiating an agreement for the theater to operate as a national historic site and museum. It reopened on Feb. 12, 1968, with a production of Stephen Vincent Benét's "John Brown's Body."

When initial shows at Ford's did not draw big audiences, Mrs. Hewitt began to book shows herself. Although she had no theater background, she founded the nonprofit Ford's Theater Society and later produced more than 150 stage shows.

She also was executive producer of more than 15 network television specials broadcast from Ford's Theater. Through a series of televised galas Mrs. Hewitt drew national attention to Ford's and raised money.

Mrs. Hewitt was born Frankie Teague in Oklahoma's Dust Bowl and migrated at the age of 8 with her impoverished family to California. After stints in journalism and public relations, she moved to Washington in 1956. She then served as the staff director of a Senate subcommittee, followed by a job as public affairs adviser to Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the United Nations.

She is survived by her daughters, Jilian Childers Hewitt, from her first marriage, to Bob Childers, and Lisa Hewitt Cassara, from her marriage to Mr. Hewitt, which ended in divorce in 1974. She also is survived by two grandsons, two stepsons, three grandchildren and a sister.

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