May 8th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1965, local theater-lovers of all ages could stroll to Main Street and treat themselves to a Saturday show (or two) at the Peppermint Playhouse.

In the afternoon, there was a matinee of “Sleeping Beauty” for the kiddies. a few hours later in the evening, the Peppermint Playhouse presented an evening performance of “He Ain’t Done Right By Nell,” an old-fashioned melodrama in one act written by Wilbur Braun in 1935 as an affectionate pastiche of the broad, over-the-top plays that were so popular in the 1890s.  (The title was taken from a 1920s novelty song made popular by Irving Aaronson and his Commanders.) 

Quoting the synopsis in the Samuel French edition of the play:

Little Nell Perkins lives in the hills with her grandmother, Granny Perkins. Nell never suspects that she has no claim to the Perkins name or that she is a foundling who was left outside the Perkins barn 20 years ago. Hilton Hays, the villain, overhears Granny Perkins discussing the matter with Lolly Wilkins, a nosy old maid. When Nell repulses Hays’ advances and tells him she knows he is paying attention to Vera Carleton, a city gal, Hilton threatens to tell the true secret of Nell’s birth to the world.

(The Cad! Boo! Hiss!)

Poor Nell is much too honest to wed Jack Logan, the manly hero, and she cannot stay in the mountains and have the finger of shame pointed at her. She says good-bye to the mountains and prepares to roam the cold, cruel world, seeking a refuge for her broken heart.

(Oh, the shame! How will luckless Nell survive?)

Just as she is about to depart, Burkett Carleton, who owns the mill, calls at the Perkins cabin in search of Hilton Hays. Hays has stolen money from the mill and is short in his accounts. The wealthy Mr. Carleton unmasks Hays and discovers by the locket worn around her neck that Nell is his very own granddaughter, who was kidnapped when but a babe. A happy reconciliation occurs and Nell is united in matrimony with Jack Logan, who is poor, but honest.

(Virtue once again triumphs over wickedness!)

According to Ralph Hinman’s review the next day’s Long Beach Independent Press Telegram, the play worked magnificently.  He especially praised Ronald Chaffee’s sneering and leering performance as the villainous Hilton Hayes with his “black cape twirling evilly below top hat.” Susan Taylor starred as Nell (in a virtuous white dress), her stalwart love interest, Jack was played by Kennedy Bond, Sue Ofstedahl was Granny, and Brigit Bond played bad big-city girl (with a secret heart of gold), Vera Carleton, and Thomas Stewart played her father, Mr. Carleton. Lucille Kiester did double duty as Lollie, the old maid gossip and also directed the show.

Tom Stewart and Birgit Bond examine Sue Taylor’s locket

The evening’s entertainment climaxed with an “olio — a polite vaudeville,” as Peppermint impresario Kay Carrol put it in the review that ran the next day. “We’re trying to create a ‘fun’ thing, a place where people can come just to enjoy themselves.” Marie Davidson, Bob Mitchell, Pat Plechner, Mary Ann Kingsland, Karen Hutchison and Roger Richards sang, recited sad verses, and danced to a band accompaniment of piano, banjo, trombone, fiddle, guitar, and musical saw. The musicians were Stella Macintosh, Sophie Waldman, Seth Tracey, George Ulz, and Manual Romero. Disappointingly, the review didn’t list which one played the saw.

The Peppermint Playhouse location in 1965 is today’s location of Endless Summer at 124 Main Street. The current management’s policy on hissing the villain is unclear.

– Michael Dobkins

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