Footlighters, part 5 – first costume play, Tredyffrin Country Club

The first costume play to be attempted by the Footlighters was “The Jewell Merchants,” a romance of Tuscany in the Renaissance period, given March 24-25, 1931, at the Saturday Club. And then, just as now for a play of that type, all the costumes were made by Narcissa Cameron and her committee! That kind of talent is rare, even among the versatile Footlighters! Pictures that are remarkably clear even after a period of almost nineten years show the beauty of these costumes as worn by the three characters, Jane Gray, Bayard Beatty, Jr., and Richard Wynkoop Rigg. It is interesting to know that the music of the song that Miss Gray sang was written especially for her by Stanley Muschamp, distinguished Philadelphia musician. The words were Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s translation of a poem written by Allessandro de Medici. Mrs. Thomas E. Walton played Miss Gray’s accompaniment. A one-act New England comedy in light vein, “Stick ‘Em Up,” was another offering for that evening.

And then following the first costume play came the first play writing contest to be featured by The Footlighters. First prize was won by John Garrigues with his play “Headlines,” and second prize by Rhodes Stabley, for “Mirabel Makes Demands.” The two plays were given in April, the entire cast of “Headlines” being composed of members who were making their first appearance with the Footlighters. They were C. Earl Moore, Pearl Seitz, Ruth Tolf, Joseph H. Forrest and Susanna Holt. Laurene Rolf and Charles C. Smith composed the cast of two for “Mirabel Makes Demands.”

This interesting season closed with a drama of great power, “My Son,” with its setting on Cape Cod among the Portuguese inhabitants. For it “the characters and emotions are drawn in sharp contrast, youth and age, strength and weakness, love and infatuation.” Directed by T. Bayard Beatty, it had in its cast Margaret D. Clark, James Rice, Arthur Edrop, T. B. Genay, W. J. McMillan, Jean Frazier, Edith Conner, Eleanor Johnson and Richard Rigg. A picturesque bit was the singing of Portuguese fishermen in the distance as they go about their work. These singers were Addison S. Buck, Charles C. Rich, F. Ashby Wallace, Wendell E. Warner and Cornelius Whetstone.

At the annual meeting held in October, 1931, T. Bertram Genay succeeded Mrs. Howson as president, an office which he held for two years. Wayne Little Theatre group continued to prosper under his able leadership. There were one act plays and three act plays, benefit performances, play writing contests and Footlighter Frolics.

These were the years of the depression. The Footlighers were urged to give again a play for relief work in the community, their first one having proved so financially successful. This did not materialize, however, and the February, 1932, play was given instead in conjunction with the Wayne Library, “Turn to the Right,” a delightful comedy with a large cast, when given in the Radnor High School Auditorium, netted a very worthwhile sum for the Library. The following February “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” with Isabel Jacob Ruth in the lead was given in aid of the Radnor High School Scholarship Fund, at which time about $400 was realized for that purpose.

Winners of the play writing contest in the Spring of 1932 were Stuart Amour for “Futility,” and T. Bayard Beatty, Jr., for “The Sand Maker,” a costume play of the 17th Century. As an introduction to the performances of these plays a “curtain raiser,” entitled “A Footlighter Writes a Play,” written by Ethel Dorr McKinley, was presented. The 1933 play writing contest brought forth at least four that were considered good enough for production. “Home-Coming,” by H. Morgan Ruth, was awarded first prize “as being of most unusual merit, and quite well able to hold its own with any one act play produced by the Footlighters.” When given, this play was directed by Mr. Ruth’s wife, Isabel Jacob Ruth. Second place in the contest was won by Ethel Dorr McKinley’s “A Bowl of Yellow Roadsters,” which the judges pronounced “hilariously funny.”

The 1931-32 season closed in June with “a depression party” held at the Tredyffrin Country Club when rules made by the committee called for the wearing of old clothes. Uniquely, there were no speeches, save for the necessary announcements of Mr. and Mrs. Y. Parran Dawkins, who shared the dual responsibility of master of ceremonies.

The Footlighters’ efforts to carry on despite the depression must have been a noteworthy one for it even brought forth the following editorial comment in the SUBURBAN of October 14, 1932, “Wayne is fortunate in having many things that make the town a good place in which to live, and among them might well be mentioned The Footlighters, an organization of local amateur Thespians. During past seasons this organization of talented actors and actresses has furnished high class amusement not only to its members but to the public generally. Despite the well known and much advertised Depression, the Footlighters are going to ‘carry on’ which will be good news to our residents, who like an evening of wholesome enjoyment.”

