Backstage at the Pasadena Playhouse

My curiosity about the Pasadena Playhouse has grown over the years, as I constantly stumbled over references to prominent movie star alum in writing about their lives. People I’ve written about who either studied at its drama school or performed on one of its five stages have included (alphabetically) Mabel Albertson, Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Henry Brandon, Edgar Buchanan, Raymond Burr, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Darrow, Walker Edmiston, Gene Hackman, Valerie Harper, Dustin Hoffman, Carolyn Jones, Victor Jory, Joel McCrea, Wayne Morris, Lloyn Nolan, Eleanor Parker, Tyrone Power, Robert Preston, George Reeves, Barbara Rush, Randolph Scott, Max Showalter, Charlotte Stewart, Gloria Stuart, Lurene Tuttle, Joanne Worley, Gig Young, and Robert Young, among many others.

The Pasadena Playhouse was founded by Gilmor Brown (1886-1960) in 1916, at a time when nearby Los Angeles had been the center of the American film industry for MUCH less than a decade. It was already booming, but there was still time to get in on the ground floor. Brown had been born in North Dakota, and raised in Denver, where he acted in first amateur and stock productions. When his family moved to Pasadena in 1914, he initially opened a cigar store and billiards parlor, although his brother managed the Savoy Theatre. It was the age of the burgeoning Little Theatre and Community Theatre movements, and Brown started presenting plays at a local burlesque house. It rapidly became a local instutition, patronized by the town’s principal citizens. By 1924 they had raised sufficient fund for the theatre to build its own dedicated playhouse, which came to include five separate theatres, and an adjoining theatre school. In 1937 it was named the official theatre of the State of California, a distinction it possesses to this day. Naturally, the proximity to the movie colony made it a valuable training ground for actors who would later wind up in films, and later television. Many other major regional repertory theatres would spring up in the area over the decades, but for a time the Pasadena Playhouse did heavy lifting in training screen actors, especially those who hadn’t come from eastern cities, where there were hundreds of such theatres.

For a time after Brown’s death in 1960 the Pasadena Playhouse was dark, but within a couple of decades it found its footing again. Find out what’s going on there now at their official website,