Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life Upon the Wicked Stage - Ann Blyth Plays Summer Theatre

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Ann Blyth spent more than three decades in summer theatre.  Despite the minor footnote this may appear in Internet bios, if included at all, it was a huge part of her résumé and her life, and the world where a great number of fans came to enjoy her work.

Summer theatre is a special world, to be savored while it is experienced, and the memory of which to be treasured most especially because it is a world of the moment.  Once the curtain comes down, it’s gone forever, leaving the longing ache to see it again ever unfulfilled.  Summer theatre, however, rarely ends with the drawing of an actual curtain, for these productions are usually in a barn, or tent, or some ramshackle building where we trod well-worn wooden floors, or climb up temporarily constructed seating in-the-round style that will be disassembled come September.  We walk to our cars in the loveliness of a warm summer night, or perhaps step carefully through a mud-sodden field in the rain.  The slap of the wooden screen door at the theater entrance, a moth or two flying around inside, caught in the pale blue beam of a Fresnel, or the sound of raindrops on the tent are all part of the experience and the memory.

The stars are quite close to us in summer theatre.  We don’t go to big cities to see them.  They come to our towns.  The stage may be only a few feet away, or if in-the-round, the star may brush our shoulder with her sleeve as she trots down the aisle to make her entrance.  They leave the same way we do, through the same doors.  The next morning, we may see them at the coffee shop or grocery store, as for a week or two, our town becomes theirs.  Summer theatre is intimate, and heartfelt.  There is very little Hollywood gloss.  Summer stock can’t afford gloss.

Today we visit that special world and some of Ann Blyth’s performances from the 1960s through the 1980s.  We’ll explore these musical shows through newspaper reviews and interviews, which are all we have left to prove they existed. 

This is going to be a long post.  Pour yourself a root beer, hitch up your shorts, pull your lawn chair up close to the bug zapper and relax.

One of her very first summer theatre experiences, perhaps her first, was Carnival in July 1963.  She had given birth to her fifth and last child in April, and according to a syndicated column by Joseph Finnegan in the News-Texan, was already preparing for this new stage, literally a new stage, in her career.

During her recent hospital stay after having the baby, Ann was the most entertaining patient on the maternity ward floor as she rehearsed her singing role in Carnival…Any nurse with spare time could always drop by Ann’s room to hear a few songs.

Ray Danton played the male lead, and John Smolko and Helon Blount were also in the cast.

That summer she would also be filming her last appearance on the TV show Wagon Train, “The Fort Pierce Story,” which we discussed here.

We might well understand Ann chomping at the bit to perform in a musical again; it had been nine years since she did Kismet on film, which we discussed here, and there were fewer opportunities for big screen musicals anymore.  Her career always seemed to flip-flop between periods of dramatic films, and shorter periods of musicals, with the need to remind producers that she was available for both.  Just before her string of 1950s musical films, she was quoted in Erskine Johnson’s syndicated column in 1951:

I’m grateful for my wonderful dramatic chances.  But I keep hinting for musicals.  I’ve kept up with my vocal lessons and I could brush up on my dancing with a little practice.

There was another reason for approaching stage musicals: by the early 1960s films were changing, Hollywood was a different place after the collapse of the studio system, but on stage, an actress in her mid-thirties could still, in the tradition of theatre, play ingénue roles.  On screen, there were fewer meaty roles left for “older women” (and women in their thirties were, indeed, considered “older women”).  On stage, Ann played leads, not character roles, through her fifties.

Perhaps the best reason for turning to summer stock was that Ann originally came from the world of theatre herself, having played on Broadway in Watch on the Rhine as a child, which we covered here.

She explained to Jack Hawn for the Los Angeles Times in February 1985:

"Most actors who have done theater dearly love getting back to it," she said.  "It's exciting. . . . Once you start, that's it.  Nobody's going to say, 'Cut; let's try it again.'  You must continue, but that's part of the excitement.  I love it a lot."

It was the heyday of summer theatre, when many Hollywood stars toured the country in popular plays.  Carnival was a production of the Kenley Players, which was performed at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio, and then played the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Columbus.  The very end of Kenley’s season that year featured Ann’s old movie co-star Howard Keel in Man of La Mancha.  Colleagues and friends from the movie business regularly crisscrossed the country on the heels of each other’s performances.  Sometimes a star would perform in several productions of a summer.  Ann did Carnival again in subsequent seasons, and in 1967, her performance in this play at the Valley Music Hall in Salt Lake City was followed immediately after a two-week run of The King and I in St. Louis.

