Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Valley Players - Summer Stock on Mt. Tom

Summer stock sometimes provides the audience a chance to see young actors and actresses rising in their profession before they become famous. Sometimes it provides a chance to see veteran actors and actresses whose career high points are long past. They may be guest actors that week, or part of the stock company.

Summer stock is probably the most egalitarian environment for theatre there is.

About a year ago, we took a look at the Valley Players of Mountain Park, whose theater perched atop Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In its day, from 1941 to about 1962, it was considered the largest summer theater in New England.

Here we have a look at another play produced by this company, the comedy “Three on a Horse.” It was August, 1942, World War II not a year old and many summer theaters were adversely affected by gas rationing since they were out in the country, for the most part beyond the reach of trains and trolleys.

Joseph Foley starred, and founders of the Valley Players Lauren Gilbert, his wife Jackson Perkins, and Jean Guild were also in the cast. Directed by Dorothy M. Crane, another colleague made this an almost entirely home-grown production, where administrative staff doubled as actors.

We can look at the cast for a good example of some actors on the rise (though who never became household names), and veterans whose career peaks were behind them.

Alfred Paschall played a supporting role. I think he was the same actor who played a handful of minor Shakeapearean roles, usually in the ensemble, on Broadway from the late 1930s to early 1940s.

Willard Dashiell, an older actor in another supporting role, had a handful of minor Hollywood movie credits in silent films, his last film role as a “businessman” in the 1934 film “War is a Racket”. He appeared on Broadway throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Evidently at the time, Mr. Dashiell was living in the area. The program notes of him, “We consider ourselves very fortunate that an actor of such wide experience and fine reputation lives here in this community and can take part from time to time in our plays.”

Frank Rollinger, in another supporting role, played summer stock and regional theater, including in the company of the famed Pasadena Playhouse. He also did some radio shows, including appearing on “Suspense”

John McQuade, who plays the role of “Patsy”, was beginning his career, which would soon involve a number of television roles in TV’s Golden Age, including “Studio One”, “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.”

He had a handful of roles on Broadway through the 1940s, including a couple of stints at what may have been the same Shakespearean productions the above-mentioned Alfred Dashiell appeared. His final Broadway appearance was in 1963, though his TV career lasted longer. He also toured with Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson in “Macbeth”

The Valley Players played an important role in the formative years in the careers of many actors, but like most summer theaters, flew by the seat of its pants. You could buy reserved seats tickets in downtown Holyoke at the Park Pharmacy on Dwight Street, or in the Highlands section of town at Martin’s Pharmacy on Hampden Street. You could also call Dickinson’s Drug store in Northampton at telephone Northampton 3466 for reservations. Probably the reason why drug stores filled in for the box office is that most people did not own a phone at this time to call for reservations, and getting up the mountain, in wartime with gas rationing, was not always convenient. The neighborhood drug store served as a command post for all things vital, prescriptions, news from the front, casualty lists, and theater tickets.

Attendance was heavier on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, “and the call for tickets has become so great on Wednesdays and Saturdays that you will be wise to reserve your seats for those nights at least two or three days in advance.”

It was an 8:30 curtain on weeknights, 2:30 on the Wednesday matinee. You could purchase autographed pictures of the company in costume at 65 cents each.

For more on lead actor in this production Joseph Foley and the Valley Players, have a look at this earlier post.

Note: Program and vintage postcards are from the author’s collection, special thanks to Gail Watson.

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