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East Falls Oral History Project

Interviewee: Ruth Emmert (RE)

Interviewer: Cherie Snyder (CS)

Interview: March 16, 1983

Transcribed by: Jacob Benson, Student, Philadelphia University, Day of Service, 9/15/2009, and Wendy Moody, EFHS, Summer 2010

CS: Are you willing to reveal your age, Ruth?

RE: Oh, of course.  You’re proud of it when you get to my age.

CS: So when were you born?

RE: I was born, um, April 22, 1907, which makes me 75 years of age.

CS: And where were you born?

RE: I was born in Philadelphia, north Philadelphia.

CS: And what were your parents’ names?

RE: Um, Zimmerman.

CS: And your father’s and mother’s names?

RE: My mother – my father’s name was Charles, my mother’s name was Bertha.

CS: Ok, and you’re not from the Falls.

RE: No, I came here as a bride, in 1926, and, uh, the Falls was just beginning to expand to a section they call Queen Lane Manor, which had been woods and streams and the Old Falls section people used to come up here and pick mushrooms and watercress and all kinds of wild things and chestnuts – they had chestnut trees here – and then some builder got in here, and uh, what was his name, McCrudden, came in here and developed the area and made row houses mostly, and sold them and a lot of the Old Falls people did buy and move up here, but mostly it was what they call “crashers” if you were not born here in the Falls, you were a “crasher” and although I’ve lived here since 1926 I’m still a crasher.  They do not consider me a native.  My children were born here and that’s alright.  So, we were married and my husband worked in the vicinity.  He worked up at Pencoyd and he saw the ad in the paper for the new houses and he came up and looked at them one night and then asked me to come up.

CS: Were you married at the time?

RE: No, no, no.  We were engaged and he thought it would be a nice place to live and so we came up and looked at the sample house on Ainslie Street by mistake.  They were the highest priced houses, they were $6950, and we loved them.  And then we found out we were in the expensive houses so we went to Osmond Street where the ones were for $5950.  Well, of course, we had seen the better ones and we would have nothing else and so we decided to buy there.

CS: What were the differences between the two, when you looked at them?

RE: Well, Osmond Street was two bedrooms and Ainslie street was three bedrooms, and they were just bigger, and of course they made them more attractive too, the higher priced ones, and the back of the Ainslie Street houses in back of the sample, there was a driveway that came down from the hill at a 45 degree angle and I said “How would you get a car in your garage at a 45 degree angle?” and the salesman said, “Oh, when we build the houses across that driveway, we’ll level it off so that they’ll go uphill a little and you’ll just come down a little” but they never did, and we had a 45 degree angle for our driveway all the years we lived on Ainslie Street and when it got icy or snow or anything we had to come out with buckets of hot water and sweep and scrape to get the car in the garage without crashing through and everybody else did too but we managed.  And so anyhow we bought and we moved in and the neighbors on both sides of me were from the Methodist Church and so of course that’s when we began to go to the Methodist Church, Falls Methodist Church, on Indian Queen Lane and Krail and we had our children christened there and they went to Sunday School there until they began to disapprove of their own parents, they thought that we were sinners because we spent money on Sunday.

CS: Your children thought you were sinners?

RE: The children thought their parents were sinners, yes we were – we spent money on Sunday.  We bought a Sunday newspaper and we might have, not having a car, we took trolley rides on Sunday and we paid the motorist which made him work which was a sin.  We danced and that was a sin, and we played cards and that was a sin, and worst of all we drank and so I took my children out of the Methodist Church because that wasn’t a very good family life and I sent them to the nearest one, that was Redeemer Lutheran at Midvale and Conrad and that’s where they went until they stopped going or moved out of the neighborhood.  The Ainslie Street house worked out very well for us.  We had two children and there were three bedrooms and so we lived there until 1945, I think it was, when we moved into a larger house.

CS: Let me just ask you, what were your neighbors like, on the street?  Who else had bought the houses at that time?

RE: Oh well, next door was Mrs. Homewood (?), and I called her Mrs. Homewood until the day she died because I started that way and I didn’t know what else – her first name was Estelle.  She was not from the Falls, but her husband was, Albreth Stone Homewood, and his brother was a chauffeur for the, uh, not the Altemus, the, uh, Dobson’s, the Dobson family, up on the hill.

CS: Which Dobson’s; do you remember which ones?  Whether it was…

RE: James, James Dobson, and his daughter was Altemus, and that’s how I happened to get up there that time that I went up to see the house and my next door neighbor knew the cook and the servants up there, and so we walked up one day, and nobody was home…

CS: And how old, what year was this, about how old were you at the time?

RE: I have no idea.  I have no idea.  But it was before anything was done over there.  Mrs. Altemus had a white house in the garden and she had built it and it was all white all the furniture in it was white and there were white turtledoves that flew around inside and out and it was built around a huge tree.  And then at the other end of the house on, um, I can’t think of the name, there was a street that divided her land from the rest of it down Henry Avenue.  During the war she was patriotic and let all the Italians in the Falls make gardens there to grow food.

CS: Why the Italians?

RE: Because they were the big gardeners, they came from everywhere.  And they built little shacks on it, on their piece of land and they grew what they wanted to grow there.  And she had on a shelf of land there high above the Henry Avenue, she made a little terrace and had furniture there and tables and everything and she entertained there overlooking what she called her “Italian Garden” and that’s what they were, the little shacks and it was charming.  And so then we were taken through the house by the servants and that’s how I got to go up there and see it.

CS: And so what do you remember about the house?  Anything?

RE: Oh, the huge crystal chandeliers and the woodwork in there was beautiful, it was big and thick and heavy.  We didn’t go upstairs, we just went to the huge kitchen, which was old-fashioned and spotlessly clean.  You know, I don’t remember really much about it because I was so young.

CS: Did you actually see the place with the turtledoves?  The one with the…

RE: Oh, we sat in it.  Oh yes we sat in it, that was fascinating.  She was a charming woman, she said anything that came into her head.  I know one time they had a visiting minister down at St. James the Less, the Episcopal Church.  He was young and handsome and so she was there in one of her low cut gowns, and she lit a cigarette and put it in a long holder, it must have been two feet long, and sidled up to him and said “What can you do about my soul?”  Knocked him right off his (unintelligible), the poor man.  But that’s the way she was, whatever came into her head, she said.

CS: Just to go back again to Ainslie Street, how have things changed since you lived there in terms of the appearance of the street, or the streets that surround it?

RE: Well the trees were new, that’s the thing I remember most, the trees were planted then in 1926, and we each had a little arbor at the end of our walk from our house, the houses were in a long row, but they were in twos and you adjoined your porch with somebody else, front and back, and those trees are now so gigantic you couldn’t get your arms around them but I remember the trees when they planted them there.  And all the new people and the tree was wide, otherwise it looks just the same, people have kept their houses up nicely, and it looks just about the same there.

CS: Now you were a young wife, starting off your married life in the Falls, and I’m    just curious as to what your day would be like as a young bride.                                          

RE: We got up early then and we made breakfast for our husbands and they went off to work, and then we cleaned up the kitchen, and everybody prided themselves on being a good housekeeper, so you tried, and I was never really that good.  But then at a certain point, you took your broom and went out to sweep your porch, and your walk, and your pavement and you swept it and then you swept in into the street but you gathered it all up into little piles so that the street cleaners came along and they could sweep it up easily.  You did that every day.  And of course when we got out there our neighbors would be out there and we would chat and gossip and it was so wonderful to have that much communication with your neighbors that way.

      And then if you had a baby, you did for the baby and then you took the baby out for a walk in the fresh air.  You didn’t just put them out on the porch, you put them in the coach and you walked.  Over the hills of East Falls, and you got tired, but you brought them back, and they had that.  And then you might have somebody in for coffee.  That was neighborly, just to come in and have a cup of coffee.  I don’t know if they still do that.  And you cleaned your house, of course, and you did your wash.  You did that in the basement, you had no washing machine.  You put your clothes in to soak and then you drained the water out and then you poured more hot water on them and you put your soap in and you scrubbed them on a scrub board up and down.  Then you wrung them out by hand.  And then later we were able to buy wringers that you clamped onto the stationary tubs and put the sheets and stuff through that and turned the crank to do that.  But mostly it was that.  And then we took our clothes out and hung them out because of course there were no dryers.  And if you couldn’t hang them out on Monday, you hung them up in your basement you strung clothes lines in the basement.  Those were the early dryers.  And God help you if you didn’t wash on Monday.

(end of transcription by J. Benson; rest by Wendy Moody)

CS: Monday, why Monday?

RE: I don’t know!  My brother came here from California one time and he went out my back door and looked up the driveway and there were  I don’t know how many houses are on Ainslie Street  but there were a lot because they were small   but there were all the clothes trees and all the lines and  all the clothes flapping in the wind and he said “Egads! Does everybody in Philadelphia do their wash on Mondays?” And I said “As far as I know, yes, they do.”

       And that was the system: On Monday you washed, On Tuesday you ironed.  Now these were chores in addition to your dusting and your cooking and your shopping at the store. And Wednesday you mended the clothes and generally straightened up.  On Thursday you cleaned upstairs thoroughly, and Friday you cleaned downstairs thoroughly and Saturday was the weekend.  And you may have marketed for food again and on Sunday you cooked. And that was your week. 

     Every day had its purpose and you did it. And some of the women were so full of energy and so full of ambition and pep that I can remember Ethel Buckley, whose husband later became president of Philco, and she lived in a little house on the corner there, and at 8 o’clock her wash was hung and flapping on the line and she was dressed and on her way in town to shop. At 8 o’clock!  She was down the hill to get the train to go in town to shop!  And…                                                         

CS: Did you – as a young wife – were there social groups that you belonged to with other young woman?

