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Feature Article on Theatre. TOPIC: ENTERTAINMENT
Written by Christi Thomas in March, 1998

THESPIANS IN MY FAMILY TREE


Edward Flinn, appearing in the 1922 SHS production of Clarence, is fourth from the right.

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It’s amazing what falls out when you shake the family tree. In my case, a bunch of thespians. A 77-year-old photograph and a 1949 Yellow Jacket yearbook from Sidney High School have helped me better understand my long-time interest in theater.

The photo, vintage 1922, shows my Grandfather, Edward Flinn, performing in a Sidney High School rendition of a Tarkington play (see above photo). Twenty-seven years later, the Yellow Jacket features my parents appearing on the same stage in an operetta. Another 31 years passed, the high school became Bridgeview, and I performed on the same planks as my forebears in the 1980 Sock & Buskin production of Fiddler on the Roof. I remain active in Sock & Buskin activities.

My grandfather, a resident of Fairhaven since October, will soon celebrate his 95th birthday. He played the role of Bobby Wheeler, friend of the play’s title character, Clarence. "The Commencement exercises of the Sidney High School Class of 1922 will be held the week of May 28 at the High School building. This year a class of 68 students will receive their diplomas, 39 girls and 29 boys," reported the Sidney Daily News (May 19, 1922). "The Commencement week program which has been arranged will be carried out as follows...Wednesday evening May 31 the class play Clarence by Booth Tarkington directed by Miss Ida M. Hall."

Tarkington gained popularity with Monsieur Beaucaire. His play Clarence, first produced at the Hudson Theatre in New York City on Sept. 20, 1919, with Alfred Lunt and Helen Hayes, was part of the first new theater season following World War I. After discouraging experiences with other plays, Tarkington had an unqualified success with Clarence. He later wrote a dozen plays, none with the same success.

1949 Yellow Jacket yearbook photo: From left are Roy Bulle, Vivian Neville, Richard Hodge and Peggy Flinn.
Roy and Peggy are the parents of Christi Thomas.

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The Clarence script, unlike most scripts today, gave explicit instructions as to staging (set and props) and costumes. For example, in the first act, page three, stage directions (written in italics) read "another member of the Wheeler family appears, also under the influence of excitement. He is hovering on the elder side of sixteen; his hair is to the mode of New York, according to the interpretation of his years, and so is his costume, which includes an overcoat. He also wears a pair of pale spats, too large for his shoes.... This is Bobby."

The Next Generation: In 1949, on the same stage, Roy Bulle and Peg Flinn (Bulle) appeared in the operetta In Old Vienna (see above). They also worked on their junior and senior class plays. These two thespians are my parents.

 

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