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INTERVIEW of Marie Zimmerman

Tape 1, side 1

Teka Ward: Today is October twenty-first, 1987. My name is Teka Ward. I am interviewing Marie Zimmerman. We are at 428 West Ormsby Street, Louisville, Kentucky. Our topic is Actors Theatre of Louisville. Marie, did you and your husband rent the Arts in Louisville building? Marie Zimmerman: Yes. TW: And this was at 519 Zane? MZ: Right. TW: Was it Street? MZ: Street. Yeah. TW: Now, at some point in the early history of Actors Theatre of Louisville, when it was then Theatre Louisville, wasn't there some talk about Actors purchasing the Arts in Louisville building? MZ: Yes. TW: Now, what do you remember about that? MZ: What I remember about it is that a young man named Steve Block, who was in the University I suppose, had a brother who was very interested in doing theatre and he was always around at the restaurant. Anyway--because that's where things were happening in the arts--and he suggested to Leo--Leo's a ??? of my husband, who 1:00was the director there--that we discuss plans for using a large space we had there for a theatre which would give us a combination dinner-theatre in the best sense, that is there would be serious plays but then there was a separate facility upstairs where you could have dinner, later. Not like the usual dinner-theatre off the steam-table surrounded by a little theatre. Um, and my husband didn't think it was feasible because by that time we'd been there several years and we had had one or two summers of theatre done by young people who wanted to experimental works and we knew all of the hazards and costs and problems of running a theatre. And at that time our focus was not on doing theatre in the Arts in Louisville. So he discouraged it because he thought it was not likely and he just didn't want to be bothered seeing about it. However, over a period of weeks, or was it months, Steve kept needling away and finally 2:00in exasperation, I think, probably, Leo said, "Alright, let's go look at the space, we'll measure the space, you can look--we'll do it if you want to but I don't think you have a chance of doing it because it's major major--there are all this- this building is pretty old and for fire hazards and other reasons it would- ." You know, he was just talking about of lots and lots of money. And at the time, we later learned, one of the Binghams--I thought it was Worth, but now I understand it was Barry Junior--were interested in backing a fund drive to buy this. So the owner of the building from whom we were renting, Morris Borowitz, was approached and unfortunately he asked a very high price compared to what we knew him to have paid, not very long before that. And I don't know whether he had paid fifty or sixty, and we thought he should sell it for ninety, or what, 3:00but everybody thought it was exaggerated to ask a hundred and twenty thousand which is what I believe he finally asked. I remember there was this fund drive, I don't remember what any of the events were, I think they just went to private individuals to get money and the funds were held in escrow. At one point and we learned that they hadn't gotten- They'd only gotten up to ninety thousand and Mr. Borowitz would not negotiate and so the deal was dead. And that's the last we heard of it for a while, until we heard that Ewel Cornett was it? TW: Yes. MZ: Was he the one that was originally in on- He and Richard both? TW: Well, Richard came here and started Theatre Louisville. And then Ewel came about a year and a half later and started Actors Incorporated. MZ: Well, where was 4:00Theatre Louisville located? ' TW: It wasn't- MZ: It wasn't, it was just a name. TW: Exactly. MZ: That's what- He probably had his brother and everybody else he knew out scouting places that might work. TW: Because they were looking for a home. MZ: But this was close to downtown, it was close to the Memorial Auditorium, which at that time was the only place where concerts and all the major theatrical events occurred. And we had a lot of people who would come over after- It was a wonderful place to go for an after-theatre performance. A walk over from the Memorial, one stop parking, and they could have dinner or drinks and talk over the performance. So it was a logical center and there was good space and parking and so forth around too. So, I suppose maybe he- the main focus was on it. We just were not involved in the theatre movement itself. TW: How long were you all there at Arts in Louisville? You and Leo? MZ: Well, we were there from sixty-one to sixty-five. TW: And how did Arts in Louisville start? MZ: Oh, that's a very long story. I'll have to tell you that another 5:00time. TW: But you had a publication? MZ: We had a publication. We started with a magazine of the arts which included