The Pasadena Playhouse turns 75 on May 18 and in celebration of that date, the famed theatre's subscriber newsletter "Preview," recently published a capsule history of the company written by Michael Lancaster and G.L. Shoop.
Founded by actor-director Gilmor Brown, who arrived in Pasadena in 1916 and set up shop in the Savoy Theatre, a former burlesque house in what some deemed an undesirable part of town (north of Colorado Blvd.), the company became known in 1925 as the Pasadena Community Playhouse. Its first production was Victor Mapes' The Amethyst. Three years later the company put on the world premiere of Eugene O' Neill's Lazarus Laughed.
In 1936 the Pasadena Playhouse became the first American theatre to present all 37 of William Shakespeare's plays.
Lancaster and Shoop also paid tribute to Mrs. A.H. Palmer, better known as "Ma" Palmer for the help she gave Brown in the late 20s. She "nurtured poor struggling players financially and nutritionally...kept everybody pulled together in plays. Hers was the shoulder everyone cried on." She died in 1928.
Brown, praised by one theatre critic for his "tremendous instinct for good theatre and his daring to do it," ran the Playhouse for forty years, until his death in 1960. The company fell on hard times after that and was shuttered in 1968, only to be revived by the city of Pasadena and the state of California as a non-profit institution which has lately risen to prominence again. PBS recently taped the Playhouse's production of Play On! for a coast-to-coast airing on June 21. -- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent