Edward Herrmann: “Professional Apprentice,” Dallas Theater Center — 1965-1970

by Paula Bosse

herrmann_black-comedy_dmn_041670-photoHerrmann in the DTC’s production of Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy,” 1970

by Paula Bosse

Edward Herrmann, one of my favorite character actors, died a couple of days ago — on New Year’s Eve — at the age of 71. Most people probably know him from his television roles as FDR and Richard Gilmore, but he also had a lengthy career in film and on the stage. Many fans of his in Dallas may not know that he began his professional career at the Dallas Theater Center, as a “professional apprentice”— he not only performed as a DTC repertory company actor (in lead roles as well as in bit parts), but he also took classes, taught classes, and did every imaginable theatrical job onstage, offstage, and backstage.

The reputation of the Theater Center and the opportunity to work with the legendary Paul Baker, the DTC’s artistic director, drew a 22-year-old, fresh-out-of-college Edward Herrmann to Dallas in 1965. His first mention in The Dallas Morning News was a notice of his participation in a staged reading at the end of November, 1965 — it was the first in a series of such readings called “Dark Night Theater.” His first performance in a DTC production appears to have been in the musical “Peter Pan,” a co-production with the Teen-Children’s Theater which was presented for the 1965 holiday season.

While in Dallas, Herrmann appeared in numerous productions, including plays by Shaw, Brecht, Coward, Peter Shaffer, Jules Feiffer, and Peter Ustinov. He also appeared in a few children’s productions, including what must have been an entertaining turn as the “supercilious caterpillar” in a musical version of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Edward Herrmann was a member of the Dallas Theater Company for four seasons — from 1965-68 and from 1969-70 (the 1968-69 season was spent in England at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art on a Fulbright Fellowship).

In a 1983 D Magazine article, Lee Cullum wrote about Herrmann’s time at the DTC:

With classes for graduate students and special programs for undergraduates of all ages, Paul Baker created a kind of “medieval guild,” as actor Edward Herrmann called it, where everybody did everything: acting, directing, set designing and constructing, costuming and ticket selling. Herrmann […] says he learned every facet of theater during his three years at the Theater Center, including “sewing a mean doublet on the Singer industrial machine.”

In a recent interview in The New York Times, Herrmann called the Theater Center “a wonderful place to cut your teeth — you could make all sorts of mistakes, and it wouldn’t damage you irreparably like it would in New York.” (D Magazine, March, 1983)

One of the productions most memorable for Herrmann during his time at the DTC was actually one that was staged in San Antonio (in conjunction with the DTC) at the brand new Ruth Taylor Theater on the campus of Trinity University (Paul Baker was acting as artistic director of both theaters, simultaneously). The play was Eugene McKinney’s “A Different Drummer,” and he mentioned it in a conversation with Dallas Morning News film critic Philip Wuntch in 1979:

“My best memory is actually of opening the Trinity theater in San Antonio in 1966. The play was ‘A Different Drummer,’ and being able to say the first words that were ever spoken on that stage was an experience.” (DMN, Feb. 25, 1979)

Herrmann enjoyed his time at the Dallas Theater Center, and it seems that he also had warm feelings for Dallas, Dallas critics, and Dallas audiences. The feelings were no doubt mutual.

“I never got a bad review at the Theater Center,” laughed the tall, Tony Award-winning actor during a recent publicity trip to Dallas. “I don’t know if that says something about me or the critics.” (Wuntch, DMN, Feb. 25, 1979)

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Below, a few photos and reviews from Edward Herrmann’s time at the Dallas Theater Center.

herrmann_different-drummer_dmn_102766DMN, Oct. 27, 1966

The full rave review by John Neville of The Dallas Morning News can be read in a PDF, here.

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herrmann_shaw_you-never-can-tell_dmn_020567-photoDMN, Feb. 5, 1967

In George Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell.”

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herrmann_public-eye_dmn_121567-photo

herrmann_public-eye_dmn_121567DMN, Dec. 15, 1967

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hermann_dmn_021168DMN, Feb. 11, 1968

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herrmann_black-comedy_dmn_041670DMN, April 16, 1970

The review for his performance in Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy,” pictured at the top.

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herrmann_feiffer-little-murders_dmn_052570DMN, May 25, 1970

The caption: “Keith Rothschild sniffs a rose while Preston Jones, left background, Mary Sue Jones and Edward Herrmann look on in the Dallas Theater Center production of the comedy, ‘The Little Murders’ [by Jules Feiffer].”

And, for the Edward Herrmann completists, here are the two Oak Lawn addresses he had when he lived in Dallas — both within a couple of blocks of the DTC:

herrmann-edward_dallas-addresses
Dallas city directories

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Top photo from The Dallas  Morning News, April 16, 1970. The caption reads: “Irene Lewis (rear) is preparing to break up a tender moment between Edward Herrmann and Candy Couillard in the Dallas Theater Center production of Peter Shaffer’s farce, ‘Black Comedy.'”

All photos and clippings from The Dallas Morning News as noted.

Lee Cullum’s article in D Magazine can be found here.

Edward Herrmann’s obituary in The New York Times is here; in Playbill, here.

An interesting 2009 interview by Kay Bourne in which he talks about his time at the Dallas Theater Center can be read here (the DTC portion begins at the top of page 2). He was apparently so enamored of the wide variety of production jobs he did while apprenticing at the theater that “I nearly stayed on the tech side.”

Another interesting Dallas connection involving Edward Herrmann is that Lauren Graham, the star of “Gilmore Girls” who played his character’s daughter on the show, also spent several years in Dallas — she received her MFA in acting from SMU’s Meadows School in 1992. I wonder if they ever sat around comparing notes on Dallas actors and favorite hang-outs. I hope so.

RIP, Ed. And thanks.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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