articles about the arts and a calendar. My husband bought a printing press and a linotype machine and did the whole thing at first, by setting the type and getting help from his friends--people who wrote for the paper, people who were in the arts who wanted to write for no money. And we went out and scrambled for some ads and put out the magazine for about a year and a half, and then- We were located on Fifth Street near Zane. Arts in Louisville was at Fifth and Zane, which is just a tiny half block from Fifth and Kentucky, where the Memorial is, if you can visualize all this. Alright, so this big old rambling structure became available for rent and my 6:00husband got the idea this would be a great project, that it was a terrific project, but it was very very time consuming and very costly and very- only a man really driven and very talented, like Leo was at that time, could have pulled it all together. So- TW: You all also had a restaurant there. MZ: Well, the restaurant was there, yes. We had an art gallery, and a restaurant, and then, as I say, certain spaces put aside- I think two summers we had theatre because there would be young people who went away to school who were theatre majors who came back and wanted a place they could put on their experimental plays. But mainly it served as a meeting place for people after arts events. We had lots of various small entertainments up there, we had jazz--we had wonderful jazz--and we had folk music. TW: I can remember going there. My father Jasper used to take me, and I can remember going there. Hal Tenny had his store, Port 7:00o' Call, there. MZ: Yes. TW: Did he rent that then from Mr. Borowitz? MZ: No, he rented it from us. He sublet from us. TW: I see. MZ: I believe. It's really kind of vague in my mind, but he opened this store I guess a couple of years after we were there. It was lovely arty things and art objects and art supplies maybe. I don't know. All sorts of things. TW: What did the building look like on the outside? MZ: Oh, it was a big frame building. Two story. And, it's right at the foot of where Fifth Street dead-ends, you know, until it picks up- TW: Did this place burn down? MZ: Yes. TW: And when did that happen? MZ: I don't know. I can't remember. I'm sorry. TW: Was it very long ago? MZ: Oh, it was in the late sixties. It didn't burn- It was a marvelous building because it didn't burn all 8:00the way down. It had to be pulled down. The fire equipment got there, we all went, people from all around came, the mayor was there--everybody watching this blaze, because a lot of people had had a good time there. I was in the grocery store at Fourth and Oak and somebody said, "Your place is burning," although it hadn't been our place for several years. TW: Was it still Mr. Borowitz's? MZ: Yes. But that was, uh- TW: So papers were never signed, they raised an amount of money, and it wasn't enough, and Borowitz said, "That's it." He would not negotiate to take a certain amount. MZ: Hmm, that's right. TW: We have one article here dated October, 25, 1964, and this is saying that the- it was an Old Louisville landmark. Did you all receive landmark status? MZ: Ahhh- I guess it- I don't think they had Landmark Status. It was still- It was a Louisville landmark. But who gave us- the committee was- who gave us permission were the Landmark- ? TW: The Mayor's Citizens Advisory Committee for Community 9:00Development. MZ: Yeah, um hum. TW: Was that a big deal in those days do you think? MZ: I guess, we weren't terribly political in any way, we didn't have- We just went about our negotiations for our building at a private level. But obviously people like the Binghams and power structure people around they know which committies, I mean which government organizations they had to approach, and they got all the good solid backing apparently. TW: We had seventy-six year-old building, Ohh! MZ: And then, your father Jasper Ward, who was known then as doing wonderful innovative things, and being very bright and the person who, if anybody could do it- not only very able but he had an interest in the arts and was extremely open and approachable. It's too bad, I remember seeing this, I do remember this theatre sketch. And we were simply amazed that these very serious people were going about it in a very serious way. I'm very sorry 10:00that didn't happen. TW: On March 5, 1964 they had a meeting there with Barry Jr., and Henry Altman, and Jasper Ward, and they met Morris Johnson, of Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park. Do you remember that meeting? MZ: Don't remember the meeting. TW: Again, held at Arts in Louisville. MZ: Yes, well, we had lots of meetings there, I mean different groups. And we were not pushing it. Leo was very laid back about the whole thing because he was- he just thought it was a very