Footlighters, part 7 – United Charities Campaign, St. David’s Golf Club

On Sunday, January 4, 1942, just four weeks after Pearl Harbor, a special meeting of the Board of the Footlighters was called “to consider the propriety and desirability of continuing to give performances in war times.” After discussion, it was unanimously voted “to carry on as far as possible, not only to help maintain home morale, but as a definite financial aid to the drives which formed such an important part of the defense effort. From now on, as long as the war lasts, the Footlighters will seek no profit for themselves, but will endeavor to tie in every performance with a money raising effort for the benefit of some worthy cause.”

General plans included a play for the United Charities Campaign in January in order to make a gift to the Neighborhood League which had become affiliated with United Charities by that time; a benefit for the Footlighter’s Red Cross War Fund gift, in February, and a play at the U. S. O. in March. Later on plans were somewhat altered and enlarged. “Skylark,” with Amy Leavitt in the lead, was the first of these benefit performances. In spite of the fact that the Footlighters lost money on this play, a small contribution was nevertheless made to the United Charities. Original dates for the play had to be changed so that members of the cast could attend the Air Raid wardens school.

The February play, “Ladies in Retirement,” was directed by John Hoag, who did not know until the last moment whether he would be called away on a Government job. The programs of this play carried a simple “in Memoriam – Daniel Turner recently killed in action in service of his country.” Dan, who was still a very young man at the time of his death, had been very active in the Footlighters before going into the service.

The March play, “Mr. Pim Passes By,” was given not only at the Saturday Club, but at Fort Dix, where it was done “in the Shakespearean manner, with only the simplest staging.” There was no April play because of “difficulties beyond control, among them scarcity of men due to the war.” In the Spring of 1942, H. Morgan Ruth was elected president, an office which he held for two years.

Records of this period are scanty for the first time in Footlighter history. One small newspaper clipping does explain, however, that “due to wartime gasoline restriction” the January, 1943, production had to be indefinitely postponed. The 1943-44 season opened in November, instead of the customary October. At that item the Evening Bulletin’s “Little Theater” column says, “The Wayne Footlighters suddenly sprang into activity with robust performances of that Pennsylvania Dutch hit “Papa is All.” January, 1944, saw the production of “Ring Around Elizabeth,” March had “Craig’s Wife” and May, “Mrs. Moonlight.”

At the annual meeting and election of officers held at a dinner at the Wayne Hotel in June, 1944, Edward Bracken was made president; T. Bertram Genay, vice president; Sally Hill, secretary, and William L. Caley, treasurer. In September of that year a letter from the chairman of the membership committee asked each member of the past season to try to bring in at least one newcomer. The Footlighters in 1943-44 had operated with only 175 in its ranks, a far cry from a membership of 315 its first season, and a further cry from the membership of more than 500 of the season just passed, that of 1948-49.

At this time plans were made also to present each of the five plays of a season on three evenings a week instead of two. The season proved a good one as among its plays were “Claudia,” “George Washington Slept Here,” “The Ninth Guest,” and “You Can’t Take It With You.” A grim reminder of the fact that the war was still on, however, was the fact that on each night of the March plays an announcement was made of Red Cross blood donor days at the Saturday Club Emergency Hospital, and a plea presented for donors.

Edward Bracken was re-elected to the presidency at the annual meeting held June 1, 1945, when the Little Theater had a dinner at St. Davids Golf Club at which roast beef and real butter were served, rare delicacies in the lean years that were not yet over! But in the fall of 1945 F. Ashby Wallace, as membership chairman, could write “Victory and Peace after years of worry and darkness have instilled in us new energy and encouragement to advance from last year’s success to even brighter hopes for the new season.” Five excellent plays were given with an original one, “Every Lass a Queen,” by H. Morgan Ruth closing the season in May. Harry Harris in the “Little Theater” column wrote, “Revitalized by the return of service men and overflowing with vim and vigor, local little theaters are promising a bumper crop of original scripts during the coming months. On May 9 the Footlighters will offer the premiere of “Every Lass a Queen,” a new comedy by H. Morgan Ruth. Advance reports indicate the play concerns a youth overly susceptible to feminine charms who finds himself betrothed simultaneously to the boss’ daughter and to the little girl back home.”

The Annual Dinner and Footlighter Frolic was held that year, June, 1946, at the Merion Cricket Club, at which time Pedro G. Salom, Jr., was elected to the presidency, an office which he held until June, 1949. “Footlighter Chatter,” the pleasant gossip column concerning the actors in each play was inaugurated with “The Late George Apley” given in October, 1946. December was marked by the presentation of “Christmas Carol,” one of the most delightful and charming plays ever given by the Footlighters. The January, 1947, play, “The Male Animal,” ave an extra performance for the benefit of Wayne’s Camp and Hospital Committee, at which more than forty convalescent patients from Valley Forge General Hospital were present. It was received with such enthusiasm that the play was taken to the Hospital itself a short time afterwards.

It was in the Spring of 1947 that a separation took place between the annual business meeting and the annual party. At the forum, now held each year in the Saturday Club, reports of officers and chairmen are given and elections are held, thus leaving the party itself free for an evening of entertainment.

Present Footlighter officers elected last Spring include Richard E. Weinberg, president; Robert H. Kleeb, vice-president; Mrs. Alfred N. Watson, secretary; Edward F. Bracken, treasurer and F. Ashby Wallace, assistant treasurer. Membership last season exceeded 500, with promise of more than that number for this season.

The recent purchase of a large piece of ground on the Gallagher tract at the intersection of Conestoga road and Lancaster Pike provides a site for the long anticipated theater of its own which the Footlighters hope to make a reality in the not distant future.