A Historic Hanging Beneath The Playhouse Stage

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.

The intriguing photo.

The intriguing photo.

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.

Ta da!

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.

Anthony Mann

Anthony Mann

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.)



4 responses to “A Historic Hanging Beneath The Playhouse Stage

  1. brad french

    I’ve worked on the old Langner property in Weston. It’s been divided up like all the old estates. It’s on Langner Lane off Georgetown Road

  2. Positively fascinating. How wonderful would it be to undergo a project of research, as in this instance, to discover others who, as you say still lurk, “forgotten and undiscovered, underneath that very historic stage.”

  3. Cathy Romano

    Yes Susan, it is absolutely wonderful. A big thank you to John Mosele for his interest and detective work in preserving a bit more of Westport’s history

  4. Morley Boyd

    History hiding in plain sight; nice work John and thanks for the cool story, Dan. BTW, the paper backing, glue (yikes), mat, etc. on that historic image sound like they were decidedly NOT acid free, archival quality. In time, any acid bearing backings, (lamentable) adhesives and mats will “cook” those precious links to the Playhouse’s heritage. They could, in order of priority, be stabilized and remounted with the correct archival support materials using their original frames, by a reputable paper conserver. Identification and inventorying of the complete collection would make a nice project for a Staples student.