Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Stock - 1939

As the lazy summer of 1939 lingered, we would have no way of knowing that the peace, and the familiar world of the present, would be shattered on September 1st when Hitler’s march into Poland started World War II. The beginning of that promising summer in June marked the last summer stock season free of any impending threat of being interrupted due to the war. The only threat to summer theater in New England in those days, as now, were financial.

But Newsweek magazine reported on June 26th that “summer show producers are looking forward to a prosperous season” and in those innocent days, along with the Broadway hits and the Broadway stars, “the usual hatch of untried plays that come to life under a rural moon before braving the harsher lights of Times Square.”

Most summer theaters, then and now, are in rural locations, and that perhaps in itself presents them as old fashioned, from another time, from another more innocent world. In 1939 summer stock had gone from crawling to walking, and was in fine form before the war disrupted many seasons for many summer theaters.

That season Libby Holman and Clifton Webb took “Burlesque” on one-week stands to the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine, then to the Cohasset Theater in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and then down to the Cape Playhouse in Dennis.

Glenda Farrell returned to the stage after five years in Hollywood to appear in “Anna Christie” at the Westport Playhouse in Connecticut. After Westport, Glenda Farrell was hopping down to the Theater-By-The-Sea in Mantunuck, Rhode Island to appear in “Dateline, Geneva,” a new play by Alan Rivkin and Leonard Spiegelglass.

Mitzi Green was to appear in several plays over at the Ivoryton, Connecticut Playhouse. Walter Hampden and Kitty Carlisle appeared at the Cape Playhouse in July with “A Successful Calamity”, a play in this previous post on Walter Hampden’s appearance in Ridgefield, Connecticut in August of 1938.

Over on the other end of the state, Thornton Wilder appeared as the Stage Manager in his play “Our Town” at the Berkshire Playhouse.

Skowhegan, Maine’s Lakewood Theater would present “Indian Summer” with Jessie Royce Landis. Diana Barrymore, the 18-year-old daughter of John Barrymore, would make her stage debut in Ogunquit. Rudy Vallee would appear over at Deertrees Theater in Harrison, Maine.

Newsweek noted that Vermont and New Hampshire summer stock was thriving on “the stages of almost a dozen active cowbarn playhouses.” It might sound dismissive, but it’s really kind of a triumph.

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