Actresses chat about starting theater companies, but, Eva Le Gallienna and Margaret Webster expected, few do anything concrete about it.
Another exception is Martha Scott, who has been watching every performance of the Eisenhower's "First Monday in October." If she strikes you as looking like the head of the ballt company in "The Turning Point" at the Dupont, you're right, she's one and the same.
To those who saw the original production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," Martha Scott always will be sweet, tender Emily Webb, who married George Gibbs, the boy next door in Grover's Corners, N.H. It was an impressive bow 40 years ago yesterday and she went on to win an Oscar nomination when she recreated the part on film.
She has been working as an actress ever since, most recently starring as Mrs. Antrobus in the Kennedy Center revival of "The Skin of Our Teeth" and before that in such hits as "The Subject Was Roses" and "Never Too Late."
She makes no bones about the years:
"Except for five minutes," she puts it, "I've been married ever since 1940. The five minutes were between my 1946 divorce from Charleton Alsop and marriage immediately afterwards to Mel Powell, the musician, to whom I'm still married. My son by Charleton is in his mid-30s and Mel's and my two daughters are in their teens and I'm an active mother." Her face crinkles as she laughs at this forthright way of setting straight the marital record.
Scott's current role is co-producer with Joel Spector and Bernard Wiesen of the Plumstead Theater Society, Inc.
Plumstead - sometimes spelled Plumsted - is one of the oldest names in American theater. The nation's theater began in the South with the Williamsburg, Va., theater, which opened in 1716, and the Dock Theater 20 years later in Charlestown, S.C. First in the North was Philadelphia's Thomas Kean-Walter Murray season of 1749, which opened in the warehouse of a prominent Philadelphian, William Plumsted, on an alley above Pine Street. Philadelphians didn't find theater scandalous; the next year Plumsted was elected the city's mayor.
Though Plumsted's Playhouse disappeared, its name occured to some 30-odd New York players in 1969 when they determined to start a company to present "classics of the American theater."
This group included Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, Mildred Dunnock, Estelle Parsons and Scott, who found herself on the board of directors and increasingly involved. It obtained a lease on a Jamaica, L.I., playhouse and produced "Our Town," "The Front Page," "The Time of Your Life" and one or two others, which went to New York and short tours.
"But," Scott remarks, "we couldn't keep the theater, which a company needs. It got so that headquarters was in my pocketbook, and gradually Plumstead of 69' and the early '70s dissolved. Bob Ryan died, I moved from Connecticut to the West Coast and people had other things to do.
"The main problem, though, was a place to exist. Now we have one in Pasadena, a lovely new theater of Ambassador College International Foundation. So far this has been used for music and dance, but the founder-evangelist, Herbert W. Armstrong, who created the World Wide Church of God, wants and acting company at his theater and has given us the nod to start with two productions a year.
"So, with 'First Monday' running here with the possibility of later productions, Joel, Bernie and I are aiming toward May 20 in Pasadena. Just which play we eill do will depend on when certain players who've offered to take part will be free. Our first production will be important and will depend on our players. Who'll be available when? We'll know soon.
"'First Monday' is the only new play Plumstead has done. As soon as I read it, I could hear Hank Fonda read Justice Daniel Snow's lines. I asked him to read it, and within 12 hours he called me to say he'd do it. That got things started, and the Jane Alexander-Ed Sherine tie was next . . . ideal . . . he's a fine director, his wife an immensely gifted actress as well as a real star.
"Casting the chief justice role was a cinch because everyone wanted the same actor, Larry Gates. He has just the tone for it and watching him refine it here has been a lesson in acting.
"Small changes are still happening but mostly the performance has smoothed out and every night it's a pleasure to see a full house so obviously enjoying it."
Scott wasn't always this assured, wordly woman. Born on a Missouri farm, after graduating from the University of Michigan, she got her stage legs with Ben Iden Payne's Chicago World's Fair Globe Theater.Scott acted everthing from Cordelia to a "a witch."
Inevitably came the New York Push. "My first job was as a 10-buck scream in a ghost story with Orson Welles. I lived at the Rehearsal Club, $50 a month, two meals a day. During Christmas I ran into Eugenia Rawls at the Watergate and we had to laugh about a Christmas we'd spent together in our Rehearsal Club days, when we didn't have a dime between us. Robin Craven, a young actor and son of Frank Craven, the star, invited us to spend Christmas at this family's Long Island home.A year later I was in 'Our Town' with Frank and Genie was Tallulah's daughter in 'The Little Foxes.'
"That's how life in theater goes. You never know. Once in Boston Vivian Vance and I had small parts in a tryout that brought down the house every performance. It played like a dream.
"Vivian and I roomed together and about 3 o'clock one morning I woke with a start. 'Viv,' I whispered, 'are you awake?' 'I am now,' she said. 'You know,' I told her, 'I'm not sure this play is going to go so well in New York.' 'Did you just figure that out?' she replied. 'From the first day of rehearsal I've known this was going to be a bomb. So what if Boston likes it? New York won't.' She was right. We gotfive performances.
"I suppose my most disappointing New York play was 'Design for a Stained Glass Window.' This play by William Berney and Howard Richardson was about the English martyr, Margaret Clitherow. I was the saint and a total newcomer named Charlton Heston was my husband. This had such promise but it got only a week in New York.
"Fade out for six years. In Hollywood Chuck Heston became a major star and I played his mother in "The Ten Commandments,' his mother again in 'Ben Hur.' No, there's no telling about careers.
"You just do the best you can with whatever comes. When it came to playing the American Ballet Theatre head in 'The Turning Point,' I was careful not to meet Lucia Chase. Haven't met her yet. But I loved what she told a friend of mine, 'Of course that's not me Martha Scott is playing. It's Rebekah Harkness.'"
In the dance world that's like Dietrich saying that an impersonator isn't doing Marlene, she's doing Garbo.