Tag Archives: Joanne Woodward

Westport Country Playhouse: 91 Years Young Today

On June 29, 1931, the curtain rose for the first time at the Westport Country Playhouse.

It ushered in a new chapter in town history — and the theater world nationally.

By 1930, Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall had achieved remarkable success as theater producers. The Theatre Guild — which Langner co-founded — had become perhaps the most prolific and influential producer on Broadway, and the leading producer of touring productions throughout the country.

Residents of Weston, the Langners wanted to establish a resident acting company, and experiment with new plays and reinterpretations of classics. But it had to be away from the spotlight of New York.

In the winter of 1930 they saw an old barn in an apple orchard near downtown Westport. The town was already popular with Broadway’s theatrical community.

It was exactly what they were looking for. They bought the property, with an assessed value of $14,000.

The 1930 barn.

Cleon Throckmorton — a respected Broadway set designer who had also designed the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts — was hired to transform the 1835 tannery into a theater.

The first production — “The Streets of New York” — opened 91 years ago today.

It was called Woodland Theatre. On opening day, Langner changed the name, to Country Playhouse.

The Westport Playhouse has seen countless highlights since then. Among them:

1933: “Present Laughter” is directed by Antoinette Perry. The Tony Awards are now named for her.

1935: Langner purchases 3.5 more acres, at $2,000 an acre, to expand the facilities. Extensions to the theater and construction of a scene shop and offices cost $25,000; a refreshment stand is $225.

1939: An unknown Gene Kelly dances in a musical revue. with a pair of new composers/performers named Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

1940: Oklahoma!” was never performed on the Playhouse stage, yet it plays a critical role in its genesis. A 1940 production of Lynn Riggs’ Green Grow the Lilacs incorporates turn-of-the-century folk songs, and a square dance scene. Langner invites Fairfield resident Richard Rodgers to see a performance. Three years later the Theatre Guild produces Oklahoma! on Broadway.

An early audience outside the Playhouse.

1941: Tallulah Bankhead adds drama to Her Cardboard Lover by taking her bows carrying a lion cub in her arms. It’s such a hit, she does it every night.

1941: Lee Strasberg directs Tyrone Power in Liliom, which later becomes Carousel on Broadway. Power is ready to open at the Playhouse when Daryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, demands he return to Hollywood to re-shoot movie scenes. Playhouse attorney Kenneth Bradley invokes a 300-year-old Connecticut blue law to keep Power here.

1942-45: For 4 seasons during World War II, when gas rationing prevents audiences from getting to the theater, there are no productions. The next season closure occurs 75 years later, during COVID..

1946: Just before Olivia de Havilland takes the stage on opening night of What Every Woman Knows, she marries novelist and journalist Marcus Goodrich at Langner’s Weston home.

1946: The apprentice system begins. Over the years, summer interns include Stephen Sondheim (1950) and Tammy Grimes (1954). Today the Playhouse hosts the Woodward Internship Program, a national program for emerging theater professionals. It is named for longtime Playhouse supporter Joanne Woodward.

Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo), during his 1950 apprenticeship. The photo was taken at the Jolly Fisherman restaurant. Also in the photo: future film director Frank Perry (front row, left) and Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary (2nd row, 4th from left).

1949: Helen Hayes performs with her 19-year-old daughter, Mary MacArthur, in Good Housekeeping. Mary becomes ill the day after closing, and dies of polio one week later.

1951: A world premiere comedy by Noël Coward, Island Fling, stars Claudette Colbert. Post-performance visitors to Colbert’s dressing room include Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye, Richard Rodgers and Otto Preminger.

 1952: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who had achieved great success with Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon, struggle to create a musical from Shaw’s Pygmalion. Lerner sees it on the Playhouse stage. Four years later My Fair Lady becomes a smash on Broadway.

1954: ApprenticeTammy Grimes is fired from the box office in her first week because she is unable to make correct change. She is transferred backstage, where she irons actor Richard Kiley’s pants.

1954: A restaurant is built adjacent to the Playhouse: Players Tavern.

The iconic red Westport Country Playhouse.

1954: Christopher Plummer makes his American stage debut in Home Is the Hero. Years later, he joins the Playhouse board of trustees.

1955: The Empress includes apprentice Sally Jessy. She later earns fame as talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael.

1956: The big concern every day is how much ice to order. The theater is cooled by fans blowing over ice. Vintage posters in the lobby boast, “Air-cooled.”

Westport Country Playhouse in 1960 (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

1957: Eartha Kitt stars in Mrs. Patterson, a Tony-nominated role she originated on Broadway. Fifty years later, now a Weston resident, she returns to the Playhouse stage in All About Us, a new musical by Kander and Ebb opening the 2007 season.

1958: Hugh O’Brian, popular star of television’s “Wyatt Earp,” causes a box office frenzy as the leading man in Picnic. It is a vivid illustration of the new power of television.

1958: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy star in Triple Play.

