Bettye Fitzpatrick

Duration: 1hr: 39mins
Please read and accept the disclaimer below to continue.

DISCLAIMER

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.

The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.

The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.

The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:

The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
500 McKinney
Houston, Texas 77002


The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.

For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at information@houstonoralhistory.org.

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.



Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Betty Fitzpatrick
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: June 10, 2008

 


DG:Today is June 10, 2008. We are at the Alley Theater in the office of Betty Fitzpatrick who is being interviewed for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today?

BF: I am fine, thank you, David.

DG:Great. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for our project. Let’s begin at the beginning. You were born and raised in Decatur, Texas? Is that true?

BF: Well, I was raised in Decatur, Texas. Actually, I was born in Henderson, Texas and we moved to Decatur when I was about 4 years old. So, I spent all of my school years in Decatur. In fact, I went to what used to be Decatur Baptist College. It was a junior college. Now, it has moved to Dallas and it is a university. And it is Dallas Baptist University.

DG:Tell us about your childhood. What did you do when you were a little girl?

BF: Oh, you name it! I was raised on a farm. And so, we, of course, had chores to do. I could milk a cow before I could write my name and stayed in the milk barn morning and night, but the rest of the day, if Mother wasn’t canning peas or corn or something like that, then it was ours to do what we wanted. We played in the creeks, caught little fish. It was just a wonderful childhood. I had a horse to ride, I had a bicycle but country roads. We did not have any paved roads out there then.

DG:What do you think of the long-lasting effects of that kind of childhood?

BF: The long-lasting is my attention to promptness. Mother, I remember her telling my older brother and 2 sisters, saying, “You have got to be at the bus line at 5 minutes until 7. I don’t care how much work you’ve got to do around here but at 5 minutes to 7, you’ve got to be there to catch the school bus.” Well, I learned that at the ripe old age of 6, that I had to be there to catch the school bus. And in the Fitzpatricks, all 4 of us children had perfect attendance through every year of high school. And we all laughed about it and we said, regardless of how sick we were, it would be better to be in school than to have Mother put us to work. So, we would go to school, sick or not. But that. And I don’t mind work. I don’t mind physical labor because, you know, Dad had to go out and build fences. That is O.K. And you learn to do all of that when you are on a farm. We had 52 acres. We had corn on about 10 acres of it. Then, we had a meadow where the cows grazed and about 10 acres of it. Mother had her garden. Now, there is where all the work was but it was wonderful. I would go to the garden with a salt shaker in my pocket and sit under a tomato vine and just stuff myself because I loved . . . I am so heartbroken that they’ve got the tomatoes off the market now that we are in danger of getting salmonella. Maybe they will be back soon.

DG:And you will be there at the store with your salt shaker!

BF: I will be there with my salt shaker.

DG:Was there anything in your childhood to suggest a career in the arts?

BF: None. Nothing. The only time I was on stage was when I was going to Decatur Baptist College. They were going to do a religious play. And the speech teacher . . . I was in debate and extemporaneous speaking. He said, “Would you want to be in a play?” And I said, “Oh, no.” And he said, “Well, it would be very nice if you would play” . . . in the Bible. She is a lady of ill repute.

DG:Jezebel?
EF: No.

DG:Mary Magdalene?
EF: It was one of those. I said, “Oh, well, O.K.” So help me, the night that we were going to play it, I broke out in hives, my voice went, and I had to reblock all of my stuff down by the footlights and whisper to be heard, for them to hear my lines. And I said, that’s enough of that. And it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I switched off to become a drama major. Prior to that, I was going to be a math major. I did so-so in trigonometry. Trigonometry, we had a teacher who was also a football coach and he came in, he wrote some test on the board. This was for our final. He just finished the tests and he said, “Now, there is your test. If anybody can pass that, you get an A in the course.” Well, we all looked at each other and thought oh, I don’t think so. But one boy made 67 and I made 65, so we got the two A’s in the course but we did not pass the test. But anyway, trigonometry. Then, I got to calculus and I could not get my mind around that so I walked out of calculus and I was walking across the school campus and ran into a friend that I had known only a couple of days and he said, “Are you coming to the college players tryouts tonight?” And I said, “Well, what is the college players? What do they do?” And they said, “They do the plays that we have here.” And so, I said, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” He said, “Try it. You might like it.” So, I kind of ad libbed my way through an audition and sure enough, the lady that was teaching the course – I have her picture right up there – her name was Myrtle Hardy. She not only let me in to the college players but she cast me in the lead because it was playing an old woman. You know, now I am in my early 20s but it was to play an older woman, but I had a lot of neighbors to draw up in Decatur. I went to church with them every Sunday and I observed the way they walked, the way they held their ______ and all that sort of thing. So, that was my first trip on to a stage, was as this old woman in a show called The Man. I get murdered in it. I will never forget that one. But that is what started it all. Myrtle Hardy. She taught me my respect for theater. She said, “You are never late to a rehearsal. You come to rehearsal prepared.” Fortunately, that philosophy tied in with Ms. Vance’ (sp?) philosophy about theater. So, when I heard that Ms. Vance had summer interns, they called them apprentices in those days, then I wrote her a letter and applied to see if I could come down and audition for her. Well, I did. I came down. She let me come down. She said, “Well, if you can find a job and support yourself for the next month or so, I will have an opening in the box office. You can have that. I said, “Fine.” About 3 or 4 years later, she hired me. I mean, she hired me on the spot there for the box office but she had hired me for stage manager. She came to me one day and she said, “Betty, I need a stage manager.” I said, “Ms. Vance, I have never done stage management in my life. I know nothing about it.” She said, “You take the job and I will train you.” How can you lose in a case like that? And so, she trained me as a stage manager and she always introduced me as the best stage manager in the United States. That was because she trained me and I did things exactly the way she wanted it done. That was how I got in to stage management because the lady that was running the apprentice program the summer I came down, she came to me and she said, “Betty, they are not going to cast you as Angenuse (sp?) because your persona is much older than Angenuse.” And I had a deeper voice. So, she said, “What you need to do is to find out how to make a living in theater until your actual age kind of gets close to your persona.” And I said, “Oh, well ______.” And so, when this idea of becoming a stage manager came along from Ms. Vance, I went for it and enjoyed it because what it did, it kept me in rehearsals and the way to learn your craft in theater is from other actors and from good directors. And it was an excellent opportunity to learn from those.

cue point

DG:I have to ask . . . the advice I hear frequently that is given to young people considering a career in the theater is when people say, “Don’t do it because you like it. Do it because you love it, because you have to do it, because it is hard to make a living and there will be difficult times and there will be people who tell you you can’t do it. You have to love it.” So, I assume that at some point, you came to be one of those people that loved it and the theater was in your blood and you had to be in the theater. How did you get from walking across campus from your calculus class to having to be in the theater?