A year after Carnival in 1963, she played her first production of The Sound of Music in August 1964 at the Tenthouse Theatre in Highland Park, Chicago.  The show also played in Texas as a Dallas Summer Musicals tour, where the eldest daughter, Liesl was played by a teenaged Sandy Duncan.

She performed in The Sound of Music in several other productions through the 1970s, in Miami Beach, Florida; at the Colonie Coliseum in Latham, New York, among other places.  In 1972, she performed it at Milwaukee’s Melody Top Music Tent, a venue where she remained a huge audience draw for many years.  A review by Jay Joslyn of the Milwaukee Sentinel lauded the opening of the summer season with:

…what every summer theater should have: glorious weather, a spectacular star, a well polished company and a vehicle of supreme charm.

To combine an appearance of Ann Blyth with a performance of The Sound of Music has to be the equivalent of box office overkill…each generates success.

The show broke audience attendance records.

Miss Blyth, her voice as lovely and true as ever, gives the role of Maria von Trap a wonderful gamin turn that provides great strength and sympathy.  She’s superb.

Mitchell Gregg played the Captain in this production, where each of the fourteen performances was sold out.

Ann Blyth took a brief detour from the world of musical theatre back to drama in May 1967 when she starred in the suspense thriller Wait Until Dark in Chicago, which we discussed here.

Then in August, it was back to musicals in The King and I, which she performed again in the following year, 1968.  Her first time as Anna occurred in June 1965 at Highland Park, Chicago, at the Tenthouse.  The King was played by James Mitchell.  A review of “T.W” in the Chicago Tribune:

Ann Blyth’s gracious, well-sung Anna and James Mitchell’s skillfully played king gave Tenthouse theater…professional stature, tho both performers were of somewhat limited range.  Miss Blyth projected Victorian elegance but had no spitfire spark.

The show also played New England in June in Framingham, Massachusetts; and in Wallingford, Connecticut at the Oakdale Musical Theater in August.  A blurb in The Hartford Courant noted her reputation for versatility:

Miss Blyth, who as built an enviable record of versatility in all entertainment media, will be Anna.

William Chapman of the New York City Center Opera played the King.  The production was directed by James Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein II, and the children of the palace were played by local kids from Connecticut.  From a review by Allen M. Widem in The Hartford Times, who remarked on the…

…delight at Oakdale Music Theater of seeing one of Hollywood’s most talented thespians bring Mrs. Anna to life.

That star is Ann Blyth.  A mere wisp of a thing, with boundless charm, she is an impressive addition…Miss Blyth is a delightful Anna.

A reader named Ellen, who provided these images of the Oakdale Musical Theatre's production of The King and I, which was theatre-in-the-round, recalled of the performance she attended:

When she started her entrance & on the way to the stage, part of her costume became entangled on a theater chair, but was quickly separated...neither Ann or the orchestra missed a beat.  Her performance on Aug. 16, prompted by the orchestra, had the sold-out audience singing "Happy Birthday."

Ann would have turned thirty-seven.

Howard Keel, who had performed here in this tent himself, in his autobiography Only Make Believe, recalled:

There isn’t a hotter place on earth than inside the Wallingford tent on a matinee day with all the lights on.

This is, I confess, another reason for my admiration for summer stock.  For the actors and techies, it’s rather like going through Marine boot camp.  Howard Keel, unlike many actors who write books about their film careers and give short shrift to summer stock, spends a lot of time covering his years in summer theatre, mentioning not only on-stage problems, but the mishaps of everyday life that are magnified for an actor about to go on any minute: emergency root canal, various injuries and illnesses that he must pretend are not hurting, the discipline it takes not only to learn one’s craft, but the discipline it takes to stifle a flu or allergic reaction-prompted need to vomit until one can make it to the wings after the next scene.  Howard Keel affirmed:

I believe summer stock people are some of the bravest people I know. 

This was proven in an horrific incident in a production of Kiss Me Kate in which Ann appeared in July 1968 in Pittsburgh.  Lew Herbert, who played one of the gangsters in the show felt ill during a performance, but he soldiered on.  After the performance, he collapsed in his dressing room.  He was taken to the hospital with an apparent heart ailment.  He died the next day.  The understudy went on that night.  The most courageous and yet most brutal aspect of live theatre is that the show goes on.

