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HISTORY: The Little Theatre's First 7 Years

Walla Walla Little Theatre History: The First Seven Seasons | 1944-1951, by Bernie Frazier


The first play of the Walla Walla Little Theatre was Yes, My Darling Daughter, by Mark Reed and was directed by Dr. Paul Jackson. The cast included: Helen Davidson, Robert Myers, Grace Heath, Catherine Rea, Ferne Lacey, John Newsum, and Charles Armstrong. The first performances were given in July, 1944, at the Air Base and at McCaw General Hospital, for the personnel. Beginning October 13th and 14th of the same year, and for the following two weekends, the play was given in penthouse style at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, for the general public.


On September 12, 1944, Paul Jackson issued a circular letter of address to, "Those interested in membership in the Little Theatre," of which the following is an excerpt.


'A group of about forty met on Sunday evening, September 10th, to discuss and decide upon the issues, which now face the Little Theatre project in Walla Walla. It was decided after much discussion that our purpose was to be a single one: to produce good plays well. Therefore, our members should be admitted on one basis only, that of willingness to work for that end and to pay the necessary expenses to carry on. No one should be talked into joining. Nor do we want anyone who can afford to put money into it, but who wishes to assume no further responsibility, who wants to shine in the reflected glory of others' hard work.

This is to be an organization for those to whom the theatre is fun.  We do not want the fun spoiled by people who would try to inject other purposes into the organization. We are not a Civic, Social or Service Club of any kind. Therefore, we had better, at least at first, avoid financial obligation to others.  We must back the project ourselves; then we can stick to our purposed and really run a Theatre - our own theatre. Few Little Theatre groups that have not made this plunge at the start have ever survived."


The rest of the letter goes into the matter of finances. It was decided that each member would contribute $15.00 to cover the estimate of $600 to commence work, and to announce the first members' meeting September 17th. The following is a list of members in 1944-45: Paul J. Jackson, Thomas L. Howells, Judy Harris, Ferne Lacey, Florence Nesbit, Catherine Rea, Marjorie Lou Wellman, Joy Thoaney, C.J. Mero, Winifred Dunphy, Lonnie Demaray, Mildred Stewart, Beatrice L. Nordstrom, Evan Newsum and John H. Newsum. This list is evidently incomplete, for in one press clipping it is said that there were about sixty original members.


On December 1, 1944, the Little Theatre opened its regular home at 23 ½ East Main Street. According to Adele McEwen in the Union Bulletin, the room had not been used for at least fifteen years. "Accumulation of dust and grime over this long period was the first problem solved, with the entire membership turning-to, through long hours of plain drudgery." A stage was built that proved adequate, and benches for seats were loaned by the City Park Board. The first play to be presented was The Old War Horse, by Carter Russell, directed by Paul Jackson. The cast included Dan Murphy, Ada Howells, Carol Harper, Elizabeth Neff, Meta Pfeiffer, Lonnie Demarey, Stirling Kincaid, Jack Mero, Barbara Hall, Norma Dean Schmitt, Leo Humphrey and Paul Jackson.


On the program, credit was given as follows:

Major credit for the planning and construction of the Little Theatre belongs to Irwin Stewart. He drew up the general construction plans of the theatre and contributed more working hours than anyone else to their realization. The lighting equipment in the theatre, including the wiring and control board, are his individual work. Ed Demaray contributed much time and essential skill to the construction and wiring. Of the others who assisted in the construction, Paul Jackson, John Newsum and Charles Armstrong, Thomas Howells, Robert Myers, John Ackley and Leo Humphrey were notable. Florence Nesbit designed the decorative scheme, selected the curtain and supervised the work of decoration.  Her principal assistants were Gertrude Jackson, Grace Heath, Eva Newsum and June Armstrong. Dorothy Egg, Betty Allen and Ralph Roseman have been chiefly responsible for the construction of the flats for use in The Old War Horse. The city, through Commissioner C.W. Martin, has allowed the Little Theatre to use its park benches for seats during the winter.