1960: With a film career still in the future, Jane Fonda, age 23, stars in No Concern of Mine. Her father, Henry, had appeared in The Virginian at the Playhouse in 1937, the year his daughter was born.

1964: 18-year-old Liza Minnelli receives her Equity card, appearing with Elliott Gould in The Fantasticks. On opening night, according to a Playhouse brochure, “the rather gawky teenager…received a standing ovation.”

1969: Butterflies Are Free premieres with Blythe Danner and Keir Dullea. The comedy transfers to Broadway where it runs over 3 years, earning Danner a Tony Award. The  play — one of 36 that made the leap from Westport to Broadway — is reprised as a reading for the Playhouse’s 80th anniversary in 2010, with its original stars –Danner as the mother, Dullea as the evening’s host.

1973: The Connecticut Theatre Foundation is created to operate the Playhouse as a not-for-profit.

1974: In his playbill letter for Hair, Jim McKenzie, executive producer, says, “Open your mind, open your heart and prepare for the theatrical experience of a lifetime.”

1977: Absent Friends, a Playhouse co-production plan with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, opens in Washington, following its Westport run. On the same evening, The Master Builder opens in Westport, following its engagement in DC.

1978: A fall and winter film and play series begins with the movie Gone with the Wind, plus a big barbecue hosted by Colonel Sanders himself.

1981: Eva Le Gallienne makes her last appearance at the Playhouse 45 seasons after her first, with many roles in between. Today, the Playhouse’s Green Room is named in her honor, and contains memorabilia from her career.

The green room. Think of all the legendary names that have passed through there.

1985: Philip Langner, son of founders Lawrence Langner and Armine Marshall, receives an offer of $1.2 million for the Playhouse property from Playhouse Square, the adjacent shopping center. The Connecticut Theatre Foundation, current lessee, has a right to match the offer. The Playhouse Limited Partnership, a group of 27 ardent theater supporters, is formed to purchase the property.

1985: A fall season includes A Bill of Divorcement starring Christopher Walken and Katharine Houghton, who recreates the role in which her aunt, Katharine Hepburn, made her film debut in 1932. Hepburn is in the audience.

1987: The Playhouse makes a major change: from producing 12 plays in 12 weeks to producing 6 in 12. Subscriptions spike. Seeing a show every other week is more convenient to many than committing to a weekly schedule.

1989: With the Playhouse in arrears on its mortgage and taxes, and facing major expenses to meet fire and safety codes, it asks local developer Ceruzzi Mack Properties to make good the debt, assume the mortgage, and renovate and lease back the theater for $1 a year, in return for property ownership and construction of commercial rental space on the Playhouse campus. The Planning & Zoning Commission turns down the application.

1990: The Playhouse is entered on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places.

1991: 30-year-old Aaron Sorkin visits the Playhouse to see a production of his play A Few Good Men.

1999: Groucho: A Life in Revue is taped at the Playhouse for PBS.

2000: A campaign begins to renovate the Playhouse, and transition from summer stock to a year-round theater. Connecticut Theatre Foundation becomes owner of the Playhouse and adjacent restaurant. Contributions, bolstered by a $5 million state grant from the State of Connecticut, help reach the $30.6 million goal by the end of 2005.

The Westport Country Playhouse teoday.

2000: A 2-week run of Ancestral Voices by A. R. Gurney features a different stellar cast each week. Among them: Jane Curtin, Neil Patrick Harris, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Paul Rudd, Swoosie Kurtz, James Naughton.

2001: Joanne Woodward is named artistic director. She directs 3 plays and appears in several productions, including Love Letters with Paul Newman, and a Script in Hand reading of Arsenic and Old Lace with Christopher Walken. Newman also appears in Ancestral Voices, Trumbo, and a revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which transfers to Broadway.

2002: Gene Wilder stars in Don’t Make Me Laugh. It’s his 4th appearance at the Playhouse, but first in a feature role. He performed here with Walter Pidgeon, Helen Hayes, and Carol Channing, “but nobody knew who I was then.”

2002: The Playhouse’s 2002 production of Our Town transfers to Broadway for a limited run, playing to full houses. The play airs on Showtime and PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre.” Newman receives Tony and Emmy Award nominations for his performance as Stage Manager.

Local residents Jim Naughton, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2002.

2003: During a regional power outage, the Playhouse is in the middle of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Richard Dreyfuss and Jill Clayburgh. Most actors live in New York and cannot travel to Westport. The performance is canceled.  However, Dreyfuss is in Westport. He drives to the theater and shakes hands with whoever arrives.

2003 and 2004: Fundraising galas support the Playhouse’s planned renovation with performances by Carole King, Robin Williams, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Harry Connick, Jr. hosted by Brian Williams.

2005: May 23, 2005 marks the re-opening of Westport Country Playhouse and its 75th anniversary season, following a major multi-million dollar renovation.

2005: The Lucille Lortel Foundation awards a $2 million grant to establish The Lucille Lortel White Barn Center at the Playhouse.

2006: Paul Newman and Chef Michel Nischan open the Dressing Room restaurant next door.

