Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Summer Stock and Hollywood Stars

As noted in an earlier post on my Another Old Movie Blog (see here), film stars from Hollywood’s heyday found their start and made their mark in New England summer theater. We’ll be covering more on summer theater, past and present, as the season gets underway.

Henry Fonda and James Stewart found acting work early in their careers in summer stock on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Both worked with the University Players in Falmouth. Fonda also worked with the Cape Playhouse down the road in Dennis, where a young Bette Davis was an usher, soon to get her own chance to perform onstage under Laura Hope Crews. Robert Montgomery, Constance Collier, Frances Farmer, and Lloyd Nolan all appeared here in their apprentice years. Other movie stars who performed here were Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner, and Ginger Rogers.

Later on, Fonda, still scrounging for work on the New England summer theater circuit, would do odd jobs at the summer theater in Surrey, Maine, where he chauffeured and picked up guest actor Joseph Cotten’s trunk at the railroad depot.

Humphrey Bogart appeared a little further south in Maine at the Lakewood Theater in Skowhegan.

Jane Wyatt got her start with the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, Mass., where Mary Wickes also played.

Summer stock and road shows were not only for the novice actors. Ethel Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and Judith Anderson regularly trod the boards of rather humble New England playhouses, long after they had achieved their fame.

Sometimes called “the straw hat circuit”, summer stock reached its peak probably in the 1940s through the 1960s. Along with the above-mentioned playhouses, some others were the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass, the Priscilla Beach Theatre in Plymouth, Mass., the South Shore Music Circus in Cohassett, and the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. If you’ve seen shows at any of these theaters, please drop by and share your memories.

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