BF: Well, mainly because of Ms. Myrtle Hardy who was my teacher and then by coming to the Alley Theater as an apprentice. I discovered it was not a game. There are always jokes about people peering out from behind the curtain looking at the audience and waving to the people. No, it is not that. Ms. Vance referred to it as the church. It was a church. It was a religion for you. And the more I was exposed to it and to serious-minded, good actors, it became a church for me, too. And for years and years and years, well, even now it is church. You are never late to rehearsal, you come prepared and give it your best – even in a rehearsal. I remember a wonderful actress, she was from Chicago at the time – Brenda Forbes, she was British – she had a couple of long speeches. We were doing a show called Cocktail Party. Ms. Vance would say to Brenda, “Now, Brenda, you do not need to play these things full out,” because she knew she could play them blindfolded. But Brenda said, “No, that is what rehearsals are for, is to make sure everything is in its proper place – in your mind, in your speech,” and the same was true of Eve Lagaglin (sp?). They would say . . . Eve Lagaglin was 83 when she was down here doing To Grandmother’s House We Go and the director would say, “Now, Ms. Lagaglin, save your energy. Don’t play it full out.” And she said, “There is no other way to play it.” So, you do that. It is like learning to run a marathon. You don’t just get on the track the first day and run a marathon. You have to build up to it. So, yes, I do love it. I still love it. 51 years later, I still love it.

DG:You mentioned people who inspired you in those early years. Were there any experiences that made you doubt whether that was the place to be, any equivalents of calculus that made you wonder whether this was . . .

BF: Yes. Every once in a while, a role would come along and I’d think I should be playing that role. In fact, when we did the Miracle Worker, I was so right to play Annie Sullivan but Ms. Vance cast one of the other company actresses. And she came to me during rehearsals and she said, “One of the reasons that you are not playing this role is because the girl that I have playing Helen Keller is your size. I needed a larger woman to play Annie Sullivan.” That answered the question in my mind. I watched the other actress every night and I’d think I am not real sure I could have made that emotional jump that she just made. And so, I learned from her.

DG:And Ms. Vance knew you were thinking that while you were sitting there in rehearsals?

BF: She knew I was not just sitting there. I was learning. In fact, I guess that is one reason that people in Houston are not so tired of me they could throw up – because a lot of years, I was production manager and so consequently, I was not on stage. I had worked dual around here. Ms. Vance always cast me in roles that I would succeed in. And so, she was very careful. And Greg Boyd is the same way. Greg is very careful to make sure that I am seen in roles that I should be in for my age, where I am in life. Greg takes care of that now. And very few actors, whether they are in a company or where they are, can say that; that their career has been shepherded or molded by the artistic director of the institute. That is one of the reasons that Uta Hagen said in her book and I think Sir Oliver, well, I am blank as a post . . . the one that was married to Scarlet O’Hara for a while. Olivier . . . said, “To make a sound career, dedicate it to something that is bigger than your career.” And I said, that makes sense. I do not want to be measured by only my career. I would like to be part of an institution. And so, when I would get so frustrated and irritated with the Alley Theater, I’d say, wait a minute – they need you right now.
Oh, a funny story . . . don’t include this . . . I was summoned to

cue point

DG:If you tell me, it is going to be included. Shall I turn this off?

BF: Oh, no. It will be all right. I was summoned to do jury duty and I wrote them a letter and I said, please, I cannot attend because I am stage ________ in technicals and I am stage managing a show and nobody else can do my work. They wrote me back a very curt you cannot use work as an excuse to get out of jury duty. So, I went there the day that I was summoned and they said, “Now, does anybody have any reasons why they cannot serve on the jury?” I put my hand up. I told him, I said, “I am Betty Fitzpatrick. I wrote you a letter.” He said, “Yes, and I answered it, didn’t I?” I said, “Yes, sir, but I thought if maybe you heard the whole story, you could have a change of heart.” He said, “I do not. Work is not an excuse to get out of jury duty.” And then he gave me about a 15 minute lecture on it is our duty to be on the jury. As soon as he was finished talking, as soon as we had a coffee break, about 10 people came up to me and they said, “We have seen your work. We come to the Alley Theater. We were really rooting for you to get out of it.” But I discovered that rather than try to get out of that, just be somebody that they would not want on their jury, they won’t pick you. So, I got out of that. Half of my life was spent stage managing and production managing and the other half was acting and all of it is valuable.

DG:You have talked about Ms. Vance. Let’s talk about Ms. Vance. Who was she? What kind of lady was she?

BF: She was a beautiful woman. When I was in my early 20s, there were like 3 women, very influential women in the theater. Margot Jones died when I was in college. She died in 1954, I believe it was. She ran Theater 53 in Dallas. I had been over to see her shows after I got interested in theater, and Zelda Fichandler who founded and built the Arena Stage in Washington, and Nina Vance who built the Alley. And out of those 3 women, it was very funny – they all had different gifts. ______ Jones was a producer. She could sell snowballs in Alaska. She’d say, “Now, honeys, I am doing the best show we have ever done. Now, you’ve got to finance this one.” And the city of Dallas really got behind her and as long as she was alive, they would never want for money. So, she was a fine producer. Zelda was a fine producer and artistic director, and she assembled a very good, fine company and kept that place going. But of the three, Nina was the best director, at least to my way of thinking because Ms. Vance directed viscerally. And, oh, she would study scripts. I told her years later, I said, “I learned all I needed to know about acting.” “Ha, you never learn that,” but I learned a lot of what I know about acting from acting with you in a scene I would never play in front of an audience,” because she would have me read the other parts and she would be trying out the blocking on another role and see if that was going to be right. And if it felt right for her, it would be right for the other actors. So, wonderful director. But she could be very hard on you. I remember opening night of Diary of the Scoundrel. We had been having trouble with this scene and we were not succeeding in putting the story line forth and we were not getting our laughs, in other words. Ms. Vance came back opening night and said, “I want to cut this scene from here to here,” and that was a big chunk out of the scene. I looked at Dale Hellward who was one of our fine actors and I said, “Dale, can you make that jump?” He said, “Well, I have to. She told us to.” So, we did. So, she could be harsh. She did not ask anything from you that she was not willing to do herself.
I remember she had told the designer, she said, “Now, I want those poles painted out black,” so the audience was not aware of them. Opening night came and they were still the color that they were the previous show. I came in to set up the stage and I heard somebody in there thumping around. I went in there and there was Ms. Vance on a stool painting those poles black. She wanted them black by opening night. So, no, it was her home. I remember she made a very fine offer from Theater Communications Group when it first started out and they wanted her to move to New York and to become part of the founding strength of the TCG. She took her bed for about 4 days and then she summoned her staff. In those days, the staff could meet in this room because there were only 8 of us. She summoned us and she said, “I have thought about that job offer but I cannot leave the Alley. That is my child. I founded it and I am going to stay with it.” And we were all very relieved because we knew what happens to theaters when the founder leaves or is taken away by death. But she is a wonderful, wonderful lady. And one thing about it – I always said – I would write my mother and my father and I would say, “Mom, I am going to stay here until I have learned all I can learn from Nina Vance. And then I will be home.” Well, what I did not realize was that Nina continued to learn. She learned from actors, she learned from other directors, she continued to learn. Of course, she would always be on the road ahead of me. I could never learn all she knew. She was continuing to learn. So, I had to run to keep up. So, yes.