2006: Stephen Sondheim returns to the Playhouse for the first time since his 1950 apprenticeship. He is saluted on the Playhouse stage with performances by Laura Benanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Barbara Cook, and Patti LuPone.

2006: James Earl Jones appears as Thurgood Marshall in the world premiere of Thurgood. He later joins the Playhouse board of trustees. 

2008: The popular Script in Hand play reading series begins.

2009: Stephen Sondheim presents a tribute to Mary Rodgers Guettel at the annual gala, An Enchanted Evening: The Music of Richard Rodgers. Sondheim and Rodgers Guettel are former Playhouse apprentices.

2021: During its 90th anniversary — and the pandemic, the Playhouse pivots to an all-virtual season. It’s available on-demand, with captions in Spanish.

After 91 years, the view has changed little. (Photo/Robert Benson)

(Like the Westport Country Playhouse, “06880” relies on contributions for support. Please click here to help.)

Roundup: Shorebirds, Costumes, Paul & Joanne …

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Shorebirds are nesting at Compo Beach.

As usual, Parks & Rec is on the case.

Department staff has staked out an area near the site, keeping people away from the fragile birds and their eggs. A sign offers information about the threatened wildlife.

Stay away! It’s their beach too.

In fact, they were here first.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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Speaking of shorebirds: A week from tomorrow is Earth Day. But the big events at Sherwood Island State Park are Saturday, April 23.

Friends of Sherwood Island offer several events. They include:

Friends’ Garden Team Activities (9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Friends’ table on East Beach across from the Nature Center).

🌱Bring a reusable water bottle; get a “Protect Our Wildlife” sticker (while supplies last).

🌱Tour the Dunes Restoration project site; plant a stem of American Beach Grass.

🌱Learn about native plant species planted for wildlife at the park; get a list for planting at home.

“Why Reducing Food Waste is Critical to a Sustainable Future” (9:30 to 11 a.m.).Host: Pippa Bell Ader, Sustainable Westport Zero Food Waste Challenge. Ongoing at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

“Walk Through Sherwood Island’s History (From 12,000 Years Ago)” (noon to 1:30 p.m.). Host: Cece Saunders, owner of Historical Perspectives in Westport. Guided walk. Meet at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

“Salt Marshes and Marsh Migration at Sherwood Island” (12:30 to 2 p.m.) Host: Michele Sorensen, environmental educator, captain of the Friends’ garden team. Guided walk; also pick up plastic waste on the marsh. Gloves and bags provided. Meet at the Friends’ table on East Beach across from the Nature Center.

“Environmental Role of Trees at the Park” (2 to 3:30 p.m.) Host: Louis Pietig, Friends’ of Sherwood Island Advisory Council member. Guided walk. Meet at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

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Did you miss VersoFest? Or do you just want to relive last weekend’s Westport Library first-in-any-library-anywhere music and media festival?

Click below for a short highlight video. Jerri Graham and Verso Studios’ vivid photos will bring it to life. And get you psyched for the 2023 show, already in the planning stages.

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The curtain came down on “The Descendants” last weekend. But the final act came later.

Staples Players’ talented costume crew — the behind-the-scenes students and parents led by Christie Stanger, who designed and created so many wonderful outfits — had a great idea:  bling out a young audience member’s own clothes to look just like the costume of one of the Descendants!

This lucky, randomly chosen winner had her jean jacket and leggings made to look just like Evie’s. She also got a bunch of cool Evie-like accessories. She even got to meet Evie after the show.

Thanks for spreading joy, Costume Crew!

Lucky winner holds her Evie costume.

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Speaking of entertainment: Not much gets by Fred Cantor.

The other night he watched “The Drowning Pool.” The 1975 noir film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward streamed on TCM.

At the end — yes, Fred watched the credits — he saw that it was “A Coleytown Production.”

Digging further, he found that “Coleytown Productions Inc.” is a California corporation formed in 1969. It dissolved in 2014. Joanne Woodward was the CEO.

Other copyrights held by Coleytown Productions included 2 other Paul Newman films: “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and “Pocket Money.”

Screenshot from “The Drowning Pool.” (Photo/Fred Cantor)

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The other day, “06880” noted that Drew Coyne was named Connecticut’s Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year.

Now the highly lauded and popular Staples High School social studies instructor is vying for national Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year honors.

Every nominee for the $10,000 demonstrates “a commitment to engaging students in historical  learning through the innovative use of primary sources,  implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical  thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.” The winner will be announced in June.

Drew Coyne

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After 7 years of providing a dedicated gluten-free, organic, non-GMO-certified commercial kitchen, C&K Community Kitchen no longer maintains its gluten-free status. It still “enthusiastically stands on its  devout organic, non-GMO foundation.”

Questions? Contact Sarah Kerstin Gross (candkcommunitykitchen@gmail.com), or call 203-226-0531.

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Dale Najarian is the Westport Book Shop’s latest guest exhibitor.