RE: Yes.  Those of us who had children had no other social life because you stayed home with your children then and we couldn’t afford babysitters so we helped each other. And then lots of us didn’t have mothers to come in and help us if we were sick or anything.  I remember I had two children then and I was married about 10 years and I formed this club called – it was just the neighborhood mothers and their children and while the children were in school, or if we had babies we brought them along – and it was called the….

CS: I remember something about silly… was it silly?

RE: The Silly Sisters of the Sick!

CS: That was it!

RE: The Silly Sisters of the Sick!  And we had categories in that and we met every week – one day – one afternoon after lunch and we served tea and cookies and we weren’t allowed to serve anything else because we didn’t want to get into trying to top each other with the great food.  And we did various things – we had the Nutty Knitters and they brought their knitting along and whatever they were knitting, they knitted at that meeting once a week – and then we had the Silly Seamstresses and they brought along sewing.  And then we had the Lazy Lopisis who didn’t bring any work.  They just came and sat and chatted.  And then we did other things too…

CS: Which one did you fit into?

RE: I was president – Lazy Lopis! And we fixed each other’s hair –we used to give permanents and we did all kinds of things together and we enjoyed that afternoon.  And if you wanted to you could bring your children and that was the way we spent one afternoon every week.  But then we had other purposes too.  For instance, one girl had a baby and when she came home from the hospital she had no one to do for her and in those days we rested for at least a week after you got home from the hospital.  The hospital – you were in the hospital 2 weeks and then you came home and then you stayed upstairs one week and then you came downstairs..  They felt you would not preserve your life if you didn’t do all that resting after a baby and so we took turns – and we did this if anybody was sick – we would go up and take their children and take care of them for them until their husband got home from work and we would cook meals and take them up to them and we would do their laundry and anything they had to do, we did.

And believe me that was wonderful when you had no mother living near and it wasn’t a burden on any of us because we took turns doing for each other – doing our shopping – whatever had to be done we did. And we often get together now – those of us that are living – and talk about that, and how great it was that we had fun together and we did for each other.  I don’t know of anybody that does that anymore. –all the wives are out working.  And I understand that streets are now lonely places because if you don’t go to work you’re lonely all day.

CS: Did any of the women on your block work?

RE: No, no. We stayed home and did our housework.

CS: Was that true – did you have to have as certain level of money to be able to stay home with your children or was that just true?                                                       

RE: No that was just true.  You lived on your husband earned.  He earned $25 a week then.

CS: What did he do?

RE: He worked up at Pencoyd.

CS: As…?

RE: First he worked in the mill and I don’t know what he did.  I never was interested but he was fairly well educated and I understand that all executives there start in the mills and whatever they did up there.  So on vacation time in the office – they asked him to come up and work in the office and take the place of other people around there and he loved that.  So when they all came back he went back to the mill but he could never take that again and he finally quit up there.  But he earned $25 a week which was an alright salary – it wasn’t great and it wasn’t little.  He gave me $10 a week for the house – my part of the job – and I was always able to save a bit out of that and out it away and buy extra things – which all of us did – we cheated on it.  But by the end of the week sometimes we were really broke and Helen Ogden who lived on Vaux Street used to come over and say: “Ruthie, I only have a quarter left out of my allowance” and I would say “So do I” and so we would go to the store and out of those two quarters we would maybe buy an eggplant – which was cheap in those days –and we would cut it in half and she would bread and fry half of that and then with our other money we managed to get a meal together with a quarter each and they were good meals.  And one of our hobbies in those days – this was during the Depression – we used to exchange cheap recipes, and that was another big hobby – “Did you see the one in the paper…?”  “ No” and then we’d all cut it out and try it – maybe it was rice and tomatoes and cheese which was a whole meal – a casserole. And we had great times in those days.  The Depression was more a challenge and fun than all those sad tales you’d hear now about people being out of work.  If you got out of work – we didn’t have unemployment compensation – you made out  and when Milton got out of work he had a ….

CS: During the Depression?

RE: Hm hm.  He borrowed $400 from his mother gradually, like $25 a week.  And by the time he got a job that $400 was all used up.  But he did have a savings and loan that he had been putting into since he was a young man so he paid his mother back.  We were so completely independence and self sustaining and did our thing.

CS: Tell me about your shopping.  Where did you do your grocery shopping and your household shopping?

RE: Oh, well, for little things we used to go over to Kelly’s – that was a delicatessen on the corner of Sunnyside and Vaux.  And Vaux Street then when we first moved up here was mud, pure mud.  It had not been paved, and it was quite a chore to get over there but they were nice and – their name was Kelly – and they opened that up and you could buy – not fresh meat and not fresh vegetables – but almost anything else. And when people ran out of money at the end of the week they allowed them to charge it. And then they would never pay off completely they would pay off a little bit at a time.  I was not allowed to do that – my husband never allowed me to go into debt but everybody else did it.  That was the small things.  Then there were butcher shops on 35th Street which is now called Conrad and there was Clayton’s, who carried meat, freshly cut….

CS: Is that still there?

RE: No, Claytons is long gone.

CS: Where was that?

That was on the corner of Conrad and Bowman, I think.  That was a big store – that was the biggest in the Falls and then there was Sowden’s on Conrad Street between Sunnyside and Ainslie, I think.  Or Bowman’s and Ainslie.  And that was mostly just a butcher shop.

And the young men who worked there used to come around with a pad and a pencil and take your order every day – you didn’t have to walk there.  Every morning they appeared – they’d come in and sit down and you’d try to think what you wanted for dinner or what you needed and they would mark it down and then they would deliver it later in the day.

CS: Now did they do that just for certain customers?

RE: Anybody! No, certain customers who were their customers and they knew who they were.  And then there was Stubblebine’s down on Midvale Avenue who carried very good meat and all the wealthy people in East Falls – the ones who still had estates farther up – went down to Stubblebine’s.  Mrs. Kelly shopped there.

CS: Did you?

RE: Well they didn’t come around and take your order so, no, I didn’t get down there much. Once in a while.  It was easy to get there, but pushing a baby carriage up Midvale Avenue…up the hill, that was too much.  No, once in a while.

CS: Yeah, right…

CS: Did the one who came around and took your order also deliver or did you go pick it up?

RE:  Delivered, oh delivered. Everything was taken care of.  And there was no higher price for that.  And you didn’t tip them.  It was just a service that was accepted here in the Falls. That was the food shopping; that’s what we did.  Post Office was on Midvale Avenue until it closed.

CS: Near St. Bridget’s?

RE:  Yeah, the one that’s now Jubilee Hall, part of St. Bridget’s.

CS: What about household items? Mops and brooms or whatever?

RE:  You mean like pots and pans, things like that?

CS: Yeah…

RE: There was an elderly spinster down on Conrad Street who had findings for sewing.  I don’t remember her name…Miss…There was an old clockmaker, not a clockmaker a clock repairman who sold clocks down on Conrad Street.  He was near Sunnyside.  He was such a mean man to his wife and so cranky with everybody but he did repair clocks and did sell them and I remember one time I bought an old cuckoo clock in an antique store for a gift for my husband and the bellows was broken and everybody said “No one fixes bellows because they can’t get the material”.  And I took it down to him and he made a new bellows.  He had the material so he was very valuable to the community.

CS: You don’t remember his name?

RE: No.

CS: Where was his shop located?

RE: Well it was a storefront next to the corner.  Next to, let me see, Kelly’s hardware store was on the corner there of Sunnyside and Conrad and then next door – he had a storefront and then he lived behind it and above it, he and his wife.  And he was walking across lower Tilden Street one day and he fell into the street and died of a heart attack.

And somebody went home to bear the news to his poor wife, who in the meanwhile had heard of it and came up to see him lying dead in the street, and people came over to sympathize with her and she said “Good! Good! Good! I’m glad he’s dead.  She said, ”He was the meanest, rottenest man that ever lived.  Thank God he’s dead! Get him out of here!” And she meant it.  And he was that way.  I can’t remember all the shops – they were occupied, though, with people on Conrad Street in those days and it was a real good shopping center.

CS: So Conrad Street was like a shopping area?

RE: The one you could walk to.  All the stores were occupied along there.  Some of them now are being stuccoed up and the storefronts removed and they’re making apartments on the first floor.

CS: But that was like a little shopping area on Conrad Street?

RE:  Oh, yes, yes.  People made good livings there.

CS: Did they have like dry goods stores or clothing stores?

RE: No, that was on Ridge Avenue near Midvale.  There was a department store down there – I can’t remember its name either – and he had maybe five or six stores and they each carried something different and you could go there for your children’s clothing or yard goods or anything like that.  It was that kind of a store.  And we had a bank on the corner of Midvale and Ridge – I don’t know my directions –it was along the river drive there.  And then there was Palestine Hall and that had a store.  And then there was kind of a 5& 10 on the land side of Ridge Avenue and there was a big brick building and upstairs on the second floor was where Jack Kelly and his new bride went to live when they were first married.  They lived in that apartment house.  And the first floor, I think, was a 5&10 and then were other little stores along there too and apartments above them.  There was a drugstore and there was Gunboat Café on Midvale and there were restaurants on Midvale in 1926 and they were all nice.

CS: Did most people in the Falls do most of their shopping and their purchasing locally or did they go out of the area for some things?

RE: It was six of one and half dozen of the other.  Germantown was the bigger shopping center, you know.  There was Jones’ over there – Jimmy Jones’ and there was Allen’s and Rowell’s.  And for your big things you went there.  There were 5&10s and that was a big day shopping.  But we used to walk over there when our babies were small.  We often walked to Germantown on a nice afternoon and pushed our coaches around Germantown   then walked home.  It was not unusual.  To save carfare mostly, but it was a nice walk for the babies and it was level.                                     (pause)

CS: You were saying…

RE: Up on Queen Lane there was a farm when I lived here in 1926.

CS: Queen Lane near…

RE: I think it was called Newcombe’s or Newton’s and they had cows.

CS: Queen Lane and what cross street?  Near Henry or beyond?