very unlikely to succeed project. And he had worked hard a lot of things, a lot of dreams that hadn't come true. However, as we got closer to it he got more interested in it, and I really think it was after that failed that he felt, and I agreed with him, that we got about as far as we could in this non-profit venture which was costing us lots of time and money and which we were making no money in. At that time there were fund, there was no kind of subsidy, 11:00anything outside the Ford Foundation which wasn't subsidizing arts groups, let me say. And so expect for the people who had, who had been our original charter members there was no other- there was no backing, there was no support. So we were in kind of tight situation. And after five years of very hard work, and very interesting work--we were doing what we liked to do--when this thing which had seemed to be a bright new hope fell through Leo's interest waned, definitely. And we turned the organization to his assistant, a woman who thought she could do certain things, maybe more popular things than we did, and make it a profitable nightclub, entertainment place, with jazz and- But it was strange, it didn't take two months till the place did not- It's funny the difference that running someone's stamp on a place can make. She was a perfectly capable person 12:00but it just looked different- of course it was different to us, naturally, because we continued to go- We were delighted that it was still going because we could go over and enjoy and see our friends and not- TW: And have fun- MZ: Yes, at last, we were free from the responsibility. But it did not flourish so she took bankruptcy eventually. She tried everything she knew to do, but it just wasn't- the turnover, the- At that time, too, more restaurants and things were opening- When we opened there really wasn't much of a place for bohemian Louisville to go to, and again, being near the Memorial was good thing. But then other things started happening, the little coffee house era started and there were just- There was a place on Third Street called The 1880 Club, I don't know if you ever heard of that, and then Victorian House, and that was a kind of jazzy bar and that pulled a few people, and there were not- There's only a certain amount of public that's going out in the evenings spending their 13:00dollars, and they- as the possibilities for going out and finding interesting things to tonight grew the exotic quality of The Arts in Louisville maybe subsided and people wanted to go try the new places also. Leo had instituted a policy of racially integrated membership, which was new. There was no other club that we knew of, and certainly no restaurants which had black and white people at the bars, and while a lot of people- we had a lot of Black members and everything went very well, in spite of warnings from the police, there were a lot of people who said, "We don't mind, but cousin so-and-so from Alabama doesn't want to come up here because they aren't used to being in restaurants where there are Black people. Are you going to have trouble at the bar, will there be a fight or something?" And so I'm afraid it did nick some of the 14:00growth. It extended it to other people who were very pleased and endorsed it tremendously and they wanted to see it supported, it probably did not help it grow financially actually. But there was every regret about that. But just apropos of the kind of decline in interest I think it was both the fact the novelty had somewhat worn off and that there were more places to go plus the fact that there was this little thing- This was the time when people were standing in line--you probably don't remember--there were demonstrations in front of restaurants where civil libertarians stood outside, to protest places like the Blue Boar and Hasenhour's and who did not take Black customers. So that was an interesting time. And the just such thing as the Actors Theatre starting was symptomatic of young people from the wealthy family we call the Arts, the Young Barons of the Arts community who were coming back to town after the war, 15:00settling, or after their educations in the east who were coming back, who wanted, like we did, to see more things going on, to make Louisville more interesting place, more- to stimulate creativity. TW: Did you ever meet Ewel Cornet? MZ: Yes, he came to The Arts in Louisville, certainly. And I had seen him in a production before we even moved into the building, and the old Carriage House Theatre that was run by Doug Ramey. TW: Did you ever meet Dann Byck? MZ: Of course, yes. Young Dann Byck and young Bingham came back to town about the same time and they- that is, from being educated in the east, and had ideas. I think young Byck was always interested in the theatre. I didn't know anything about the Block