The Westport artist is showing several abstract landscapes on wood panels. She  works in several mediums, including watercolor, acrylics, mixed media and oils.  She also has a passion for photography.

Najarian earned a BFA from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. She worked for over 15 years as a graphic designer and art director at design firms and advertising agencies in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

She serves on the advisory board for the Norwalk Art Space, the executive board of the Artists Collective of Westport, and is a board member and project manager for #UNLOADusa.org, a nonprofit organization using arts to talk about gun violence in America. She is also an active member of the Greenwich Arts Council and the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.

Dale Najarian at the Westport Book Shop.

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Longtime Saugatuck Co-op resident Johanna Straczek died peacefully last month, at 96. Her family says she “lived a full and vibrant life.”

She started her own accounting firm and worked daily at a front desk, even after selling the company years ago.

“Always dressed with taste and seldom without a signature chapeau, her slight but powerful presence graced our town with a genuine air of European culture,” her obituary says.

Born in Austria in 1925, Johanna learned multiple languages and studied opera in  Vienna before coming to the US. She attended Sacred Heart University, sharpening her business acumen.

She became a fellow of the National Tax Institute, was a longtime Rotarian, and member of several tax associations.

As treasurer of the Saugatuck Co-Op on Bridge Street, where she lived, she is remembered for her dedication volunteer work, and her soprano voice that she gifted at holiday parties (especially “Stille Nacht/Silent Night”).

Johanna is survived by her sister, Vera Romatko and brother Carlo Romatko.  She was predeceased by her husband John and sister, Nadia Romatko Krower.

A celebration of her life is set for April 20 (Unitarian Church, 11 a.m.).

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The other day, David Ader searched for wild mushrooms at the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.

Instead he found this tree. He writes: “What you see are fresh scratches from a claw. Given where they were on the tree, I assume it was a small bear. The claw marks are very different from, say, a deer rubbing antlers, which would be higher up.”

He has not seen the bear this year. He is, however, “hopeful.”

(Photo/David Ader)

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And finally … Bridgeport’s Sound on Sound Festival features some big names September 24 and 25. Among them: Dave Matthews, the Lumineers, Stevie Nicks and Brandi Carlile,

The biggest might be Ringo Starr. He kicks things off September 23.

That’s quite a coup. You know he don’t come easy. (Hat tip: Mark Yurkiw)

Roundup: Breakfast Club, Library Trustees, Rugby Rout …

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A full house at Toquet Hall enjoyed yesterday’s Triple Threat Academy workshop production of “The Breakfast Club.”

The cast — a mix of old and young — nailed the iconic (and now 37-year-old) movie.

Highlights included Michael Sharits — a professional actor and Triple Threat student — who jumped in as Claire’s dad with just 2 hour’s notice when a cast member had COVID exposure.

In addition, there were 2 Staples Players parent/child duos: Nick Sadler (Principal Vernon) and Cooper Sadler (John Bender), plus Jean Pitaro (Brian’s mom) and Josy Pitaro (Claire).

Triple Threat founder (and Staples High School graduate) Cynthia Gibb was in the audience, watching acting teacher/Juilliard grad Keith Contreras-McDonald’s production.

Cynthia’s mom Linde was there too. She’s in Triple Threat’s adult acting class.

For more on Triple Threat’s acting and improv classes for youth, teens and adults, dance classes, audition workshops, private voice lessons and more, click here.

“The Breakfast Club” cast, outside Toquet Hall.

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The Westport Library gives so much to Westport. Here’s a chance to give back.

There are vacancies on the board of trustees. The Library seeks candidates with previous board experience. and expertise in finance, fundraising and development for non-profits; knowledge, expertise and understanding of trends in media and information technology, and entrepreneurs with experience in business, economic development and innovation.

Trustees must be Westport residents, and serve for 4-year terms beginning July 1. There are 20 members; half are appointed by the Representative Town Meeting, half by the Library Board itself. For more information about trustees’ roles, click here.

To apply, email a resume and letter of interest to rpowell@westportlibrary.org. The deadline is April 25.

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The Staples High School rugby team is ranked 9th in the nation, by Goff Rugby Report. Georgetown Prep of Maryland is 8th.

But the Wreckers traveled south, and demolished the Hoyas yesterday 45-7. The livestreamed match was watched by dozens of Staples parents, siblings and fans — and plenty of ex-pat former ruggers from South Africa and Australia — at Little Barn restaurant.

Congratulations to 1st-year head coach Neil Seideman and his excellent team on their 2nd win in 2 games. They opened the season with a 38-3 trouncing of Xavier-Middletown. (Hat tip: Terry Brannigan)

Cheering on Staples rugby, at Little Barn.

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Speaking of sports: This weekend marks the return — after 2 canceled COVID years — of the Westport Soccer Association’s WIN tournament.

Over 160 teams from throughout the tri-state region compete indoors and outside, at Staples High and Bedford Middle School, and Wakeman. In 40 years of existence, the event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Coleman Brothers Fund. It honors former Westport athletes Scott and Keith Coleman, who were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Boys teams ages 9 through 19 played yesterday. Girls play today. Congratulations to the Wreckers of Westport, who won the U-19 championship yesterday, including a 6-0 thrashing of Dynamo in the final.