Thunder Rock, by Robert Ardrey, and directed by Paul Jackson, was presented January 26, 1945, with the following cast: Paul Jackson, Dan Murphy, Leo Humphrey, Irwin Stewart, John Newsum, Thomas Howells, John Ackley, Esther Rashkov, Catherine Williams, Grace Heath and Charles Armstrong.


Hope for a Harvest, by Sophie Treadwell, and directed by Thomas Howells, was presented on March 16, 1945, with the following cast: Ferne Lacey, Barbara Hall, Leo Humphrey, Catherine Williams (who was unable to play the part at the last minute, was replaced by Laura Crump), Roy Pierce, Jerry Davenport, Robert Mackie, Jr, Lucy Ransom, Jack Mero and Faye Moore.


Night Must Fall, by Emlyn Williams, and directed by Paul Jackson, was presented on April 27, 1945, with the following cast: Sterling Kincaid, Lonnie Demaray, Billie Allen, Marschall Alexander, Joy Thommay, Irene Chetwood, Florence Nesbit, Charles Armstrong and Jack Mero. This play was presented at McCaw Hospital and also ran an extra weekend.


Where the Dear Antelope Play, by John William Rogers, and directed by Paul Jackson, was the final play of the 1944-45 season. The cast was as follows: Billie Allen, Harold Mero, Barbara Hall, Loyce Ballack, Craig Esary, Catherine Rea, John Newsum, Meta Pfeiffer, Ferne Lacey, Florence Nesbit and John Ackley.


During the season, names of those mentioned as assisting in production were the following: John Ackley, Betty Allen, Billie Allen, Marshall Alexander, Charles and June Armstrong, Loyce Ballack, Helen Bragg, Gertrude Bryan, Adeline Bussard, Betty Campbell, Irene Chetwood, Laura Crump, Ed and Lonnie Demaray, Winifred Dunphy, Dorothy Egg, Barbara Hall, Carol Harper, Julia Harris, Grace Heath, Ada and Tom Howells, Gertrude and Paul Jackson, Tatsy Koener, Ferne Lacey, Mae Matilla, Jack Mero, Elnora Maxey, Claire Mitchell, Faye Moore, Dan Murphy, Robert Myers, Florence Nesbit, Meta Pfeiffer, Eva and John Newsum, Beatrice Nordstrom, Sallie Page, Ruth Paxton, Norma Pratt, Alberta Quinn, Lucy Ransom, Esther Rashkov, Catherine Rea, Norma Schmitt, Wendy Smith, Irwin and Mildred Stewart, Joy Thonney, Lucile Walton, Marjorie Wellman, Kay Williams, Nancy Wolford and Alberta Woodard.


The season of 1945-46 opened with some improvement in the theatre. Seating arrangements had been improved with risers, and better lighting was installed. The first play of the season was Private Lives, by Noel Coward, with Paul Jackson directing. The cast included Betty Lou Kennedy, Marshall Alexander, Charles Armstrong, Catherine Williams and Adeline Bussard. This play was presented October 12th.


About this time, there appeared The Little Theatre Informer  newsletter. The committee producing this mimeographed, two-sheet publication was composed of Ferne Lacey, Loyce Ballack, Eva Newsum and Jerry Fogarty. In the first issue, Volume 1, Number 1, of October 26, 1945, we have officers elected at the annual meeting. Charles Armstrong, President, Producing Director Paul Jackson, Secretary Winnifred Dunphy, Treasurer Thomas Howells, Business Manager John Newsum. The size of the Board was increased; Ferne Lacey was elected to be Director of Activities, and Irwin Stewart was named Technical Director. In addition, the Informer carried an account of Private Lives, announcements of future plays, changes in the theatre and various other announcements. A column of “back-stage chatter” and a list of active members also appeared in the publication.