Footlighters, part 4

When we consider from what a small group the Wayne Footlighers started it seems almost impossible to believe that by the end of the short first season membership should number 315! The opening play of the second season was “It Won’t Be Long Now”, given on Tuesday, November 18, and Wednesday, November 19, 1930 at the Saturday Club. Directed by T. Bayard Beatty, it had a cast of sixteen, including DeWitt C. Clement, Alan M. Fishburn, William M. Crook, Howard T. Leland, Laurene Rolf, Harold Dwight, Ruth Wetzel Cady, T. Bertram Genay, Jane E. Gray, Mary Obdyke, Edith McCartney Edrop, Arthur Edrop, Carey P. Williams, Barry E. Thompson, Charles C. Smith and Bayard Beatty, Jr.,

The fame of this rapidly growing organization was spreading. There was much publicity in connection with this play, not only in The Suburban, but in many neighboring weeklies as well as in the Philadelphia newspapers, inlucing three well-known ones that have since vanished from the scene, namely the “Public Ledger”, and the “Philadelphia Record”. Pictures of the large cast appeared not only in The Suburban, but in a number of other suburban newspapers. There were also special feature articles in several publications.

The December play, “The Vanishing Princess” featured Mary Whetstone, the former Mary Bay, who had had eight years on the professional stage. Given on two nights, this Christmas play had additional attractions in the way of a “Musical divertissement” in which Mrs William McKeever was the violinist; Mrs. Rowland Paull McKinley, the cellist, and Mrs. E. Bisbee Warner, the pianist. On Tuesday evening Franklin Forsht gave the soliloquy from “Hamlet” and on Wednesday evening Margaret Duncan Clark presented a monologue in French-Canadian dialect. This play was directed by Jean Stineman. February one act plays were “Columbine”, produced by Margaret Duncan Clark and “Suppressed Desires” under the direction of Mary Knorr Genay.

But the real efforts of the Footlighters for February went into the production of a large benefit for the Neighborhood League when “The First Year” was given in the high school auditorium on two successive nights. In the letter that went out to almost everyone in the Community, the Wayne Chamber of Commerce, who sponsored the benefit, explained that “the unemplyment situation in the Wayne area is such that special efforts must be made this winter to care for those who are in need because of it. . . for the purpose of raising money to be dusbursed by the Neighborhood League to those who are suffering because of lack of employment, the Foodlighters will donate the proceeds of their February performance to the Fund for relief of the unemployed”.

The tremendous urgency of the situation is dramatically disclosed in some of the “Suburban” publicity. “Wayne has no bread line. But in this community doctors are reporting cases of illness in self respecting families due to actual lack of food . . . the family diet in some households for an entire week has included only potatoes and tea and a little canned milk . . . malnutrition is producing rickets among the less fortunate children . . “

Unusual and striking programs tell the story of those two performances in which the Wayne Musical Coterie combined with the Footlighters to produce the almost unbelievable sum of $1156.39! “The First Year”, described as “a comic tragedy of married life in three acts” was produced under the direction of T. Bayard Beatty and had in its cast William J. McMillan, Hazel Rolf, Gladys Tilghman, W. N. Stilwell, Jules F. Prevost, De Witt C. Clement, Mary S. Obdyke, Carey P. Williams and Clara Beatty. Before the play Mrs Thomas A. Walton and Mrs. H. H. LaMent played two piano duos while between the first and second acts Ethel Door McKinley played a group of violincello selections. So unlimited was the musical talent that there were different numbers between acts two and three on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. On the former occasion the Coterie Chorus, assisted by Mrs. Charles B. Finley and Mrs. F. Ashby Wallace sang a number of old-time songs while on Wednesday Mary Whetstone danced. A humorous program note states “Gentlemen will be seated. It’s a solo”.

These programs were twenty page affairs, in which one advertiser evidently vied for another in taking space! Arthur Erop produced them while Benjamin F. James presented the engravings. “The Argus Printing Company”, a program note states, “printed them with little of no profit to themselves”. The Committee in charge of this more than successful Benefit consisted of Joseph M. Fronefield, 3d, as chairman; Helen S. Harris for the Musical Coterie; Susan B. Dawkins, Percy W. Clark and Arthur Edrop for the Footlighters and Marian D. Van Pelt for the Neighborhood League. Representing the Chamber of Commerce were Elizabeth S. Kay, A. A. H. de Canizares, Albert M. Ehart and Paul N. Furman, ex-officio.

Footlighters, part 3 – historian of the club

Once the organization had been launched, Footlighter enthusiasm seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. The first play was given in February, 1930. By May ther were so many eager aspirants for stage parts that two casts were chosen for that month’s play. The SUBURBAN describes the organition growth as “Mushroom-like” in a long article concerning “Ice Bound,” a play that was “so subtle a comedy that in it pathos almost outstrips humor.” The stage setting as arranged by M. Howard Tilghman, Jr., was a fore-runner of some of the excellent ones that have followed in these twenty years past. “The ugly interior of the plain New England parlor was emphasized by the stiff little horse-hair settee, the red table cover, and the wall mottoes” according to the SUBURBAN article which continues “Only the little rush bottomed chairs suggested something of beauty, and even they were not made for comfort. In contrast to the ugliness of the room was the beauty of a bit of winter landscape outside the windows, the little pine tree powdered with snow shining in the cold winter sunshine of a Maine day.