U-19 champions (front row, from left): Avery Mueller, Ben Tanen, Aidan Mermagen. Back row: Thomas Corridon, Brewster Galley, Bruno Guiduli, Jaden Mueller, Jesse Sanchez. Missing: Santi Alfageme, Jacob Greenberger. (Photo/Barry Guiduli)

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Speaking still of sports: Chad Knight — for the former Staples High School and Little League World Series star — leads the Duke University baseball team in hitting. The 6-0, 220-pound catcher/designated hitter has a .350 average for the 11-8 Blue Devils. (Hat tip: Steve McCoy)

Chad Knight

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Bistro du Soleil is not just a great restaurant. It’s also an inspiring art venue. Westport artist Karen Silver Bloom — known for her unique collectible shadow boxes —  is next up, at the popular Riverside Avenue spot. An opening reception is set for March 27 (4 to 7 p.m.). The shadow boxes will be on display at Bistro du Soleil on weekends through May 8.

Karen Silver Bloom and friend, in her studio.

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Just announced: an interesting CNN+ and HBO Max project focusing on Westport’s own Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Ethan Hawke is the director. Martin Scorsese is the executive producer. Deadline says, “The Last Movie Stars will celebrate the enigmatic personas, incandescent talent and love story of the 2 actors, who occupy a unique space in the Hollywood pantheon.

“Central to the film is a long-abandoned project that Newman, who died in 2008, commissioned…. (Stewart Stern interviewed) Woodward, Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Karl Malden, Sidney Pollack, Gore Vidal, Jacqueline Witte and others for a planned memoir.

“He also interviewed Newman…. They discussed his youth, first marriage, romance and life with Woodward, personal demons, and the loss of his son Scott.”

Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

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Congratulations to Staples High School’s March Students of the Month.

Senior Olivia Marshall, juniors Lucy Dockter and Mirian Hurley, and freshmen Perrin Root and Ocean Banska were selected, principal Stafford Thomas said, for helping make their school “a welcoming place for peers and teachers. They are the ‘glue’ of the Staples community: the type of kind, cheerful, hard-working, trustworthy students who keep the high school together, making it the special place it is.”

Staples Students of the Month Perrin Root, Miriam Hurley, Lucy Dockter and Olivia Marshall. Missing: Ocean Bansak.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” selection is a first: a video.

Susie Kowalsky captured — on film, that is — these swans nesting on the Saugatuck River. It’s a scene we don’t always see, but can always admire.

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And finally … in honor of “The Breakfast Club” (see story above):

 

 

 

Roundup: Arts $$$, Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, IRS Help …

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CT Humanities has awarded grants to non-profit museums, cultural organizations, humanities organizations and arts organizations. The funds will help them recover from the pandemic, connect K-12 teachers and students to strong humanities and arts content, and improve information technology and digital infrastructure.

CT Cultural Fund Operating Support Grants are part of $30 million allocated over the next 2 years by the state General Assembly.

Local recipients include:

  • Artists Collective of Westport – $5,600
  • Beechwood Arts & Innovation – $8,800
  • Earthplace – $168,700
  • Friends of Westport Public Art Collections – $5,900
  • Levitt Pavilion – $38,500
  • MoCA Westport – $65,600
  • Play With Your Food – $13,000
  • Remarkable Theater – $12,500
  • Weston Historical Society – $10,200
  • Westport Community Theatre – $7,700
  • Westport Country Playhouse – $80,900
  • Westport Museum for History & Culture – $26,900
  • Westport School of Music – $21,800

One of many organizations earning a grant.

(Hat tip: State Senator Will Haskell)

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Too many Americans today know Paul Newman only as the popcorn guy. And not enough know his wife, Joanne Woodward.

Yet, as Variety notes: “They were a Hollywood power couple who chose to live and raise their family in Connecticut, far removed from the center of moviemaking. They were box office draws who remained true to their art, using their celebrity to finance smaller dramas and passion projects. They epitomized glamour and romance for legions of fans, but remained more devoted to social justice and philanthropy than red carpet premieres.”

A new 6-part documentary will bring their lives and legacies to light.

“The Last Movie Stars” is directed by Ethan Hawke and executive produced by Martin Scorsese. The series debuts on CNN+ later this year, and will be available on HBO Max.

No word on its content, but there’s sure to be plenty about Westport — an integral part of their lives — in at least some of the 6 parts. (Hat tips: David Roth and Kerry Long)

Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman and friend.

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Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup noted the lawsuit filed by Westport writer Ruth Shalit Barrett against The Atlantic magazine.

It’s a national story. The New York Times has covered the lawsuit. Click here to read.

And Barrett has created a website with the full complaint. Click here to see.

Ruth Shalit Barrett (Photo/Robertson Barrett, courtesy of Washington Post)

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Westporters — especially seniors and those with low to moderate incomes — can once again take advantage of the town’s no-cost full-service AARP/VITA/IRS Volunteer Tax Assistance Program.