Wings Over Europe, by Robert Nichols and Maurice Browne, was presented on November 30, 1945, and was the second play of the season. The Director was Lt. Arnold Offner, and the cast was as follows: Earl Kennedy, Lawrence Bussard, Sherman Mitchell, Harold Mero, Leo Humphrey, Mortimer Allen, Jerry Fogarty, Roy D. Pierce, Paul Jackson, John Ackley, Thomas Howells and Irwin Stewart.


Shadow and Substance, by Paul Vincent Carrol and directed by Thomas Howells, was presented on February 1, 1946, with the following cast: Irwin Stewart, Adele Jones, Frances Felthouse, Harold Mero, Jerry Fogarty, Paul Jackson, Meta Pfeiffer, Craig Esary, John Newsum, and Lonnie Demaray.


Village Green, by Carl Allensworth and directed by Harold Mero, was presented March 29, 1946, with the following cast: Harold Mero, Irwin Stewart, Ferne Lacey, Joy Thonney, Shirley Hayes, John Ackley, Mortimer Allen, David Howells, Ray Keesey, Roy Pierce, Eva Newsum, Leo Humphrey, Jeanette Jackson, Carol Harper, Nanette Newsum, Buddy Demaray, Penny Jones, Hartley Newsum, Nagle Jackson, Danny Murphy and Frances Stevenson.


Sarah Simple, by A.A. Milne, was the final play of the season, directed by Paul Jackson. It was presented May 10, 1946, and the cast included: Marshall Alexander, Billie Allen, Adele Jones, Craig Esary, Barbara Hall and Roy D. Pierce. There was an extra performance of this play.


Those credited with production during the second season were: June Armstrong, Betty Allen, Marschall Alexander, Billie Allen, Joyce Ballack, Lucille Behman, Helen Bragg, Adeline and Lawrence Bussard, Bob Clark, Dorothy Cune, Joyce Cutter, Marguerite Dore, Lonnie Demaray, Winifred Dunphy, Anne Eubanks, France Felthouse, Jerry Fogarty, Phyllis Gilman, Barbara Hall, Ruth Hanson, Grace Heath, Julia Harris, Elmer Hill, Pat Holland, Shirley Holland, Tom and Ada Howells, Leo Humphrey, Gertrude and Paul Jackson, Adele Jones, Betty Lou and Earl Kennedy, Ferne Lacey, Elnora Maxey, Claire Mitchell, Jack Mero, Faye Moore, Jean Morgan, Florence Nesbit, John and Eva Newsum, Alice Niemi, Beatrice Nordstrom, Ruth Paxton, Meta Pfeiffer, Norma and Nancy Pratt, Elliva Pringle, Alberta Quinn, Esther Rashkov, Mildred Rogers, Mary Jane Shearer, Joan Shelton, Irwin and Mildred Stewart, Laura Crump and Max Hermann, Dorothy Swenson, Joy Thonney, Lucille Walton, Kay Williams, Marjorie Wellman, Nancy Wolfard, and Charles Armstrong.


An account of the activities of the Little Theatre, up to the beginning of the 1946-47 season, is covered in an article appearing in the Progress Edition of the Union Bulletin of 1947, which appears in the Scrap Book. One copy of the Informer appeared on September 20, 1946.


The first play of the 1946-47 season was presented on October 25, 1946, and was The Silver Cord, written by Sidney Howard and directed by Leo Humphrey. The cast included Ferne Lacey, Kay Williams, Lonnie Demaray, David Howells, Craig Esary and Mildred Fogarty.


Petticoat Fever, by Mark Reed, directed by Ferne Lacey, was presented November 29th. The cast included Edward Nather, Maurice Harper Jr., James Crosby, Jane Campbell, Martha O'Dell, Mildred Rogers, Herbert Condon, Otto Wedemeyer, Leroy Soper and Louise McCaw.


Hotel Universe, a play written by Phillip Barry and directed by Paul Jackson, opened February 1, 1947. The cast included John Newsum, Louise McCaw, Tom Owens, Billie Allen, Ed Moseley, Gloria Bacon, Kenneth Schilling, Virginia Crego and Lawrence Bussard.


