With Moliere's "The School for Wives" opening a two-week run Friday night, Catholic University's speech and drama department celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The first Catholic department of its kind in the country and given pontifical status with Father Gilbert V. Hartke as its first head, its lasting achievement has been its enormous influence. Now hundreds of American colleges, sectarian as well as non-sectarian, have drama departments, and in a majority of them you will find teachers and administrators who trained on Michigan Avenue.

Last spring's Pulitzer Prize-winner, Micheal Cristofer of "The Shadow Box," was a graduate , as were director Robert Moore of TV's "Rhoda," playwrights Jason Miller, another Pulitzer-winner for "That Championship Season," and Mart Crowley, who wrote "The Boys in the Band."

Johnny Carson's Ed McMahon, Jon Voight, Chris Saradon, Susan Sarandon and David Richards competed for roles, though not necessarily in the same years. A first production of one-act plays included critic Walter Kerr, director Alan Scheneider and Josephine McGarry Callan, whose vocal coaching set standards rarely reached. Father Hartke's single candle threw its light far and brightly.

As with all institutions, standards have gone up and down. Perhaps a highlight has been one of CU's off-shoots, the Olney Summer Theater, where director Jmes D. Waring has held to an exceptionally high standard for summer plays.

Now William H. Graham, 25 years on the staff, heads th department and promises a season which will include "The Corn Is Green," "Stephen D," "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream COat" ans "The Merchant of venice."

Subscription arrangements may be made at 635-5367.

The Edwin Booth Theater at Bel Air, MD., is a comparative newcomer to the college theater field, a project of Harord Community College, named in honor of the actor reared in Bel Air. Wednesday it presents the most ambitious production of what once was known as the Susquehanna Festival Theater, a full-scale "Oliver!" Director Michele Nelson has a cast of 80 plus an orchestra of 27 under music director Paul E. Labe. Commercial theaters would find such numbers economically out of sight.

Later in the season will come "My Three Angeles," "The Little Foxes," "Blithe Spirit" and "Mame," Performances through Oct. 30, with additional performances Nov. 5 and 6. Phone reservations at 879-8920.

Vincent Price, of Ford's "Diversions and Delights," will be the noon speaker on the Kennedy Center free symposium in the AFI Theater Nov. 19. He'll be asked about his horror films, but his major topic will be his role of Oscar Wilde in John Gay's new solo drama.

Once titled "Ziggy," the new black revue co-starring Judith Jamison and Cab Calloway at the National in January is now titled "The Only World in Town," one of four offerings in the National Theater's new subscription plan. Billy Wilson, who choreographed "Bubbling Brown Sugar," William F. Brown, who adapted "The Wiz," and Ronny Graham. Sammy Cahn. Arthur Schwartz, Hal Hackady and Eve Merriam will be among the contributors of songs and sketches.

"The Snow Queen," drawn from the Andersen fairy tale as a "folk-musical," will begin a series of parformances at Washington Theater Laboratory, 1327 F St. NW Thursdays through Saturdaus, performances at 3:30 p.m. The series will continue through December; details at 347-9415.

Author Landford WIlson will be on hand or his "Hot 1 Baltimore" when its opens the Back Alley season Oct. 21 at 14th and Kennedy Streets NW under the direction of Fredric Lee . . . Lanny Thomas, Romeo of last summer's Washington Monument "Romeo and Juliet," will be "Merton of the Movies" when the Kaufman-Connelly classic opens ADTA's new playhouse on the hill, 507 8th St. SE on Oct. 26 . . . The British Embassy Players again will be working for charities when it presents "Dial 'M' for Murder" in the Embassy Rotunda to run Oct. 25 thorugh 29; reservations at 244-0283 . . . . The New Playwrights' Theater last night began previews of "Pinnacle: A Play About Needle-point and Other Crafts" by Mark Stein. NPT also has some benefit seats left fleft for "A Chorus Line" on Oct. 31. Details at 232-1122. . . . Blue Sky Puppet Theater will present "The Eleventh Finger" at 1 and 3 p.m. perfomances Saturday at St. Collumba's Church, 42d and Albermarle Streets NW; details 927-5599.