By Executive Director Debra J’Anthony
One of the more frequent boasts of the Academy is the number of former “stars” that have graced our stage. Known actors from the 20th century have included Mae West, Rudolph Valentino, Boris Karloff, Ethel Barrymore among others. William Powell, who later went on to play opposite Myna Loy in 14 films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, including The Thin Man (1934) and My Man Godfrey (1936), got his early start on the Academy stage as a member of the Northampton Players. He performed with the Northampton Players for three years and one day found himself in trouble by the local Northampton police. Here is the story as told in the Gazette on April 23, 1917:
“William Powell of the Northampton Players, expects to regain his health by Thursday or Friday of this week. To look at him one would never know but what he was in his usual high physical state, but as a matter of fact ‘Bill’ is just recovering from an experience, which occurred last Friday night.
“You see it this way. Mr. Powell had spent the early evening-but perhaps it would be better the story appear in Bill’s own words, with slight variations, which he used as he told the experience to a friend who called at this dressing room Saturday evening, so here it is:
“I went out to dinner Friday evening, over to Bob Lee’s, on Pomeroy Terrace, way over the other side of the city. We had a bang-up good feed and were sitting around, discussing various topics of the day, with golfing matters considerably in the limelight. Bob was explaining why and when a machie should be used and giving me a few tips on the proper handling of a brassie. Time went so fast that I didn’t realize it was approaching 9 o’clock and you know I ‘go on’ a few minutes after that tion of its vitals occurring to lend to the theatre all right and we made a hurried exit. Bob’s machine was standing at the door. It was not one of those little old last year’s cars, but a brand new Ford. The car was all there, except one thing, the spark coil key. For six minutes we hunted for that miserable little hunk of brass, with me almost sweating blood and Bob doing a marathon around the house in an unsuccessful search. Finally Bob said: ‘We’re killing time hunting. I’ll get the Packard out,’ and so we beat it to the garage. Salvation loomed up before me when the electric starter began to start. But that was the only thing that started for the machine wouldn’t move a peg. The battery nearly played itself out turning that old engine over, but it was deader than a swelt, not even a single pulsation of its vials occurring to lend a ray of hope.
“I was losing time every second I waited and finally spotted a dearly beloved and venerable bicycle, leaning against the garage. Bidding a hasty goodnight to Bob, I jumped aboard and was off peddling like mad. Down Bridge Street I went like a ‘tank’ on the British front, over potholes, through mud and I fairly submarined through the underpass at the foot of Main Street. When passing the end of King Street I was conscious of some yelling and running after me. I looked back, spied a cop in full pursuit and put more energy into the pedals. That look backward was my undoing, for the machine had a coaster brake and it skipped a turn, running backward and pitching me forward onto the crossbar.
“The cop was gaining. I regained the seat and put more emergency into the pedals. I heard the blue-coat yell out something about not having a light so I called back: ‘I’m Bill Powell of the Northampton Players. Emergency. Call me up.’ And kept on going. There was a congestion of traffic in front of the theatre. A car was standing there with people getting on and off and also several automobiles. I saw an opening about two feet wide a made for it. Just when I thought I was safe, two girls, college girls, I suppose, stepped from behind the car. It was too late to stop, so I shut my eyes and ploughed on, but nothing happened. The girls vanished as quickly as they appeared and I got through unscathed. I pulled up at the stage door, threw the bicycle on the lawn inside the low fence and bolted to my dressing room. I made a quick change and in two minutes ‘went on.’ I have never been late for a show yet, but I came mighty near being that night.”
We have our own “stars” of today on the Academy stage: Rachel Maddow, Young@Heart Chorus, Arlo Guthrie, and John Hodgman, to name a few!
Help restore the Academy! We’re replacing the seats in the auditorium, repairing and repainting the ornate plaster, insulating and replacing the stage roof, and adding aisle lighting. Learn more.