RE: Hmmm.  No farther up near Fox.  Near there.  I can’t remember the address.

CS: They had cows?

RE: They had cows and they grew things –and it was a working farm then in those days. The reservoir was there then when we moved up here on Henry Avenue.  The hospital came later – much later.  Henry Avenue was not cut through.

CS: You mean it wasn’t there?

RE: It was here to maybe Midvale.  It wasn’t cut through to Roxborough.  You had to go up Ridge Avenue to get to Roxborough.

CS: What about – you mentioned that there were the more well-to-do families in the big houses.  Were you familiar with any of them?

RE: No, no, I didn’t know them. We were the middle class people here.

CS: Even though you didn’t know them personally, were there any families that were more well-known or were gossiped about?

RE: No, no.  Some of the older real Falls residents – not the crashers like me – might have known them.  Some of them worked in those houses as servants but, no, I did not.

      Oh, and during the Depression and even before the Depression we used to have a lot of peddlers come around every day so you didn’t have to go out for a lot of things. There was one little old man and he, in season, he came around with watercress.  He would go up and chop the ice and cut the watercress and bunch it and come around and he would call and you would hear him inside your house and you would come out and buy the watercress from him.

       And then he also ground horseradish and mixed it with vinegar and jarred it and brought it up and he would come around and call “horseradish” and you knew who it was by his call and he was hard of hearing and he was very persistent.  And if you didn’t buy from him he would keep right on – he never heard you – if you didn’t want any or didn’t have money.  I remember one time my household money had run out –  I didn’t have a cent –  and he was trying to sell me horseradish and I didn’t want any and I kept saying “I don’t have any money” and he’d say “It’s nice and fresh horseradish – I ground it myself – put it up in the vinegar myself – good horseradish – nice and fresh” and I’d say “I don’t have any money!” until finally I was shouting so loud that the whole street knew that Ruth Emmert did not have any money that day.  Then he used to come around with wild mushrooms.                                                                                                             

CS: Same guy?

RE: Same guy – wild mushrooms.  And there was another man who came around with English teacakes.  And I was raised in a German neighborhood and so I pictured teacakes as sweet, and cakes.  So one day I ran out and bought some from him and they were still hot – he would bring them around freshly baked and still hot – and I invited some friends of mine who were not East Falls people and not English I said “I brought in these English teacakes.  Come on over and we’ll have tea and cakes and feel English.”  And so they came over and we were so disappointed.  They were like rolls.  Not sweet, not delicate in flavor, they were just heavy rolls.  No flavor.  Well we ate them anyhow; we never bought any more.  He used to come around regularly – once a week maybe or twice a week, whatever he wanted to.

       And then there were, during the Depression, two young enterprising men who came around with a big truck and they had stuff on their truck to fix shoes.  And they would drive the truck down and they would call out “New lifts on your heels! New lifts on your heels!” and just the way they said it kind of lifted your spirits and you’d go out and take your shoes out and for a quarter they would put new lifts on your heels and they did other repairs too.

       And then there was another group – not a group, just a couple of young men who came around – they had knife sharpening equipment on their truck and you’d all run out with all your knifes and they would sharpen them for  – I forget how much they charged – but it was really great – they came to you.  You didn’t have to go out and fight to buy, like you do nowadays.

CS: When did they stop coming?  When did it start and when did it stop?

RE: I don’t know.  I moved away from there in 1945 and on this street, Queen Lane, there were never any peddlers, ever.

CS: It was when you left Ainslie Street that there were still be peddlers coming around…

RE: Yes, they were still coming around.  They were still having what I called the Broom Brigade of neighbors coming out with their brooms.  And for all I know they’re still do it.  Some of the original people are still living on Ainslie Street.

       When we first moved in there, the old Falls people who had not moved up here used to make fun of the people who bought the new houses.  And they used to call us the “two bunners” – meaning that once we bought these expensive houses, all we could afford was two buns for breakfast. They had buns for breakfast – and all we could afford was two buns, not any more.

CS: Because you had put all your money in the house?

RE: Right.  If you wanted to live there you were the rich – they thought we were.  And we were the two bunners.  I always liked that name.  It was nice.                

CS: I’m interested in hearing about the time you moved in- now the time you moved in was during the Prohibition, right?

RE: The twenties.

CS: In the twenties.  And I’m just interested in what it was like living in the Prohibition in the Falls with your…                                                                                       

RE: Well, for some in the Falls it was no different.  But we drank.

CS: You mean you and your husband?

RE: Yes, and all our friends – our young friends.  We were the first to be married in our crowd.   I was 18 and my husband was 21.  The others had not married yet because during the Depression you really couldn’t afford to get married and have a house but we did.  And so all our young crowd were fascinated by this house that was unchaperoned.  And so we had parties, and the neighbors were terribly shocked, being Methodist and everything was a sin.  And we didn’t think anything of it because it was our house.  They were loud parties – we played music on the Victrola, we played the piano, and we danced and we yelled, and we drank bathtub gin and we drank homemade beer and everybody got high on it.

CS: You made your own beer?

RE: Yes, oh yes.  In the basement.  The parties lasted until the wee hours and we danced.  Nothing terrible went on.  We were really not as bad as people thought we were.  There were no drugs, there was no sex – there was what we called necking, which was just kissing and hugging – nobody ever went any farther than that.  But our neighbors thought we were wicked and it was alright – we didn’t care.

       Sometimes we would run out of gin and we had a bootlegger.  I still remember the number – it was Tennessee 2222.  There were no dials – you just picked up the phone and told the operator Tennessee 2222.  So we must have called it an awful lot for me to remember that after all these years.  And he would come with a pint – we would only order a pint – because that was all the money we had and he would come and deliver it.  I think it was $1 a pint.  One night we called the bootlegger and told him to hurry we had run out and all the houses looked alike on Ainslie Street and he got in one of my Methodist neighbors homes and said “I’m here with your gin.”  I haven’t talked to her about that lately but I must ask her about that.  But we used to keep them up at night, which was a shame because they were nice people.  But we were the young, wild crowd.

When I think back now, we were innocent, really.  We were good living people compared to what some of the young people do nowadays.  Oh, and we wore short skirts above the knees and we did the Charleston.

CS: Was that considered shocking or did people accept that?

RE: Well it depended on what crowd you were with.  With our crowd it was not shocking. And with our parents, they were used to us.  But with these poor Methodists who were brought up to believe that all this was a sin, I guess this was shocking to them.

We were good living people, now that I look back.  Wasn’t bad at all, the ‘20s crowd.

CS: Were there places locally to go dancing or did you generally have your parties at home?

RE: Not locally.  They used to have block parties in the Falls.  And some of them were on Conrad Street, which was called 35th Street then.  They would have music there – I don’t remember, it must have been a band then of some kind and they would sell things.  They would sell watermelon and things to eat and they always had dances there and the young people danced.    

CS: Was that outside?

RE: In the street. In the street they would dance.  And my next-door neighbors would never, never go – they would never attend – because they danced and that was a sin.

They really felt strongly about that.  Now let me see if there were any other dance places. I don’t think there were public dance places like there are now.  I remember our going to dance halls – there were big places for ballroom dancing that were run for profit.  And they had a good band there and you would just go.  My husband and I went years after we were married.  We would even have his mother come up and mind the kids and we would go and dance.

CS: But locally? Were there any in East Falls?

RE: No, I don’t remember any unless there were and I didn’t know about them. These were places on Broad Street – I don’t remember where they were now – but we used to take the trolley car and go and we’d dance all evening.  I can’t imagine that being fun but it was evidently because we went.

CS: What about movies?

RE: Oh yes.  There was a movie on Midvale Avenue down near Midvale and we would walk there.  It was safe to walk down the streets then.

CS: Down near Ridge?

RE: Yes. Yes.  It was on the corner where Turners – not Turners –

CS: Is it where the Betsy Ross Flag place is now? It looks like a theatre.

RE: Yes.  That was the first one.  Then that was closed and they built one farther up.  That’s – we called them both the Blood Pit.  I don’t know why we did that.  And our kids used to go there for matinees.  I remember my daughter and her girlfriend, Betty Jane Bennett, used to go down there and they had special seats that they sat in – the seventh row in the seventh seat in.  God help anybody that took them. And they went to every matinee – it was a good way to get rid of your kids on Saturday afternoon.  And they had serials, you know, that were continued from one Saturday to the next.  And the movie place gave out dishes on certain nights.  And we went to the movies.  We had no television.  We had a radio when we were first married, but not a television.  We would go down on certain nights to get the dishes and you managed to get a whole set of beautiful dishes or glassware.

CS: Do you remember what they looked like?

RE: One of them was a bluebird pattern I know that I collected.  I don’t have any of it left now.  They’re all broken.  But it was pretty.  I don’t remember any of the other patterns but the bluebird one I liked.

CS: Were there any live shows?

RE: No. All movies, all movies.  The only live shows at that time would have been in churches and they would not be professionals.  Or then when the Moment Musical Club started in the Methodist Church and then moved out of there and formed a little theatre, so to speak, without a home.  They used to meet and rehearse in the library meeting room on Midvale Avenue and then they gave their performances sometimes in the Falls at Palestine Hall on the second floor.  There was a stage there. 

CS: Where is Palestine Hall?

RE: Palestine Hall? Ridge and Midvale. Still there.

CS: Which building is it now?  What’s in that building now so I can…

RE: Now on the first floor there’s a Ridge Avenue Market – sell fish and produce.

CS: Oh, ok.  It‘s that blue building, that big blue building now.

RE: Hmm?

CS: It’s a big blue building, I think, now.

RE: No, no.

CS: Not that one?  Not the fish market?

RE: The Koreans have it and they sell fish.  Fresh fish and they sell vegetables.

CS: Yes, I know, ok.

RE: Maybe he painted the first floor blue

CS: I might be wrong.

