This is a playhouse within an amusement park, up on a mountain, at the edge of a New England factory town. You may not find a more unlikely place for a summer theater than this, but it was a giant in its day. Some great actors--before they were famous, and some after they became famous--performed here.
I am currently writing a book on this place and the companies which performed on Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts, from 1895 to 1965. I hope to have it available in December.
Hal Holbrook debuted his the full-length version of his one-man show here: Mark Twain Tonight! He was a member of The Valley Players here long before he won his Tony award, and his fame, for playing that role that he created.
A generation earlier, George Brent, before he came to Hollywood (and before he was George Brent -- he still used the surname Nolan) was the leading man here for a couple summers.
Betsy Drake, before her film career, and her marriage to Cary Grant, performed here as a young ingénue. James Coco was a member of the company here, and Mary Jackson, long before you knew her as Miss Emily Baldwin on The Waltons, played here.
Others performed at this playhouse, long called The Casino, and in later years, The Mt. Tom Playhouse, after they had achieved their fame: Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Alexis Smith and her husband, Craig Stevens, Kathryn Crosby, Eve Arden, Dana Andrews, and Tallulah Bankhead, to name a few.
You may have never heard of Jackson Perkins, or Lauren Gilbert, Jean Guild, or Anne Follmann, Hugh Franklin, or John O'Connor. Maybe some of you will remember Joseph Foley only from his turn as the principal on the Mr. Peepers TV show in the 1950s. I am equally excited to be presenting their stories.
We've discussed in these previous posts the summer theatre work of Ann Blyth, and film stars on stage at the La Jolla Playhouse, and at the Storrowton in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Theatre is such an exciting art form, and it enriches any community lucky enough to have live theatre.
Those who love classic films often follow their favorite stars' career paths into television. Theatre is another world, one that required enormously hard work, self-discipline, and for which they did not always receive a great deal of money. It was done for the love of it. I would encourage all classic film fans to explore the dual heritage of the history of theatre as it may relate to your favorite film stars.
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.
Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon.