The long history of the National Theatre in Washington, D.C.,
has been written by a cavalcade of devoted, talented, fascinating
individuals who — each in his or her special way —cherished
live theatre, and particularly loved this hallowed playhouse,
" The Theatre of Presidents."
This page is devoted to happy memories of those whose work
is done, but whose contribution to this theatre is not forgotten.
Their spirits continue to inspire us.
MARTIN AGRONSKY (1915-1999)
As highly regarded political commentator and host on radio and television,
Mr. Agronsky was behind a microphone as a professional broadcaster
for 47 years. He hosted popular shows including CBS's Face the Nation,
NBC's Meet the Press and the capstone of his career, Agronsky &
Company. He served wisely and well for many years as a trustee of
the National Theatre, bringing his analytical mind, his good business
sense, and his ever-ready wit, to the meetings of the board.
As the producer of the free SATURDAY MORNING AT THE NATIONAL and
MONDAY NIGHT AT THE NATIONAL programs from their inception in 1979
through the spring of 1995, Ms. Barry introduced countless performers
in the Helen Hayes Gallery. She also masterminded a FESTIVAL OF
AMERICAN SONG, which was presented for a single free performance
on the mainstage, and for several mainstage free vaudeville salutes
to MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., featuring local performing artists.
At the height of the break-dancing craze, she produced a National
Theatre Break-Dance contest which brought an audience of several
thousand people to Freedom Plaza and the surrounding streets.
Her programs invariably reflected her dynamic and infectious enthusiasm,
her eye for fresh talent, and her imaginative and mischievous juxtaposition
of serious artistry and pure fun.
A long career at the National Theatre began for Jimmy Bean when,
as a young usher, he was assigned to assist President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt enter the theatre. During the 1930's and 40's, the Star
Box on the audience's left could be accessed from a fire escape
just outside an exit next to the box. It was Jimmy's responsibility
to stand with a flashlight ready to open the door and admit the
Presidential Party only after the house lights were dimmed. To shield
the President's incapacitation from the public, his wheelchair was
rolled into the box, or the President lifted into a theatre chair,
only in the darkness. Jimmy worked at the theatre for the rest of
M. BEERS ( 1913-1997)
Mr. Beers was a pianist, an incomparable raconteur, and one of our
most sought after National Theatre Vaudeville performers. Mr. Beers
presented a scintillating retrospective of the Broadway musical
theatre from 1920 to 1960. He provided commentary on the principal
productions, composers and lyricists of the period, illustrated
with original piano arrangements of the most popular songs. Mr.
Beers responded to requests from the audience - playing from his
1,000-song repertoire drawn from the rich musical heritage of those
years. He played many engagements on behalf of the National Theatre,
particularly delighting senior citizens who found inspiration and
encouragement in his talent and his great zest for life.
Mrs. Botsford was an ardent theatre lover who served for several
years at the very end of her life as receptionist and all-around
assistant in the Executive Office. Her faithful weekly arrival,
often accompanied by a big plate of fudge, was an occasion for celebration.
Hanna-Leah's insatiable interest in life, and her intrepid attack
on it, were memorable. In the last year of her life she was still
driving her automobile not only to the National, but to theatres,
concert halls and galleries all over Washington. She was an extraordinary
human being and a grand patron of the arts.
COCHRAN (1912 -1996)
In the days before air-conditioning, when his father was manager
of the National, Joe Cochran was a water boy, carrying cups of water
at the intermission to the grateful patrons. He subsequently became
a drummer with the National Theatre Orchestra, and was a regular
in the pit for many years. In later life, Joe returned to the National
with his band as a performer with the National Theatre Community
"STEVE" COCHRAN (1898- )
Mr. Cochran was a legendary manager of the National. Under his tenure
the theatre developed its own repertory company, in which such luminaries
as Helen Hayes, Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy starred in some of
their earliest stage appearances. Mr. Cochran is credited with founding
Olney Theatre, a popular summer theatre. Olney Center for the Performing
Arts now gives performances year round, and is the State Theatre
L. COE (1914-1995 )
A longtime critic of The Washington Post, Mr. Coe was renowned for
the astute advice he gave to many pre-Broadway try-out companies
at the National. His adroit and knowledgeable commentary is credited
with persuading producers to make changes vital to the ultimate
success of Hello, Dolly!, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum and many other shows. Dick's enormous love
of the theatre made him fierce when he thought that actors, directors
or producers had not lived up to their best potential, but more
often it made him sensitive to the nuances of good work, supportive
of the best endeavors, and wise in educating audiences and encouraging
their support of the live theatre.