RE: Palestine Hall was for the Masons.  That’s why they called it Palestine Hall.  And they rented it out to these various groups.  And there’s a Negro Church meets there on Sundays, but I think the Masons still meet there.  I don’t know, but it looks to me as though they still do, I don’t know.

CS: But the Moment Musical Club held performances there?

RE: Yes, they would rent the Hall.  I think they rehearsed down in the library meeting room.  And they also gave plays in the Woman’s Club at Washington Lane.  Germantown Woman’s Club?  Washington Lane and Germantown Avenue.  I went to see plays there when we first moved up here.  They started in 1923 and in 1932 they were still meeting in the library, I think, and one of the members, Jim Lawson, was well-acquainted with the Board of Trustees of the Old Academy Building on Indian Queen Lane.  And the building was going to be condemned because nobody was taking care of it.  Nobody could afford repairs on it and it was going to be condemned and torn down.  And one of the trustees asked Jim Lawson if he thought the Moment Musical Club would be interested in moving in and making a theatre of it.  So he presented it to them and they said, yes, they would.  And they did.  They moved in, in 1932 and with their own labor and their own money they converted it into a theatre and are still there.                    

CS: Did they take over ownership of the building?

RE: No. The building is actually a community building.  It doesn’t belong to anybody.  The ground that the building stands on was donated by William Smith and his wife, Ann, in 1815 – the land for it.  And they said that they wanted it to be a community building on it, for use by the community.  And they – one trustee was appointed and then 8 others and they were to have the building built.  And they did.  They collected money from the Falls people and they collected materials and they had the building built.  It was finished in 1817.  And it so stated in the charter that they are to go on forever as custodians, so to speak, of the building.  Nine of them. 

      And the Falls Library has the Chadwick Papers down there and they have the records there copied from the original minutes and the original deed and the original charter and everything.  They have them down there and anyone can go there and read them at any time.  So the players are still occupying the building, and that was from 1932 till now.

CS: But they’re called the Old Academy Players now.

RE: Oh, well, when they moved into the building they changed the name to The Old Academy Players in 1932.  But they are under the jurisdiction of the nine trustees.  The nine trustees meet there four times a year in the building and they see that the building is kept in good repair.  The players make a small donation to them every month and the trustees take care of that money and they use it for repairs on the outside of the building sometime.  There are no set rules about it.   But the nine trustees are still functioning and meeting in the building, especially the first Monday of January every year, which preserves the charter and they still do it.

      Most of the trustees had their trusteeship passed on from relatives or family.  Turners, they used to have a funeral parlor down on Midvale avenue – no, on Ridge Avenue near Midvale, was a trustee.  He passed it on to his son.  Then they moved to Roxborough and then it was passed on to Harrison Turner, so his great-grandfather was a trustee. See, it’s third generation.  And, recently now, Harrison passed it on to his son, Jim.  Jim is now one of our newest trustees down there.  And he’s the treasurer, as his father was before him.

       So the Old Academy Players are still functioning there.  It’s a very tiny theatre, 128 – 29 seats, which isn’t much money.  But they do other things to make money.  They chance things off, they give flea markets, and those things really make more money for them – make the money to exist than anything else.

CS: Back when they moved there in 1932, who were some of the people that were active in the Moment Music Club– that were the movers and shakers?

RE: Oh, well, Jim Lawson and his wife, Mary.  Jim Lawson is no longer living but his wife is.  There was Ted Pflaumer, of the Pflaumer Ice Cream people.  I don’t know if they’re still in existence but they had homemade ice cream places all over the city. Ted Pflaumer -his sister, Jule Bensing.  Marie Holtenhess – her husband was one of the early secretaries of the trustees.  In ’32, they were a small group – there weren’t many of them.

CS: When did you get involved with them?

RE: 1935.  Our next door neighbor was a member of the Moment Musical…

CS: Who was that?

RE: That was Gladys Smith.  She was one of the very, very early ones and her brother Stanley Smith was one of the originals.  They were charter members.  Ida Tregay Smith was a charter member.  Hmmm, I almost had them all then.  But Gladys invited us to join; she was our next-door neighbor.  She used to do monologues.  I don’t think people do monologues anymore.  But she would act out all the parts by herself and she had books of them.  She was excruciatingly funny – what a natural, great comedian.  She acted in plays down there and was one of the most popular players there until Old Academy Players had a party in the library and she suspected that some of them were drinking and they were all so happy and she said she thought she smelled it.  So she went up to Jim Lawson and said “What are you drinking?” and he said “Ginger ale” and she said “Oh, give me a taste.”  Then he grabbed it away from her and she knew and went home right away.  And then it began to be known that some of them were drinking and Jim Lawson was a Methodist too, but I guess they fell by the wayside.  Anyhow, the pressure from the people at the church not to belong to those wicked Academy Players was too much and she resigned but she was a fabulous, fabulous actress.  As good as any professional I’ve ever seen.  Stan, her brother, kept on being there.  He was not influenced by the church people.  Then they began to take in people from other neighborhoods and now some of them live…

CS: But how did you get to become a member?  Were you just invited or could you sign up?  How did you get to be one?

RE: Oh, no.  Well when I joined you went down and were interviewed by somebody.  Then you came to the meeting and you sat in the front row.  And they had great ceremony – they sang to you – some kind of a song they had – I don’t remember what it was – I was so nervous joining this theatre.  And they had two memberships – one was Social and the other was Player.  And I joined Social and my husband joined Player.  And if you would join player, you had to take a test.

CS: What kind of a test?

RE: Read something, I guess, from a play or something and then they ask you questions. And I didn’t have to do anything – I just joined.  But they had such a ceremony.  And then the whole club ganged up and came around and shook hands and welcomed you to the club.  It was really very nice.

      And then we became very, very active.  In fact every time I went out, my children would say “Are you going to the club, mother?” They knew that we had to go to the club.  And when they got older, sometimes I spent most of my life down there.  I’d go down every night and be working on a show or going to a meeting or wash dishes.  We didn’t have anybody to help then with things.  I’ve done everything down there and so has my husband.  And we loved it.  It was really great.  And one day I just got tired of it.  I never went back.

CS: Nothing prompted it?

RE: No, suddenly it seemed childish and a waste of my time.  No, and I never went back. 

CS: When was that?

RE: What’s this?  1983?  Maybe 1970, something like that.  I just stopped.  But I’m getting a little active again now.  I’m helping out with some things that I can help with, but it’s all changed.  It was a prosperous club then; it’s not now.  It was such an honor to receive a part then that the production committee – which was not a production committee then, it was a few directors – they would meet and decide on a play and then they would cast it on paper.  And then you would go to the meeting and you would sit there – not me, because I didn’t care, but the other ones tell me they would sit there with their palms sweaty and their heart pounding, you know. And then your name was called out – you had a part.  Then you went up and received your book and everybody clapped – you had a part.                                                                                                            

     And now they call people and say “Would you be interested in a part?”  “No, I’m going to school at night – I can’t.”  “Could you…?”  “No, I never take a part in February because it snows then.”  And they have a million excuses – it’s so hard to cast a play now that the contrast is immense between the two eras when it was such an honor to get a part in a play.  And then you attended every rehearsal without fail.  If you were doing props or prompting or anything, you attended every rehearsal.  You knew the play frontward and backward no matter what kind of job you did on it then.  It was very dedicated.  But now nobody has time anymore.  Maybe it’s the change of people going to school at night, people having televisions – there’s much more entertainment at home – I don’t know what it is.  But I myself don’t go down there.  There’s a small nucleus of people now who keep the club going.  How long that will go on, we don’t know.

CS: Would you say there was any time that was the real highpoint of the club?  Certain years that were…

RE:  I’m not good with years.  It was highpoint when we were members.  It was highpoint then.

CS: When did you see it decline?

RE: I wasn’t there when it started to decline so it wasn’t my fault.

CS: Was there any period when they stopped doing productions?  During the war?

RE: No, they never stopped.

CS: So continuous productions since 1932?

RE: Yes.  Oh before that they were continuous.  They might not have been regular like they are now but they never stopped producing.  They might have had two a year when they were the Moment Musical Club.  And one time we had an anniversary of some sort down there – I can’t remember what it was – and I was always a great organizer – I love to organize special things and I found the first show the Moment Musical Club did in the church, and then took out to other churches and did, was still available – the book was still available… it was a musical.

CS: What was it called?

RE: It was called “The Minister’s Wife New Bonnet” and it was a musical.  And just for fun – and it was not given for the public to make money or anything – I got the books from French – French had them in New York – and I read it and then I went around and found out the names of the original cast.  And as much as I could, I got them.  And then I got Stan Smith to direct it, who was one of the original cast.  And he directed it and we got costumes for them and they were happy about it and then we were going to give it just one night on our anniversary – and I can’t remember what anniversary it was, darn it, but anyhow, these people came and they rehearsed and we got furniture, we got props, and they did the show and it was good!

      Now I’ve been in theatre all my life and I was in, since 1935, I’ve been at Old Academy and I went to see all other little theatre groups plays, and I went to New York and saw all the productions over there, and I saw everything that came to Philadelphia, and you can’t help but become a good judge of what is good acting, what is good theatre, what is good, you know, it’s an education.  Even though you can’t do it yourself, you can judge.  They were good!  The little play was good!  The little musical was good! It was highly entertaining.  It had marvelous dialogue, good songs, and they were all good.  They had good singing voices.  They were good actors.  So on our anniversary, then we gave this play for our anniversary.  And I had a huge cake baked with “Happy Anniversary” and I had – so we gave it.  Our members attended and friends and we didn’t charge any admission.  It was not a money-making scheme.  It was mostly for our members to come and see it and, of course, then we had members coming out.  And they came and they loved it!  And the cast were kind of unhappy because they wanted their friends to see them in the play so we gave a second night.

(begins mid-sentence following audio device transition)

CS: I think you did what I said – the most memorable play or the funniest thing that ever happened in a play that was unintentional or whatever…

RE: I can’t remember the name of the play.