boys except that they were very much on the scene. But I didn't 16:00know anything about their family background where their father was a dentist I believe. And- so that- TW: In December of 1964 Actors Incorporated, which was an organization started by Dan and Ewel, had plays in a loft. Do you remember going to any of those plays? MZ: Well, it was not a loft, it was a second floor of a store down on Fourth Street. There was a restaurant called Kunz's Dutchman on Fourth Street. In the block there were also a lot of theatres, you know that, and across the alley from Kunz's was this little building which has been a hat shop and a pen shop and I don't know what else there was, and you walked up stairs, I guess they had a side entrance, and everybody was thinking it was a big fire trap, but we went anyway, and saw shows and it was a nice, intimate kind of- I guess they had- they didn't have a ??? they had an arena arrangement, 17:00which was new to us. That's all I remember. We had nothing to do with any of the organization of friends of that theatre or anything, we just went. TW: Do you remember going to the railroad station where Actors Theatre of Louisville-- MZ: Sure. TW: -- and seeing some of those plays and seeing what the railroad station looked like. MZ: Yes, yes. TW: Good memories of it? MZ: Yeah, it was a handsome, I mean for that day it was very well adapted and they had posters and green plants and kind of an open feeling, and of course many of us who went there had gone to New York City, and I used it for the very first time on the train leaving from the River Street Station, Seventh and River Station, so the station had good memories for us. That's where we went up to New York and saw our first Broadway theatre plays, and fell in love with that glamorous aspect of life, which was certainly missing Louisville. But then we only had road shows coming 18:00in. Well, good road shows but not our own resident theatre was unheard of. So it was a comfortable, pleasant place. TW: Do you remember some of the actors and actresses who were in any of these plays? MZ: No, I do- You mentioned Jack Johnson, I remember him. I guess I was Jon Jory and his former wife there- TW: Later on when Jon came. MZ: Did she come before Jon? TW: No, I think they came- I think she came when he came and I think that they had a couple of seasons and then they moved into their place on Main Street. MZ: Yeah, but I saw her in whatever- Red White and Blue Girl, or- TW: "Star Spangled Girl" MZ: "Star Spangled Girl" absolutely adorable. Saw Jon in something else. I didn't think he was such a good actor, but he was obviously a charmer, I mean one arch organizer, everywhere he spoke at churches- I had him speak at the First Unitarian Church once, I remember. And at the time I remember trying to tell him 19:00about "Arts in Louisville" and I was very upset because he didn't realize that we had this background and he wasn't- He was- Jon was a wonderful speaker, a charmer, and he made you think he was going to remember your name right then, every time, everybody. Great gift. But I remember I was somewhat disillusioned because he didn't make the slightest effort to understand what I was saying or to establish the connection, nor does he remember still. But that man has done such a job of work on his production I could understand it, because we, similarly, when we were in this developing stage we don't remember all the people who've gone behind us either nor gave them proper credit. We thought we were doing our own thing, we were really building on a lot of people's efforts too. So, I could both understand and forgive it, but I still remember how disappointed I was that he didn't say, "Oh, Yes, I remember hearing about the 20:00Zimmermans address here and Jasper Ward's ??? of the theatre." He might now, now that he is so well ensconced and he's so good about, I think, mentioning Richard Block at every turn, and the plaque on the wall, and I mean it isn't just the plaque on the wall, Richard Block is mentioned in every piece of official literature, which he should be because he, indeed, was the- there wouldn't be any Actors Theatre without him. Jory brought to- breathed life- he had the qualities to sell the idea that Richard did not. He had the qualities to bring it, and to produce the theatre, but as far as selling it, that's quite a different thing, so- TW: You had season tickets with-- MZ: Oh, yeah. TW: -- Sarah Frederick, did you say? MZ: Well, one season at least. Because I remember she was working very hard at the time, she probably had little babies, too, and she could about half way through. She's a morning person, and I drink a lot of coffee, I stay up all night and I'd be appalled to see her absolu- She'd say, "That's all right, I'm listening." But she'd be falling asleep. But it