cue point

DG:What were those early days like at the Alley? People who see this interview now or years from now, will see the Alley as the success that it is. What were those early days like?

BF: Hard work running a show. You struck it on Sunday night and you were up all night striking the props and putting in the set for the next show. By 10 o’clock the next day – now this was before LORT, League of Resident Theaters, made it mandatory that the actors have Monday off, but in those days, you did not get Monday off so you worked all night striking one set and by 10 o’clock the next morning or 11 o’clock if you were really lucky, the actors would come back in for the next show and you would start setting lights and sound and getting ready to . . . by Tuesday night, you played your first preview. So, you had like a 48 hour turnaround and tech show in that length of time. And we did not only shows at night but we did children’s theater on Saturday. We would do 2 shows. So, sometimes on a Saturday, you would do 2 children’s shows, you would do a rehearsal for the next show coming up and then you would do 2 performances of whatever show you were running at the time. So, yes. And I must confess – we were all pretty heavy drinkers but that was to get through it. We kept saying to ourselves . . . because you never drank to the point of being drunk, you just drank to keep your energy up. It was very hard work and you really . . . now, you want to know about dedication . . . you had to be dedicated to live through that.
Funny stories about all of us. We all thought we were going to start rehearsals. One Tuesday, Ms. Vance had notified us all to come in and in those days, we did have a company of actors because the Ford Foundation had summoned all of the . . . there were 10 theaters that were winter stock theaters in the whole United States at that time. Only 10. And W. McNeil Lowry, who was head of the Ford Foundation of the Arts and Humanities, he invited all 10 of them to come to New York and he asked them, “What can we do to help?” And to a person out of those 10 people, every one of them said, “We want enough money to have a company of actors,” because they had all been to Russia. They saw what a company can do. They had been to Germany. They see what . . . at the Bertolt Brecht Theater, what a company of actors could do – all of it.

DG:What year was this?

BF: This was in 1956. No, it was 1958 or 1959. But anyway, in 1960, the Ford Foundation stepped in and they gave a grant to the theater enough to pay 10 actors $200 a week and in those days, oh, you could live very nicely on $200 a week. And they paid the theater enough money and they said we will do this for 2 years. The third year, the city where your theater is will have to raise the money. Well, we did it for 2 years but the third year, Houston did not raise the money. But I will tell you, they raised the money for this building. It was wonderful. Ms. Vance, she was marvelous. She would say to them, “I have never asked you for a dime I did not need. We need your dimes now.” And I think it cost $3.5 million, and we are sitting here in a building that we could not even build but the front door for that now. But they raised it in small donations. I think they got a quarter of a million from some foundation and maybe $100,000 from another foundation. Most of it came in small donations. Children brought their lunch money and gave it to the Alley Theater, and that is what built this building. Wait a minute – how did I get off on that?

DG:Well, we were talking about the early days of the Alley.

BF: The early days. Yes, because the old Alley is torn down now and the old Alley used to be a fan factory but Milton Vance, that was Ms. Vance’s husband, he came in and he looked in and he said, “Well, we can’t make it into a proscenium. Let’s make it into an arena.” And he did all the drawings. He was a lawyer. But he did the drawings on how to renovate that old building, that old fan factory, into an arena stage that seated 214 people. And that is the number of cards that she sent out when she sent out to the community and said, “Do you want a professional theater?” 214. And 100 people came and they all voted. They voted take it. If you think you can run it . . . well, the rest is history.
Oh, I’ve got to tell one story but I won’t mention any names. She announced in 1954 that she was going to have to close the theater because of lack of funds. After it came out in the newspapers that the Alley Theater was going to have to close for lack of funds, the next day, she got a letter in the mail from one of the wealthiest women in Houston and the letter said, “It would be a shame for the Alley Theater to lose something as vital and as exciting as the Alley Theater for want of money. Please accept my enclosed check.” Ms. Vance could not wait to look at that check. It was for $25. Then, she was livid. She said, “She could have written me a check for $25,000, and it would mean nothing to her but she sent me a check for $25.” But Ms. Vance thought about it and she took that $25 and paid the royalty on a surefire comedy that people would want to come to see. And sure enough, the rest is history. That $25 was just the nudge she needed to keep going. And she told me one day sitting in that office in there, she said, “You know, Betty, if she had sent me that $25,000, I would have taken that money and I would have produced the very finest production of Uncle Vanya the city of Houston had ever seen or would ever see, and nobody would have come. And we would have lost $25,000 and we would have had to close our doors anyway. But that $25 was the amount that I needed to buy a comedy.” And that was what she did. She knew Houston, she knew the audiences.

cue point

DG:Well, that brings up an interesting question then. Especially in those early years, selecting the plays that you choose to perform. There is that pressure to go to the lowest common denominator, always another comedy and at the same time, there is an art form here that must be presented.

BF: Yes, and believe me, she felt the pressure of having to select plays that would continue to educate, inform, entertain, keep an audience with us. In fact, after we moved into this building, she said, “I am surprised that we have anybody left.” We opened this building with Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo. It was awful. People were leaving in droves. We followed that with George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan. Oh, talkie, talkie, talkie. Boring, boring, boring. We lost a lot of people on that one, too. Then, right behind St. Joan, we did War and Peace. Well now, there was an awful lot of war, thank God, because the peace did not mean anything to our audiences and we were losing them left and right during that one. So, those were the first 3 productions in this building. And then, Ms. Vance, she called us in, she said, “We’ve got to win them back. We’ve got to do something for them that they are going to enjoy.” And always, it was a standing joke . . . Ms. Vance would do Light Up The Sky if she was financially in trouble. Zelda Fichandler would do Three Men On A Horse when she was financially in trouble. Stages over there used to do Everything I Ever Had. Jean Proctor played the role. But anyway, all of us had Old Faithfuls that we would fall back on. So, she drug out Light Up The Sky and we did that as play number 4. And they started trickling back in. As long as she was with us, they were loyal; if not to the theater, then to her because they all realized that without her, Houston would not have a professional theater.