On-site personal counseling is available by appointment at Town Hall (Mondays from 1 to 4 p.m.) and the Senior Center (Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursdays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.), starting January 24. Call 860-590-8910 for an appointment.

The service is also available through a secure internet site. Click here for an appointment.

The program is administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.

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The 2nd of PBS’s 3 special concerts — “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” airs this Friday night (9 p.m. ET on Channel 13; check other local listings). The series is also available on PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

Shoshana Bean is this week’s guest. The Broadway (“Wicked,” “Waitress”) and recording star taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September.

The series — spearheaded by executive producer Andrew Wilk of Westport — debuted last week with Gavin Creel. It concludes January 21, with Brandon Victor Dixon.

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Always wanted to write your memoir?

The Westport Library and WestportWRITES sponsors a pair of workshops, with best-selling author, personal essayist and memoir writer Mary-Lou Weisman. She’s taught her craft too, at The New School, New York University and Manhattanville College, and through Westport and Norwalk continuing education programs.

The Introductory Memoir Writing Workshop meets Tuesdays (12:30 to 2:30 p.m.) from February 15 through March 29. Click here for information.

The Advanced Memoir Writing Class meets Thursdays (12:30 to 2:30 p.m.) from February 17 through May 17. Click here for information.

Mary-Lou Weisman

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There’s a bit of a back story to today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

Robin Frank reported yesterday: “Our puppy cannot go in the backyard because this raccoon has been outside our kitchen window all day.”

(Photo/Robin Frank)

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And finally … today is the birthday of Slim Harpo. The spectacularly named blues singer-songwriter and musician was born in Louisiana in 1924. He died of a heart attack in 1970, at just 46.

 

Roundup: Cribari Bridge, Senior Center, Wildfires, WTF, More


Stay away from the William F. Cribari Bridge today. The Saugatuck River span is closed through 3 p.m., for inspection. Use alternate routes!

William F. Cribari Bridge — stay away today! (Photo/Sam Levenson)


Registration for Senior Center October-December classes is underway for Westport residents. Non-residents can register beginning Monday (September 21).

The Senior Center also announces upcoming events:

  • Parkinson’s Support (Sept. 23, Zoom, 10:15 a.m.)
  • New to Medicare (Sept. 24, 5:30 p.m.)
  • Summer Concert Series: Harpist Wendy Kerner (Sept. 25, Zoom, 1:30 p.m.)
  • Caregiver Support (Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and 21, 10 a.m.)
  • Bingo (Oct. 1, with delivered lunch (Pct. 1, Zoom, 1:15 p.m.)
  • Just for Women (Oct. 1, 3:30 p.m.)
  • Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Oct. 11).

For more information, click here, call 203-341-5099, email seniorcenter@westportct.gov/seniorcenter.


Smoke from the wildfires out west have reached Westport. This was the scene yesterday evening, at Compo Beach:

(Photo/Stephen Raffel)


COVID has canceled many traditional activities. But not Oktoberfest!

Wakeman Town Farm celebrates outdoors on Thursday, October 8 (5:30 p.m.).  Chef Alison Milwe Grace cooks up a great German meal (with a veggie option for non-meat eaters). Bring a sweater or jacket and your favorite German beer or adult beverage. Click here for details and tickets.


Teaching has always been stressful. During COVID, it’s exponentially tougher.

To help educators de-stress, Positive Directions has launched a Teacher Support Group. Trained counselors lead discussions Wednesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. via (of course) Zoom. The cost is $40 per session. Email amiceli@positivedirections.org, or call 203-227-7644 for reservations.


With kids back at school — meaning more than half the time, they’re learning at home — parents may need a private office.

Serendipity Labs — the on-demand workspace at 55 Post Road West — offers a complimentary private day office for all new inquiries. It’s available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Serendipity memberships include high-speed WiFi, complimentary coffee, spacious common areas, guest reception and concierge services. For details click here, call 203-979-4084 or email mburns@serendipitylabs.com.

Serendipity Labs, 55 Post Road West


Classic movies continue this Saturday (September 19, 8 p.m.) at the Remarkable Theater. Earthplace co-sponsors “Raiders of the Lost Artk.” Click here for tickets and more information.


Speaking of movies: Ethan Hawke will direct a new movie about the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The project has the blessing of Woodward — now 90 — and the actors’ family.

The film is expected to focus on their 50-year marriage, including their decision to raise their children in Westport rather than Los Angeles. (Hat tip: Johanna Rossi)

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.


And finally … today would have been B.B. King’s 95th birthday. He died 5 years ago, but the thrill of his blues guitar will never be gone.

 

Westport Playhouse: A Look Back At 90 Seasons

Today should have been a red-letter day in Westport Country Playhouse history.

The former cow barn opened its doors — and ushered in a golden era of summer theater — on June 29, 1931. Ever since last year, the Playhouse had prepared for a landmark 90th season.

