One of his sons became the greatest actor of his generation! The other son killed Lincoln! Yep, if you think there’s a play in life of Junius Brutus Booth, the most notorious actor on the American stage in the mid-19th century, you’re not the only one: Booth, his self-destructive arc as an actor, and the family and friends he sucked into that tragic orbit, are subjects that Austin Pendleton has been obsessing over for more than 50 years.
Here are some artifacts from the first version of a Booth-centered play that Pendleton wrote while at Yale in 1961. Booth Is Back In Town! was originally staged as a near three-hour musical, with songs by James Massengale and lyrics by Peter Bergman, first performed at Yale in May/June 1961. Phil Proctor played Junius’ son Edwin. It was the second time Bergman had worked alongside Proctor, his soon-to-be collaborator in The Firesign Theatre (the first being the original play Tom Jones, which also debuted at Yale). Here’s the track listing of the 1961 original cast album:
The Book of Mr. Booth
Lettin’ My Feet Run Free
Booth Is Back in Town
Round Clear Tones
Why Was I Born, Mother, Tell Me
Now at the Farm
American Fireman Sequence
La Lune Est Tombee
The Southern Fried
The Green Lime Tree
We’ll Never Waltz Again
Seeing the Elephant / Finale
Pendleton later revised the play and retitled it Mr. Booth, with Arthur Rubinstein coming on board to write new music and Bergman returning to write new lyrics. The revised version debuted in Williamstown, Massachusetts in August 1963.
A cache of ephemera survives in Bergman’s collection, including an original cast album from 1961, three advertising flyers, some vintage photos of Bergman, Pendleton, et al from the 1960s, press clippings from the local papers in 1961 and 1963, the 1961 Yale program and the 1963 Williamstown program, and a typed script from 1961. Massengale became a musicologist and went on to teach at UCLA; Rubenstein did music for television and films including Blue Thunder and WarGames; Bergman became one of the hippest people ever to set foot in a radio station; and Pendleton became an acting teacher, theatre director, playwright, and actor with approximately 6 trillion credits.
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