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Theater of the Stars presentation

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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 12:47PM Email Thread Print View
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Over the years the subject of the Theater of the Stars has come up in several conversations. The actual location, when it was active and the actual presentations has not always been clear.

In the early 1900s there were two major efforts made to have an outdoor pageant like productions in the Big Bear area. The Big Bear Pageant appears to have the most amount of recognition which maybe due to the story line being of the history of Holcomb Valley. The cast was mainly made up from local residents. It was a one-time production on July Fourth weekend in 1930. Information on this event is posted else where in the History forum of this website under the title of Moonridge Bowl.

The Theater of the Stars was not a one-time production but a venue, an amphitheater that had various productions which mainly ran from 1925 to 1928 with various other presentation and activities that continued into 1933.

Perhaps the biggest and most elaborate production conducted at the Theater of the Stars was by Arthur Farwell and F Charles Dillon, titled the “March of Man”. This posting concern itself with the production of the “March of Man” and the location of the amphitheater.

The posting for this thread on the Theater of the Stars has been broken down into eight sections for ease of reading. For those people that are only interested in certain subjects you can easily jump forward to the desired section. However, to get a complete understanding of this subject it is best to start from the beginning.

For the easy of the reader this presentation will be posted as a PowerPoint presentation and also as a PDF. If the viewer has a PowerPoint program, they will be able to see the speakers notes when viewing from either the “Normal” setting or from the “Speaker’s Notes” setting. The “Speaker’s notes gives a lot more detail. For those of you that do not have PowerPoint you will be able to see the screen part of the presentation and can follow along with the posted speaker’s notes that have been added in each section. Unfortunately, this requires a lot of jumping back and forth between the two screens.

I hope that you will enjoy the information.


Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 12:52PM
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Part 1 Intro and Creators
The following is an abbreviation of a presentation that was given at the Big Bear Historical Society on the Theater of the Stars which was a venue for several theatrical productions from 1925 to 1930 in the Fawnskin area. Much of the information on the Theater of the Stars in its location and content has been a mystery with many people recalling tales from those that have passed before us.

The information here was gathered from newspaper and magazine articles from the time. From that information and photographs from that era an attempt has been made to determine the actual location of the stage(s) and other prominent locations. Please note that the actual location of the Theater of the Stars is on private land and the location of certain stages are on very steep hill sides that are very difficult to negotiate. The author was given special permission and guidance to many of these locations by one of these land owners.

The following are “speaker notes” that was addressed to the audience at the Big Bear Historical Society presentation and are identified by slide number for this section and for each of the following sections.

Slide 1
The photograph here is of the cast of the March of Man perhaps the most famous of all the productions that were ever given at the Theater of the Stars.

Slide 2
Note the two addresses. These offices were actually the offices of a real estate company known as Waybright and Thompson. They were the ones that were subdividing the Fawnskin area at that time. It appears that the real estate company went out of business in 1927. They were the ones that were backing the Theater of the Stars and Arthur Farwell’s productions.

Slide 5
Last year a presentation was given on the Big Bear Pageant and it was there that we first met F. Charles Dillon. Please realize that the pageant came in 1930 which was 5 years later than the first production that was performed at the Theater of the Stars. Anyway, here again are the highlights of Fannie Charles Dillon. As a small side note, you may remember that it was her sister was Clark Gable’s drama coach and she married him when he first started his acting career. He later divorces her and married Carol Lombard

Slide 6
Fannie’s home up in the Fawnskin area was high on top of one of the hills and was named Robin’s Wold. In the photograph on the left she is sitting with one of her friends, Edith Norton that would star in several of Dillon’s productions.
Arthur Farwell had expressed to many of his colleagues in LA that he was looking to do a community sing in an outdoor stage, but had not found the correct location.
In the photo on the right Dillon is posing with Arthur Farwell whom she brought up to Fawnskin when she discovered the excellent acoustic traits of the Fawnskin hill sides.


part_1_intro_and_creators.pdf

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 12:56PM
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Unfortunately the PowerPoint file did not load this may be due to the size of the file.