Walter Winchell, who scavenged stories like this for his column, wrote his take on the event two months later in September:

Lew Herbert…was stricken in his dressing room, Ann Blyth, the star, kissed his cheek to comfort him.  “Now I can die happily,” he whispered…which he did soon after.

The review of Kiss Me Kate at the Civic Light Opera was cheerier:

Miss Ann Blyth is a sight for sore eyes in the role of Lilli Vanessi…she gives a pleasant performance, somewhere in the middle ground, effective and likeable, but not striking or distinctive…Her voice is agreeable and natural, but lacks an emotional range.

The reviewer, Carl Apone’s remarks on male lead Robert Wright and the director were also tepid.  Along with his review, he interviewed Ann on the state of the film world that seemingly drove her to the stage.  If things were changing in 1963, it had become an unrecognizable world for many classic film stars by 1968.  “Filth” was the topic of their conversation, and Ann remarked that the treatment of explicit sex in films…

“…has a bad effect on young people.  They get quite a distorted sense of something quite beautiful.  All the wondrous and beautiful aspects of sex are gone.  For the ideas they see of sex on the screen tend to drag it into the gutter…I dearly love to perform, but there is no need to bring myself down to that level.”

Miss Blythe [her name is misspelled throughout the article], the mother of five children, looking as beautiful and youthful as she did in her early movie days, doesn’t mind admitting her age.  She will be 40 on August 16.”

This was echoed in 1976 in a syndicated column by Vernon Scott: 

She makes no attempt to convert anyone to her own lifestyle.  But neither does she compromise on her own strong convictions.  She won’t, for instance, appear in movies or television shows of dubious moral content…

“That’s why I prefer summer theater. The quality and tone of the shows I do are proved and have high standards…For the past 13 years, I’ve done almost all of them,” she said. “Last summer it was Bittersweet, Show Boat and Kiss Me, Kate.

“It’s six weeks of hard work but a wonderful break from the routine.  I enjoy it.  But my children and husband come first.”

We discussed other classic film stars’ opinions on the changing attitudes of sex and violence in films in this post here.

When she played in Kiss Me Kate in August 1984 in Flint, Michigan, The Argus Press marveled that she was turning 56 the following week, and took the opportunity to laud the breadth of her career:

…is one of the few stars who not only conquered all five mediums of the entertainment world, but who has scored resounding success in each.

From radio to legitimate theatre to motion pictures, television and supper clubs, the singer-actress has traveled back and forth with ease.  In doing so, she has built a reputation for versatility and talent equaled by few.

She returned to Milwaukee’s Melody Top Theatre, one of her most popular venues, for South Pacific in 1973 and was presented with their Showstopper Award for helping the show to earn more money than any in this tent theater’s history.  Have a look here at this fan page Melody Top Memories for now defunct Melody Top Theatre for production photos of Ann Blyth in South Pacific.

Peter Filichia noted in his post at the Theater Mania blog here:

Ann Blyth! My buddy Craig Jacobs, production stage manager for The Phantom of the Opera, worked with her on a summer stock production in Milwaukee. After watching her perform and dance in rehearsals, he told her how he marveled that she never perspired no matter how hard she worked. Days later, after one particularly grueling rehearsal, she came up to him, pointed to her forehead, and said, "Look!" to show him that a single bead of sweat had formed.

Perhaps her biggest and most performed show of the 1970s was Show Boat, which she first performed in 1970.  (“Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” the title of this post, as many of you probably know, is the title of a song in Show Boat.) Andy Devine, who appeared with her in one of her early Universal musicals, Babes on Swing Street (1944), which we’ll cover later in the year, played her father, Cap’n Andy.  She would play Magnolia again several times through the decade.

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In September that year, Edwin Steffe was her father for two weeks in Milwaukee that closed the Melody Top season.  From Michael H. Drew of the Milwaukee Journal:

Miss Blyth is lithe and lovely as film fans remember her.  And, praise be, she brings us a Real Voice –not one of those sound stage concoctions that—in person—side step the high notes and undersell the big ones…when that dastardly Gaylord Ravenal (Lowell Harris) abandons her, tears flood her comely cheeks.  The World Almanac claims she’s 42.  It surely lies.