DG:Now, when she selected those first 3 plays, was it knowing no one would come or was it the hope that the city was ready for them?

BF: It was hope that we could shine, that we could really do a fine job of it and they think, well, they deserve to live in that palace because we had just moved from a shanty to a palace downtown, and I think in her heart, she thought, well, I want them to believe that we deserve this palace. Well, Zelda Fichandler told her, said, “Nina, if you value any of your employees that have been with you for a long time, don’t keep them through that first season because you will work them to death and they will leave you.” And sure enough, it was at the end of that that Paul Owen and John Wiley left and they were two of the mainstays. We did not leave because there was too much work to be done. So, we he had to stay. When I say that, because Beth Sanford was here and she was here for, oh, what, 28 years, 27 years, 28 years as a resident staff director.” She always helped Ms. Vance with crowd scenes and big shows because Ms. Vance said, “I cannot watch all of them so Beth, you take that scene and direct it.” And so, Beth had directed probably more shows than anybody living at this time at the Alley Theater. But Beth is now on the faculty at St. John’s, so she is still directing and she is raising our audiences coming up.

DG:People who watch this now think of a downtown as we currently have but downtown was not always the downtown . . .
EF: Oh, no! When I came here in 1957, the only thing you could see . . . I think it was called Millie Esperson Building, the one that has the little cupola on top – that was the tallest building in downtown Houston. And then, all of a sudden, we saw some cranes coming in. This was like some time in the latter 1950s, maybe early 1960s. And they built the Humble Building down there, and it went well past Millie Esperson.

DG:Well, and then when the Alley was first built at its current location, there was Jones Hall across the street. Of course, the opera house was not behind you and the parks. There were a lot of bars and the Alley __________.

BF: Oh, yes. There was just Jones Hall and us and we were the only thing down here. And people did not want to come down here because there were panhandlers on the street and muggers. It was not a very nice neighborhood but it has changed a lot because it is a legitimate theater district to have TUTS 3 blocks away and right across the street from us, Jones Hall is there. And then, where the opera, the symphony, the ballet, play . . . we are all here together now and we borrow from each other. And we need more space, we arrange for the others to be here if they need.

DG:The flood _______ devastated the symphony library. Did it have any effect here at the Alley?

BF: I went to look downstairs and the furniture – we were doing Carpetbaggers Children – and when it flooded, all of the furniture was floating up into the light fixtures. We had to close. Fortunately, Stages which is another young theater . . . well, it is not young anymore, who is . . . but they helped us out. They had an empty acting area and so we just moved our production. We had to get new furniture and all that sort of thing but it was a simple stage. But we pulled it and opened it at stages and played it over there, and we had an arrangement with them. But that is when we had to completely redo the Arena area because all the seats were ruined, the carpet ruined. That is when they pulled out one section and made it to where you can have theater on 3 sides, that thrust stage, or you can pull up the jacks, put those seats back in and have a 4-sided theater again. And that was in 2001. When did we have Katrina or was it Allison?

DG:Allison.

BF: Allison is the one that did it.

cue point

DG:Everything you said about Nina Vance – it must have been very traumatic when she left.

BF: She died.

DG:Right.

BF: Yes.

DG:Was that a surprise? What was it like?

BF: We knew, Beth and I. We would go up to . . . we were the only 2 people that she would let come up to see her in the hospital because she told Herschel Wilkenfeld who was her companion, she said, “I don’t want to see anybody. I don’t want them to see me like this but I want to see Betty and Beth.” And so, we would come up . . . Beth always made her laugh. She could always think of something. We were doing a play called Artichoke and Beth brought up all these clothes and she said, “Now, I had this in mind for the leading lady,” and she would do a style show there in Ms. Vance’s sick room and pretty soon, she would be laughing and enjoying herself because she felt involved. And she always said, she said, “Now, what I envision my old age to be like, I am going to be 85 sitting in a chair and still giving advice.” Bless her heart, she did not make it that far. I think she was 66 when she passed away. Died of cancer. We knew she had cancer but she never admitted it to us . . . because her doctor was one of the most famous cancer doctors . . . well, if you say in Houston, that is in the world practically because if you’ve got to be sick, be sick in Houston. But she never told us because . . . I asked Herschel later about it and he said she did not want the board to think she was weakened because the board can be like a bunch of chickens. If they knew that there was a blood spot on your head, they’d peck you to death and she did not want that to happen to her. So, she would tell us that she was having a bout of diverticulitis or something like that with her stomach, but it was cancer that she died from. Herschel asked me that morning after she passed away, he said, “What should we put on her death certificate?” and I said “Cancer. Be honest about it now.” That was February 18, 1980, that she died.
Pat Brown was a logical choice to be her predecessor because she won the Ms. Vance look-alike contest. They were both large, red-headed women. Pat had run theater in California. And Pat did her best but Pat did not take the time, or she did not . . . Nina would absolutely woo and take the time to keep her board of directors in her hip pocket. Pat did not do that. Pat’s husband was a lawyer and she would think that he could take that off of her plate. Jerry was a very fine lawyer and a very fine man but the board wanted to feel that they were in touch with the artistic director. Pat did not give them that feeling. Now, we do not have to worry about that right now because Greg Boyd is an absolute genius about handling a board and he is so hard-working and so well-known and everything that now the theater is in good shape, especially with Gershwin’s American in Paris running. They have extended it 2 weeks already.

DG:Where did Greg Boyd come from?

BF: He had been to Williamstown. He was director there and he was running a theater in Springfield, Massachusetts, I believe it was, when the search committee found him and brought him down to be interviewed. And then, they made the job offer to him. He would have been crazy not to take it. He said in his acceptance speech, “I have been given the finest toy in the world. Now, I am free to play with it.” That was 1988. Is that 20 years ago?

DG:20 years ago.

BF: Time flies when you are having fun!

DG:Yes, ma’am! In your acting career, what was your favorite role?

