The Summer Playhouse 'Beautiful'
Lynn Fisher, who was appearing in Broadway’s disturbing drama hit The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman, was originally announced as the Lake’s initial female star, but was replaced by Roscella Lightner, an experienced star of stage and radio productions. She had a varied background in vaudeville, musical comedy and appeared frequently with Rudy Valle, a major musical and screen star (who also appeared twice at Fernbrook, the Dallas amusement park).
There were also two other male Broadway stars with strong talent for both leading and supporting roles. Born in British Columbia, George Makinson appeared in the 1937 Broadway production Bright Honor, an original comedy, and the following year in the original drama Thirsty Soul. Edmund Dante was both a stage and radio player, appearing in the Otis Skinner play Romance; with the noted actress Ethel Barrymore in Amazing Career; and in the Philadelphia stage production Meet the Duchess.
Cecile Wulff was also in the playhouse cast. Wulff was a solid actress who had appeared in a short-lived Broadway production The Lancashire Lass, a melodrama with an English setting in early 1933. A Vasser College girl, Wulff was a founding member of the Victorian Players, a New York theatre troupe. She appeared in summer playhouses earlier in New Hampshire and Long Island, NY. W. Kneale Morgan was the Lake’s playhouse director. A native of Carbondale, Morgan had directed his own company in 1934-38 in Ashville, North Carolina. The manager was John T. Dooley, a young local man who formerly was assistant manager of the Capitol Theatre on Public Square (later the Comerford).
The Harvey’s Lake Playhouse opened on Monday, June 12, 1939, with an 8:30 P.M. production of the ironically titled romantic comedy The Curtain Rises. The premise of the three-act play was that a plain, but ambitious young woman aspires to a glamorous stage career. Roscella Lightner played the lead and a critic stated she was a capable artist with a distinct personality and considerable charm. Edmund Dante played the leading man and Stephen Courtleigh played the second lead “in a masterful manner.” The opening show was a great success and closed with prolonged applause. Patrons were extremely impressed with the beauty of the theatre. Summer dinner parties before the shows were now in style.
The playhouse shows ran Monday through Saturday. The box office hours were 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and offered the same seats for all productions if requested. The Wilkes-Barre ticket agent was Whelan’s Drug Store on Public Square. Tickets were 50 or 75 cents (tax included) and 40 cents for the Saturday matinee at 2:30.
For the second production in mid-June Stephen Courtleigh held the leading role in the Vincent Lawrence Broadway hit In Love With Love, another romantic comedy with female lead Roscella Lightner. Her initial complication was choosing between two equally attractive men when a third man enters the scene. Additional players included Manhattan stars Dante and Makinson, but also Cecile Wulff and a new player Lois Ewell. With schools closing new audiences were expected and with the beauty of the playhouse setting it became known as “the summer play house beautiful.”
The mystery drama Night Must Fall was the third production in late June led by Courtleigh and Lightner. The play is a classic British county house (“cozy”) murder mystery. The old mansion is haven for an eccentric old lady and her charming niece. The play was another recent Broadway hit. The supporting cast included a Little Theatre starlet Augusta Farnum, who had played the lead in the local theatre production So Is Your Uncle Dudley during the past season. Her reaction to the publicity was “Rather silly – I had such a small part.” Her role as an Irish girl was simple: “All you do is rehearse all morning, rehearse all afternoon and act in a play in the evening.”
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo