Bert Lahr, Dorothy Gish, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Alan Alda, Cicely Tyson, Richard Thomas, Jane Powell, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward — they’re just a dozen of the hundreds of actors who have appeared at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Their publicity shots hang proudly outside the dressing rooms nestled snugly below that fabled stage. Preparing for their roles, today’s performers are reminded of the 8 decades of stars who came before them.
A few of the photos, though, have no names. Taken in the early days of the Playhouse — just a few years after Lawrence Langner turned an old red barn into one of America’s premier summer theaters — they show men and women whose names have been lost to history. Today, it takes tremendous sleuthing — or luck — to put a name to a 1930s face.
A while back, Playhouse technical director John Mosele was intrigued by the photo of a mustached man, hanging in the “unlabeled” collection.
Mosele carefully peeled the picture from its backing, revealing the partial name “ndsmann.”‘
Soaking the photo to remove more glue, it seemed to read “Hinton B__dsmann.”
A Google search led to “Emil Bundesmann” — on a Spanish website.
Further searching brought up an article about Anthony Mann. His birth name was Emil Anton Bundsmann.
Anton Bundsman — yes, that’s the 3rd way his last name was spelled – was a member of the original repertory company at the Playhouse. He appeared in the very 1st production – The Streets of New York — and also served as its stage manager.
After staging 3 plays in New York, Bundsman was hired by David O. Selznick as a casting director. In that role, he supervised screen tests for Gone with the Wind.
Later — under the name Anthony Mann — he directed films for Paramount and RKO, and many classic westerns for MGM. His final films included Cimarron with Glenn Ford, and the epics El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire. (He withdrew from Spartacus, after quarreling with former Westporter Kirk Douglas.)
Just think: such an accomplished actor/director as Anton Bundsman/Anthony Mann hung in such obscurity, for so long, on the walls of the theater where he got his start.
And wonder too who else lurks, forgotten and undiscovered, underneath that very historic stage.
(Hat tip to Westport Country Playhouse company manager Bruce Miller for much of this fascinating information.)