BF: Oh, there are two of them. Number one, my all-time favorite is Cousin Souk in A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. That is a 2 person show and for 20 years, Charles Sanders and I . . . 5 years we did it upstairs in the board room here and then we moved it up the street to Christ Church Cathedral, and then the next 15 years, we did it there. Cousin Souk, the most wonderful challenge. And then, the other favorite, I guess, is Weazer in Steel Magnolias because she was such a garrulous and cantankerous old bitty. And I adored playing in The Foreigner, playing Betty Meeks. I love to play comedy. There is enough tragedy in the world. If you want tears, woe and tragedy, just turn your television on but if you want laughter and a whole house full of laughing people at once, that is the most exhilarating feeling in the world, to have 800 laughing people.

DG:On your production side, going back to that day when Ms. Vance came to you at the box office and said, “I want you to be a stage manager,” I am tempted to think that in the world of Bohemian artiste that an artistic sensibility with a taste for punctuality would probably attract her to you but why do you think she singled you out for that particular role?

BF: Because she could tell I did have an eye for detail. Like when we were doing a show called Time Limit, I went to the stage manager and I said, “Who is going to fill the file cabinets?” and he said, “What do you mean fill the file cabinets?” I said, “Well, he opens the drawers. You would not have empty drawers in here.” Well, that word got back to Ms. Vance. Ms. Vance all of a sudden started looking at me and she would say, “Betty, if you had to get that furniture off stage, how would you do it?” I would come back the next morning and I’d say, you’d do this and that and that. So, whenever she did the Imaginary Invalid, Paul wanted the audience to come in as a black stage and then you want to take the black cloth off of the chandeliers, the black cloth off the floor and set the stage in a blackout of all the audience. And he said, “You can do it in 45 seconds. That’s how long you’ve got.” I said, “All right, we’ll do it.” And we did. And every night, we would get our applause. _________. And then, when we did _________ 38, the lights come up and here are two gods sitting on a cloud. Well, you take the lights down on a bare stage, you run in 2 wagons and you have apprentices flip up a nylon from a parachute and it caught all that air under it and it looked like we were sitting on a cloud. And we would get our applause there. But Ms. Vance, she always said, “If you tell me it can’ be done, I believe you. If you tell me it is going to cost me another $10,000, I believe you.” She said, “That is why I want you in that job because when you say . . . you’ve studied it and I believe you.” That meant a lot. It meant a lot to me because she called me in . . . I was a kid in my 20s . . . and she said, “Whatever decision you make as a stage manager, I will back you up. If I ever have any questions about why you did what you did, we will discuss that in private. But always in front of the actors, I back you up.” And I had that trust and I felt secure.

cue point

DG:Did you ever have to tell her it can’t be done?

BF: Oh, yes. Well, I had to tell her it can’t be done with our staff. When we were doing Seagull, he had live plants growing in rice patties, it looked like, and I went to her and I said, “Ms. Vance, I need 6 boys that I can just work to death.” And she said, “Hire them.” So, that is what we did. We had to hire those 6 boys to change the sets for the Seagull. Oh, yes, I did . . . there was a time in the Crucible, he had built a hanging with a noose that he could not get in to the Arena. I said, “Ms. Vance, we will have to take that thing apart and put it together in a blackout to get it in the Arena.” And she said, “Let me talk to Paul.” Paul cut it down and made it manageable. But there was great rapport, there was understanding, and we trusted each other. We trusted everybody on the staff. John Wiley was another one that we all came to him . . . we said, “I am going to have to tell Ms. Vance that that cannot be done that way.” He said, “Let me tell her,” and he would get in there, too. So, there was a wonderful group of people and she was no afraid to raise young actors, young directors. She is the one that gave Bess Sanford her first directing assignment here at the Alley, and that was back in 1964, 1965. She stayed here until 1988 and directed practically half of the shows but she wanted young people around her that would get the job done and we were more than happy to do that.

DG:Under the best of circumstances, the unforeseen can happen. Were there any near disasters or disasters in the formative years?

BF: We were doing Sound of Hunting for the second time and we thought it was going to be the last time because Ms. Vance was going to close the old Alley and we were going to move down here. Sound of Hunting. There was a crack and all of a sudden, gravel started falling through onto the audience in the south stand. And Bill Hardy, a wonderful actor that we had here for many, many years, Bill stayed in character and he turned around to the audience and said, “Don’t panic, these doors are open. File out quietly. It seems that our ceiling has given way.” And sure enough, they all filed out quietly. But thank God Bill was on stage because if you would have had actors that panicked and ran off stage . . . we did not have God mikes we called them. The stage manager would have had to come down out of the booth and tell the audience what to do. But Bill took care of it. Things like when Katrina came through and flooded us out, we had to cancel the show but then, we had an actor down here – he is so controversial, I will mention his name – Michael Moriarty and he was playing in a show called The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail. Well, Beth had directed it and Beth had given him 2 long lists of notes on Sunday night for him to study over the weekend for Tuesday. Well, Michael did not study his notes and he went out and he played about the first 15 minutes and he went sky high. Instead of asking somebody on stage to help him, which I always do – I ask anybody, if anybody is out there, I will let them help me get out of my brain hiccups. But Michael went sky high so instead of getting the help, he walked down to the footlights and dismissed the audience, said, “I am sorry, I feel that I am not in a condition to give you the performance that you deserve,” and he walked off stage. Well, we had a collection out there of over 150 years in theater and none of us had ever been through that before. And George Ebling, God love him, he came into the office and I was in there and he said, “Now what do we do?” I said, “You gather them all up. We are going to have an understudy rehearsal for Joel Stedman right now because I have no idea when Moriarty is going to come back on stage or if he is going to come back.” Ms. Vance was in New York, Beth was in Fort Worth at some kind of contest or something. So, we had an understudy rehearsal while the were taking Moriarty to the hospital or to the emergency room. And the next night, sure enough, Joel Steadman, his understudy, went on. Now, the funny part of it is . . . and he finished the role, Joel because Ms. Vance called in. It got to New York before I could call Ms. Vance. Somebody told Ms. Vance, they said, “Do you know what happened at your theater? He walked off stage, dismissed the audience, walked off stage.” Oh, and I made the announcement, I said, “The box office will be open. You may redeem your tickets or be paid cash.” We had a wonderful house manager. She was Austrian. She would write down little forms and fill out, we need lamps in the ladies room or more candy in the bar or something and here, down at the bottom in one of her reports, it just said, “Oh God!” That is when she heard me announce that the box office was going to be open. Well, we only caught about 3 of the box office people to open the box office and the next day, because it was in my voice – I was angry – a lady called and she said, “Please tell that lady that told us about the box office, don’t be angry with Mr. Moriarty. We forgive him.” Forgive him? I want to kill him! Nina never let him back on stage. She said, “He should count himself lucky that I did not throw his luggage out of that hotel and throw him out.”

