Hollywood Goes to Pasadena to Rescue An Old Playhouse Where Stars Were Born
The crowd was as spangly as Broadway first-nighters, but for most of those present it was less a social obligation than an affair of the heart. The occasion was a $20-a-head benefit to resurrect the Pasadena Playhouse and drama school, a venerable institution that gave first chances to a host of Hollywood's best and brightest from 1925 until its demise four decades later. So on a rainy fall Saturday night 3,000 of its beneficiaries and fans turned out to return the favor.
Many of the guests, like chairwoman Sally Struthers, had apprenticed, performed or taught at the playhouse and school established by Shakespearean actor Gilmor Brown; they featured such nascent stars as John Carradine, Raymond Burr and Dustin Hoffman. Struthers found herself "flooded with memories" when she slipped in a side door of the mission-style building on El Molino Avenue. "I used to run out of that door after class," she recalled, "to get to the restaurant where I worked as a waitress."
Hard times hit the playhouse when its founder died in 1960, and it went dark eight years later. But, thanks to $1.3 million in federal funds and community donations, the doors are scheduled to reopen in January 1981.
Though he never worked at the playhouse, Ed Asner co-chaired the event with Struthers because "many things that we treasured from our past are dying or defunct." The reason Barbi Benton and her new real estate investor hubby, George Gradow, attended was less lofty. "We're here tonight because we live right around the corner," said the Hee Haw honey. "If it isn't worth staying, we can always go home." But it was, and they didn't.
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