The History of Theater - In One Amazing City

Photos for "The Walls of Walnut Street"

Photos for

Bernard Havard in his office at the Walnut Street Theatre, looking at a wall of historical theater artifacts and personal memorabilia.  He seems to be looking at a copy of a newspaper cartoon from the 1850s, showing Edwin Forrest (in costume as Spartacus the Gladiator) struggling with the lawyer representing Catherine Sinclair Forrest during their divorce case in the 1850s.

Below, Bernard showing me a book of old Philadelphia theater bills, one of the many in his collection. This one is for a play entitled The Aethiop, or Child of the Desert,  at the Chestnut Street Theatre in March of 1816. In the background can be seen Edwin Forrest's old chairs, which we discuss in the episode. Out the window is the American flag flying in front of the Wills Eye Hospital, which is directly across from the Walnut Street Theatre. In the very foreground, at the bottom of the photo you can just see Chris Colucci's hand holding a mobile recording device to catch our conversation!

Above, a close up view of another rare playbill in Bernard's collection, the benefit for young Edwin Forrest at the Walnut Street Theatre in January of 1821. This was the first time that Forrest's name was printed in a playbill - previous posters he was just referred to as "a young gentleman of Philadelphia," in case his debut went badly and he wished to avoid public ridicule. But evidently his young career was already going well enough for the theater to offer him a benefit night! Not only did Forrest play the role of young Octavian in The Mountaineers, but he spoke an epilogue by Goldsmith in the character of Harlequin, while the daughters of future Philadelphia theater historian Charles Durang danced a pas de deux.

An example of the sort of historical playbills that are on public display in the Walnut's lobby - the 1858 poster for a Walnut Street Theatre production of Love's Labor's Lost, starring our old friend Louisa Lane (Mrs. John) Drew as Rosaline. Her husband, Mr. Drew, played the clown Costard.

This was likely the first production of the Shakespeare play in Pennsylvania. The Walnut was at that time under the management of Mrs. D.P. Bowers, "sole lessee and directress." Next on the bill, Mrs. Bowers herself would recite the Monk Lewis dramatic poem entitled "The Maniac."

Above, another poster in the Walnut's lobby that we discuss in the episode, for the 1957 Tennessee Williams' play Something Wild in the Country, from the years that the Walnut Street Theatre was a 'tryout house' for the Shubert Organization.

A re-working of an even older play once called Battle of Angels, Harold Clurman was the director, and he brought on Maureen Stapleton, Robert Loggia, and a young Lois Smith in the character of "Carol Cutrere," a lewd vagrant girl. Boris Aronson was designing the set, with long curving staircases leading to a dark and mysterious room. The show arrived for its developmental run at the Walnut (after a week in Washington D.C.) in some state of disarray, however. The producers were having their doubts about both their leading man and their title. The first performance was delayed from March 4th to March 5th, and the title was changed  to Orpheus Descending.

Williams' own description of the current version of the play went like this: "On the surface it was and still is the tale of a wild-spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop. But beneath that now familiar surface it is a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all."

The play spent two weeks performing at the Walnut, after which the producers planned to move it to New York. Loggia was informed during the run that he was being replaced by Cliff Robertson, who would play Val when the show opened on Broadway. There, the show was panned by many critics and only ran for 68 performances.

There are hundreds of shows that Bernard has produced at the Walnut during his tenure. Photos of these plays and musicals, many by the Philadelphia photographer Mark Garvin, are on display in the Walnut's outer lobby, near the box office. Here's one from the year 2011 of the play Amadeus, starring the actor Rob McClure as Mozart and Dan Olmstead as Salieri. Greg Wood is center as the Emperor - and I am immediately to his left, as the Count Orsini-Rosenberg.

Below, two of the Bernard's most favorite artifacts, the watch chain made out of Fanny Kemble's hair (in his private office), and the marble statue of Edwin Forrest (in the public lobby).

Finally, here is Bernard in the second floor lobby, pointing at a copy of the ground plan of the theater  when it was first built for the equestrian circus performers Pepin and Breschard back in 1808. Behind him, fittingly, are some of the many many headshots of the thousands of actors that have appeared at Walnut during the 40 years he has been the producing artistic director.

(All photos in the post are by either Christopher Mark Colucci or Peter Schmitz)