On Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, three blocks from The
White House, stands the National Theatre, "The Theatre of Presidents."
This historic playhouse has seen Pennsylvania Avenue grow from the
muddy main street of a fledgling capital to the ceremonial avenue
of a great world power. Inaugural parades and demonstrations pass on the Avenue in front of the
building. Inside, drama and merriment reign.
In the year the theatre opened, President Andrew Jackson paid off
the national debt and he
came to the National Theatre. That same year the Liberty Bell cracked,
P.T. Barnum organized his first circus, and the National Theatre
opened its doors.
The National has operated longer than any other major touring house
in the United States. After its opening on December 7, 1835,
the building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt on the same site
five times during the 1800's. Part of the original foundation can
still be seen in the basement of the present structure, which was
rebuilt in the 1920s, and given a major renovation from 1982 to 1984.
The history of this theatre is a panorama of American theatre: a
Who's Who of the stars of the past, the present, and the future.
Virtually every great stage performer since 1835 has appeared
One star of the first season was Junius Brutus Booth, whose three
sons, including John Wilkes Booth, all played at the
The first performance in the theatre was "Man of the World,"
in 1835. When the theatre reopened its doors in 1850, after a disastrous
fire, the featured performer was Jenny Lind, the Swedish
Nightingale. The first attraction in 1952 when the National
returned to stage performances after a short period as a movie house
was "Call Me Madam", starring Ethel Merman.
Among the other actors who have appeared
here are Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, Joan Rivers, Carol Channing,
Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Sarah
Bernhardt, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn. Playwright John
Guare was an assistant manager here. Shirley MacLaine was an usher
and her brother, Warren Beatty, was the stage doorman.
For almost a century the National has been haunted by the friendly
actor John McCullough, reputedly shot and killed by a fellow
performer. The two men argued while washing clothes in the Tiber
Creek, which then flowed under the theatre. A rusty
pistol was unearthed under the stage
in 1982, near where McCullough's remains are rumored to lie. According to legend, his spirit roams the
theatre on the eve of opening nights, and was once seated in the