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 01:00PM
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Part 2 Various Productions Given at The Theater of the Stars

Slide 1
So, what kind and how many performances were given at the Theater of the Stars?

Slide 2
The first season was the most popular and successful. Arthur Farwell was the one that came up with many new ideas and when he left at the end of the second season in 1926 the number of programs dropped.
Since little is known about any event being held in the fifth season there may not have been any performances at all. Then in the sixth season there was only one program held on the Fourth of July weekend. In a 1946 Grizzly article F Charles Dillon commented that the Theater of the Stars continued until 1933 but the theater was used for other functions such as church gathering and services.

Slide 3
For pageants performed at the Theater of the Stars, there was an elaborate production titled A Night in Old Mexico and a second pageant titled A Night in Spain. The Cauldron Singers was a popular group in the 1920s from Los Angeles consisted of 50 members. Their production must have produced a fairly loud performance in this small valley.

Slide 4
In any event it must have been very disappointing when his backers pulled out their support at the close of the 1926 season. They were more interested in making money off the land and town rather than have some cultural cause for the community.

Slide 5
In the first year Farwell attempted to get the year off to a good start by having different programs every day for the first week. This had to be very costly. And perhaps the most famous of all was the Sept 4,5,6, 1925 March of Man.

Slide 6
Here, in this July 11, 1925 issue of the San Bernardino Sun we read about Farwell’s first attempt at using lights as a major element in his productions. He tried out several ideas during the summer and incorporated the best of his ideas in his season finale, the March of Man.

Slide 7
Here we have a newspaper clipping from the August 5, 1925 Los Angeles Times describing part of the performance area of the theater. This will give you an idea of how big the actual theater was. These two rocks will play an important part later on in attempting to locate the various stages and seating area of the Theater of the Stars.

Slide 8
We have found several different programs for various years for events held at the Theater of the Stars.
Each one of the various programs in the 1925-1926 season had this information sheet. There was a basic map and then some information on seating at the theater and where to stay in town.

Slide 9
Here are some of the common points made on these information sheets.
As for the uniform pricing, the price of admission was fifty cents for adults and twenty-five cents for children.


part_2_the_various_producetions.pdf

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 01:01PM
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Part 3: The March of Man

Slide 1
The March of Man was presented at some other dates later in 1926, but the poor attendance most likely resulted in Farwell leaving the theater to Dillon.

Slide 2
The inside of the Farwell’s programs had a listing of the characters and cast, plus a synopsis of the event. This one here being for the March of Man.

Slide 3
In the case of The March of Man there was a song sheet for the community singing.
It is interesting how this song sheet was utilized. From the November 21, 1925 issue of Musical America that covered the March of Man, Arthur Farwell lead the huge audience in mass community singing. Among those songs were Dixie and old Black Joe which I am not sure would be politically correct for today.

Slide 4
Here is the list of characters and the actors that played those parts. Arthur Farwell and his wife Gertrude had major parts. Stephen Chalmers the author of Take-A-Chance Tamerlane and his wife and Fannie Dillon also had parts. Viggo (Pete) Pedersen of the Pedersen saw works was one of three townspersons in the play. He played the part of the woodsman which required him chopping down a tree in the play. This was a function that Farwell did not want to leave to one of his musicians or actors.
The cast was made up almost entirely of professional singers and actors which differed greatly from the Big Bear Pageant that was made up mainly of townspeople.

Slide 5
Several people can be identified: Arthur Farwell is in the center; Gertrude Farwell is right above him. Pedersen is most likely the man in the lower left with the axe. Stephan Chalmers and Fannie Charles Dillon may be in the photograph but I cannot tell. Among the other locals was Sam King who was a local forest ranger.
There are 24 people list in the cast yet 32 in the photograph. Most likely the party goers and students that were part of the production as “extras” were not listed. Another possibility is that the Waybright and Thompson families may be in the photograph since they heavily subsidized the performance.

Slide 6
So, what was this production all about? See text. Farwell had water barrels high up on the hill side and used the water to simulate rain on the stage below.
It is not known what Farwell used to simulate the blast of dynamite. Possible it was the clap of symbols or it might have been real dynamite since he was actually using water to simulate rain.

