"Whoopee" producer Ashton Springer was unhappy when he saw page 15 of the programs that were being passed out at the Kennedy Center doors of his show.
Inset into a half-page picture of "Whoopee" star Charles Repole was a much smaller photo of Eddie Cantor in blackface, clowning with John Rutherford in the 1928 production of "Whoopee."
Springer found the blackface photo "personally offensive" he said. "It was something that happened, part of Americana, but it's not something I want to be reminded of. It might have appeared that I was tacitly approving something I'm very much against."
Springer complained to Kennedy Center chairman Roger Stevens on Saturday, Jan. 6, three days after the show opened at the Kennedy Center. By the time the programs were passed out for the Saturday evening performance, the offending page had been torn out by the ushers. Stevens had so ruled.
Since Jan. 6, ushers in the Opera House, where "Whoopee" is playing, have removed the page from the programs every night. A Kennedy Center official says no massive surgery is required to do this: Ushers customarily insert fliers into the programs and now simply take a page out as they put several pages in.
Initially ushers in the Eisenhower Theater, where "Wings" is playing, performed the same operation every night. But after a week or so, the procedure was stopped in the Eisenhower. The Kennedy Center spokesman says it was felt that Springer, had been concerned primarily about the patrons of his own show. Apparently the page was never removed from Concert Hall or National Theatre programs.
The removal of page 15 also necessitates the removal of page 16, which is on the reverse side. On page 16 is a half-page ad for Ben Thylan Furs.
Yesterday furrier Thylan, in New York, said he had just been assured by the publishers of the program that he would get a full refund of the money he spent on the ad. He brought the missing ad to their attention, he said, when "a Good Samaritan client" in Washington informed him of what was happening.
He was not completely satisfied by the refund; "It's a horrible thing that a producer has the right in this country to do something like this," he said.
Also missing from the expurgated programs because of its appearance on pages 15 and 16 is the middle half of an article, "The American Musical," by New York critic Martin Gottfried. Gottfried was not informed of this until yesterday. His response: "Good Lord!"
The program's managing editor, Judith Ravel Leabo, said that senior editor and art director Karl B. Leabo had selected the blackface picture "near deadline" from "a stack of material." At the time, she says, they were unaware that the blackface had been omitted from the Springer production. "If we had known the scene wasn't in, we wouldn't have used it (the picture)," she said.