Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ruth Gordon at the Cape Playhouse

Above is from a Cape Playhouse playbill of the week of August 12, 1935.

“Were you ever in Dennis? There’s not a whole lot of it,” so writes actress, playwright, and author Ruth Gordon in her autobiography, “My Side” (Harper & Row, NY, 1976). She describes coming to Dennis to perform the above play, “Saturday’s Children” by Maxwell Anderson in the summer of 1935.

The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Mass. was founded by Raymond Moore in 1927. Photos here of Mr. Moore and the Cape Playhouse are from a booklet on “The Cape Playhouse and the Cape Cinema” from the late 1930s.

Transformed from a former Unitarian meeting house, The Cape Playhouse opened with Basil Rathbone in the theater’s first production, “The Guardsmen” on July 4, 1927. Many stars have performed there since, to be discussed on this blog in future.

Ruth Gordon’s wistful observations of her appearance that year at the Cape Playhouse for “A Church Mouse” have a somber edge to them, as she recounts that while she stayed at Mrs. Wittemore’s boarding house during her run, another member of the company stayed in a small cottage on the nearby salt marsh. Miss Gordon wondered why Margaret Bellinger stayed there instead.

“Were there no more rooms or was it because Margaret was black? In 1935, what would you think?”

After Miss Gordon appeared in “A Church Mouse”, the management asked her to stay another week to perform in the play “The Bride the Sun Shines On” because the star they hired did not arrive. Such was the scramble of summer theater in its early days.

Other actors stayed at Mrs. Whittemore’s as Ruth Gordon did, but not all the borders were actors. There was a grocery store across the road where telegrams could be sent. She wired her friend playwright Thornton Wilder to come down to see the play, and he did. They ate lunch at the Motor Car Inn, which Miss Gordon describes as expensive. This was probably The Sign of the Motor Car at the Bass River Golf Club in South Yarmouth. According to an ad in this same program for “Saturday’s Children”, luncheons and dinners went from $1 to $2.75.

Expensive, yes, for 1935. Tickets for the Cape Playhouse at that time ran from 50 cents to $2 for a matinee, and 50 cents to $2.50 for an evening performance. The highest priced dinner at the Motor Car cost more than the best seat at the Playhouse.


  1. Very nicely researched & presented-- as with "Another Old Movie Blog" your writing & viewpoint are both engaging. Re: "Yeah, I know. The Internet really needs another blog": there's always room for good blogs. This isn't a topic I know much about (despite my Vermont upbringing), & I look forward to learning more. Am putting this & the New England blog on the roll at RF Banjo.

  2. Thank you so much, John. It's an interesting topic, and one that I've wanted to puruse for a long time. Book publishers are having a rough time right now, but in blogsville, everybody's welcome at the table.

    Vermont boy? (She nodds approvingly, "Ayuh.")

  3. That should be "pursue". (Grins bashfully, sneaks back behind the curtain before the hook comes out.)