was a 21:00comfortable place. One of the wonderful things they did was, what? About the French Revolution. TW: One of the plays, you mean? I wonder which- MZ: Which had very advanced- TW: Would you recognize the name of it? MZ: Well, it was the name of a French hero of the revolution. TW: "Rhinoceros"? MZ: No, no, I remember "Rhinoceros," "End Game," all the advanced things that we did, because we did at Actors Theatre, I mean at Arts in Louisville occasionally have, up in our restaurant, a parlor piece of some kind of- TW: I wonder which play that is. Maybe it was later on. (Lots of rustle of paper, shuffling of pages) MZ: Well, I don't know. It was extremely- TW: It was at the railroad station? MZ: Am I looking at the- TW: Yeah, yeah, this is the railroad station. Do you remember 22:00seeing Ned Beatty ever? MZ: Oh, yes. He did the- I have never wanted to see "Death of a Salesman" since I saw Ned Beatty. And then we understood that they didn't give him good roles after it- I don't know what it was. He got kind of disillusioned after that. Did you ever hear that? TW: Well, I also think he was- MZ: Where is it down here? TW: Now here's "Death of a Salesman" MZ: OK. We heard that he was going to stop acting. We all worried- We got a letter campaign to him: "Don't stop acting, you're so wonderful." It was absolutely sensational. TW: Who started the letter campaign? Do you remember? MZ: Ah, maybe Mitzi Friedlander? Have you talked to her? TW: I've talked to Mitzi. MZ: Yeah, maybe, she told me- TW: I could mention it to her. MZ: I just remember that I wrote, and all of us- TW: And did you write it to him? To the theatre? MZ: Yeah, we wrote it to him to the theatre. I can't believe I can't see this thing. It's a- Well, we'll think of it later and I'll tell you and we can talk about- Cause anyway my daughter fell in love with an actor, one of her first boyfriends was 23:00in that play at Actors Theatre at the railroad station. A French revolutionary character. TW: Oh, and she fell in love with the person who played that -- in it? MZ: Well, it was Michael Hankins who went to the Cincinnati Playhouse, now he would know. He'd be a good one. He's a director there, Michael Hankins. He's directed at Actors Theatre. TW: I don't know that name. That's good. That's a new name. MZ: Well, lots of links in there, and I'll say one more thing about- You want to ask me anymore about Arts in Louisville? TW: Please- MZ: No, I'll say one more thing about where we live, here, now, on Ormsby- Is that? TW: Do. MZ: We're right around here where all the actors live temporarily because it's close to the theatre and so it's been great fun to go to the theatre and see them on stage when I'd then see them walking by the next day. TW: And do they stay at the Mayflower? MZ: The Mayflower, the Chateau--used to be called the Adams House, down here-- TW: Oh, and it's not called The Adams House any more. MZ: No. And various little apartments. Some people, like Michael Gross--you know 24:00who's gone on to great fame now--who was an actor there. He'd pass by as I was raking leaves and I'd say, "Oh, Hi. I saw you last night. Was a great show." And he'd say, "I miss raking leaves. Give me that rake." You know, it was always just fun. Actors are fun. And in this very room I had a wonderful tea part for the ladies who were in that wonderful play about the maids- the- uh- TW: A long time ago do you mean? Or just recently "The Quilters"? MZ: No, no. It was called "The Maids." It was based on Genet's play "The Maids." It was an original play. TW: OK, ok. And you had them here? MZ: Yes, we had a big tea party here with Anne Pitoniak and all the ladies who'd been in the cast and they re-enacted this scene where they- on the staircase- um. Anyway, we feel very enriched by living in the neighborhood where the actors go by, even if you don't talk to them or pick up on them, you see them waiting for the bus or occasionally given rides and so when you're at the theatre and you see them downstairs at their 25:00performance you make the connection. There's an enrichment, definitely. TW: I was--I live near here too--and I was coming home one day and I saw a performer who I had seen just the night before- MZ: Isn't that funny you see them carrying groceries- TW: I was so excited and I rolled down my window and I said "Bravo!" I was so excited. I think he thought- I think he was a little taken aback. MZ: I think they're used to it and like it though now. I mean if they'd been here more than one season they get used to people doing the double take and so- TW: It was that play that was kind of controversial and he took his pants down. And it was about- It was black and white and maybe that's beca- I can't remember the name of it. MZ: Oh yes. Oh yes. TW: But he just did a wonderful job. MZ: The South African play. TW: