Sag Harbor Playwright Christine Stanley Remembered for Generosity

Christine Stanley
Christine Stanley

Christine Stanley, aka Helga Morpurgo, formerly of Sag Harbor, died of heart failure on February 24 at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York. She was 87.

Her family had owned a historic landmark, three-story Victorian home on Union Street in Sag Harbor since 1965, where her father, Attilio Giacomo (Jack) Morpurgo, had a medical practice, and her mother, Vilna Jorgen Morpurgo, had an art gallery called Sagg Harbour Arts Center.  In more recent years, playwright Helga Morpurgo and her sister, author Annselm Morpurgo, had lived there while Helga wrote plays and her sister had the Savant Gard Institute. They sold the family home in 2008, which was since renovated and preserved as a historical site for the village tours. 

Helga Ida Morpurgo, who later became known as Christine Stanley, was born on April 3, 1935 in Rome, Italy. Her mother, Scandinavian Countess and artist Vilna Jorgen Morpurgo, was born in Oslo, Norway and is exhibited in collections both in Europe and the United States. Her father, Baron-Dr. Attilio Giacomo (Jack) Morpurgo, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to a multi-national family of financiers who built the Suez Canal. He became a cardiologist and family doctor. He and his wife met in Rome, Italy in 1932, where they eventually gave birth to two daughters, Annselm and Helga Morpurgo. The family had to flee as Holocaust refugees and came to America in 1940.

The Morpurgo family lived in Manhattan and later in Elmhurst, Queens, where 

Dr. Morpurgo had his medical practice. They eventually moved to Sag Harbor, where they first lived on Main Street, and later bought a house on Union Street, behind the library.

Helga Morpurgo graduated from Manhattan School of Music and went on to study drama at Hunter College. Helga became a student protege of playwright Lillian Hellman, and later earned a national award for her plays, with Hellman’s sponsorship. 

In 1953 Helga Morpurgo married Stanley Greenberg, a high school music teacher, and they divorced in 1975. Helga moved to Hollywood to pursue play writing, and following a Los Angeles earthquake, she moved back to her family home in Sag Harbor, in the late 1980s. She continued to write and produce plays in local theaters, and she wrote freelance articles for the local papers. She was also a devoted animal activist and life-long vegan, who volunteered at the local shelters in the Hamptons.

Eric Wald, of Sag Harbor, and publisher of  The Waldo Tribune, recalled that Christine Stanley directed and produced his play Butterfly Man at the Sag Harbor Inn.

“Chris was a good friend for over 40 years, who also read my plays at Canio’s Books,” he said. “She was so sweet, kind, and beautiful.”

Debbie Tuma, another longtime friend and former Sag Harbor neighbor, described Christine as “probably the most generous, caring person I’ve ever met. She was always there to help any friend or animal in need.”

In 2011, Helga, aka Christine Stanley, moved to Prescott, Arizona due to health reasons, and lived there until 2019, when she moved to Albany.

Christine Stanley is survived by her older sister, Annselm Lnvm Morpurgo, also known as Artemis Smith, and a cousin, Augusto Morpurgo, an architect of Hohokus, New Jersey.

Her sister said, “Although we were almost always at buttheads, we never stopped loving each other and defending each other against the world.”

A memorial service will be held at Oakland Cemetery on April 3, 2023, at 2 p.m., which would have been Christine Stanley’s 88th birthday. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) of Wainscott, or the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. For further information contact [email protected]

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