Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Walter Hampden at Ridgefield Summer Theatre
Continuing our season of summer theatre, we take a look back at Walter Hampden’s appearance with Connecticut’s Ridgefield Summer Theatre in August of 1938.
Hampden was himself a resident of Ridgefield, having bought a farm here in 1911. He seems to have been part of a vanguard of wealthy New Yorkers to establish grand homes here. One America’s foremost Shakespearean actors of the turn of the 20th century, Walter Hampden toured the US and Europe, and formed his own stock company in 1919. In the 1920s he launched his own theater in New York, playing Hamlet to Ethel Barrymore’s Ophelia.
Hampden also enjoyed a varied Hollywood career noted in this post from my Another Old Movie Blog (see here).
This small town in Connecticut where he rested on his farm between engagements may have been a less illustrious venue for his considerable stature as an actor, but Walter Hampden’s appearance here in “A Successful Calamity” by Clare Kummer demonstrates what once was common among the great actors. Actors, real actors, toured in summer stock, no matter their stature or fame, no matter if the theater was a high school auditorium, a barn, or a boathouse, or a tent.
Hampden’s own personal ties to Ridgefield must have made this minor engagement all the more appealing. Ridgefield, Connecticut has two theaters today, the Ridgefield Theater Barn, and the Ridgefield Playhouse. The Wilton Bulletin of August 11, 1938, in anticipation of the coming event reported that Mr. Hampen, “has played “A Successful Calamity’ many times and has always delighted his audiences.”