On March 21st, L.O. Newcomer directed Ladies in Retirement, written by Edward Percy and Reginald Lenham. The cast consisted of Martha O'Dell, Ferne Lacey, Phillis Kidwell, Bill Anderson, Gertrude Jackson, Betty Hutton and Faye Moore.


The final play of the 1946-47 season was The Guardsman, written by Franz Molnar and directed by Thomas Howells, presented on May 2nd. The cast included Paul Jackson, Billie Allen, William Pugh, Meta Pfeiffer, Leroy Soper, Jane Campbell and Adeline Bussard.


The following members were given credit for production during the season, not including those who worked on The Silver Cord (this program, with names, is not on hand). Mortimer and Billie Allen, Otto Anderson, Adele Anderson, Mrs. H.A. Andrews, June Armstrong, Gloria Bacon, Lloyce Ballack, Ruth Ballard, Thelma Bennington, Helen Bragg, Nelda Brown, Lawrence and Adeline Bussard, Herbert and Jean Condon, Virginia Crego, James Crosby, Lonnie Demaray, Jean Douglas, Winifred Dunphy, Betty Evans, Mildred Fogarty, Mildred Gardner, Kenneth Givson, Phyllis Gilman, Mrs. Haageland, Frances Hawks, Grace Heath, Mrs. Elmer Hill, Ada Howells, Pat Holland, Leo and Louise Humphrey, Betty Hutton, Paul and Gertrude Jackson, Ruth Johnson, Virginia Kenyon, Sophie Knapp, Ferne Lacey, Adruabbe Magallon, Louise McCaw, Ed Mosley, Alice Neimi, Florence Nesbit, John and Eva Newsum, Beatrice Nordstrom, Martha O'Dell, Ruth Paxton, Meta Pfeiffer, Norma Pratt, Alberta Quinn, Patsy Schilling, Leroy Soper, Jean Stanley, Mildred Stewart, LeRoy Turner, Lucille Walton, Faye Moore and Marjorie Wellman.


The Little Theatre was obliged to give up their home at 23 ½ East Main Street at the close of the 1946-47 season, and for a year no plays were given. However, the membership was divided into small groups, each of which maintained its own activities. At times, the total membership met, and other activities were maintained. On February 23, 1948, there was an announcement in the Union Bulletin that the Little Theatre had purchased the World War Veterans Memorial Building on Garden City Heights.


The first meeting in the new building was held April 5, 1948. This was the first regular business meeting. Also at this meeting a Greek play, Iphigenia in Aulis, by Euripides, was given by one of the play production groups under the direction of Mrs. Frederick Hunter. Those in the cast were Mr. And Mrs. Otto Anderson, Mrs. Kenneth Schilling, Frederick Hunter, Don Harris, and a chorus consisting of Mrs. John Newsum, Mrs. Earl Gilman, Mrs. C.E. Backup, Mrs. L.E. Baughan, Miss Ruth Butherus, and Miss Mickey McEligot. In May, an old-fashioned basket social was held in the new home downstairs. Work of remodeling the building started on June 19, and continued until the opening night, October 15, 1948. At that time, High Tor, written by Maxwell Anderson, was presented. The director was Tom Howells, and the cast included Otto Anderson, Rodney Alexander, Marilyn Alexander, David Howells, John Faucette, Lloyd Newcomer, Adele Anderson, Don Harris, Bob Freeman, Bob Drumheller, Don Dundas, Tom Howells, Bill Lake, Jack VanHouse, Craig Esary, Paul Jackson, Leo Humphrey and Harold Haynes. Meanwhile, the name “Mural Room” had been accepted as an appropriate one for the main room downstairs. A short history of the Walla Walla Little Theatre appears on the program of High Tor.