CS: Well that’s alright. The story would probably be ok.

RE: Ibsen’s…what was his most famous one?  Not The Doll’s House…

CS: That’s what I was going to say.

RE: Ghost…

CS: Ruth, you’ve been involved with Old Academy a long time.  Can you tell me a little bit about when it was founded, how it was founded?

I understand, and there are many stories about this but this is the one I heard.  There was a church group at the Falls Methodist Church on Indian Queen Lane and Krail Street and this small group in the church was called the Queen Esther Circle.  They met and they had fun and they made money for the church and things like that.  And so they decided to do a musical play to make money for the church and they chose a play called The Minister’s Wife’s New Bonnet.  They gave it at the church and it was a great success and then they were invited to take it to other churches and the theater bug bit them.

     And the minister at that time – and this was a very strict Methodist Church – told them that he did not want them using the Church’s name to give plays in other places nor to give plays in the church – it was not in keeping with their beliefs. They hated to give it up so they began to meet at each other’s homes and later they met at the meeting room in the Falls Public Library and had meetings, had rehearsals, and they named themselves the Moment Musical Club because they were primarily a musical group and…

CS: What did “Moment” mean?

RE: I never questioned it.  I never thought about it.

CS: What year was this happening?

This was in 1923.  And then they kept meeting and they got to doing three act plays or sometimes three one act plays and occasionally a musical.  They rented halls to do them.  They rehearsed, I think, in the library and then they rented Palestine Hall at Ridge and Midvale or the Women’s Club in Germantown and did the plays there.  And they were very successful.  They always sold all their tickets and everybody enjoyed them and enjoyed seeing their friends in plays which was not the usual thing here in the Falls.

      So then they were still meeting in the library when Jim Lawson, who was born and raised in the Falls, had been approached by the Board of Trustees of the Old Academy building on Indian Queen Lane and asked if the Moment Musical Club would be interested in occupying that building to give their plays and use as a clubhouse because it was unoccupied at the time and it was being vandalized and condemned.  I heard it was condemned to be torn down. 

       So Jim took it back to the Moment Musical Club and they decided yes, they would like to, and they did.  They moved in in 1932 and they immediately began to repair the building to make it into a theater on the first floor, to make a curtain – everything was done by their labor – they had no money to speak of.  But they did make it into a theater and they have since, up until the present day, kept it in good repair and preserved the historical old building.

      They’ve had many famous people who were members.  We have one man today who’s appearing in a successful Broadway play – Bob Prosky.  He was a Roxborough boy and I understand he’s doing very well.  I remember him when he was just a kid and he came down to the Old Academy and he was such a good, good actor – he just had it without any training at all.  And I knew that someday he would be successful and he was.

      And we had Don Cardwell who learned everything he knew about theater in Old Academy and who decided to make it his career and went to New York and got on the Philco Theater on television.

CS: I didn’t know that.

RE: Because when Philco was first experimenting in making tv films, or filming plays, they came to the Old Academy and asked if we would bring one of their plays, or have them come down to the theater – or whatever or however they did it then – and televise the play.  And so they did.  Don Cardwell was in the cast of that. 

       So when he went to New York and couldn’t get a job in the theater he went to Philco and said “Ya know, when you were first starting I played for you for nothing.  And now that you’re paying people, I’d like a job.  And they gave him a part! He got a part.  I don’t remember now what play it was but they did give him a part.

       The Moment Musical Club, when it became Old Academy Plays, had a man whose name was Charles Call. I don’t think he was from the area but he was a leader.  And in those days they didn’t have a lot of people putting on the plays – there was one director.  He was the director and he was it. 

CS: He wasn’t paid though?

RE: No. no.  Nobody ever was paid.  He chose the plays, he cast them, he picked a director or he directed it.  They still have at the Old Academy the original minutes in which he wrote an introduction.  It’s the most beautiful thing I ever read, and in which he wishes us well in the future.  And it’s beautiful – I must get that and make a copy of it.

        And then there was Ida Smith, who was an aged hippie. (laughter) – her children refer to her that way.

CS: Why is that?

RE: Well she just…as we know hippies today, she dressed that way.

CS: Kind of bohemian?

RE: Yes.  She didn’t live that way but she acted that way.  She dressed that way.  She used to come down to usher for the shows with evening gowns that had been rolled up and packed in a trunk somewhere, I think,  with some moth-eaten fur on them.  In her mind she was beautifully dressed.  And everybody used to giggle and laugh about her but kindly because everybody loved Ida.  She was in all of our plays and she was very good. A tiny, tiny girl.  She was married to Stan Smith who was nothing like her at all.  He came from a very proper English family. But Ida was one of our colorful people.

CS: Was there any particular kind of part that she tended to get?

RE: She did everything – she did comedy beautifully she did heavy drama.  We did Ibsen’s Ghosts and our audiences didn’t like it but our actors loved it because there’s some great acting parts in it.  She was in that.  She played the mother and that’s a highly dramatic part.  And I remember that we took it out to an American Legion place up in Germantown and I was the prompter – of course we were called stooges in those days – I don’t know why. 

         So I went along with the show and they set up the scenery there and we did the show and it did very, very well until the part came for one of the cast to go on stage fast.  And all stage doors open offstage and these doors did that – but he forgot.  And he was trying to get that door open the wrong way onto the stage and he pushed and pushed and the scenery – which seemed like three stories high – was beginning to crumble and wave and the audience was hysterical laughing.  And this was not a play you laughed at.  And the director crawled over under the window so the audience wouldn’t see him, and told him “The other way! The other way!”  And then I joined him until finally he changed and he got on.  But things like that always happened when we took plays out because we weren’t used to what we did (laughter)

      We did another play one time – I think it was Liliom which later became Carousel as a musical – I think that’s the play.  It was during the Depression.  One of our members was out of work for a long time and he offered to move in and live in the Old Academy and do all the work, direct all the plays, build all the sets – and this was great for us.  And he had a pet cat – very black and his name was Inky.  And I’m pretty sure the play was Liliom because there was a death scene where the stage is very, very dim and the people come to get Liliom who has died. (pause) No, that wasn’t it (laughter).  Anyhow, Liliom has died and they come to get him and take him to wherever he’s going to go and they’re all dressed in black, and very solemn and march with a measured stride onto the stage to come and take him to wherever he’s going to go in the hereafter.  And this one night, as the music swelled to have them come on, the first person to enter was Inky. (laughter) with measured stride, black tail high in the air, and led the men from heaven or hell or wherever they were from – led them across the stage to come and get Liliom.

CS: It must have been hard to keep a straight face.

RE: Well the audience was in hysterics.  No, the actors are pretty good – they don’t break out easily.

CS: But it was hard though… (laughing)

RE: I imagine, yes.  (Pause) – I’m trying to think of people who are well known and went professional.  Don Cardwell went to New York and was in theater and tv and movies and had his own theater over there. And then somehow or other he had had it with theater and just gave it all up and came back to Philadelphia.

       And somebody met him up at one of the watering spots around here and he said “How was Old Academy doing” and they said “Fine, why don’t you come around?”  So he did and he joined and he’s still with us.  He’s been a great teacher of theater for us.  I don’t know what we’d do without him.

CS: The most famous member you had would be Grace Kelly.  What was your earliest memory of Grace?

RE: Well during the Second World War I belonged to a civil defense group and somebody lent us their garage to have meetings.  We used to go out and walk around the neighborhood at night and make sure nobody let a crack of light out of their houses so the airplanes couldn’t see to bomb us.  Of course we had no money and I organized three one act plays at Old Academy to make money and one was called Don’t Feed the Animals and Gracie was one of the kids in it.

CS: About how old was she then?

RE: About nine, I’d say. And she said that’s when the theater bug bit her and she knew she wanted to be an actress. And then she kept coming around and trying.  We were doing The Women and we needed every female we could get to do that because when we did The Women we made the men go up and make the coffee and serve the cookies and wash the dishes and tend to all the things the poor women had had to do before. 

     So Gracie was given the part of the debutante – a walk on –I think she had a line or so going across the stage and she had a couple of other fill-ins in the play.  I was doing costumes, I think,  or something backstage – working there – and she was sitting there getting her makeup on and dressing and I said to her “How old are you, Gracie?” And she said 14. And I said “14! You’d never know you were 14 – you look 18, 19, 20.  It’s not just your height, it’s your poise and everything you do. I would say you were that much older.  Oh I think it’s wonderful that you’re so grown up for 14!” and I went on being so gooshy that I think she was embarrassed and said “I’m not really 14, I’m only 12.”  And she really was terrific for 12.

CS: Can you describe how she looked?

RE: Well she looked 18.  She had very light brown hair and she wore it in the bob of the day and parted on the side and she had beautiful white teeth and that same sweet lovely smile that she has today, or had.  And that same sparkle in her blue, blue eyes.  And she was very tall for her age, very slender, dressed beautifully in a casual way. She was just as well-bred and just as much a lady at 12 as she was till the day she died.

CS: How would you describe her personality?  Was she quiet like everyone said she was?

RE: She was not really shy – I don’t think that was her personality.  She just wasn’t pushy.  She would be in a room where we were having a rehearsal and we would be in groups talking and she would just go over and sit down somewhere.  But if somebody said something funny she would laugh!  She had a great sense of humor. And then if you said “Come over and join us, Gracie” she would come over. But she just never pushed herself. 

      The only thing she was dedicated to was getting a part, and for that she worked. And she was completely and utterly reliable, which was the greatest thing that anyone could be.  If she was given a part, she immediately studied her lines – she always knew them perfectly. She would help everyone else on the show with props.  She emptied her mother’s closet of negligees and evening gowns and all the things we couldn’t get anyplace.  Not for herself, but for other people in the cast.  She would lend us furniture for the set but she didn’t do this in a show off way, in any way – it was just the show had to go on well and she was helping in every phase that she could.  She never missed a rehearsal, she was never late for a rehearsal.  She was just a joy to work with. And a perfect person as she continued to be all her life.  But she was that way when she was 12. So I know she didn’t acquire it from anybody or put on an act or anything.  She was just that way.