"BILL" CONN (1948-2002)
For more than 15 years, Bill Conn was Concessions Manager for the
National Theatre. His efficiency, ready smile, and willingness to
guide and support his staff made him a favorite with our patrons
as well as with those who worked with him over the years. He had
been a teacher, and operated his own private bar tending service.
He was one of those exceptional people who make every encounter
special, whether it was planning a party for the Corporation or
just serving a single drink. He lived his life as a bright, generous,
father, family man, and dedicated employee.
FICHANDLER (1915 -1997)
Financial mastermind of the Arena Stage, Mr. Fichandler served also
as a trustee of the National Theatre, bringing to the table his
endless energy, astute business sense, and unquenchable optimism.
Tom's love of the theatre, his encouragement and his enthusiasm
for good performances was limitless.
Born in Washington, Miss Hayes, legendary actress and "First
Lady of the American Theatre," stood more than once on the
stage of the National, pointing high up toward the balcony, and
recalling that it was in this theatre that she saw her first performance.
When the show was over, she explained, her mother had to drag her
away. "I didn't want to leave the theatre, and I guess I really
never did." Helen returned many, many times to play at the
National throughout her career which spanned some sixty years. Particularly
memorable were her roles in Victoria Regina, The Glass Menagerie,
and Time Remembered. The nation's official portrait of Miss Hayes,
on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, is displayed at the
theatre in the Helen Hayes Gallery. Read
more about Helen Hayes.
Mr. Hayes served as a trustee of the National Theatre. He was a
major presenter and supporter of the performing arts in this city
for may, many years, and was at the heart of the complex negotiations
in 1974 which transferred operation of the National Theatre from
a commercial corporation to a not-for-profit board of trustees.
The National Theatre owes much to Patrick's knowledgeable vision
and tireless effort. He loved this theatre and was a champion for
all its causes. He was a great planner, a dauntless administrator,
a gifted promoter of all good projects, and a glorious raconteur.
Patrick's favorite acronym was EINO, which stood for inclusiveness:
"Everyone In, Nobody Out!"
HUMPHREY HOWARD (1914-2002)
Fran Howard was a tireless promoter of good causes and a long time
trustee of the National Theatre. Sister of Vice President Hubert
Humphrey, she was a vigorous Democrat, but joined enthusiastically
in a variety of non-partisan causes. Had she not been busy with
a world of other things, she might have been a great actress. She
was larger than life and full of remarkable vitality. One can imagine
the mischievous twinkle in her eye as Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell
in The Importance of Being Earnest or her grandeur as Medea.
She was among those who convinced the Italian government to contribute
the white marble for the lobby of the theatre, and urged the board
to support many other worthwhile projects. Read
more about Frances.
B. "Bernie" JACOBS (1916-1996)
Long the president of The Shubert Organizations, Mr. Jacobs' canny
ability to spot successful shows, his extensive knowledge of theatrical
production, his keen eye for the bottom line and his formidable
skills as a negotiator made him one of the most important and influential
people of his time in the American Theatre. He was intimately involved
in the affairs and successes of the National Theatre for nearly
two decades, combining a canny business acumen with good taste and
an unerring sense for the public's theatrical taste.
JEFFERSON, III (1829-1905)
One of the most outstanding actors of the early American stage,
known especially for his mesmerizing and often revived portrayal
of Rip Van Winkle, Mr. Jefferson appeared at the National on many
occasions. He also served for a time as manager of the National
Elegant in a white suit and matching shoes in the summer, or natty
black attire in winter, Mr. Kirkpatrick was a manager of the National
who greeted the audience graciously in the outer lobby at each performance,
solving the occasional ticket mix-up with his deft manner and the
charm of a true southern gentleman. His contacts in the Greater
Washington area were numerous, and those who had the pleasure of
his suave company remember him with great fondness.
E. LYNN (1921-2002)
Margaret "Skippy" Lynn served for many as Treasurer of
the National Theatre Corporation. She was a Radio City Rockette
and Martha Graham dancer, with a Master's Degree in Speech and Drama
from Catholic University. She appeared on Broadway in shows including
Carousel and Oklahoma! and understudied Ethel Merman. Under commanding
officer and stage director Josh Logan, she created entertainments
for U.S. troops after World War II. She continued to conceive and
direct shows during the Korean war, staging them sometimes under
enemy artillery fire. Her efforts led to the establishment, in 1962,
of the Army Music and Theatre Program, and she then supervised 200
directors worldwide. For Walt Disney World, she brought 1,100 dancers,
singers and other entertainers to Florida for the opening of EPCOT
Center in 1982.
