February 18th In Seal Beach History

On this date in 1959, the Long Beach Independent dropped the curtain on the finale of a typical show biz story.

We’ve all heard weepy tales about a young, first-time actress, just bursting with natural talent, getting cast in a play and then outshining the more experienced actors and actresses playing the lead roles. And then it all goes sour, the young actress takes her success for granted, misses performances, and is finally replaced. The actress plunges back into her hum drum everyday life, never to step into spotlight again. It’s happened hundreds of times.

Don’t worry we’ll get to the Seal Beach connection in a moment.

Over the years, many Seal Beachers have probably seen a play or two at the Long Beach Community Playhouse on Anaheim Street in Long Beach. The playhouse hit its sixty-ninth anniversary at that location earlier this month, but The Long Beach Players have performed since 1929, first putting on shows at the Union Pacific’s Long Beach depot and then at the Unitarian Church on Lime Street when the depot was condemned. 

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Back in September, 1958, the playhouse held try-outs for a production of Gore Vidal’s “Visit to a Small Planet,” a cold war satire about an outer space tourist who visits Earth and ends up staying with a 1950s newscaster and his family in their suburban Virginia home. (Yes, “My Favorite Martian,” “Mork and Mindy,” and “Alf” borrows a lot from this play.) The visitor is a smug and arrogant fellow with telepathic abilities and superpowers, including the ability to converse with the family’s pet cat, Rosemary. 

This is when our actress and the Seal Beach connection finally makes an entrance into our tale. Cast as Rosemary was a year-and-a-half old, silky black, half-Siamese cat named Gregarious, owned by Seal Beach police officer Alfred Chafe. Gregarious was trained to meow on cue, had her own dressing room with her name on it, and developed a rapport with actor Salvatore Mungo, playing the alien Kreton. The two wowed playhouse audiences by having “conversations” about hunting mice and the propriety of shooting dogs as punishment for chasing “Rosemary.”

Gregarious as Rosemary with Salvatore Mungo as Kreton

Gregarious as Rosemary with Salvatore Mungo as Kreton

Alas, the tale does not end with Gregarious becoming a star. Between the show’s opening on November 14, 1958 and closing on January 17th, 1959, the Chafe family moved to a different part of Seal Beach, and Gregarious was too fond of her old neighborhood and kept returning to the old house. Towards the end of the show’s run, it became more and more of a challenge to find Gregarious in time for the opening curtain. Ultimately, she couldn’t be found in time, and a white Persian played Rosemary in the last three performance.

According to the Long Beach Independent, Gregarious was still having trouble adjusting to the move a month later and seemed to prefer the life of a small town free range kitty to the glamour of the stage. There are no reports of other Seal Beach pets ever being cast in any other Long Beach Community Playhouse production, but that’s certainly just a coincidence and not their judgement on the reliability of Seal Beach critters created by the flakiness of a diva cat named Gregarious.

– Michael Dobkins

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