    And then, of course, she was an honorary member because her father and Mr. Hohenadel had donated money and bricks, of course –Mr. Kelly donated bricks – to build an addition on our theater which we needed so much.  We asked Mr. Kelly what we could do for him.  And he said “Well, give the kid parts. She wants to be an actress.” And he said “That would please me if you could give the kid a part once in a while.”  But the Old Academy Players are the reverse of snobbery, and just because Mr. Kelly was one of the wealthiest men in the city, and just because they were famous and came from a famous family, they didn’t feel that they should give her special attention.  And so she didn’t get parts.  And I remember one time I was ushering for a show and she came down to see it and I spoke with her for a little while, and she said “What do you have to do down here to get parts?”

      You know an actor has to suffer.  They can’t really do the work that they love unless somebody gives them a part.  And I said “The only advice I can give you, Gracie, is to be more visible.  Come down to business meetings, come to all the shows, come to club night.”  Club night is our first performance for the members only and after that it’s open to the public. I said “Just come down a lot and be visible and the more they see you, the more you’ll be in their minds when they cast and maybe you’ll get a part.”

    Well I don’t know whether that worked or not, but I know Gracie came down and came down.  And we would auction off a basket of cheer – not auction off – chance off a basket of cheer – and she would be there selling chances.  She was working all the time.  She certainly deserved all the parts she’d get.  And I’m sure when she went to New York that she was the same person and that she deserved anything she got. I know some people said “Of course when your father has plenty of money, he knows everybody on Broadway, naturally you’re going to get ahead” but I’m sure it wasn’t that.  Gracie had to have – I don’t think she use any influence.  And I spoke to Jack Kelly one time and I said “How’s Gracie doing in New York?” and he said “She’s doing beautifully – she’s modeling, supporting herself, doing great.”  And he was very proud of her.  And she was – her father wasn’t supporting her.  She had a little money –

I think when her grandmother died she left her some money but it wasn’t a whole lot.  But mostly Gracie did it all by hard work and reliability.  She would never be one to complain.

CS: After she had some bit parts, did she have any good sized parts?

RE: She was in The Father with Raymond Massey.  Oh! You mean at Old Academy!

CS: Old Academy

RE: Oh yes, she was in Craig’s Wife – she played the daughter in Craig’s Wife. She did a lot. She did a lot down there.

CS: Was there any one play that you can remember particularly that she did?

RE: I just remember Craig’s Wife so well and I remember The Women, of course.  During the run of The Women Gracie got the measles.  There she was – she was having her dinner at home and getting ready to come down and be on stage and her mother said “What’s the matter with you? You look flush.”  She said “I’m fine; I’m fine.”  But her mother took her temperature and looked her over and she had the measles.

CS: Oh no.

RE: And so she said “You can’t go down there tonight.” and Gracie said “I have to! I have to!”  You see, even as a child she had that great dedication and was so reliable. And so her mother said “To bed with you, young lady” and her older sister was sent down to do the part.  And I think her younger sister did the part too – another time when Peggy couldn’t.  Because Peggy often said “That poor cast – they never knew who was going to walk on stage next.”

       But that’s the way Gracie was.  And of course her mother was a reliable wonderful person too, and her sister Lizanne, who came to us later and was on the stage a lot, was the same way.  It didn’t matter how busy they were or what they had to do, they came and they performed.  If they said they would do it, they did it.

CS: Would you have guessed that she was going to be famous someday?  Did anybody see enough talent to be as famous as she became?

RE: I don’t know.  I’ve had that question asked of me so much and I always want to be truthful about it and….no, I didn’t think she would.  She had a nasal voice – she talked through her nose in a kind of a whine.  Her whole family talked that way. And I thought never would this do in professional theater or the films or anything.  But then one time, after she went to New York and she was in the Academy of Dramatic Arts and studying, she came to the Old Academy to see a show.  I had an empty seat beside me and she came down and said “Can I sit here with you?” and I said “Sure, crawl in.” So she did.

     And I said “How do you like New York, Gracie?” and she said “Fine, very, very much.”  And I said “How’s the school?” And she said “I like it very much.”

 I said “Are you learning a lot?”  And she said “Yes, I’m learning a great deal there.”

     And I went on with all these questions that I wanted to know and then when the intermission came and people began to go up the aisle to go to the lobby and have a cigarette, they spied her and said “Oh hi Gracie, how are you?”  And she said “Fine, thank you.”  How’s New York??” “Fine.”  “Do you like it in New York?” “Yes.” “How’s school?” “Fine.” “Are you learning a lot?” “Yes, I feel I’m learning a great deal.”  And everybody who came up the aisle asked her the same questions that I had, and to each one she answered with her sweet smile and her enthusiastic voice as though it was the first time she had been asked.  I thought then that “She’s got it.”  That’s something that you have to have. And did you see the films when she left for her wedding on the ship?

CS: Yes.

RE: And the reporters were crowding around her by the dozens, all shouting these questions at her.  She handled it as though each question was the first time she had heard it and she kept right on that way all her life.  I understand that the Raniers don’t like the press. So Gracie would plow in there and take care of the press so they wouldn’t have a bad image.  She always took care of everything that way.  And that to me is a talent you got to have first before you go into anything else.

      And I saw her in High Noon and I was anxious to see if she had really become a great actress all of a sudden.  And I noticed wherever it came to a part where she would have to be acting they did it from her back.  They turned her completely away from the camera and I thought “She hasn’t got it yet, but she got it!” But not because it was born in her.  I don’t think she was naturally talented for acting – I think that it was just learning and hard work.

And stick-to-it-ness. That she did it.

CS: It sounded like something she really wanted.

RE: And of course her beauty which she had.  Her inner beauty and her outside beauty was always there.  And that helps.

CS: Did you have much contact with her after she became so famous? When did you talk to her again?

RE: No, no I don’t think I ever talked to her but we started exchanging Christmas cards and Gracie was very sentimental about everything and everybody.  She never stopped being in touch with anybody.  When she packed her trunk, she took her old jeans with her, she took her dog, she took everything with her because she was sentimental about everything.

     When I first knew her she sent me a little Christmas card – it just was a little angel with rays of light around her and it said “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Grace Kelly.”  And I saved all her Christmas cards – I put them in a supermarket bag and mark the year on them somehow or another, I don’t know why, I saved them. So when she became a film star I thought “Whoa! I got all her cards.”  So I got out all the supermarket bags and pulled out all her cards and I have a beautiful collection of them and she never stopped sending me cards. Never stopped.  And they were mostly beautiful colored pictures of her children or of her whole family.  And I thought “What other princess living the life that a princess has to live, would send out for her Christmas cards pictures of her children just the same as always.”  She was proud of them. Lovely, lovely, lovely person.

CS: Was she ever back in Falls for any Old Academy affairs after she was married?

RE: No.  We used to get calls once in a while that she wanted to come down and “Could we arrange it?” but then she wouldn’t get there.  Her brother–in-law used to call and say Gracie wants to come down and see you, but she wouldn’t get there.  Of course the kind of life she lives they’re busy constantly and maybe something came up that she couldn’t.

CS: But she did give some money to the Old Academy didn’t she?

RE: Oh yes, oh sure, she never forgot us. Ever.  I don’t know how she happened to do it, but she sent us a check for $1000 to be use for security to prevent vandalism.  She may have heard that we were being vandalized by the kids in the neighborhood; I don’t know.

CS: What about her sisters, Lizanne and Peggy?

RE: Well, they’re great.  The oldest one, Peggy – she was her father’s favorite in the whole family, even moreso than young Kell.  And Peggy did some parts for us and she’s a natural comedian – so funny even in any kind of conversation. And she did some parts for us and she was marvelous.

      Jack Kelly Sr. said one time that Baba – that was his pet name for her-Baba had more talent in her little finger than anybody else in the family. But she never had any desire to be an actress.  She was married young and had two children and she was very much in love with her husband.  She was a wonderful cook and housekeeper and everything that her wonderful mother had taught her and she did charitable work and she did stuff over at the hospital where her mother….

CS: Did she live here locally?

RE: Yes. She lived on the corner of Henry Avenue and School House Lane (ed. note: Netherfield and School House Lane).  Her father built her a brick house, naturally.

CS: Is it still there?

RE: Yes. Someone else has it, naturally.  I think someone from the Textile College bought it.  Then Peggy bought a house down in the Art Museum section and did it over. And she said it was brick, naturally. And it was a corner.  And she bought it with just looking through it at night (laughter).  She said when she brought the architect around to decide what they would do to the house, she said the whole brick wall on the corner on the one street fell down!  The whole brick wall! (Laughter).  The entire wall.

        She lives there, and her mother had a stroke years ago and now – Mrs. Kelly was very interested in the Old Academy Players too.  She used to give innumerable benefits to make money for the hospital (Medical College of Pennsylvania) and other people.  We would sell them a theater party for x number of dollars and they rented the theater.  In other words, we put on the play and they sold the tickets and whatever else they wanted to do.  They couldn’t make much money because they only seat – what – 130 people in there – in that little theater, but Mrs. Kelly made money because she would have a Coca Cola box brought in, fill it with ice, and fill it with Coke and sell the Coke….. (gap) dry ice and sell ice cream sandwiches.  And then she would have everyone bake cakes and she would raffle the cakes off.  And she would also sell the cake and sell the coffee, not give it to the people.  And she had everything going down there to make money and she did.  And she sold the tickets – maybe we were charging two dollars and maybe other theater parties charged $3.  Mrs. Kelly got $5 and more per ticket!  (laughter).  She always made money.