Yeah. Now, do you all ever go the Humana Festival? Have you been to those. MZ: Yeah. TW: How do you- Say something about the Human Festival. What you think its import is. What you thought of it over the years. MZ: Oh, well, you know, it just- It's just a marvelous privilege to be here to see these fantastic productions, whether you liked them all or not, the whole energy and 26:00scope of the thing is just very very exciting. And of course living as close as we did, the theatre- Leo still doesn't go to the theatre, but I go with friends, and I can be down there, you know, in fifteen minutes if we decide to go one night or somebody has a ticket. Because sometimes they run out of the ticket. The best plays, the minute you find out which are the best plays, they're the ones you can't get tickets for in the small theatre. TW: In the Victor Jory- MZ: In the Victor Jory. So we do- there are all these scams so if I know an actor friend who has one of those passes, I've used that. TW: Do you go to Downstairs at Actors ever? That little restaurant. MZ: Oh, sure. TW: That's a nice important part of it. Don't you think? MZ: Um hum. Funny thing there is, when we had Arts in Louisville Restaurant on Monday nights we had what we called Starving Artist Night, which all the T-bone steak, everything was half-price. The hamburgers were half-price, everything, across the board, wonderful menu, was half-price and we called it Starving Artist Night. Well you had professors 27:00from university, not so starving people as well as kids who were trying- who don't usually eat out at restaurants. So that was Starving Artist Night. OK, when Actors Theatre opened their restaurant they had a contest for the name of the restaurant. And dumb me, I didn't think of Starving Artist. Somebody who'd been a member at Arts in Louisville submitted Arts in Louisville- I mean Starving Artist and won the prize. And they called it Starving Artist up until last year I think, when it's now called just Downstairs at Actors. TW: Right. MZ: So that's another tie-in. So, yes, I love to go opening night, I've always had opening night tickets, and sometimes it's wonderful, sometimes you wish they wouldn't come through if you can't think of something good to say, but they're like old friends, the whole repertory company. You get to know them. And there've been some high nights, all of- course all the Marsha Norman opening nights have been wonderful. Marsha used to teach my daughter at the Brown School. I invited her out here the minute I met her I knew this was something spectacular. TW: You knew she was- MZ: Yeah, she was so able. And well, she was doing the Jellybean Journal, she was doing the grants program for the county, 28:00and I'd her have at the Unitarian Church again. She brought her poets and people over who would- and she would explain the program. It was a wonderful, wonderful enrichment. TW: And did she teach your daughter English? MZ: Well she taught- oh, I don't know- Video arts, or- She was interested--we were just getting cable in and I was on a cable commission that the mayor appointed, to try to set standards--and so Marsha got interested with me. I thought it--I was very flattered--I thought it was Zoe my daughter, our daughter Zoe was a good student, or she'd heard of Leo and me, and I thought, wasn't that grand. It turned out the only reason, I found out later, that she was interested in cultivating me the least bit is that she was very interested in that cable access, public access, because she had done some work on a grant down in the state in the schools. And she thought it was going to be a great thing would be wasted by a silly dilettante woman, probably like me. That was just one little 29:00aspect of the whole theatre and Marsha Norman. TW: Do you ever remember seeing Susan Kingsley? MZ: Um hum. Yeah. Oh, of course. And of course she- Zoe, our daughter, had worked with her husband. TW: Bob Kingsley. MZ: Um hum. TW: Was this at Jasper's office when she worked with Bob Kingsley? MZ: Yeah- TW: And did you ever see Victor Jory on the stage. MZ: Yes, yes. And his wife too. TW: Jean Innes MZ: Yes. TW: You mean you would see them on the elevator when you slept over there? MZ: Yes. I was always surprised how large he was. I mean he looked small in movies, but he looked larger in the elevator. I don't know, he's a very handsome man. TW: You met him- MZ: No, no I never met him. But much better looking. He was always kind of a snarling, meany, you know, in the movies. But he was quite a mensch. I'll tell you who else. Do you know Betty Smith- are you doing board members too? TW: Yes. MZ: Course they used to take him to the races all the time. They know all about him. Conversation ends abruptly. TW: This is the end of Side Two, Tape One Interview with Marie Zimmerman.

End, Tape 1, side 2.