the Kathryn Randolph Theater | About
Kathryn Randolph | Dick
and Jerry Van Dyke
Red Mask At 50...The
Memories Are Golden
"The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."
To paraphrase Hamlet, the play's the thing that has
caught -- and held -- the fancy of Danville's
theatergoers for 50 years, thanks to Red Mask Players.
This Sept. 13, 1986, dinner-reunion celebrates
early; the anniversary date is Dec.1. But that
will give all good Red Maskers more time to
"break a leg" in honor of our golden
Red Mask was like an itinerant actor -- "have
trunk, will travel" -- for the first eight years
of its existence. The group's first production was
presented at the YWCA on Thursday, April 29, 1937.
It consisted of three one-act plays: "Sir
Galahad", "Swamp Spirit", and "A
Man Among Women". From there, Red Mask
moved to church community room, to circuit courtroom,
to school gymnasium, and back to the YWCA.
In 1944, it went "downtown" to the Palace
Theater, thanks to the generosity of the late Thomas
P. Ronan, then district manager of Publix-Great States
In the next 18 years, many Red Mask plays were
staged there, including a repeat performance of
"The Night of January 16th." A couple
of chaps by the name of Dick and Jerry Van Dyke
debuted in "Rebecca" and "The Man Who
Came to Dinner" respectively.
Danville people began to sit up and take notice.
And they bought season memberships. In 1948 there were
1,500 adults and high school students on the rolls.
But it wasn't like having a theater of our own.
Overhead was so costly that a play could be staged
only two nights. We could not build our own
sets. We could not operate our lights.
There was no place to store props. It added up to no
sense of permanency.
How that changed will be detailed farther on in
In 1961-62 a very important dimension was added to
Red Mask-Children's Theater. Thus 1986 marks the
silver anniversary of a tradition within a tradition.
Behind us now are nearly 50 years of golden memories.
. . memories of more than 200 stage productions
(including Children's Theater). On occasion, we
even took the show on the road -- to the VA Medical
Center, to Hoopeston and Wellington, to Covington,
Ind. And our scrapbooks bulge with photos, programs,
We can show in this book only a few pictures
representative of our golden years. We hope you
enjoy them. We hope you will be with us for Red
Mask's Diamond Jubilee in 2011!
THE KATHRYN RANDOLPH THEATER
In 1962, Red Mask learned that the congregation of
Immanuel Presbyterian Church wanted to sell the
edifice at 601 N. Vermilion and the minister's
residence behind it on Davis Street.
The price was right but at the moment it might as
well have been a million dollars. Red Maskers
proceeded as though they could lay their hands on a
We took an option, and the church people, with
great Christian charity, let us move in.
To say that there was a lot of work to do getting
the building ready would be an understatement. The
pulpit was removed and a stage of sorts was built. The
audience sat in the old-fashioned wooden pews and
thought the stained glass windows added to the charm
of the theater so recently a church.
The Second National Bank (now First Midwest
Bank/Danville) was a major benefactor, largely because
of the interest of J. Harold Oberwortmann, an officer.
Red Mask was able to obtain a 10-year mortgage at 4
per cent interest! Those indeed were the good old
days. . .
The bank also donated two big window air
conditioners and paid for a new heating system.
Electric Eye Equipment Co., now Hurletron Altair,
built and donated to Red Mask a light control panel.
The Fischer Theater, through its manager, Julius
Connelly, donated seats which it was replacing,
enabling us to remove the pews.
The residence was torn down and the late Paul
Millikin, our good neighbor to the north, put in a
Many other improvements have added to the theater's
value in the past 20-plus years, such as a new roof,
new heating-air conditioning system, new seats,
lowered ceiling, new lighting, etc.
But none are more visible and more instrumental in
raising the public consciousness of Red Mask than the
sign in front, noting our founding date, and the
modern lighted marquee which designates "Kathryn
First Lady of Danville's Theater
She was our first director and continued in that
role for more than 30 years. Without her, there would
have been no Red Mask, no theater, no children's
plays, no benefit performances, no organization.
Her legacy was that "the show must go on"
and it has without interruption since her death on
March 5, 1968.
It is fitting that the theater, the realization of
her dreams, bears her name. And it is at once
consoling and inspiring that her portrait in the lobby
smiles upon those who come through the big red street
This was a remarkable woman. Because she was
not a namedropper, few people knew that she was a
personal friend of Antoinette Perry, whose
contribution to the Broadway stage is immortalized in
the annual Tony Awards for dramatic performance.
Kathryn Randolph was so good at her craft that she
served as dramatic coach for a Redpath Chautauqua
troupe that included William Jennings Bryan.
Imagine being talented enough to give pointers to a
man regarded as one of the greatest orators and
platform performers of all time!
A great many Red Maskers privileged to have her as
their mentor were convinced that she could have been
one of the great ladies of the American stage, another
Helen Hayes, had she chosen.
Instead, her preference was to be wife, mother,
dramatic teacher to generations of Danville youngsters
and incomparable director of more than 100 plays which
delighted and entertained thousands of her friends and
When Mrs. Randolph died, the Commercial News paid
her tribute in a lead editorial. Among other
things, it said: "Parents who had studied
dramatics under her wanted their children to have a
similar experience -- not because of career ambitions
but so that their lives might be enriched by contact
with this gracious person."
And a past president of Red Mask, Jerry Ovall,
expressed eloquently what was in all our hearts when
"Red Mask Players has always reflected the
character and integrity of its director, Mrs.
Kathryn Randolph. This great lady was not just
someone we knew, but someone we loved. Her
work in our community will not cease but will
continue through the organization that she built,
the students that she taught and everyone whose life
AND JERRY VAN DYKE
Van Dyke are two bright stars of show business in
an impressive firmament of luminaries from our town.
Helen Morgan, Bobby Short, Donald O'Connor and Gene
Hackman all called Danville their hometown. But Dick
and Jerry are distinctly Red Mask's own.
Part of this is due to the fact that both made
their adult stage debuts before Red Mask footlights.
Another is that despite achieving nation-wide
recognition, they never have forgotten Danville and
the friends who "knew them when."
In October of 1962, Jerry came home to a
testimonial luncheon at Connor's. His appearance
raised several hundred badly needed dollars for Red
And the following March 16, Dick was honored with a
"Dick Van Dyke Day" celebration, complete
with parade. That night he appeared before a packed
DHS auditorium, thanks to an arrangement with Danville
Junior College (as it was known then), which had
scheduled its "Kollege Kapers" for that
date. Net receipts from the benefit show were nearly
$6,400 -- enough for Red Mask to exercise its option
to buy the present Kathryn Randolph Theater.
Many of us never will forget that when the chips
were down, the Van Dyke brothers came through for Red