The rival paper, the Sentinel, agreed, calling Ann…

…a leading lady of truly stellar stature and charm…Ann Blyth, the show’s captivating Magnolia, is a superlative actress, whose winning ways are bolstered by one of the sweetest voices around. She demonstrates why the show’s Jerome Kern music has never died.

In a 1975 performance at the Music Circus in Sacramento, California, Jesse White, who played with her in Katie Did It (1951) played Cap’n Andy, and the wonderful Kathleen Freeman was her mother, Parthy.

Show Boat closed the 1976 summer season at the Storrowton Theatre in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  Sam Hoffman of the Springfield Daily News reviewed the play:

Miss Blyth has lost none of her beautiful lyric soprano voice or any of her beauty.  She is a delight to see and to hear…Miss Blyth not only sings [the songs] for all their worth, she is capable of giving each a dramatic touch.

Magnolia just never looked as beautiful or was in finer voice than Miss Blyth.

Here Jay Garner filled in for an ill Andy Devine as Cap’n Andy, and Ed Evanko played Gaylord Ravenal.

In a follow-up article, Mr. Hoffman confessed his admiration for Ann Blyth was a torch he’d been carrying for some time.

…I remember her lovely lyric soprano voice that seemed to float right out of the screen in my direction.  I always managed to blot out the male star to make sure it was me she was singing to and not someone else. 

I was even a bit jealous when she upped and married a doctor for Ann Blyth has always been one of my favorite screen stars, someone I didn’t particularly care to share with another person.

He also noted in his interview with her, that she hoped to get in some tennis before the Thursday evening show.

One of the treats of summer theatre at this time was getting to see up close those Hollywood stars who before this era were rarely seen except on screen. That they appeared in town as flesh and blood people was a bit of a shock for many, such that even star-struck interviewers sometimes paid a bit too much attention to the star’s private lives and not enough on their performances.  Have a look here at this1970 television interview of Ann Blyth by Bette Rogge of local TV station WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio.  Ann was in town for Show Boat, which you can hear rehearsing in the background, but despite the excitement, Miss Rogge is more interested in Ann’s dress size and vacation plans in Hawaii.

In 1969, Ann returned to operetta in The Merry Widow, at the Starlight Theatre in Swope Park, Kansas City, Kansas, which she recalled for columnist Jay Horning in 1994 was one of her favorite shows.

“The music is so beautiful, so singable, and for audiences, so hummable,” she said, “So walking out of the theater they’re able to whistle a happy tune.  You want to leave an audience feeling good.”

Toward the end of her stage career in the later 1970s and 1980s she would turn more to operetta, in a way bringing her career full circle.

In 1975 she played in Noel Coward’s Bittersweet at Milwaukee’s Melody Top.  Columnist Jack O’Brian referred to it as an “even-when-first-produced nostalgia trip,” denoting operetta as something quaint and too artificial to be taken seriously.

From the Milwaukee Journal:

Veteran star of Hollywood, and currently, Hostess TV commercials, was satisfactory in a show so musically demanding that her third act was almost a recital.  While pretty rather than prodigious, her soprano glittered brightly. 

One audience member saw Ann the next day at the local mall, as recounted in this Memories of Melody Top website:

BITTER SWEET, an operetta by Noel Coward, was charming, as was Ann Blyth when I encountered her over a table of sale items in Marshall Field's at Mayfair Mall the day after I saw her performance…I couldn't resist telling her I didn't want to bother her when she was shopping, but I had to say how much I enjoyed her performance the previous evening. I immediately took off, only to hear her yelling after me, "That's no bother!"

There was Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song in August 1979 at the Starlight Theatre, and at the MUNY, famous for its outdoor productions in St. Louis. 

Song of Norway in 1985 with the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in Long Beach, California, a show which seemed to carry enough of a reputation for being clunky that few reviewers seemed kindly toward it, was reviewed by Don Shirley for the Los Angeles Times:

Any production of Song of Norway had better be well sung. The dramaturgy in this slab of aging shmaltz [sic] is primitive, and the spectacle—at least as designed for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera—is dull.

Only one of the Long Beach voices, Ann Blyth’s comes close to justifying the experience.  Her dark-hued solo of “North Star—Soveig’s Song” in the second act is the show’s only scene that casts any sort of spell.  Perhaps she also deserves some credit for the fact that her character, ostensibly the villain, is marginally less tiresome than the others.

