Fannin County Museum of History

   

One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

1931 Brought Down the Final Curtain

Bonham Daily Favorite, April 16, 1995


From the beginning Bonham audiences received the productions of the Pied Piper Players with enthusiasm. Over and over the newspaper accounts report on the standing room only crowds. Knowing that the American Theater could seat 800 on both the ground floor and the balcony, the attendance figures are remarkable for a town the size of Bonham. Consider however, that there was little entertainment offered in the town except for the silent productions shown at the local movie houses.

Both the Steger and Russell Opera Houses had seen their day and served the public only for amateur performances. Vaudeville seems to have been nonexistent in Bonham by this time. The Steger Opera House had converted to the showing of the motion picture art. Radio was still in its infancy although by the end of the decade regularly scheduled popular programs were received in many of the local homes.

The productions of the Pied Pipers seem to not have followed a particular schedule judging from the dates given on the copies of the theatrical programs. In all likelihood productions were scheduled only when a director could be found, and a cast and crew assembled. It appears that roughly three productions a year were mounted on the stage of the American. Somewhere around twenty productions was the total output of the theatrical company until the trials of the great American Depression finally wrote finish to the effort.


In one extant review The Bonham Daily Favorite reported via the headline, "Pied Piper Players Score Huge Success." The production was the first of several plays scheduled for the year 1928.

The Players followed the tested and tried format of light drawing room comedies with this production of "Her Husband's Wife" by A.E. Thomas.

The Favorite reporter began his review with the statement, "What others can do, we can do, may be most truthfully said of the theater company of Bonham." The production was under the direction of Bonham attorney Mrs. O.L. Couch. The performance piece was the oldest of those done by the company. "Her Husband's Wife" opened on Broadway in 1917 starring Marie Tempest in the title role.

Praising the director, the reporter stated, "it is one thing to direct a play and quite another to put into it the proper atmosphere required to make it a success, and too much cannot be said in praise of Mrs. Couch as director."

Describing the plot as new and full of thrilling situations the reviewer praised the small cast of six, singling out each individual actor with comments on their performances.

"Mrs. Ray Peeler, as Irene Randolph, the invalid wife, lost herself in the part. Miss Mary Alice Pritchett gave a most effective interpretation of Emily Ladew."

"A seemingly small part sometimes carries with it wonderful possibilities and requires as much ability as some of the more important roles - Miss Adelaide Leeman as Nora, the maid, was most attractive. Stuart Randolph, the pivotal character, the husband, was portrayed by Basil Gibson. The part, always difficult, was splendidly handled. Mr. Leslie Earl Leatherwood as the non-plussed lover had the heartfelt sympathy of all the audience. Douglas Spivy as John Belden, the doting old uncle had to be a master diplomat and Mr. Spivy was most pleasing in the role."

As in earlier production the actors were costumed by Hermer's Style Shop, Graham Crawford Company, and H.L. Rodgers Co. The reviewer commented that much time and thought had been given to the costuming of the production.

As he did so often Rabb Taylor designed the effective scenery, assisted by Miss Charlie Phillips as the color coordinator. The furnishing pieces were provided by Halsell and Caldwell.

The reviewer ended his reportage with the elements of an interview conducted with the Board of the Pied Piper Players when he asked what was the purpose of the Little Theater." The purpose of the Little Theater is to promote the study and enjoyment and appreciation of artistic drama and give Bonham an opportunity to become familiar with the very best of modern drama at a cost prohibitive to none. The only financial ambition of the Pied Piper Players is to be self-supporting and in the course of time to own and operate our own playhouse."

The Bonham company also participated in an unusual experiment when the Gainseville Players mounted an inter-city production of "Hell Bent For Heaven" the 1924 Pulitzer prize winner by Hatcher Hughes. Each of the area theater groups selected a performer to appear in the production which was then presented in each of the towns.


The Bonham group chose Mrs. Vic Morrow as their representative. John Rosenfeld, long-time critic for The Dallas Morning News wrote, "Mrs. Lindsey Morrow of Bonham, an exceptionally clever character woman, gave to the part of Meg Hunt, in the play, all that might be desired."

One off-shoot of the Pied Pipers, that for many years has contributed to the support of the arts in Bonham, was the organization of the Pierrot Club, the dramatic organization at Bonham High School. Upon disbanding, the Piper Players donated all their scenery, properties, etc. to the high school group and established with some remaining funds from the organization's treasury a scholarship fund. A few drama majors, graduates of Bonham High School, were recepients of these monies.

The final production of the company was the famous George Kelly comedy, "The Showoff" presented on November 19, 1931. Declining fortunes and box office receipts brought on by the depression wrote the end to Bonham's entry into the Broadway scene. The production was directed by Mrs. A.S. Broadfoot who directed several of the company's productions.

The final Board of Directors of the Pied Piper Players were Roy W. Fletcher, president, Mrs. M.A. Taylor 1st Vice-president, Mrs. Ray Peeler, 2nd Vice-President, Miss Irene Risser, Secretary, T.M. Simmons, Treasurer, and John Peeler Henderson, Business Manager

On at least two occasions, as the country struggled out of the depression, attempts were made to revive the group and productions were once again given on the stage of The American. One of these was "Skidding" the story line of which was to later provide the characters and settings for the popular movies series of Andy Hardy's family.

Much of the information for these two articles was provided by the late Mrs. Opal Peeler.