“People Who Changed the World, Theatrically Speaking” was the topic of the July lecture series on Dallas history at the Hall of State in Fair Park.
“Theater is different in Dallas today than it was in the early years. A current production at the Music Hall in Fair Park requires about a dozen 18-Wheelers to roll in the props, sets and costumes,” actress and author Rose Mary Rumbley said.
In the early days of Dallas theater all one needed for a production was a good looking man, a pretty girl, a clown, an old lady and a dumb blond.
The Madcap Players, a tent show directed by Neil Fletcher and performed on the grounds where City Place Target stands today had all those components
Portraying the “dumb blond” was Fletcher’s wife, Minnie. The band would play “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the curtain would rise and the script would go something like this:
Minnie: “I’m staying at the Paul Revere Hotel and it is terrible. I want to complain to Paul Revere.”
Straight man: “He’s dead.”
Minnie: “Oh, I didn’t even know he was sick.”
Eventually the fire department closed the Madcap Players, but judging by the number of corny dogs consumed by State Fair goers in the years to follow, Texans didn’t hold the Madcap humor against Fletcher.
Even though the tent gigs were over, Fletcher and his brother, Carl, were soon humming “Happy Days Are Here Again,” after their invention of the famous Fletcher’s Corny Dog.
Rumbley recalled the days when there was no television..
“People had to entertain themselves and they did this by acting and singing,” Rumbley said. “They read poetry and played the piano in the parlor after dinner.”
Lessons in elocution were common so children could learn to project and enunciate.
“Miss O. D. Woodrow, School of Elocution” was one of Dallas most famous speech and drama schools and Rose Mary Rumbley was a student. This began a life of show business for Rumbley and a career teaching speech and theater at Dallas Baptist University.
“In the very early days of Texas history, ‘Wild West’ shows travelled through the country,” Rumbley said..
These traveling shows were sponsored by products like Kier’s Cure All, which was oil discovered and bottled by Samuel Kier of Pennsylvania and tonics that were not much more than pure alcohol.
”Remember Hadacol?” Rumbley asked. “It was alcohol and they ‘hadda call it something.’”
Vaudeville and burlesque were traveling shows with burlesque being the lower ranked of the two genres.
One of Dallas’ early vaudeville theaters remains alive and well today. The Majestic, first a theater, then a movie house, was beautifully restored and placed on the register of historic places. The magnificent Majestic Theater is currently a cultural center for the performing arts.
Not faring so well as the Majestic, as it no longer remains intact, was the “Happy Hour Theater” on down Elm Street where the early days of burlesque was performed.
In 1927 Dallas enjoyed the Starlight Operetta, an outdoor musical production. Years later, the advent of air conditioning brought the operetta indoors and that was the beginning of the Dallas Summer Musicals.
In 1947 Margo Jones selected the MobileOilBuilding across from the Old Mill in FairPark and opened a theater, introducing theater-in-the-round. She produced and directed regional plays by newer playwrights like Tennessee Williams and William Inge.
The evolution of theater is an interesting subject as is most anything that has to do with show business.
Theater brings joy, sorrow, tears and laughter to its audience and often leaves them asking for more or pondering what they just experienced.
“We now have theaters all over Dallas, and the surrounding areas,” Rumbley reminded. This gives Dallasites the opportunity to enjoy live productions in many locations, fitting many budgets—allowing more Dallas households to enjoy live performances.
The Brown Bag Lecture Series is hosted by The Dallas Historical Society and takes place at noon in the Hall of State in Fair Park on the first Tuesday of each month. It is free to the public and everyone is invited to bring a brown bag lunch to enjoy during the lecture.
Rose Mary Rumbley Presents