Her male lead in this production was Bill Hayes, who first starred with in a 1967 production of Brigadoon at the St. Louis MUNY, which Mr. Hayes called in an interview with the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California, “the Brigadoon to end all Brigadoons.”  Bill Hayes would, in the next decade, become Ann’s singing partner in yet another phase of her career – singing in concert.  We’ll get to that in a future post.

The Daily Breeze called Song of Norway, “pleasant fare"…

That’s largely because its stars, Ann Blyth and Bill Hayes, don’t take themselves too seriously and play with enough camp to liven up the stilted tale.  And the orchestration is delightful…Blyth is amazing in that she is one of Hollywood’s most successful stars and still looks good more than 30 years after reaching the top.

Lowell Harris, who played opposite Ann in Show Boat in 1970, here played the friend of Bill Hayes, Susan Watson played the lovely Nina, and the trio of friends is broken up by “the lusty Countess Louisa” played by Ann and her lothario husband played in a comic role by Ray Stewart.

We conclude with New Moon in 1987, when Ann performed the lead, at 58 years old, for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera.  Neither of these Long Beach shows were actually "summer" theatre, but I include them for convenience.  Sandra Kreiswirth of the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California interviewed her on the second day of the two-week rehearsal.

…although it’s a dark, rainy afternoon, Blyth enters a Long Beach tearoom looking as if she stepped out of a fashion layout—casual, but definitely chic.

She’s in terrific shape thanks to her three-times-a-week workout regime.

The article was a biography of her life and career, events and circumstances Ann rehashed many times over many decades with patient cooperation in order to sell tickets.

From a review by Lewis Segal in the Los Angeles Times:

Ripples of excited recognition spread through the house at the first hint of “Stout-hearted Men” in the overture.  And if they became ripples of giggles by the time Ann Blyth sang the very, very, very last solo reprise of this 1928 Sigmund Romberg anthem, no matter: The Long Beach Civic Light Opera had incontestably delivered a generous sampling of the vocal overkill and off-the-wall character comedy endemic to Broadway operetta…

This was all pure hokum, of course, most of the time utterly unrelated to human behavior as we know it on this planet.

Operetta, as we’ve mentioned in this series this month, is an acquired taste. 

Blyth made a spunky, likeable Marianne…All but obliterated in the ball scene by a gown exploding with ruffles, polka dots, ribbons, bows and lamè, Blyth nevertheless radiated great poise and style.  

But at 58, her voice must be carefully husbanded and, even so, frequently sounded pinched or hooded on Saturday.

In 2002 when Opera News writer Brian Kellow interviewed her, Ann Blyth was still singing in supper clubs and concert venues. 

She still takes her singing quite seriously and works to keep the voice in shape.  “It’s the old story,” she says, “You’ve got to find out if it’s there every day.”

She was seventy-three.

If anyone has any memories to share of attending one of Ann's musical theatre productions, I'd love to hear from you.  See, I've got this here book to write.

This concludes our month of Ann Blyth's musicals.  Come back next Thursday when we start a month of Ann's historical costume dramas.  We'll take a second look at her time-travel romance, I’ll Never Forget You (1951) 

Posted by Jacqueline T. Lynch at Another Old Movie Blog.
The Argus Press (Owoss, Michigan), August 10, 1984, p. 19.

Daily Breeze (Torrance, California), March 8, 1985, review by James Bronson, p. E24; February 24, 1987, article by Sandra Kreiswirth,  p. C1; October 19, 1992, article by Sandra Kreiswirth, p. C1.

The Hartford Courant, August 18, 1965.

The Hartford Times, August 18 1965, review by Allen M. Widem, “Ann Blyth Able Anna in “The King and I.”

Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, May 29, 1969, p. 14.

Lodi News (Lodi, California), July 24, 1975, p. 7 “Show Boat Docks at Music Circus.”

Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1984, articled by Jack Hawn, “A Blyth Spirit from an Earlier Era”; March 8, 1985, review by Don Shirley, p. 16

Milwaukee Journal, September 2, 1970, review by Michael H. Drew, part 2, p. 13; July 9, 1975, Part 2; January 27, 1976, syndicated by Vernon Scott.

Milwaukee Sentinel, September 2, 1970, “Showboat’s Here and Wow!”; June 7, 1972, part 1, page 9, review by Jay Joslyn; September 29, 1972; July 2, 1973, p. 12, part 1

The News-Texan, May 22, 1963, p.2, syndicated column by Joseph Finnegan.