cue point

We have had some pretty hair raising moments. Of course, one of the greatest tragedies in this building was that our acting, artistic director, was murdered in this building. She had a habit of coming in at curtain time, seeing how the house was and then working in her office which was up on the 4th floor until about 4 or 5 in the morning. In those days, they did not check our guards out and we had a guard that was . . . we did not know it but he was guilty of murdering his son of 3 years old in New York. He came down here and he got a job as a guard. Well, he was fired because he was so lazy and would not be on time. But he came in and was going to steal Iris Sifts’ – she was our acting, artistic director – and he wanted to steal her jewelry because she wore very fine jewelry. She resisted apparently and he strangled her with the cord on the telephone. Well, the Houston Police were very smart. They went and they got a description of every piece of jewelry that they took off of her and oh God, that was an awful day. Broadcast it all over the United States and sure enough, in Arizona, one of the pieces of jewelry was called in from a pawn shop and the Houston Police went there and caught the man and he eventually was electrocuted up in Huntsville. But for weeks there, you had this strange feeling to walk into an empty room or any place in the building. You were afraid. In fact, there are some marvelous ghost stories but some people used to think, well, that is Iris haunting the Alley Theater and I do not believe that because this building I think was built on . . . one of the things, it was a dump yard, a dump for the early squatters of Alan’s Landing. They dumped all their junk here and then somebody said well at one time, it was an Indian graveyard. We were doing Indians. Every evening when I would come in to check the stage, there would be a folding chair sitting up there on the ramp and I told the kids, “If you don’t quit putting that chair up there, I want you to at least strike it,” but they said, “We are not putting it up there. We don’t do it.” I said, “Well, stop it.” Well, sure enough, the next night, there was nothing in it but it had a red rose on it. And so, a friend of ours, Leah Geesley, she sees spirits. She was in the theater with us one day and I said, “Leah, do you see anybody in here other than the 3 of us standing here talking?” And she said, “Oh, yes. There is an Indian lady standing on the caliper up there watching us.” And I thought, well, that is understandable. She wanted to stay and see Indians because it was all about her people and she apologized for having to bring the chair back out, so she left a plastic rose on it. But there for a long time, I would have to go downstairs and work by myself in the scene shop and one night, I heard this, like somebody stepped on a board and it made a . . . and I thought . . . I called out, “Is anybody there?” No answer. So, that night, I did not work down there. I just got up and went. But John Felch and a lot of our actors have seen this Indian lady and so, yes, we do have a ghost here in the theater but she is very kind. She does not want to hurt anybody or harm anybody. She is just here to watch.
We were doing The Greeks and we were all dressed in kind of grey outfits and one of the dancers came off and grabbed me by the arm and she said, “Who is she?” “Who is who?” “That lady in white out there on the stage with us.” I said, “Darling, there is nobody out there in white on the stage with us.” She said, “Yes, there is. I saw her. I was standing right next to her.” So, some people believe we do have a ghost.

DG:I want to cover some relatively random things. In my notes here, it says you might have worked with Tommy Tune in his early years – is that true?

BF: Yes. He was 15. This was in 1957. Ms. Vance _____ to use her apprentices that summer, we did a production of Seventeen and Tommy Tune was already dancing and choreographing, doing choreography. Oh, and a wonderful story about that production. We had in our apprentice a sister who came to Ms. Vance and said, “Now, I know I am older than the rest of them but they are transferring me, the school where I teach, into teaching drama and I know nothing about it. I cannot build flats and I cannot do anything.” And so, Ms. Vance said, “Well, of course you can come and be one of our apprentices.” She would be over in the yard helping them build flats in this pristine white habit and Ms. Vance went to her and said, “Sister, isn’t there something you could wear over your habit that would keep it from getting dirty?” She said, “That is a good idea.” So, the next day, she came in and she had on a pristine white apron over her habit. But she was wonderful to work with. We did not have any money for the costumes for Seventeen. Now, we had a wonderful cast. Larry Hovis was in the cast and along came this tall drink of water called Tommy Tune who was going to do the dancing, and John Wiley and I played the mother and father. It was a wonderful experience. So, when Ms. Vance said to the sister, she said, “We don’t have any money to build the costumes.” She said, “Let me take care of that.” So, she went down to Sears in her habit, took another sister with her and said, “We need this material for building something for our children.” She did not tell them it was for the Alley Theater. She got all the material she needed. She and those sisters got together and they built wonderful costumes. In fact, you can still see them buying some of them up in the costume shop. What was the question?

cue point

DG:About Tommy Tune.

BF: Oh, about Tommy Tune. Yes, he was there.

DG:You had a role in Urban Cowboy?

BF: Yes. It wasn’t for any talent or anything that I had done. Beth was a very dear friend of Jim Bridges, the director, and when they came down here to look over Gilleys and to look over some places to film, I met him, I met Jim Bridges. And he said, “Oh, well, yes, we will find a place for Betty to play,” and I wound up playing John Travolta’s mother-in-law. Well, I wound up on the cutting room floor is what happened. You hear my voice off tape once or twice but it was fun.

DG:Did you ever have the urge to go to LA or New York to pursue a career?

BF: You know, when I was about in my mid 30s or late 20s, we did a production here of Julius Cesar and we used, they called themselves the Shakespeare Rights. It was a group out of New York. Ms. Vance brought 4 of them down and it was a wonderful production. We closed that and they all went back to New York. I thought, oh, that would be nice, but I had an assignment and a show coming up. I could not leave then. And I remember sitting out in front of the old Alley with this friend of mine, his picture is over there somewhere – there he is – he is an artist. His name is Oris Robertson and he was doing props here at the Alley for many years, but he was a wonderful artist. He is dead now. Oris and I were sitting there on the steps in front of the Alley Theater and said, “They are all gone but us.” And we felt so lonesome and sad, so we had to go get drunk. That helped. And it was O.K. But yes, sometimes you think about it but I never felt that seriously about it. Why would I go to New York because if I stay right here, I can be directed by Bob Wilson, Greg Boyd, Beth Sanford, Michael Wilson – if I could really think of them – at least 10 of the best . . . Edward Albee . . . best directors in the United States. I can stay right here and they all come down here and direct me down here. Why would I want to go to New York and get mugged? So, yes, I have thought about it but not seriously.

DG:2006 represented 50 years that you are here at the Alley Theater. Obviously, there have been changes. I mean, the move from the original location to this location but you have a unique perspective as an actor and as a production person, as a stage manager, and then seeing from the inside. What are the biggest changes we should know about and were they gradual – every year, you make a little bit more money which means you can do a little bit more or were there some big events?

