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MORE ON SULLIVAN Reminiscing about Sullivan's theater
VIEWPOINT
by Jonathan Abarbanel
2018-06-20

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When I was 19 years old I was an Equity Apprentice at the Little Theatre-on-the-Square.

At that time, being an apprentice was how you became a member of Actors Equity Association, the actors' and stage managers' union. The Little Theatre was the only Equity theater between Greater Chicago and St. Louis.

Guy Little Jr., the producer, was in his late 20s and a young husband/father. Some years later, he came out and had many happy years with a partner in Sullivan. His parents still were alive and active in the theater's office. Mr. Little was a prosperous farmer and our opening night parties were at the farm house, a short distance outside town. After Mr. and Mrs. Little passed away, Guy added an indoor swimming pool and converted the house to a luxury B&B ... called The Little House on the Prairie, of course!

The Little Theatre season offered plays that ran one week each, and musicals that ran two weeks—all with stars from film and TV. As an apprentice I built sets, worked as a stage hand and sometimes distributed posters to shops in all the nearby towns. I also was in the chorus of the musicals and sometimes had a bit part.

Our musicals that season were 110 in the Shade, Here's Love and Camelot. I was paid $20/week and took home $18.27 after the Social Security deduction. For $5/week I shared a large, cool, dry basement room with two other male apprentices. Our landlord, Ruby, was in the church choir and I loved to listen to her and other choir members rehearse upstairs. I didn't eat well, but an uncle from nearby Decatur came twice to see shows, and took me out for a buffet feast at the local golf club. Also, the post-show hang-out—a bar/restaurant called Jibby's—thought I was 21, so I could buy a beer for 15 cents a glass and usually someone ordered a pizza to share.

Stars that summer included old film great Pat O'Brien and his wife, Eloise, the legendary John Carradine ( father of Keith and David ), Betty Ann Grove, strapping singer Peter Palmer, Julia Meade, soap heroine Rosemary Prinz, TV star Edd Byrnes and Tab Hunter ( in the title role in Mr. Roberts ). I was several years from coming out, but I remember that Hunter was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen! He was an avid horseman, so Guy arranged for him to ride daily at a local farm. He worked capably and professionally as Mr. Roberts.

John Carradine performed the title role in Dracula ( the original play ) which ends with Dracula in his coffin as a stake is driven through his heart. Carradine stood 6'2," so the coffin was large. Carradine took his bows from the coffin, sitting up in it and then lying down again. For his second curtain call he would hush the audience and say, in a deep, serious voice, "Now what is this? If I'm alive, what am I doing here? And if I'm dead, why do I have to wee-wee?" It always got him a third curtain call!


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