The Common Glory
The Jamestown Corporation produced The Common Glory, a Paul Green symphonic drama, nearly every summer of its thirty year existence. Staged at the Lake Matoaka amphitheater on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, The Common Glory told the story of the American Revolution from Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech to the American victory at Yorktown. In 1957, 1958, and 1964, the Jamestown Corporation also produced The Founders, another drama written by Paul Green which depicted the struggles of the early Jamestown settlers and the lives of John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe.
Funded initially by private donations and state grant money, the success of the Jamestown Corporation in the late 1940s and early 1950s owed much to the burgeoning tourist traffic in Williamsburg and to the monetary support of its trustees and friends. In its opening season, 1947 (officially opening on July 17th), more than 90,000 persons saw The Common Glory. The drama was widely acclaimed. The New York Times reviewer wrote that the play created a" mood of reverence and wonder," and The Associated Press noted that it "flips the pages of history...and brings to light beneath a starlit sky the stirring events that welded America into a nation." Another reviewer called it "uncommonly glorious."
In all but two of its first ten years, The Common Glory made a profit, with attendance averaging nearly 80,000 per year. Beginning in the late 1950s, the tight budget of the Corporation was repeatedly stretched by decreased ticket sales due to inclement weather and a general decline in the popularity of the drama among tourists. Attendance failed to improve through the 1970s, despite the availability of Phi Beta Kappa Hall as a rain location. When the Bicentennial Celebration of 1976 failed to bring in the crowds as expected, the Jamestown Corporation folded and the thirty year run of The Common Glory came to a close.
A prominent twentieth-century dramatist, Paul Green (1894-1981), was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, In Abraham's Bosom (1927), and for a series of pageantlike historical plays, among them The Common Glory and The Lost Colony.
Green was born near Lillington, North Carolina, on March 17, 1894. His began to write at the University of North Carolina, where he was encouraged to write plays based on what he called "the essential folk-life-of the people."
His studies interrupted by World War I, Green served for two years with the American Expeditionary Forces in France and Belgium. After graduating from college in 1921, he published a series of one-act plays, including The Lord's Will (1925), Lonesome Road (1926), and In the Valley, (1928).
In 1927, Green reached Broadway with two plays in one season--In Abraham's Bosom and The Field God, the former winning the Pulitzer Prize for best play of the year. In Abraham's Bosom is the story of a black man whose attempt to found a school for black children ends in his violent death. Other important plays from this period include, The House of Connelly (1932), Johnny Johnson (1937; with Kurt Weill), and Native Son (1941; with Richard Wright).
In the 1930's, Green became interested in "symphonic drama," utilizing music, dance, and mime. The late 1930s saw the birth of his The Lost Colony, about Sir Walter Raleigh's tragic attempt to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island. Still playing in Manteo, North Carolina, The Lost Colony is one of the longest running outdoor dramas in U.S. history.
Ten years later in Williamsburg, Virginia, Green produced his second outdoor drama, The Common Glory, about the American Revolution. In the latter part of his career, Green devoted his writing almost entirely to historical pageants, earning widespread fame as a folk dramatist. The Common Glory was followed by a succession of historical pageants staged in Maryland, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Green, once referred to as "the Evangelist for Democracy," died in Chapel Hill, N.C. on May 4, 1981.
William and Mary's legendary theater director, Althea Hunt, directed The Common Glory in the first three seasons of production. Her career at the College spanned thirty-five years. A native of Conneaut, Ohio and a resident of Virginia for over fifty years, Miss Hunt received a B.A. from Allegheny College and an M.A. from Radcliffe. She came to the College in 1926 after President J. A.C. Chandler asked her to teach English, public speaking, and play acting.
Miss Hunt was director of the William and Mary Theater from 1926 to 1957. She retired from the College faculty in 1961 and was awarded the rank of Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts. She died in 1971 at the age of 80.
Howard Scammon, William and Mary's second legendary theater director, worked for the Jamestown Corporation from the first performance of The Common Glory in 1947 to its last performance in 1976. From 1947 to 1951, Professor Scammon was assistant director of The Common Glory. In 1951, following the departure of former director Althea Hunt, Scammon became director and held the post until the very end. A professor in the Theater and Speech Department from 1948 to 1976, Scammon's association with William and Mary Theatre goes back to 1929, when he entered the College as a student. There, he took a play production course under Miss Hunt.
After graduating from the College, Scammon taught English for two years at private schools in New England, served in the Army, and received a Masters degree in theater from Northwestern University. In 1948, William and Mary Theatre Director Althea Hunt asked Scammon to come back to the College and teach speech, as well as assist her with theater.
After taking over principal directorial duties from Miss Hunt in 1957, Scammon went on to direct nearly every William and Mary Theater production in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall from 1957 to 1976. In 1976, he retired from William and Mary and was named Professor Emeritus. Now in his eighties, Professor Scammon appears on campus periodically and continues to receive volumes of letters from former students and Common Glory actors.
A charter member of The Common Glory production staff and General Manager of the Jamestown Corporation for a number of years, Roger Sherman came to The Common Glory after studying at Yale Univerity and teaching at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1957, Mr. Sherman became General Manager of the corporation.
Carl A. Fehr
The music director for the entire run of the production was Dr. Carl A. Fehr, who from 1945 until 1974 was a member of the College's music department faculty and professor of music. During that time, he also was director of the William and Mary Choir and the Women's Chorus. He was affectionately called "Pappy" by his students and the Common Glory choir.
- Goldie Hawn: Star of such Hollywood movies as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, Foul Play, Protocol, Swing Shift, Overboard, Bird on a Wire, and Death Becomes Her, Goldie Hawn played Joan Finton in the 1964 production of The Founders and was a dancer in the 1963 production of The Common Glory. She won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her work in the 1969 film, Cactus Flower. A native of Washington D.C., Goldie studied acting at American University. Here is her profile from the program of the 1964 Founders production:
"GOLDIE HAWN (Joan Flinton) was a dancer last summer in The Common Glory, and while teaching dance and modeling in Washington this past year, studied dance and voice. Her experience includes dancing with the Ballet Russe in an appearance in Washington, and her future plans call for the study of acting, singing and dance in New York."
- Jonathan Frakes
Jamestown Corporation Presidents
1946-1948 Hon. Colgate W. Darden Jr
1948-1949 Hon. William A. Wright
1949-1953 Mrs. Philip W. Hiden
1953-1955 Lewis A. McMurran
1955-1957 Samuel Bemis
1957-1959 Lewis A. McMurran
1959-1961 Samuel Bemis
1961-1963 Lewis A. McMurran
1963-1965 Samuel Bemis
1966-1967 Webster Rhodes
1967-1976 Lewis A. McMurran
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Jamestown Corporation in the SCRC database.
- SCRC File.
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