BF: Well, of course, the big event was when Ms. Vance passed away . . . most of the grant money that we got was for her. I know once the Mellon Foundation gave her a grant of a quarter of a million dollars, that was discretionary. She could do anything she wanted to with it. She should have taken it and gone to Europe for a couple of weeks but she said, “No, I am going to take that money and I am going to do the best season they have ever seen in the Arena.” And so, she did the Cocktail Party, she did that Albee thing . . . she did about 3 shows and spent the entire quarter of a million dollars. But to pay those salaries and it cost so much money, we would have had to charge those people in the Arena – I think I figured it up as either $79 or $80 – and play to packed houses every night for a limited run of 3 weeks to pay for those productions. But she said, “I’ve got the money. I am going to spend it this way.” Those are the moments that you realize it took an awful lot to build this theater because later on when Ms. Vance was so sick and was in the hospital, Herschel made sure that she had insurance and she, in turn, made sure that we had insurance, good insurance, in case one of us got sick. Did I answer your question?

DG:You have been answering my questions for the past hour and 15 minutes. What about from the standpoint of an actor? I mean, you made it sound as if there has always been talented people here but as the Alley has matured and earned its place in the national landscape, is this the kind of theater people like to come, do they want to come?

BF: Oh, yes. Even back in the 1960s when Ms. Vance would go to New York, she could hire actors even for $200 a week. We have always been able to get good actors. Back in 1954, Ms. Vance realized, and I was not here at the time but she told me the story, she said, “I realized in 1954 that I had learned as much as I could from the good amateur actors here in Houston.” And she said, “That is when I wrote the union and said, now look, I am serious about building a theater here. I want to be able to give a sweetheart contract to maybe one, two union people for a run down here.” She had people like Spring Byington, Albert Decker, Fay Bainter. She would bring them down here and she would learn from them and that is how she became a professional theater. She opened the door that way and then they . . . and they would go home and say, well, hey, I just had a wonderful time down . . . and Bob Donnelly, God rest his soul, he said, “Until I did not buy that suit that Nina wanted me to buy, I had a wonderful time at the Alley Theater.” He had worn this suit out in some show and he should have bought it because it looked so nice on him but he would not spend the money. He wanted to pay like $25 for it. Well, she paid $350 for it.

cue point

DG:Who have been the benefactors of the Alley Theater in the community? You have mentioned some big grants and you have mentioned the board of directors but who can we thank for . . .

BF: Oh, well, of course, first and foremostly, I guess you would thank Meredith Long. He has been with us. And Preston Bolton has been with us since I came here. George Peterkin, may he rest in peace, he was president of the board when they built this theater, and Ms. Vance always told me, she said, “As long as I keep the deficit no more than $80,000, those good old boys on the board will just reach in their pocket or into their checkbook and they will pay it. And so, I do not have to worry about it.” She said, “But I have to worry about it. I cannot run over $80,000.” That is what I mean about . . . she always had a board that she trusted. Isaac Arnold . . . there have just been so many that . . . and Newhouse, that we have named the Arena for. She said in her notes once, she said, “Hugo Newhouse is a prince among men because I know how much it meant for him to be the chief architect on the new building but I wanted somebody of a more national recognition, acclaim.” She said, “But he did not pull away and did not cease to help, stop helping me. He stayed right with me and helped me when I needed it. He has always been a good friend.” And, of course, our chief benefactor was W. McNeil Lowry with the Ford Foundation. And always whenever things would get kind of slow and sluggish down here, the money was not rolling in or something was not happening, why, she would call for Mack. Mack would come down, talk to the board, the board of directors, and the executive committee and it would get moving again. So, yes, we have had some very influential and very good people. I do not know all of them. We have had a guild. We used to have wonderful women on the guild that would . . . one of their duties used to be if we did 2 shows on Saturday and we didn’t have an hour and a half between shows, they had to feed us. So, they would have to come sometimes and they would have huge . . . they had to come here and feed that whole mess of people on War and Peace. I do not know how many days it would take them to cook for that but wonderful people in the guild and we still have it. They still help us out with things when we need it.

DG:How would you describe the place that the Alley has earned for itself in terms of artistic sensibility in our city? I mean, no matter where you go, there is a better appetite for Gershwin than for Ibsen but in terms of where we started and where we are now, I mean, this is the south, this is an oil boom town, this is, at least from the other big cities, they see Texas as it is probably a little bit more country, a little bit more cowboy, a little bit more backward, but how would you describe this city’s sensibility for the arts and for theater?

BF: Well, that is very hard to say because since Greg has been our artistic director, Greg . . . his very first show to direct here, he did Measure for Measure with frontal male nudity on stage and he said to himself, he told us later in the staff meeting, he said, “I figured if they would stay in their seats for that, I could do anything I wanted to here,” and they did and he has but back not too long before Pat Brown left us, we did Glengarry Glen Ross. Those seats, you could just hear them flapping – about the third line when they said the F word 4 or 5 times in 1 line, they would get up and leave. One of the actors said one night, he wanted to just stop the show and say, “When all of you Southern Baptists can get out of here, we will go on with the show” but he didn’t! Then, you know, way back when Pat was with us, we did an Alan Ayckbourn show called Way Upstream and there was male frontal nudity but it was so great, they just climbed up on the edge of the boat like they were fixing to dive off into the river and then blackout, and we got letters about that. Even our president of the board wrote us a letter and said, “That seemed gratuitous. He could have been wearing a bathing suit.” So, they have come along with us or at least enough of them are still coming along with us whatever we want to do.
Ms. Vance, way back in 1959, 1960, she heard about this play in London called The Knack. It was very risqué. Nina said, “This one may close us,” because it was about these 2 guys putting the make on this one dizzy little dipsy blonde. It was pretty risqué, yes, but, so help me, they came . . . they tisked at us but they came back.
There is a wonderful story of George Anderson who worked here for so many years. George got this one letter, just furious saying, “There was no reason for you to put that Oh God in Life With Father. I just can’t imagine why you did that.” And then a few more sentences. And then down at the bottom, it said, “P.S., please find my check enclosed for next season.” So, you know, they want to think of us as a naughty child sometimes that they can scold but as long as they keep coming back, that is all we ask.

cue point

DG:That is a wonderful situation to be in. I have to ask though . . . Ms. Vance says “This may close us but I am going to do it anyway.”

BF: Yes.

DG:Because it is an important work and we need to see it?