COVID canceled those plans. But “06880” — the blog and the town — can still celebrate.

The building is actually twice as old as the theater. It was built in 1835 by R&H Haight, as a tannery for hatters’ leathers. Apple trees grew nearby.

In 1860 Charles H. Kemper purchased the plant from Henry Haight’s widow.

Kemper tannery, 1860.

Twenty years later, he installed a steam-powered cider mill.

By the winter of 1930, the property — assessed at $14,000 — had been unused for several years. It was bought by Weston residents Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall Langner, co-founders of the Theatre Guild, a powerful producer of Broadway and touring productions.

The 1930 barn.

The Langners wanted a place to experiment with new plays, and reinterpret old ones. Westport was already home to actors, producers and directors.

On June 29, 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse opened. The very first play — The Streets of New York — starred Dorothy Gish. Its stage was built to Broadway specifications. Remarkably, that first show made it all the way there.

Westport Country Playhouse interior, 1933.

Bert Lahr, Eva LaGallienne, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Henry Fonda, Tallulah Bankhead and Julie Harris were some of the many big names who appeared on the Playhouse stage.

The early days (Photo/Wells Studio)

The theater went dark for 4 years during World War II, due to gas rationing.

Thornton Wilder received his Equity card in 1946, so he could play the stage manager in his own hit, Our Town.

In the 1940s, the Playhouse began an apprentice program. The legendary list includes Stephen Sondheim, Frank Perry and Sally Jesse Raphael. The educational apprenticeship programs are still running.

An early shot of the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though Oklahoma! has never been performed at the theater, it played a key role in the legendary show’s history. In 1940, Richard Rodgers came from his Fairfield home for Green Grow the Lilacs. Three years later, he produced Oklahoma!, based on what he’d seen.

Roders also saw Gene Kelly that night at Lilacs, and a few months later gave him his big break: the lead in Pal Joey.

In 1959 the Langners turned operation of the Playhouse over to Jim McKenzie. Later named executive producer, he retired in 2000 after 41 years. His tenure was notable for many things — including his efforts in 1985 to purchase the theater and its property, thwarting a takeover by a shopping center complex.

Gloria Swanson arrives, 1961.

Appearing on stage during McKenzie’s time were stars like Alan Alda, Cicely Tyson, Richard Thomas, Jane Powell, Sandy Dennis, and Stiller and Meara.

A teenager earned her Equity card, and earned a standing ovation on opening night in The Fantasticks. Her name was Liza Minnelli.

Prior to renovation, the cramped lobby was filled with posters from past shows.

In 2000, artistic director Joanne Woodward joined an illustrious team including Anne Keefe, Alison Harris and Elisabeth Morten. They brought Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Jane Curtin to the stage.

Woodward’s husband — Paul Newman — also starred at the Playhouse, in the same role Thornton Wilder played 56 years earlier: stage manager, in Our Town. 

Like so many other Playhouse shows, it (with Newman) soon transferred to Broadway.

But the building — still basically a 170-year-old barn — was in physical disrepair.Woodward and company also renovated the Playhouse physically, and revitalized it artistically.

An 18-month, $30.6 million renovation project in 2003 and ’04 brought the Playhouse into the modern era. It closed in 2003 with a revival of its first show, The Streets of New York.

It reopened in 2005 — its 75th season. At Woodward’s suggestion, a piece of the original stage is still there. The Playhouse moved forward, while paying homage to its storied past.

Westport Country Playhouse, after renovation.

The next year saw the world premiere of Thurgood. Since then — under artistic directors Tazewell Thompson and now Mark Lamos — the Westport Country Playhouse has expanded both its scope and its season.

From a tryout and summer stock house focusing mostly on light, entertaining comedies, to its current April-through-November staging of powerful dramas, musicals and exploratory plays, the Westport Country Playhouse has played a key role in American theater.

Several years ago, Lamos noted, “What had a been a leaky, vermin-infested, un-weatherized — albeit beloved — converted barn became a state-of-the-art theater as fine as any in America.”

Like Broadway, the Westport Country Playhouse is closed during this, its 90th season.

But — as its long history shows — the old barn has weathered many ups, and  a few downs. The curtain will rise again next year.

The show must go on!

(Hat tip: Pat Blaufuss)

(Photo/Robert Benson)

Photo Challenge #285

The Westport Country Playhouse stage is dark this season.

But it remains bright and vivid in our minds. Last week’s Photo Challenge — showing an old-fashioned light above a closed window on the side of a red-painted wood structure — was easily recognized by many as the concession stand kiosk nestled in the courtyard outside one of America’s oldest and most famed summer theaters. (Click here to see.)

Wendy Schaefer, Rich Stein, Elaine Marino, Seth Schachter, Fred Cantor, Joyce Barnhart, Dan Vener, Wendy Cusick, Patricia Blaufuss, Nancy Wilson, Stephanie Ehrman, Jonathan McClure, Shirlee Gordon, Tom Risch, Elizabeth Marks, Seth Goltzer and Kathleen Lewton all knew exactly what the image showed.

