Thursday, June 12, 2003

Gregory Peck, most famous alumnus of SW VA's Barter Theatre

Gregory Peck died last night. As Bill Hobbs writes here, "There is not an attorney practicing today who doesn't, at least once in his or her career, try to channel Atticus Finch."

In 1940, Gregory Peck was one of the players at Abingdon's Barter Theatre. He came back to town in 1998, as described in this account, worth reading all the way to the end:

"Gregory Peck is coming home to a tiny theater in the Virginia mountains where he learned to act and accepted food for pay.
The Barter Theatre in Abingdon considers Peck -- who also drove a truck when the cast hit the road -- its most famous alumnus. He returns Monday to discuss the stage and film career that took root here.
"I've said this before, but it's the most valuable experience that I've ever had," Peck said. "Getting those shows on, and trucking the scenery around and setting up the lights -- you were part of real theater for the summer. It was good groundwork and good training."
The red-brick theater 370 miles southwest of Washington takes its name from the hard times in which it was founded. During the Depression, the theater would barter tickets for food.
The list of stars who honed their skills at the Barter is impressive. Their black-and-white publicity photos line the lobby walls.
Ernest Borgnine worked as a carpenter and eventually got a small part. Ned Beatty stayed for more than six years. Patricia Neal got her start here, as did Hume Cronyn, Kevin Spacey and Frances Fisher.
Playwrights Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams and Thornton Wilder accepted Virginia ham as royalty payments. George Bernard Shaw bartered for spinach because he was a vegetarian.
Peck was 24 when he performed in five plays in the summer of 1940, two years before he got his break on Broadway and three years before his film debut in "Days of Glory."
The admission price was 40 cents or its equivalent in food. A pig was worth a season pass."

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