“Friday night’s cast included T. Bertram Genay, Elisabeth B. McCord, Dorothea Waples, Susan B. Dawkins, Parran Dawkins, Jr., Edith Macartney Edrop, Arthur Edrop, Laurene Rolf, Howard T. Leland, Henry V. Andrews, Mary Knon Genay and Percy W. Clark. Saturday night’s cast had in it W. N. Stilwell, Cora E. Roever, Olive Badger Stacy, Louise Post, Merrill H. Tilghman, III, Margaret Duncan Clark, Arthur Edrop, Marion Keator, Harold Dwight, Dewitt C. Clement, Mary Knon Genay and Percy W. Clark. Both casts were directed by T. Bayard Beatty, assisted by Howard T. Leland.”

Up to this time play programs had been merely mimeographed sheets. Those for “Ice Bound” were printed ones designed by Arthur Edrop, using for the first time the “Footlighters’ lady,” created by him and used in various ways since then. Colorful posters made by several artistic members of the organization adorned the town and added to the “lively press-agenting” done by Betty Dawkins. Two large and appreciative audiences witnessed the plays that ended the formal program for the first season of the Footlighters.

But then plays were not all that cconstituted this first season. For “in recognition of the invaluable services of T. Bayard Beatty, the members of The Footlighters who have been active during the season just passed are giving a dinner dance in his honour on Saturday evening, June 14, at seven by the clock at the Tredyffrin Country Club in Paoli,” according to the announcements sent out to every member of the Footlighters who had done any work during the season. About 600 people attended this party, forerunner of those that have followed the conclusion of almost every Footlighter season since then. Guests were led into the dining room to “a merry tune played on the bagpipes and drums by two brave Highland laddies, Francis Smaltz and T. Bayard Beatty, Jr.” Place cards, which also served as programs, were written and designed by Arthur Edrop, assisted by Barry Thompson. Decorated with a little group of hand painted figures representing different characters in the plays of the first season, these programs are still the most pretentious things of that kind that have ever been done by the Footlighters.

Howard Leland as master of ceremonies took over the party at the conclusion of the dinner and announced the five plays that were to be given on an impromptu stage. All were burlesques of the Footlighter productions to date. “The Last of the Joneses” became “Mrs. Jones at Last,” while “The Tomb House Blues” was developed from “The Little Stone House.” “A Matter of Husbands” was changed into a farce entitled, “Hand Over the Wife” and the “Drums of Oude” became “Some Thrums for Freud.” Last but not least “Ice Bound” was changed into a burlesque entitled, “How She Met the Ice-Man.” Dancing concluded an evening that for originality and amusement has never been surpassed by any other Footlighter party.

In October, the second season started with two one-act plays “Trifles” and “The Third Angle.” Regular dues were fixed at two dollars. Members were urged to fill out “activity cards” indicating in what branch of work each wished to participate. At an annual meeting held the week after the opening plays the treasurer presented his report of the year, showing a membership of 315 and a goodly balance in the bank. All officers were re-elected for their second term, Mrs. Howson for president, Mr. Stilwell for secretary and Mr. Clark for treasurer. Reports of all standing committees were given, showing great activity on the part of each. A new office was created, that of historian, in connnection with which “The president announced that the Executive Committee, in order to preserve for posterity, a record of the acts and acting, brilliancies and banalities, casts and castings, deeds and derelictions, errors and excellences, fame of Footlighters (and so on to the end of the alphabet) of the organization had appointed as Historian, and called upon Mrs. T. Magill Patterson to tell what she had done.

Mrs. Patterson, emulating the most noteworthy statesman at election times, proceeded with an interesting account of what she would do. Indeed the prospect was so inviting that upon motion duly made and seconded, by-laws were amended to read, “The Records and History Committee shall have charge of keeping and preserving full and complete records of the activities of the Footlighters”. (And well does that first historian remember to this day and with this writing the difficulties of collecting programs, newspaper clippings, activities cards and other early records of that first season when the second season was already upon her!)

Footlighters, part 2 – Women included in membership

As we recounted last week, the presentation of “Erstwhile Susan” by the Dramatic section of the Saturday Club on February 8, 1929, had much to do with the formation of the Footlighters. For one thing, the cast of that play included a number of men, and since the Club boasted none in its membership, these parts had to be taken by women. And so there was much discussion on the formation of some sort of a dramatic organization which should include both men and women in its membership.