     I’ll never forget her – one time I was coming up the stairs that led into the kitchen and she was there with a tiny, tiny hat – it was a round 2” wide spot of fur – a circle – with a tall, tall thin feather attached to it up in the air.  The hat must have been $100.  It was that unique and looked gorgeous on her.  She had sable furs around her neck and a gorgeous dress. And high heels and she was beautifully made up and bejeweled and she was mopping the floor (laughter) with our filthy big industrial mop and filthy water – the Coca Cola box was leaking.  And I said “Oh Mrs. Kelly! I’ll do that for you!”  And she said “Not at all!” – and she went right on – she always did that.(laughter)

      The other sister Lizanne…

CS: That’s the youngest…

RE: She’s the baby of the family.  And The first time I saw her, the parents had brought her down to see a show and she was sitting on a sofa in the green room between her parents and she had flaxen thick braids – her hair parted in the middle – and rosy cheeks and piercing blue eyes and a long, long face because she was mad at the world.  She did not like people.  If you went over and said “Hello Lizanne, how are you sweetheart?” she would just frown at you and turn her head away.  Her mother was gracious and so was everyone else in the family but not Lizanne.

However Lizanne grew up to be one of the nicest in the family. A lovely, lovely girl. 

CS: Was she in any plays?

RE: Oh yes! She was in lots of them and she also borrowed her mother’s wardrobe and everybody else’s… and she met her husband – she had dated this man and they were very much in love and then they broke up.  And it was two years later – she was in a play – and he came in with one of our members as a date and they met again and he became her husband.  Don LeVine.  They picked it up again and that was it.

CS: Is there any part play or part that was memorable that Lizanne was in?

RE: I’m awful on the titles of the plays.  She was in a lot with her husband and he had someone come down and film the whole play in color with sound.  And then all of us were invited to their home to see it and she served dinner at intermission.

CS: Was their home in the Falls then?

RE: No, no they lived in Gladwyn.  That was their home then. No, after she was married she lived in Gladwyn, always.  But she was a beautiful actress.  She was not as good as Peggy.

CS: Better than Grace?

RE: Yeah.  You know why I hate to say that?  Because one time a couple of members of ours who were not very nice people were interviewed for a magazine article and somebody asked him that question – “Did you see any spark of talent in her when she was a young girl? “ He said “Not a bit.”

And he said it in such a nasty way and I felt terrible about that. And so I hate to answer that question, but truthfully, she was just an average little theater actor. She tried. She meant to get somewhere and she did.  And she should have.

CS: Is Lizanne still active with her husband at all at Old Academy?

RE: Well, he was very ill for quite a few years and he couldn’t do anything, and then Mrs. Kelly had a stroke and she moved to Alden Park Manor in an apartment with a woman to take care of her.  And Lizanne and Don then sold their house and moved into the same Alden Park Manor – into the same building. And then on the woman’s day off who took care of Mrs. Kelly, Peggy and Lizanne used to take turns staying with their mother for the day.  Then Mrs. Kelly became ill at the shore and she couldn’t go back to her apartment, so they gave that up. Lizanne and Don moved to Phoenix temporarily – they’ll be back in the summer to be down at the shore.

CS: I’m just curious – how would you compare the three sisters?  What were the differences in their personalities?

RE: Well, Peggy was tall and slender and pretty and immaculately groomed at all times.  There was never a hair out of place – and they all did – they all dressed beautifully.  Peggy was the comedian – she was always funny.  She was completely friendly – you felt as if you knew her all your life once you met her.

      Gracie was Gracie.

       Lizanne was completely friendly when she grew up.

       I don’t know how to separate them – they were three different types – there was never any competition between the three of them, but I don’t know that I could describe them to make them different from each other.  I know one thing – of course when they got into the boy crazy stage, they all handled it differently. Peggy went out on real dates and married one of the handsomest men I’ve ever seen – George Davis.  Gracie dated boys in the neighborhood – boys that her family knew.  Lizanne hung on the corner here where the boys hung out.

CS: What corner is that?

RE: Tilden and Vaux. The drugstore corner.  And in those days it was alright – it wasn’t anything wrong to do.  They had a great home life at home, for having boys and girls home – they had a tennis court up there, they had a game room.

CS: Have you ever been in the home?

RE: No, but I’ve had it described to me so often I feel as if I have.

CS: And that was up on Henry Avenue and Coulter?

RE: Yes. Across from the park there.  I remember that the girls were all envious of Lizanne because Lizanne took a rather large bra size. And Peggy and Gracie never, never did (laughter) and they used to say “How did she get so lucky!”   But I don’t remember, other than that, that they were ever – they say now that Gracie was never an athlete – that the rest of the family was – but Peggy told me Grace was a fine athlete.  She really was. But the press gets it all wrong.

CS: Yeah, whenever you read anything, or see anything, they play her down as being the odd one in the family in terms of athletic ability.

RE: She was a fine swimmer.

CS: What about Kells? Did you know him?

RE: No.  We were always in need of men for parts in plays and I said to Gracie and Peggy one time “Can’t you get your brother down here?  We’d love to use him in the next play.  He’s so tall and handsome and everything. And Gracie said “You don’t want him!  He’s big, handsome and dumb! Stay away from him!” (laughter)

       And I don’t think he’s dumb, but he is big and handsome.  We never did have him – he never came down, but of course he was always busy rowing and down at the athletic club.  All his friends were from the sports world – certainly not from the theater so we never had him down there.  I’m sure he came down to see his sisters in plays.  I was just talking to him not long ago and he said that his interest had never been…. You’d have to talk to his sisters about that.  “They were the ones who were interested in the Old Academy.  I never was.”  But maybe he did go down to see them in shows.

      The Old Academy has its reading room walls covered with pictures of plays we’ve done in the past, and I don’t see one with Gracie in them.  Not one up on the wall!  The only thing I can think of is maybe somebody swiped them.  Because they will do that.

CS: Could be. That’s really interesting.  That’s right I don’t remember ever seeing any on the walls.

RE: There are lots of them of her sister Lizanne and her sister’s husband Don, but not of Gracie.

CS: Did you attend, or were you around, when Lizanne was married down at St. Bridget’s?

RE; No, I wasn’t.  I don’t remember where I was. But I think l said there were mobs of people there because Gracie was attending the wedding.  She was a film star then.  There were crowds of people there, and as each car drove up after the people were in the church, the crowds would rush over to see who was in there.  And when the bridegroom to be. Don Levine drove up with his brother, who was the best man, the crowds all rushed over and looked in and said “Oh, it’s only the bridegroom!” (laughter) That must have made him feel great.  No, I was not around when she was married.

CS: Grace’s home was on Coulter and Henry Avenue.  Where was P. H. Kelly’s home?

RE: Oh, where the Mifflin school is now.  Vaux and Midvale.

CS: You mean Conrad and Midvale?

RE: Oh right, right.

CS: When was that torn down?  Was that there when Grace was growing up over here on Coulter?

RE: Oh yes. Oh yes. Sure. I remember the P. H. Kelly house there.  When I would be coming home, I’d take the old 52 trolley at Ridge and Midvale and ride up the hill.  The P. H. Kelly girls – all the daughters, used to ride that car too. And they would all get off and then run up the steps of the house.  I used to think “You’d think that they’d have their own chauffeur living in a big house like that, and not have to ride the 52 trolley!”

CS: They were the daughters of P. H. Kelly?

RE: Yes

CS: And P. H. Kelly was… Grace’s grandfather?

RE: Jack Kelly, Sr.’s brother.

CS: Ah, the brother of Jack Kelly.

RE: And one of the girls had a dancing school in the basement of the home.  Now, the basement was ground level because it was built on the top of a flight of steps.  And I know lots of girls who went down there – grown women who went down and took lessons in tap and whatever.

CS: And she taught?

RE: She taught – yes, that was her – they all worked!  Nobody laid around and read magazines and ate chocolates.  The whole Kelly family – they all worked – they all did something.

CS: Any other particular memories of famous people, or memorable people, or eccentric people?

RE: Jack Kelly Sr. wrote a play one time and he sent it down to us to see if we would like to do it.  And I was on the production committee at the time and I thought we should do it.  I read it and it was…. middlin’, or a little less than middlin’ (laughter) but I said I thought we should do it because he had been so good to us and was so interested in us that I thought we should do it.  And I thought that we could pull it off if we put our very, very best players in there.

And the same nasty man who said he never saw any spark of talent in Gracie said he didn’t think Jack Kelly would expect us to pay him for the nice things he had done and he would absolutely not approve of doing the play.  And so we had to tell nice Jack Kelly that his play was not good enough and we would not do it.

CS: Did he hold that against you?

RE: Never. Oh no, no.  He was a nice man. No he did not. And his son is a nice man too. Same as his father. Very, very nice. I still cringe when I think of that – that was awful.  Awful.  It wouldn’t have hurt us to do it, and he would have filled the theater every night.  Wouldn’t have hurt us financially or any other way, and I’m sure he was hurt that this dumb little theater couldn’t do it for him.  But at any rate

CS: Didn’t he have a brother who was a playwright?

RE: Oh yes. George Kelly.

CS: Did the theater ever do any of his plays?

RE: Oh sure. Craig’s Wife is his.  Showoff is another one of his.  The Showoff was always kind of controversial because Aubrey Piper, who was the showoff in the play, was said to be any of a number people in the Falls (laughter). Leroy Shronk – they said he patterned him exactly after him.

CS: Who was Leroy Shronk?

RE: Leroy Shronk is the descendant of one of the oldest families in the Falls and he became a member of Old Academy.  And he was a good natural actor. He was wild and woolly, but the audience loved him. And he lived on Indian Queen Lane, but he was one of the original trustees when the building. – Old Academy- was built. Not him, but he was a descendant of him.  Then everybody would say “Oh no, it was not Leroy Shronk, it was somebody who was a cab driver, and had his cab stand down at Ridge and Midvale.  He was the one.”