BF: Absolutely. When she did Panteclage (sp?) which was by Degelderode, Degelderode was Holland or Netherlands and he wrote from his desk, he said, “I don’t care if people ever read these or not.” And Panteclage, she had talked about doing Degelderode’s, Christopher Columbus which was a very strange play, too, but Ms. Vance said, “I’ve got to do something by Degelderode. It is time that Houston saw who he is.” So, she did Panteclage. She saw the first act and she was going to come down and tell the cast that the were playing a very fine show. Well, that was all well and good but she could not get in the elevators for the audience leaving. So, she said, “It does not matter what I think, they did not like it. They all left.” But she did it and it looks good. I mean, if you read what shows we have done, oh, I don’t know how many we have done now. I used to know but, you know, 400, 500 plays – it looks good in there, in the list. She did take some chances and that was a big one.

DG:Has the sense of need to elevate the audience in Houston diminished over time or is it still just as strong?

BF: I think it is just as strong as ever. We did The Lieutenant of Inishmore by McDonagh downstairs and they were cutting up dead bodies down there. It was an inch deep of blood down there and the people were sitting there watching them do it and they were still getting their laughs. Well, you know the Irish – nothing is funnier than cutting up a dead body to them, but they will come and they will see because most . . . Ms. Vance always said, “You can count on 3,000 people that will come to see something in the Arena, I don’t care what it is. If I want to do whatever in the Arena, there are about 3,000 people in the city of Houston that will come.” Now, that was way back in the 1980s, so I don’t know how many people there are now. There are a lot more than that that will come down to see The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And some of them will say, “Oh my God, there was just so much blood. I don’t want to see anything like that again.” They will be back because, number one, the first thing we always try to be honest with and that is to do it the very best we can. And that is technically and acting-wise. There is a philosophy that has been brought forth from Ms. Vance, carried down through the years. Somebody asked her once, they said, “What is your philosophy of theater?” And she said, “To do plays of merit to a subscription audience by a company of actors.” That is so simple but it is hard to do. And sometimes, they’d say, “Uh, Ms. Vance, we are doing Charlie’s Aunt. What is the play of merit here?” She said, “Make money.”

DG:How would you describe this city to others in your field? Actors come here. They leave here with a certain impression. People come here. They will ask you about it. How do you describe your adopted city?

BF: Well, we need more theaters in Houston. I was just up in Washington, D.C. and they’ve got 30 or 40 theaters in Washington, but they are not Lincoln Center or they are not like we are – established – but we’ve got The Main Street . . . Becky Udden has done a fantastic job keeping that theater for 20 years or so, longer, and we’ve got Stages which is a semi-professional . . . they’ve got some kind of sweetheart contract with the union and they can hire some union people but we need more theaters. In a city of 4 million people, we are the 4th largest city in the United States, we should have at least 6 or 8 theaters, thriving, moving theaters. Somebody asked Ms. Vance once, they said, “What do you think of competition in theater?” She said, “The only bad competition is bad theater. You get other good theaters in here, people will go see them and they will come see us if they like what they saw at the other theater.” I agree with that. We need more good theaters here in Houston and supported theaters. Now, I think they are doing a good job of supporting us right now and we’ve got a good board that covers the deficits when we have them but I think Houston could stand for some more theaters and they should stand for more theaters. I don’t know what kind because it used to be the Stages would do all of the wild, off-the-wall . . . when Rob Bundy was over there, he would do the off-the-wall small cast shows that we did not do – we could have but we did not do then – he would do them, but I know a lot of actors leave here saying, “It is a good town to work in but it sure is flat!”

cue point

DG:What is the future? What is next? What is next for you? What is next for the Alley?

BF: Your guess is as good as mine. Not too far down the road, I guess I am going to have to take my fishing pole down and do some serious fishing and retire. I have to some day but I want to retire with the understanding from Mr. Board that if a role comes along that I am absolutely right for, that he will let me come back and play it because I do not see a time in my life that I do not want to ever get close to a stage again. No. Jeanette Cliff who runs the AD Players is a very dear friend of mine and she if she is doing a play over there after I leave the Alley Theater, I have no shame, no pride – I would go over and say, “Jeanette, do you have a walk-on I could do just to keep my feet in the water?”

DG:Forget the walk-on. If you could cast you in an ideal role for this stage of your life, looking at the repertoire of theater, where would you cast yourself? What would be the ideal role to portray yourself?

BF: Well, I’ll tell you, my health has not been as good as it should be. I have had two TIAs and those scare the socks off of you because we were doing American Dream with Edward Albee directing and that first TIA, I could not even get through the show. This was just a rehearsal. I was rubbing my arms with ice to get it back and then finally, all of a sudden, a TIA, a freaky little blood clot in the brain. And it finally passed and I played the show that night. But the next time I threw a TIA, we were opening Arsenic and Old Lace that night and I could not straighten up. They took me to the hospital and they said, you have 3 days in the hospital here. So, they had to postpone the opening until Tuesday. It is hard for me to memorize lines. Now, I know there are gidgets and gadgets that you wear in your ear that the lines can be fed to you. I might have to invest in one of those. But if there was any show that I would be willing to really work on, The Mad Woman of Chaillot is a temptation. I played years and years ago, back in 1958, I played Lady Constance. There are 4 mad women and there is the mad woman of Chaillot and there is Constance and Gabrielle . . . no, I played Gabrielle. And then the one that plays the judge. And out of those 4 women, I am the only one left alive. So, I don’t know -- if the opportunity came along, I don’t know if I would . . . and as long as . . .blank as a post . . . he directed a production of Our Town. What was his name? Anyway, as long as he was alive to do the stage manager in Our Town – I played it once and that was great fun. Jose Contero. As long as Jose was alive, that is a temptation. But those are about the only 2 things that I can think of. I do not think about them to the point that I would get out and study for them. No. I love to gamble.

DG:As a closing thought, we are capturing these stories for posterity sake so it is 10 years from now, 20 years from now and there are school kids that want to know about theater, about this time in Houston’s history – what do you want them to know about the Alley and its place and how far it has come or the importance of theater in our city’s culture? What is your thought to the next generation?

BF: Well, just keep on keeping on. Believe in the theater. Trust them that they will bring the plays that you need to see, that we will do them and hopefully, within the next 10 years, we will stay apace with the plays that are being written, that playwrights will still want to come to the Alley Theater and we fortunately, in Greg Boyd, we have someone who is interested in the cutting edge of technology. He has the best lights, he has the best sound, he believes in spending money when it is needed. So, maybe in the next 10 years, we will still be doing that and you will see some marvelous, wonderful things at the Alley Theater. Come back.

DG:Thank you very much.

BF: You are welcome.