Holy Night, written by Uregorio Martinez and directed by Paul Jackson was the next play presented. It opened on December 9, 1948. A large cast included Phyllis O'Dell, Byron Lowrey, Don Dundas, John Faucette, Bill Mathews, Doris hawk, Phyllis Gilman, Judith Haynes, Peg Nagle Jackson, Colonel Lindley, Calverna Vaughan, Don Goodwin, Dean Rubin, Patricia Schilling, Steven Schilling, Roger Schimsher and Hatley Newsum. Under the sponsorship of the Garden Club of Milton-Freewater, Holy Night was presented for one performance at Milton on December 15th. The next play was Parlor Story, written by William McCleery and directed by Ferne Lacey, assisted by Leo Humphrey. It opened on February 4, 1949. The cast included Jeanne Shallow, Lee Chamberlain, Robert C. Myers, Sue Jane Teague, Carl Heberstriet, David Howells, John Faucette, Frances Hawks, Colonel Lindley and Bill Lake.


On April 11, 1949, there appeared in the Union Bulletin “By the Way” column, an account of the arrival of the Giermann family, which was an important event for the Little Theatre.


Laura, written by Vera Caspary and George Sklar, and directed by Catherine Lowery, was presented March 18, 1948, with the following cast: Tom Owens, Bill Mathews, Richard Eubanks, William Anderson, Peggy Harmeling, Elda Hill Johnson, Bernice Humphries and William O'Hara. For this production, a portrait in oils of Bernice Humphries as Laura was made by Norma Pratt.


The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, was the final play of the 1948-49 season. It was produced April 28th, directed by Paul Jackson, assisted by Meta Pfeiffer. The cast included Marshall Alexander, Rodney Alexander, Pat O'Halleren, Lawrence Bssard, Paul Jackson, Phyllis O'Dell, Catherine Williams, Marilyn Alexander and Faye Moore.


Those who were given credit for production for the season, whose names appear on the programs are: Mort and Billie Allen, Marjorie Abbott, Otto and Adele Anderson, Marilyn Alexander, Betty Anderson, Gladys Anderson, Ruth Ballard, Nell Bardwell, Bethine Bowen, Lloyce Ballack, Adeline Bussard, Mary Bowen, Gladys Buroker, Virginia Cadman, Lee Chamberlain, Valerie Comegys, Mary Davis, Lonnie Demaray, Winifred Dunphy, Margaret Edwards, Ann Eubanks, Velma Tehlberg, Lewis and Clair Felch, Margaret Florance, Mary Anne Freeman, Mildred Gardner, Phyllis Gilman, Peggy Harmeling, Marjorie Harris, Harold and Eleanor Haynes, Frances and Doris Hawk, Dorothy Hornong, Ada Howells, Leo and May Kidd, Roger King, Ferne Lacey, Bill Lake, Evelyn Lammers, Margaret Lewis, Virginia Lindley, Byron and Katherine Lowrey, Bill Marsh, Claire Mitchell, Faye Moore, Florence Nesbit, Olive Newcomer, Alice Neimi, John and Eva Newsum, Bea Nordstrom, Phyllis O'Dell, Mrs. A.E. Page, Laura Peterson, Meta Pfeiffer, Norma and Hilda Pratt, Alberta Quinn, George and Grace Sauers, Kenneth and Patsy Schilling, Carol Schults, Jean Shallow, Helen Struthers, Murry Taggert, Susi Teague, Evelyn Tammers, Joyce Thompson, Bernice Humphreys, Calverna Vaughan, Lois Volkening, Lucile Walton, Martha Wedemeyer, Priscilla Willis, Marjorie Wellman, Jean Williams.


The foregoing account of the Little Theatre activities was compiled from the pages of the Scrap Book only, and takes the reader only through the end of the 1948-49 season. Additional facts should be obtained from seasoned, retired, and former members, in order to have a complete history. In the 1949-50 season, the Little Theatre produced The Women, The Shining Hour, Let Us Be Gay, Double Door, and Hay Fever. In the 1950-51 season, the productions presented included Born Yesterday, The Biggest Thief in Town, The Glass Menagerie, The Inspector Calls, and The Last Warning.


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