Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

STARVING ACTORS


They called them starving actors. In the days of the Depression and for many years thereafter, actors performed night after night in different towns to earn enough money to eat. One such troupe of actors was formed in Abingdon, Virginia in 1933 by Robert Penfield. Penfield arranged for a barter system to help pay his actors. Barbers and beauticians would cut the actors’ hair in exchange for tickets to the plays. Merchants would bring in food. Supplies, costumes, and equipment were obtained in a similar way, leading Penfield to name his theatre the Barter Theatre. By 1946, the acting troupe was the largest touring troupe in the country. The group was rewarded twice in 1948 by the State of Virginia. The theatre was named the State Theatre of Virginia and was awarded a Tony Award for their contribution to regional theatre.

The Dublin Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored a performance by the Barter Theatre at the Naval Hospital Auditorium on Friday, February 13, 1948 during the Barter Theatre’s second annual tour of the southern United States. The performance that night was the Broadway play “John Loves Mary.” Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, in recognition of the talent and dedication of the cast members, granted special permission for their play to be performed in theaters and auditoriums around the country. The play, a light-hearted comedy, dealt with the problems of a soldier returning home from the war and the complications of life being away from his sweetheart for long periods of time.

Ray Boyle  (LEFT) played the title role of John. Boyle received the Helen Hayes Award as the most promising actor on Broadway. Playing Mary was Gerry Jedd, a talented actress in her own right. As John loved Mary in play, so did Ray and Gerry. The actors married each other shortly after their performance in Dublin. Boyle continued acting into the 1950s. He appeared in the not-so-classic science fiction film, “Zombies of the Stratosphere.” Ray appeared in the premier episode of the second season of the legendary western, “Gunsmoke” in 1956. Gerry Jedd appeared in numerous television series, such as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Naked City.” Jedd received national recognition when she received the Obie Award for a distinguished performance by an actress during the 1960-1 theatre season.



Larry Gates co-starred in “John Loves Mary,” but had more success in television and movies than the leading actors did. Gates played Dr. Dan Kaufman in the science fiction classic, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and had a leading role in the film classic, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” with Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. Gates also appeared in many television shows including the World War II drama, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

Other members of the cast included Fern Bennett, Fred Warriner, Caddell Burruoghs, Jane Schmidt, John Eton, and Stuart Day, all of whom never made it big on the small or the big screen.

Listed down at the bottom of the credits was a Connecticut born actor. Ermes Efrron was born in 1917. His parents came to America from Italy at the turn of the century. Ermes joined the Navy following his high school graduation. He remained in the Navy for ten years, serving his country in World War II. Ermes had risen to the rank of Chief Gunner’s Mate. He went from job to job, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He had a strong personality. At the suggestion of his mother, Ermes enrolled in the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, Connecticut. Ermes joined the Barter Theatre. He acted in various roles. He even did odd jobs around the theater. In 1949, Ermes made his debut on Broadway with the role of the male nurse in the play “Harvey.”

Ermes (LEFT) moved west to Hollywood in 1951 to try his hand at acting in movies and television. He made his film debut in “The Whistle at Eaton Falls.” He began to take on the “heavy” role in movies after his success in playing “Fatso Johnson” in “From Here to Eternity.” That role lead to his being cast as Marty Piletti, in “Marty,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He beat out Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, James Cagney, and James Dean. Ermes, known as one of the kindest, gentlest, and generous men in Hollywood, starred in other film classics such as; “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Wild Bunch,” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” If you don’t know what Ermes Effron’s real name is by now, I will give you one more clue. You probably know his best as the affable and happy-go-lucky commander of PT-73, Quentin McHale, in the Sixties television show, “McHale’s Navy.” Ermes Effron was just his first two names. His full name was Ermes Effron “Ernest” Borgnine.

POST SCRIPT


In the early fifties, a young actor in his mid twenties toured the United States with his wife. He was a son of one of Ziegfield's Beauties. The couple performed dramatic scenes from "Mark Twain", "Hamlet", "McBeth", and " Queen Victoria and Prince Albert." When the actor's wife became pregnant, she was replaced by actress Lee Firestone. The new team was engaged by the Laurens County Concert Association to perform their dramatic scenes at the Central Elementary Auditorium (now City Hall) on January 17, 1952. The new acting team was known as Holbrook and Firestone. The young actor went on to fame in television and the movies. His portrayal of Mark Twain was universally recognized as one of the best in television history. He has appeared in over ninety movies and television series and is currently appearing in movies and television shows. The young actor was, of course, Hal Holbrook.

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