Whether this discussion went on for almost an entire year is not recorded. But it was that long before any steps were taken to form such an organization. On January 6, 1930, Mrs. Richard Howson, then drama chairman of the Club, presided at an evening meeting at which Mrs. Willis T. Spivey was appointed temporary secretary The main discussion seemed to hinge on whether the contemplated dramatic group should be, or should not be, a “Club Study Class.” There were great monetary advantages to the former since a “Study Class” would not have to pay rentals for rehearsals and performances, though it should be self-supporting.

As this writer well remembers, there was considerable reluctance on the part of some of the men to affiliate themselves so closely with an organization as distinctly a women’s group as was the Saturday Club. However, W. N. Stilwell finally meade a motion “that the Little Theater Group be started under the auspices of the Saturday Club as a club class with nominal fees to come within the by-laws.” Percy W. Clark’s motion that “finances be started by initiation fee of one dollar” was carried, whereupon all those present joined the new organization.

T. Bayard Beatty refused the presidency on the grounds that this office would handicap him in his capacity as play director. Mrs. Howson was then unanimously elected to the office with Mr. Stilwell as secretary and Mr. Clark as treasurer. A committee on organization plans included Mrs. Y. P. Dawkins, Walter A. Halkett and Mrs. Willis T. Spivey, in addition to Mr. Stilwell and Mr. Clark. Dr. J. Arthur Standen was named as chairman of the publicity committee.

And from that time on Footlighter affairs moved rapidly with a meeting on January 14 at which by-laws were adopted after “animated discussion concerning certain provisions” and an open meeting on February 18, which began with a business session and ended with the first play given by the Footlighters, “The Last of the Joneses.” Directed by Walter Halkett, the play had in its cast Dewitt C. Clement, a librarian; Mrs. C. H. Rolf, his assistant; Miss Cornelia Wright, a young lady in trouble and Mrs. F. W. Conner as Mrs. Abbott “from the West.”

The SUBURBAN of February 21 gave the following write-up, “Dewitt C. Clement gave a most realistic portrayal of a young geneologist, shyly and absent-mindedly going through his first, and it is supposed, his last love affair, with the charming little lady in distress, Miss Neal Wright. The latter won the sympathy of the audience, as well as their admiration for the clever way she handled her part. Mrs. C. H. Rolf, in some mysterious fashion, added 20 years to her age and at least 40 to her looks, and gave an excellent character study of an old-maid secretary. Frs. F. W. Conner, a newcomer to St. davids, pleased everyone by her presentation of a Western relation trying to get a fortune, and be conscientous about it at the same time – a hard thing to do.

“We should like to make special mention here of the scenery which received a large hand all on its own merit. As a result, Howard Tilghman, who was responsible for it, has been elected chairman of properties for life, as far as the Footlighters are concerned. – – – The evening ended in an informal reception, and all enjoyed the coffee and cakes, served by Mrs. Post and her committee. Everyone is now looking forward to the next meeting in March”.

At this March meeting two one-act plays were presented, “The Little Stone House” and “A Matter of Husbands”. The old record book even has pictures of these two casts! They included Miss Ruth Wetzel, Miss Cora Roever, Jules Prevost, Harold Dwight, W. N. Stilwell, Arthur Edrop and Francis Smaltz for the first play, with its Russian setting for which T. Bayard Beatty, Jr., had made “a most exquisite ikon, copied from a Russian original”.

Mr. and Mrs. Makarov with their knowledge of Russia had also helped to make the details of the peasant home true and accurate. (Mrs. Makarov was director of the Neighborhood League at that time). This rather tragic story of a little old peasant woman, a part most sympathetically taken by Ruth Wetzel, was directed by Mr. Beatty. It was followed by “A Matter of Husbands”, a play consisting of a dialogue between Mary Soleliac as a famous actress and Madeline Hale as an earnest young woman.

April brought “The Drums of Oude”, this time on two different nights. A suggestion given in advance through the columns of the SUBURBAN was that “to avoid overcrowding on either night . . . those whose names begin with A through L come the first night . . . and those from M to Z, the second night!” At the moment the writer does not remember whether this solved the problem or not.

In the cast were Charles C. Smith, Eugene Williams, Arthur Edrop, T. Bayard Beatty, Jr., Barry E. Thompson, William Welsh, Jr., and Mrs. W. Roberts Cameron. As the action of the play took place in 1857 in the store room of an ancient palace in Northern India, both staging and costuming must have presented its difficulties! A program note states that “we are indebted to Captain Edgar C. Kirsopp, M. C., late of the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch), and alter Staff Officer, for advice as to correct military usage; and to Mr. Frank MacIlhair, secretary of the Caledonian Pipe Band of Philadelphia, for the use of several of the uniforms.