All will hopefully be back next year, for the beloved Playhouse’s belated 90th season.

This week’s Photo Challenge picks up — sort of — where last week’s left off. We remember our neighbor Paul Newman for many things, including his role as the stage manager in the 2001 Playhouse production of “Our Town.” (His wife, Joanne Woodward, was the show’s sole producer when it moved to Broadway the next year. She played a major role in the Playhouse’s renovation, a couple of years later.)

We were used to seeing Paul Newman all around town. Everyone’s got a story. But where can we see this banner of him today? If you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Sabra Gallo)

 

Unsung Hero #123

Oops!

This one almost slipped by us.

Earlier this month, Nell Newman was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

The ecologist, conservationist, biologist, organic farmer — and founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and the Nell Newman Foundation — joins a long list of amazing Nutmeg State women, including Helen Keller, Marian Anderson, Clair Boothe Luce, Ella Grasso and Katherine Hepburn.

Nell Newman

Her work in organic food was inspired by her youth in Westport. When she learned that her favorite bird — the peregrine falcon — was headed toward extinction because of the pesticide DDT, she began studying ecology.

In 2014 Nell received the prestigious Rachel Carson Award from The National Audubon Society, for her environmental leadership.

Westport is justly proud of Nell’s parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Both were active in a number of important causes, far beyond stage and screen.

We are proud now too that this Westport native is paying it forward. Congratulations, Nell, on your Hall of Fame honor!

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Friday Flashback #72

The new tax bill signed by President Trump may devastate Newman’s Own Foundation. Since 1982, the Westport-based organization has donated $512 million to charities helping veterans, children with cancer, low-income students and many other causes. (Click here for the full story.)

That news reminds us of the actor/food and lemonade manufacturer/automobile racer’s enormous, longtime impact on our town.

From the time he moved to Coleytown in the late 1950s — attracted here by the movie “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” — he and his wife Joanne Woodward — were good, giving neighbors.

From the Westport Historical Society and Westport Country Playhouse to speaking with middle school students about substance abuse, the couple did plenty for all of us.

Everyone who’s lived here a while has a Paul Newman or Joanne Woodward story.

But I’d sure like to know the one behind this photo, taken shortly after he moved around the corner from the elementary school:

(Photo courtesy of Dave Parnas via Facebook “Exit 18” page)

Joshua Bell Plays Westport — Again

Joshua Bell is the most famous violinist of our time. Wherever he plays — around the world — he attracts adoring, sold-out audiences.

Despite his grueling recording and performing schedule, Bell often finds time for Westport.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

In 2012 Bell helped launch Beechwood Arts and Innovation, the Westport non-profit known for its creative, eclectic Arts Immersion Salons. Music, art, film, performance, food and technology — all come together in a stunning 1806 home owned by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito.

Bell — a longtime friend of Chiu, Beechwood’s co-founder and himself an internationally acclaimed pianist — kicked off the 1st year by donating an unforgettable concert of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

He was joined by Chiu, actor James Naughton of Weston, and 13-year-old theater student Rachel Rival. Afterwards, chef Raul Restrepo of the former River Café served an equally memorable dinner.

Several years earlier, Bell appeared with Chiu — with whom he has played for 35 years — at the sold-out Malloy lecture for the Westport Library. A few days later they performed at the Westport Country Playhouse with Audra McDonald, Glenn Close and Tony Bennett, honoring Westporter Joanne Woodward.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Next month, Bell returns to town. On Thursday, August 25 (8 p.m., United Methodist Church) — in the midst of his own vacation — he’ll give a “high 5” to Beechwood Arts & Innovation, for their 5th-year fundraiser. Chiu once again joins him on piano.

The event includes a VIP Meet-and-Greet, a conversation where they reminisce about their early days as aspiring musicians (with WQXR’s Elliot Forrest), and a celebration party at Beechwood Arts, across the street from the church.

Beechwood logoThough every seat at a fundraiser is important, Beechwood is reserving 40 seats for patrons to sponsor young music students from underserved communities. Local music non-profits Spread Music Now, Turnaround Arts, Intake, Neighborhood Studios and KEYS are helping fill those seats.

Students will sit close to the stage, and talk to Bell and Chiu during intermission. Their parents can share in the event — and all will leave with a CD.

“In our youth, both Joshua and I were deeply inspired seeing master musicians play live,” Chiu says. “Those experiences left impressions that lasted a lifetime.

“This inspires both of us to work with students. And it’s why at Beechwood we regularly include students alongside masters of their craft, in all of our events across music, art, film and performance.”

Bell and Chiu have been friends since meeting at music competitions in their native Indiana. They’ve toured together for nearly 40 years, in the U.S., Europe and South America.

Their friendship will be on display August 25. So will their world-class talents, their deep love of the arts, and their wonderful generosity to all.

(Tickets must be reserved in advance. For tickets or more information, click here or call 203-226-9462.)

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played "Four Seasons." On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played “Four Seasons.” On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.