Slide 7
Read Text

Slide 8
For those that may be interested in the actual pageant lines, a copy of the original script and Arthur Farwell’s handwritten corrections has been made available to us thru the University of Rochester. Arthur Farwell donate much of his work to the library at the University of Rochester. As you will see later on many of the photographs have the university’s watermark on them.

Slide 9
With the manuscript requiring that a tree should fall in each performance, Pete Pedersen was very busy prior to each performance. From an Anne Rosemier interview with Pete Pedersen in the 1960s Pete said.
“I was the villain – every night during the performance, I cut a tree down. I had it all sawed so that there wasn’t much to do. When the right time came, over went the tree. Now if you don’t think a 3 ft diameter’ tree standing 125’ high didn’t have ‘em all standing up when I hollered, “Timber!” They couldn’t see anything – they could hear it.“
This tells me that the tree was off and away from the seating area. I am sure the Farwell used this tree being out of sight for safety as well as for dramatic effect. Never did find any information on how the water in the barrels was used as rain for the audience.

Slide 10
It is interesting to note that the review was from February 14, 1926 yet the actual pageant was in September of 1925. Obviously, Farwell was looking to build up the performance as much as possible.
Various colored lights were used to illustrate different modes.

Slide 11
In the first bullet point there is reference to the great rock which we have photos in the upcoming slides.
In the second it refers to lights in the logs. This must have been very pretty.


part_3_the_march_of_man.pdf

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 01:02PM
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Part 4: Comments on the Theater of the Stars and The March of Man

Slide 1
In the first bullet point there is reference to the great rock which we have photos of in the upcoming slides.
In the second bullet point there is references to lights in the logs. This must have been very pretty.

Slide 2
Here is some information from the October 1924 issue of the Fawnskin Folks. In the article it relates that there was outside dancing until midnight.
From an article in the Aug 29 1925 Riverside Daily Press it informs us, “Following this pageant each night dancing will be enjoyed till midnight, when a comic opera by Stephen Chalmers, will be presented in the tea room. The title “The Undying Worm” and the vaudeville stunts were arranged by the cast. Breakfast will be served following this performance.” Wow a 1920s style “All Nighter”.
The text under the photograph is from an Anne Rosemier interview with Pete Pedersen confirming that the festivities went on for a long time.

Slide 3
Read Text
In several articles there is a statement that the theater could have support an attendance of 50,000. This is most likely an exaggeration. The Honda Center in Orange County holds 18,300. The Staples Center holds 21,000 and Rose Bowl hold 90,000. Nevertheless, even if it was only 5,000 the theater and stage would have to cover a large area. So for the seating area alone imagine how large of an area that would have been.

Slide 4
Read text
It took long time to get there on an uncertain road. The vehicles at that time were not reliable. Most likely the people in the surrounding areas of San Bernardino, Redlands and Victorville were not into that type of entertainment. If that did not kill the production then in 1930 the crash of the stock market and the depression did. Just wait and see what it cost for a family of four to get into Disneyland

Slide 5
Read text
It took long to get there on an uncertain road. The vehicles at that time were not reliable. Most likely the people in the surrounding areas of San Bernardino, Redlands and Victorville were not into that type of entertainment. If that did not kill it then in 1930 the crash of the stock market and the depression did. Just wait and see what it cost for a family of four to get into Disneyland

part_4_comments_on_the_tos_and_mom.pdf

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 01:04PM
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Part 5: Newspaper articles describing location of Theater of the Stars

Slide 1
Ok so where was the Theater of the Stars actually located?

Slide 2
Apparently, the Theater of the Stars was significant enough that it was put on this 1928 AAA map. Now let’s take a closer look.

Slide 3
Well there it is. Obviously, this only gives a basic location to the theater. Nevertheless, it is interesting that it is depicted as being in a semi-circle with the opening to the half circle facing toward the lake. Was the stage in front of the audience or was the stage all around them? We cannot tell from this map.

Slide 4
Here is a modern-day contour map of the Fawnskin area. The map is actually a copy of the US Geological map that was surveyed and drawn in 2011. The contour lines are 40 feet between elevation. So, the statement about being 450 feet above the creek bed may have been an exaggeration.

