For 30 years, Jean Stapleton and her husband William H. Putch ran the Totem Pole Playhouse, the well-regarded summer theater in Fayetteville, Pa. Stapleton was an unknown when she began performing there, but even after she became famous as Edith Bunker in "All in the Family," she continued to return each summer, appearing in 82 productions in all. Putch, who died of a heart attack in 1983, laughingly referred to their theater as "the house that Edith built." Although Stapleton kept the family enterprise open last summer, she has now decided to disengage herself from it and concentrate on her own acting career.
Totem Pole won't close, however. It has been taken over by actor/director Carl Schurr, a former Catholic University graduate student who has since gone on to an active career in regional theater. Schurr has given the playhouse, which sits in a cluster of pine trees in Caladonia State Park, a major face lifting, and will open his six-play summer season on June 1 with a two-week run of "Mr. Roberts."
"Totem Pole has a long tradition in this area, and it's considered a summer home by too many people in the profession to let it close," Schurr says. Among the Washingtonians who will be part of his team are set designer James Fouchard and actresses Maggie Winn Jones and Sherry Skinker.
The summer season will include the British farce, "See How They Run" (June 18-30); the thriller "Night Must Fall" (July 2-14); the musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (July 16-Aug. 4); the recent Broadway drama "Foxfire" (Aug. 6-18); and the romantic comedy, "Same Time, Next Year" (Aug. 20-Sept. 1). Totem Pole, which seats 450 spectators, is situated 12 miles west of Gettysburg in a resort area of old inns and summer homes (the Appalachian Trail runs right by the theater's front door). It's two hours by car from Washington, and the drive takes you through a landscape rich in Civil War history and Pennsylvania Dutch lore.
Stapleton is currently in Egypt, filming an episode of "The Love Boat" with her actor-son, John Putch. But she has given her blessing to the new regime. Schurr, an eight-year veteran of Totem Pole, directed her in "Papa Is All," and acted opposite her in the national tours of "The Show Off" and "Daisy Mayme." So, in a fashion, Totem Pole remains all in the (theatrical) family. For box-office information, call (717) 352-2164.