       So one time I said to Kelly, “I am so tired of hearing all these different versions and not knowing which is true.  When you see your Uncle George, will you ask him? I want it right from the horse’s mouth” and she said “I will, I will, I’ll ask him.”  So she went to a party in New York where he was, and she went to him and asked him and he said it wasn’t anyone in particular, it was a composite of different people he had known in the Falls, but they were Falls people. And Aubrey Piper was a composite of all those people.  And that was right from the horse’s mouth.

     He was nice, and when we celebrated our 50th anniversary as a little theater – the Old Academy Players –

CS: When was that?

RE: I can’t remember.

CS: Probably 1970 sometime?

RE: It might have been.  We started in 1923.

CS: Yeah, so it probably would have… so go ahead… when you celebrated…

RE: I was on production at that time, and I wanted them to do a year of George Kelly plays.  I had already done my work on it and there were enough of them.  And some of them had been one act plays before they became three act plays. And they were all fine.  And those people on the production committee said “None of them have held up well enough to do, so we can’t have that.”  I said “I’m sure the Kelly kids could get George Kelly to come and see one of the plays or make a speech in our theater” – it would be wonderful, but they wouldn’t do it because they said that none of them have held up well.  And since then, they’re revived then and revived them on Broadway and they’ve run a long time, so that I think I was right and they were wrong.

CS: And they haven’t done them again at Old Academy?

RE: No. No. Uh, uh. It’s an odd philosophy there – they have a goldmine of publicity…

CS: Yeah, in the name.

RE: But they won’t listen to me! (laughter)

CS: Well you recently managed to be involved in the new trustees that came on. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

RE: All right.  I had to do that.  I’m not active in the club – the Old Academy Players – anymore. I’m still a member, and I still go down once in a while, but when I was a member and active, we were always in awe of the trustees.  They are nine men who were to go on forever being responsible for the building. – The Old Academy. They are, so to speak, the landlords of whoever is in there. They were to manage it and see that it was kept in good repair.  In fact, the first trustees were commissioned to have the building built.  They were responsible.

       And then the trusteeship was to go on forever, passed on down to somebody else – I think that the qualifications are that you have to have been born and raised in the Falls to be a trustee. And so we were always in awe of the trustees, and if they said we shouldn’t do something, we didn’t do it. And we tried to abide by the rules – there’s no alcoholic beverages allowed in the clubhouse.  In other words, it started out as a house of worship and a school and a library, and nothing wrong should go on in that building.

     But over time, the trustees have gone by the wayside – they’ve gotten old, they’ve gotten sick, they’ve moved away from the Falls, and they don’t function.  I think there were just two left. And one of them never went down, and the other went down and said “How can I have a meeting by myself?”  They weren’t even having meetings.

CS: They were supposed to have regular meetings?

RE: They were supposed to meet four times a year, and one of the meetings has to be the first Monday in January in the building. If they fail to meet in the building on that first Monday in January, the building – which is tax-free – the charter will revert to the city and the city will own it. And this is what worried me. And I warned the players – the few meetings I went to – I kept warning them and they didn’t seem concerned about it.  Of course they didn’t have the background I had had with the trustees and with the knowledge of the charter and everything.

      So I began to talk to Dave Budenz, who was the last one who was going down, and as he said “How can I have a meeting by myself? I’m the only one who goes down.  And it’s hard on me – I live way up in Doylestown now.”

      And I said “Well then I should think the thing to do is to get anybody who can’t function to resign and appoint a whole new Board of Trustees.” And he said “Who you gonna get? How you gonna get?”  He’s very defeatist about it. And I said “Well it could be done.” Finally I offered myself to do it.  And I asked the president and the executive committee down at Old Academy if they would give me permission to do it.  They said yes, and finally after two years, Dave Budenz called and said they had decided to turn everything over to me and I could go ahead.

    And so then I began to call the trustees and get in touch with them and see if they were still interested in functioning.  And if they were not, I asked them to send a letter of resignation to date.

     I was doing it all under great strain because I knew I was not legal – I shouldn’t be doing it.  But I had to do it to save the building.  So then when I had the last letter of resignation, then I began to investigate new trustees. And I picked young men – not too young, not too old – of sterling character born and raised in the Falls who were interested in the building and knew about it and they accepted.  And one of them is a lawyer – Joseph Furlong – and that’s good for them to have a lawyer to consult when they work. 

      And so on the first Monday in January of 1983 my whole – I call them mine because I worked so hard to get them – met in the building. And they didn’t even know each other. And they were introduced, and they sat down at the table, and I explained the whole situation – what was expected of them, and I said you can be as active as you like – you can be active and be landlords and watch over the building, and watch over what the players do in there, or you can be inactive and just meet four times a year – come in here and talk about whatever you want, but meet in the building.  And this is up to you – whatever you want to do.  I asked them to volunteer for the three offices that were supposed to be elected that night and one was president, treasurer, and secretary.

     And at first, of course, everybody just smiled and nobody volunteered, but then – oh, I had put a girl on – a female on the board because I felt that we should get up to date.  There was nothing about not having women on there in the charter or anything so I asked Adrienne Daily.  And so she, after a long silence, finally volunteered to be president because she had been a member of Old Academy years ago and knew how Old Academy Players worked, and she would be a good liaison between the two, so she decided that she would offer and serve a term as president. And so then another young man, Fred Yarnell, spoke up and said I would like to be the secretary – “I’ll take the minutes and I’ll do all the duties of the secretary.”  And we already had a treasurer whose father had been treasurer and had passed it on down to him, and he had the bankbook and everything,

CS: And who was that?

RE: That was Jim Turner.  His father was Hassie Turner, who was a trustee and was treasurer, whose father was – I think he’s 4th generation – trustee.  And he’s a fine young man – they all are.  They’re the nicest, nicest group of young men.

      So they were having a rehearsal on the first floor the night of the meeting, and I said to them “I want you to meet a few of the Old Academy Players who are here.”  I said “I’ll go down and get Pat McCauley – she’s chairman of production – and maybe you’d like to ask her about some of the future plays or something.”  And so I went downstairs and asked her to come up when she had a break and she said she would.  And then when I came back up, Fred Yarnell said to me “Ruth, we’ve been talking while you’ve been gone, and we’ve decided to be active.  Very active.”  And that pleased me so much – I knew their interest was captured and the building was safe from then on. So they’re getting along very well and we send them invitations to club night and they come out and see the shows and they’re a nice group.  Now the next meeting will be April 4 and I don’t have anything more to do with it.

     The first minutes that Fred Yarnell wrote, he brought up for me to read and every other word was Ruth Emmert, Mrs. Emmert (laugh) and I said “You’ll have to take them and do them all over again.  Don’t mention my name – I’m illegal, I shouldn’t have done, this but somebody had to do it and I was the only one who did.”  So he said he would do it over and he did.  So that’s the story of the trustees and I hope they’ll go on forever.

CS: What changes have you seen in Old Academy over the years? I mean, have you seen a golden age and a low period?

RE: Always. Always.  If you ever read the minutes (laugh) of the Old Academy Players, you might come across one item where they say “The executive committee met and decided that no one can stand in the back of the theater because it’s too distracting to the audience.”  And then in the minutes, maybe ten years later, “It was decided in the executive committee meeting that no one can stand in the back of the theater – it is too distracting to the audience.” And they keep making rules like that and nobody pays any attention to it (laugh)

      But, yes, they had a bad fire.  I think in 1952 or 54.  The cupola was damaged and an awful lot of stuff was damaged – bad fire.  But we were insured and whenever we have troubles, when we get broke or when we have big expenses and we have no way of meeting them, or when we had troubles down there – can’t cast a play or something – they seem to be a closer knit club – they all band together and come right back up.  And they did after the fire – everybody went down and worked and cleaned up.  And the show – they never missed a show.  They managed to get a show on after that fire

CS: Have there been continuous shows since they first took over?

RE: Yes. Oh yes.

CS: There’s not been a season without any shows?

RE: Never. Never. Never. Only in the summertime. And sometimes they even put shows on in the summertime.  They’ve tried that.  They had problems casting, then they have no problems casting where everybody is fighting for parts.  I know a couple of years ago, they were broken in debt and my husband was treasurer – Milton Emmert – and he was going over the books and then all of a sudden we thought we had money in the bank and these huge bills came in and wiped us out and we couldn’t even pay the electric and gas bills and things like that, and so we put out an SOS and we called everybody to come down to a special meeting – the fate of Old Academy Players is at stake, and that’s when they rose – you saw the kind of people they were and how much they loved the club and what they could do. Laura Koziak gave a flea market and made money.  They did all kinds of things and then they wrote letters to all the life members who don’t live in these parts any more.  They all sent checks to us, and in no time at all we were out of the woods and all right.

      Yes, there have been highs and lows. Well, every year they give a play that’s maybe not so good, then they do some that are so fine that you wonder how did we do it?  They have one going on now that is so fabulous.

CS: And what’s that?

RE: I forget the name of it.

CS: You’re just like me!

RE: It’s two one act plays and it’s all Irish brogue. The Lovers, it’s called, and it’s about a young pair of lovers and the second one is an old pair of lovers. And it’s so beautifully done –so fabulous that it’s hard to believe it’s little theater.

CS: Has the percentage of Falls people in the plays and in the membership changed over the years?

RE: Oh yes. It was all Falls when the Moment Musical started, and then somebody would invite somebody to join and they would come and bring somebody else in, and it gradually spread around Philadelphia, and now we have members all over the city. They drive, you know.  We also have life members – if you’re an active member for fifteen years – you automatically – you’re voted in, honored with life membership, and that means you’re a member forever and don’t pay any dues, have no obligation. And we have life members living in California and all over the country but they keep in touch and they’re the ones who send the checks when we get in Dutch. 

     And then it’s surprising around here how few people know that there’s a little theater here. Never heard of it.  And how few of them attend our shows.

We have a nucleus of season ticket customers who have been coming for so many years.