Slide 5
Read Text
This must have been a real spectacle.

Slide 6
From Farwell’s notes, there were actually six different colors used at approximately 12 different stations. In some of the photographs that will be shown later in the presentation you can see the electrical lines.

Slide 7
Read Text

Slide 8
Read Text

Slide 9
Read Test

part_5_newspaper_articles_describing_location_of_theater_of_the_stars.pdf

Richard Graham
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RichardG
Wed Jun 19 2019, 01:05PM
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Part 6: Newspaper and magazine article photographs

Slide 1
You can see the actors and stream bed below which fits the description in the Los Angeles Times article. Note how high up the photographer must have been to take this picture. The glow on the left side is most likely one of the camp fires. Also note how small the people appear.
This photograph also appeared in the November 1925 issue of Musical America.

Slide 2
The photo here was donated by Arthur Farwell to the University of Rochester. The handwritten information on the bottom of this slide was written on the back of the photograph and says:
“This scene represents only about one tenth of the whole stage of the Theater of the Stars.”
So that gives an idea of how large the stage was. The actual stage and seating area for the audience must have occupied the entire canyon area.
In this photograph the orchestra stage area “tent” has been folded down.

Slide 3
Read Text

Slide 4
And here is the orchestra that was shown in the previous slide. Note the rocks in front of the stage with the creek and pool just in front of that again. The white spot at the upper center is one of the hanging lights that were previously mentioned. Also shown are the Chinese lanterns which are fairly large in size.

Slide 5
Here is a photograph of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra taken from one of the Fawnskin Folks magazines. This orchestra was widely used by Farwell in several of the other production numbers that he had.

Slide 6
The photo on the right is a copy from the pages of the May 1925 edition of Fawnskin Folks. The photograph in the center is of interest as we will see in the next slide.

Slide 7
Note the two actors appearing from on top of the rocks. Farwell used this type of setting throughout all of his presentation.

Slide 8
The photo on the left was taken at night and is from the Fawnskin Folks.
The photo on the right is from the files on Arthur Farwell from the University of Rochester and obviously was taken in the day time at the same location.
The important point to get from the photo on the right is that the background in not the steep hillside that was previous shown of the major stage area. So, there was more to the stage than that area right next to the creek bed.

Slide 9
From another page of a Fawnskin Folks, it gives us more insight into the Theater of the Stars. Note the description of “in a corner of the canyon”, thus giving us the vision of this stage being more than a simple theatrical stage area.

Slide 10
Note the violinist on top of the rock. This must have been difficult climbing that rock in the night. I gather that this musician is happy that this did not call for a bass fiddle.
In contacting Arthur Farwell’s youngest son, Jonathan Farwell, he believes that the violinist is actually his father Arthur Farwell in this photograph.

Slide 11
Read Text
Note that in point number three there are two stages up on the hill. One is at 450 feet and another at the 300 feet above the creek. This information was helpful when we went to identify the actual locations.

Slide 12
Read Text
We never did find the location of the shed and switch board. Also we never did find any remanence of the water barrels that were used to simulate rain.

part_6_newspaper_and_magazine_article_photographs.pdf

Richard Graham
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Part 7: Location of the Theater of the Stars

Slide 1
So, do we know where any of these rock formations were located?
Thanks to property owner, Darla Johnson we do.

Slide 2
The photo on the left is from Fawnskin Folks and is described as “The rock from which soloists played and sang to audiences more than four hundred feet below.” Note the man at the center base of the rock. The photo on the right was taken this past September with Mark Durban standing in the same location.

Slide 3
Here is another view of that same rock shown on another page of the Fawnskin Folks. The caption for this photograph reads as: “A musician can stand on this Pinnacle on the rim of this amphitheater and play to an audience 400 feet below. “ On the right side of the slide is a photograph of that same rock taken in September of 2018. So where is this rock.