The Northeast Missourian, October 24, 1951, syndicated column by Erskine Johnson.

Opera News, August 2002, article by Brian Kellow.

The Pittsburgh Press, July 28, 1968, “Filth in Movies Saddens Ann Blyth” by Carl Apone, p. 13, section 5; July 29, 1968, p. 14, review by Carl Apone; article by Kaspar Monahan.

Bette Rogge, 1970 interview, WHIO-TV, University of Dayton collection:

Sarasota (Florida) Journal, April 15, 1975, syndicated column by Jack O’Brian, p. 5B.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, September 1, 1968, syndicated column by Walter Winchell, p. B-10.

Springfield Daily News (Springfield, Mass.), August 31, 1976, review by Sam Hoffman, p. 8; September 1, 1976, article by Sam Hoffman, p.25.

St. Joseph News-Press (Missouri) p. 11.

St. Petersburg Times, September 18, 1994, column by Jay Horning, p. 12A.

Theater Mania blog, post by Peter Filichia, August 10, 2003. (

Toledo Blade, June 2, 1963, section 7, p. 1, article by Ray Oviatt.

I've started a Kickstarter campaign - looking for backers to raise funds for upcoming Ann Blyth biography - principally to offset costs of fees to obtain never or rarely seen photos in libraries, museums, and newspaper files. It will run for the next three weeks. Thanks to all who can help. 

 THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.


Anonymous said...

"The show also played in Texas as a Dallas Summer Musicals tour, where the eldest daughter, Liesl was played by a teenaged Sandy Duncan."

Two of my favorites! On stage! I wish I could go back in time ...

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome, Julie. Save me a seat on the time machine.

Kevin Deany said...

Fascinating post, Jacqueline. I know a guy who, as a little boy, saw Charlton Heston in a restaurant in Hinsdale, IL circa 1952 or 1953. They had a summer stock theater and had quite a few big names or up and coming people perform in shows there.

My friend had seen THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH at the theater and recognized him right away. His family didn't know who Heston was. But he got an autograph from Heston and said Heston was very nice to him.

Anonymous said...

Another terrific post. What a thrill it must have been to see and hear Ann in person in so many wonderful musicals.
I imagine she would have been wonderful in The Merry Widow and The Desert Song,two of my favorites. And Kiss Me Kate.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks Kevin & Vienna. I'm a big fan of summer stock, but I can only imagine the thrill it must have been to see one of the big stars back in the day, either at the theater or in town.

Too bad they didn't film those shows, huh? Ah, well.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Do you happen to know the name of the Schenectady theatre she did The Sound of Music in?

I'd love to have seen her as Maria or as Anna in The King and I; I'll be she was wonderful.

Laura said...

What a fantastic chronicle of Ann's musical stage career! I'm enjoying each and every post but this was special for pulling together so much little-known info in one place. Thanks, Jacqueline!

I loved I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU and look forward to your post on it.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Laura. The post, as the series, has been a joy for me, but it's also sad to discover how poorly preserved is theatre history. When it comes to summer stock, only the communities in which these theaters existed have the ability to preserve this history. If they don't (and many don't), then the history is truly lost.

Elisabeth, I'd like to especially thank you for your question on the Schenectady theater, because in going through my notes, I discovered it was the Colonie Coliseum, an in-the-round theater that was not actually in Schenectady, but some four or five miles down the road in Latham, New York. I've made the correction in the post. That theater, once a tent and later a permanent building, closed in 1998, and was torn down in 2012 after having been abandoned for the previous 14 years. Sad. I understand the stage actually revolved, which must have enhanced the in-the-round experience. Thanks again for helping me sharpen my research.

Caftan Woman said...

And just what, Mr. Lewis Segal of the Los Angeles Times, is so blasted hunky and dory about "human behavior as we know it on this planet". If life isn't an operetta then I don't want to live it.

I adored reading about the joys and trials of life in summer stock very much.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I'm with you, CW. He's clearly not living on our planet.

I get a huge kick out of reading reviews, which sometimes tell more about the writer than about the play or movie. Some of them seem so comically desperate to be clever, like a class clown needy for attention. I've always felt snark is not as much an indication of sophistication as it is an indication of constipation.

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