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The Actors Company

The Starry Group of Actors and Personalities behind The Actors Company


The phenomenal success of the La Jolla Playhouse made many Los Angeles based celebrities begin to think about creating something closer to home. Famed architect William Pereira decided to act on that and in 1949 after consulting with theater-owner-managers Fanchon and Marco approached the trio of stars in charge of La Jolla with a proposition. He suggested forming an enlarged group of actors who might be interested in establishing a theater in Los Angeles proper. Their ultimate goal was to build a $2,000,000 theater to operate year round in Beverly Hills, but their immediate objective was to present actors in plays before Los Angeles audiences.

That trio of stars - Mel Ferrer, Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire - had been toying with similar ideas and had mounted their version of "Eurydice" (directed and with a translation by Ferrer) at the Coronet Theater earlier that year, so they were hardly indifferent to the suggestion. After conferring with several real estate agencies they formed a partnership with Periera, determined to bring their success to Los Angeles.

To raise capital toward their building fund they kicked off their new enterprise with a trio of radio plays for National Public Radio broadcast over CBS. The first, which aired on Christmas Day 1949, was "The Man Who Came to Dinner" directed by Mel Ferrer. It starred Charles Boyer, John Garfield, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Dorothy McGuire, Gregory Peck and Rosalind Russell. Most of the players were eager to join the board and The Actors Company was officially formed.

Their ultimate goal was to produce plays, of course, and the group's first endeavor was borrowed directly from La Jolla's 1950 season  - "Summer and Smoke" by Tennessee Williams starring Dorothy McGuire, John Ireland and Una Merkel and directed by La Jolla resident director James Nielsen. Though widely promoted with glossy souvenir books as their own creation, the production was in fact nothing more than a La Jolla play taken on tour.

At the end of 1950 producer Jerry Wald talked RKO chief Peter Rathvon into heading the enterprise in an attempt to ally the group to a viable movie company. His chief officers were Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer, Rosalind Russell and Jerry Wald. Plans called for more radio plays, a series of spoken recordings and six plays a year for a run of at least six weeks each, with every member of the star-cluttered board of directors agreeing to appear in at least a production a year.

Alas, by the end of 1951 it was clear to everyone that Los Angeles - unlike La Jolla - was not ready to embrace legitimate theater, and the group disbanded.

The Actors Company is often confused with The La Jolla Playhouse and with good reason. After receiving money from Selznick for their initial start, the La Jolla Players called themselves The Selznick Actors Company and they later shortened that to The Actors Company, but before their first season ended they'd become more comfortable calling themselves simply The La Jolla Playhouse. Further confusion comes from the fact the same trio of stars were in charge of both enterprises, and even more from the fact The Actors Company's single theatrical production was borrowed directly from the La Jolla Playhouse.

Although the two projects did remain separate, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say The Actors Company was an attempt to bring the La Jolla success to Los Angeles. Yet it was the La Jolla venture that prospered and endured. Although all three La Jolla administrators were wholeheartedly behind the Los Angeles endeavor and worked energetically for its success, it never occupied their hearts the way the La Jolla Playhouse did. It's probably significant that many people close to Mel Ferrer participated in the Los Angeles based Actors Company, however - including Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly and Deborah Kerr (who would later become his neighbor in both Switzerland and Spain), and most of all - his very dear friend, producer Jerry Wald.

The La Jolla Playhouse

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