McCULLOUGH ( -1885)
A distinguished actor, Mr. McCullough often at the National, in
Shakespearean and other roles. The story of his purported murder
in the National is recounted elsewhere, as he is revered (however
apocryphally) as the "Ghost of the National Theatre,"
with his own page on this website.
ADOLPHE G. MEYER (1923-1991)
Mr. Meyer was beloved by his colleagues, and undoubtedly served
longer in the National Box Office than anyone before him or since.
His always cheery demeanor earned him the encomium, "A box
office legend." His steady and competent manner calmed many
ruffled and anxious patrons over scores of years.
H. PAIGE (1928-2000)
Mr. Paige was for many years a stage hand at the National, and at
the time of his retirement in 1994, he was the Head of Properties.
Responsible for every item used by every actor in a show, he had
to make sure that every prop was in the correct location at the
correct moment, since one missing item could destroy the integrity
of a scene. He was a loyal, dedicated and hardworking member of
our National Theatre family. His work and contributions to the National
Theatre were much like his personality, quiet and genial, but totally
reliable and effective.
JOSEPH MICHAEL REYNOLDS (-2002)
For many years, Mikey Reynolds was Head Flyman at the National Theatre.
In this capacity he was responsible for the expert timing which
is essential to having each piece of hanging scenery fly in and
out at a precise moment. Moreover, he bore the enormous responsibility
involved in controlling the movement of pipes carrying many thousands
of pounds of lighting equipment and scenery high over the heads
of the actors and other stage hands. In the instance of Crazy
for You, one set alone, consisting of 15 dressing rooms occupied
by actors, weighed several tons. In other productions, such as Cats,
actors who were "flown" on wires, placed their lives literally
in the hands of Mike and his crews.
JEROME "JACK" RYAN (1920-2000)
When the National Theatre Corporation Board was formed in 1979,
the John F. Kennedy Center was managing the theatre, and Roger L.
Stevens invited Jack Ryan to serve as a trustee. Jack accepted,
and continued in that capacity until the end of his life. Born in
Washington, DC, Jack served during the Indo-China campaign as a
Captain in the United States Army. As a stage hand, he served as
President of Local #22 of the International Alliance of Stage Employees
from 1957 to 1990. In 1972 he became 11th Vice President of I.A.T.S.E,
and some 25 years later he became 2nd Vice President. He was a skilled
negotiator devoted to trade unionism, and he brought considerable
expertise and good sense to the National Theatre board. With his
wife, Aleyse, he had four children.
BESS DAVIS SCHREINER
was, for 24 years the doyen of the Theatre Guild/American Theatre
Society subscription service. In the heady days before television,
she kept track of hundreds of evening patrons and matinee-lady subscribers,
tracing lost tickets, smoothing ruffled nerves, and enlisting enormous
audiences in support of live theatre.
L. STEVENS (1910-1998)
In 1974, the downtown area of the nation's capital had become unfashionable,
and the National was failing as a commercial theatre. It was the
enterprising Mr. Stevens, Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts (and onetime owner of The Empire State Building)
who created a not-for-profit corporation which took over the theatre's
operation. Without Roger's interest, enormous energy, foresight
and entrepreneurial skills, the theatre might not have survived.
TESKE ( -2000)
A familiar face at the box office for some 40 years, Helen Teske
loved the patrons and loved the National Theatre. She worked industriously
with Theatre Manager Richard "Rick" Schneider for many
years to establish the National Theatre Archive, to which she made
contributions of valuable theatre memorabilia including programs,
flyers and photographs. The theatre is indebted to her for much
early cataloguing of the theatre's collections.
VAN FOSSEN ( -1997)
Mr. Van Fossen was for many years the official artist of the National
Theatre, creating with meticulous attention to detail the hand-lettered
show cards and large billboards which announced presentations at
the theatre. His faithful renditions of show logos, and his handsome
free-hand lettering were legendary. His is an art which is now much
imitated by computers, but the results will never have the personal
touch and individuality which Norman gave to his work. Many of his
pieces are conserved in the National Theatre Archive.
top of page | home | search
| site map | contact
info | credits
shows | tickets
| location | backstage
| services | site
The National Theatre Corporation, a 501.c3 nonprofit institution managed
by The Shubert Organization.
Site designed by Mike Miller WebCraft and Donn B MurphyPhD.