Slide 4
The location of this Pinnacle rock is high above on the side of the mountain 400 to 450 feet above the creek bed. And here are the GPS coordinates if someone would like to find the rock.
In an interview with Harvey Pedersen, Pete Pedersen’s son he said: “The pinnacle had a ladder structure and platform with a railing when I and a friend, Harold Parker climbed to the top sometime around 1950. The ladder lasted several more years before becoming too dangerous to climb. I have gone back to the larger granite outcrop for most of 50 years, early It was a great fortress then a place to be isolated and read a book, finally to take my girl friends to enjoy the views. I do remember seeing insulators on trees in the seating area but no other evidence of electrical equipment.


Slide 5
Here again we were able to locate this flat rock which was very close to the creek bed and now we learn from the May 1925 Fawnskin Folks
“A string quartet mounted on a gigantic table of rock in a deep and wild ravine playing to an audience gathered at night about an immense camp fire across the stream.”
From information from the Fawnskin Folks and the LA Times we can determine the location of the main stage is just 50 feet away from the flat rock.

Slide 6
The top photograph is from the May 1925 Fawnskin Folks Magazine and the bottom photograph was taken in April 2019. The perspective on the bottom photograph is a little off due to so much underbrush that was behind me at the time of the taking of this photograph.
To give some prospective, Grout Creek in right in front of the photographer and then the flat rock is just behind the creek.
Slide 7
Here we have Mark Durban standing on the rock and the location is shown with its GPS coordinates.
The photograph was taken from the trail side of the amphitheater. Grout Creek is just behind the flat rock.

Slide 8
This is a photograph provided by the University of Rochester showing the cast of the March of Man taken in a daytime rehearsal. This gives us a clearer vision of the location of some of the other actors located on the slope of the canyon as shown in our next slide.
Point out the various actors on the side of the hill, orchestra area, violinist rock and the flat rock. Now I want to zoom in on one location here where one of the performers is standing in front of a large rock with two trees on either side of the rock.

Slide 9
On the far right we can see the flat rock and the upright rock that the violinist scaled during his performance at night. Also visible is the stage area that is at the bottom center of the photograph

Slide 10
I refer to this rock as the Dryad’ playing as Rock since there is one of the characters that is playing a Dryad is standing in front of the rock.

Slide 11
Here we can see the same rock but in the current day photograph both of the trees have fallen down.

Slide 12
Note the violinist on top of the rock. This must have been difficult climbing that rock in the night. I gather that this musician is happy that he decided not to learn the bass fiddle.
Arthur Farwell’s youngest son, Jonathan Farwell, believes that the violinist is actually his father Arthur Farwell.

Slide 13
Here again is Arthur Farwell on top of the violinist’s rock. Due to the high amount of underbrush the current day photograph is not as clear, but an on-site review did show that this was the correct location of the violinist’s rock.

Slide 14
At some point during the production this photograph of the cast of the March of Man was taken. It is not known if this location was actually used in the production or was it part of the seating area.

Slide 15
For anyone that is looking to find these locations here is a list using a GPS location app from a cell phone.

Slide 16
The map here is from the US Geological Survey Group and initially drawn from 2011 data. The contour lines are drawn on a change of 40 feet of elevation. The locations shown on the top of the page gives you an approximately locations of some of the points presented today. All of these points are unfortunately on private property. To see the general area, drive up Rim of the World Drive to 39037 which has a white house on it. The major theater area is directly west of that location.


part_7_location_of_the_theater_of_the_starsl.pdf

Richard Graham
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Part 8: Miscellaneous information

Slide 2
Note position of possible violinist rock….. Also, the white spots are the lanterns. So, I do not think that there is anywhere near the stated 50,000 in attendance.

Slide 3
Most likely the creek bed and stepped slope are to the left and the photographer is looking north into the canyon.

Slide 4
Here are two photographs that were found at UCLA’s Special Collection room in the file for F. Charles Dillon. The photograph on the left was taken in the daytime and more than likely was not part of any Arthur Farwell type production. The photograph on the right of two women dancers may have been from one of Farwell’s productions but most likely not from the March of Man since the costumes do not match the cast photograph shown earlier

Slide 5
Arthur Farwell had sixth children. Jonathan Farwell was the youngest and sole surviving relative. And starred in several TV shows and Broadway productions.


part_8_miscellanous_information.pdf

Richard Graham
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