In Our Own Words CCP

New Writings About the Cumberland County Playhouse (site © 2015 by CCP) Email submissions to:

Month: February, 2015

A Few Comments from Harry Bryce

This vivid memory is very close to my heart because it changed my life as an artist and humanitarian. Twenty years ago I thought my path was set. I had my own theatre company (Memphis Black Repertory Theatre) and was dutifully telling the stories of the African-American experience through theatre. Along came a man named Jim Crabtree who protested “your stories need to be shared in places where hope and acceptance of other cultures is fleeting.” He extended the invitation to come to CCP in Crossville, to direct the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Given the History of Cumberland County and Crossville’s connection to the KKK and a reputation as a SunDown County (which meant not safe for people of color after dark), my friends asked, “have you lost your mind?” Ignoring the unfaithful, I packed my bags and the rest is a glorious history. Jim Crabtree and his family have always been visionaries. Today CCP, Crossville and Cumberland County is a preferred destination for those visiting Tennessee seeking diverse cultural authenticity and artistic theatrical brilliance.

This writing first appeared in a February 2015 Broadway World article written by Jeffrey Ellis.

© 2015 Jeffrey Ellis/Harry Bryce
Used by Permission

A Letter from the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Educational Resource Center for the Hearing Impaired

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

On behalf of the Parent Teacher Counselor Association (PTCA) at the Tennessee School for the Deaf, we would like to thank you for your generous donation for this year’s Silent Auction at our annual fund-raising breakfast. All monies raised through this project directly benefit our students. While we are a state-supported residential school, our funding does not cover all of our needs. Because of your support, the PTCA is able to provide funding for after school activities, classroom enrichment, and cottage curriculum activities.

Again, thank you for your donation!


Susie Helmboldt-Jones and Daniel Dooley
TSD Knoxville
October 25, 2013

© 2015 TSD
Used by Permission

A Letter from the Avalon Center

Dear Bryce, Nicole, and all of our friends at the Cumberland County Playhouse:

Words cannot express the gratitude and gratefulness we feel with all of the toys you collected this year for the children we serve at the Avalon Center! We have several Moms who we served and just recently moved from shelter into new violence-free homes that will be able to provide Christmas for their children as well as the Moms and children still with us. It looks like Santa Clause has landed at our office and cannot wait for the Moms to come and pick out toys for their children! We will also be leaving toys under the tree from Santa on Christmas Eve at the shelter.

Domestic Violence takes a terrible toll on the victim but the children who have to live in fear or the mom, their brothers and sisters, as well as themselves, may not realize the toll it takes on them until they are grown! It takes a community who cares that will “Break the Cycle of Violence.” Thank you for being a part of that community! The Avalon Center provides life saving services to these victims each and every day—with a 24 hour crisis hotline, 24 hour emergency shelter, crisis intervention counseling, court and hospital accompaniment, support groups, professional counseling, and a Children’s Program. All of the services are free and confidential to all victims! We couldn’t do this without the great support from friends such as you!

This year because of your generosity and compassion, the Avalon Center will be able to make Christmas a little brighter for all of these children. They will know that the world is full of angels and elves that care about them and wish them happiness every day of the year.


With a full heart,

Carmen Wyatt
December 22, 2014

© 2015 Carmen Wyatt
Used by Permission

A Letter from Brenthaven Church

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you so much for your response for an item to place in our church’s Silent Auction.

Our auction, which was just held March 25th, benefits our Youth Mission Trip this summer to Joplin, Missouri. Our youth and youth leaders will be aiding the victims of the recent tornados in that area. Your gift of two passes was so generous and it will help to make this trip possible.

We are thankful to be living in an area where business and organizations, such as yours, are willing to give to help our young people help others. We wish you continued success and appreciate your generosity and kindness.

Very truly yours,

Rev. Kip J. Rush
Brentwood, TN

© 2015 Rev. Kip J. Rush
Used by Permission

My Hillside Adventure

In 1998 I received an e-mail inviting me to a place I couldn’t have imagined without seeing it for myself. So I packed up the ol’ station wagon and off I went. It was a fall day and I ascended up into the Cumberlands, climbing a beautiful mountain to a plateau of green and gold (with the changing of the leaves) till I saw a big water tower marked Crossville. I finally found this beautiful red barn in the middle of the woods. I did two shows that season, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Children of Eden. I met some of the most wonderful people whom to this day are still my friends and family. Memories of Miss Mary coming up from the lake house: her kind words and the sharing of her insights. Watching her on stage was like watching theatre royalty–doing it how it should be done. It was magic!

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always fun and flowers. It was tough. I call it “Theatre Bootcamp!” In one day you can have a 9:30 show, go to rehearsal and lunch, then perform a totally different show at 2:30, then more rehearsal and dinner and a 7:30 performance of one of the earlier shows. It made me dig deep and get tough fast. But you all did it together, like a family. During the finale of the last performance of Children of Eden, as I fought back the tears, I looked around the stage and there was my new family, all sixty-five hearts, as one, in tears. One month later I came back to teach theatre classes in the TN prison system.

In 2005, the “Gentle Giant,” Jim Crabtree, gave the call of the wild for me to repeat my role in Ain’t Misbehavin’, Big River (where I broke my leg), Into the Woods, and four more shows. In a January snow storm, up the mountain I went. I arrived in the middle of a Big River rehearsal, and that big, rich voice (the Gentle Giant) announced, “The Prodigal Son Returns!” Rehearsal stopped and hugs and introductions ensued. Just like a family reunion! I felt like a king returning to his kingdom! We did seven shows in eight months.

In one word … CCP is Family!

Tony D. Owens Jr.

© 2015 Tony D. Owens Jr.
Used by Permission

A Poem from Miss Mary’s House

The fog is winter frost’s way of staying around
… Sneakily.

Almost as cold,
covering everything it touches
with tiny pinpoints of awaking on skin.

Bundled under coverlet,
under vestibule,
with cream and sugar Joe
steaming up to meet his colder cousin.

I wait for Anthony and Cleopatra,
my Bald Eagles,
to return and fish off the big tree by the water
as I ponder a sunless day-off
with un-squinting eyes.

Could there be a more peaceful place
this side of heaven
than Miss Mary’s house?

Laura Happel

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© 2015 Laura Happel
Used by Permission

A Letter from Bobbi Avery

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

A little birdie just old me who nominated me for the Mary’s Gang Award. I was very surprised to be invited to the luncheon and double surprised when you presented me with the award. Thank you, Sam, for nominating me for such a special award. It was an honor to receive it.

I fell in love with the Cumberland County Playhouse from the first time I took Dasa’n to see Cats when he was 6 year old. As the years went by and we went to other plays, I was thrilled when he took an interest in taking classes and trying out for a play. I will never forget when he called me to tell me he got a part in the ensemble for Oklahoma. I was on route to Florida for my 50th high school reunion in 2011 and can remember the exact moment I got the call. I could hardly wait to get back home to take him to rehearsals. When I saw him on stage opening night my heart just burst with pride, as it does to this day.

I not only thank you for the award, but also for your part in making Dasa’n feel welcome at CCP. All of Dasa’n’s family is very happy he is part of the CCP family. There is no better place to be. I cannot get over the amount of amazing talent at CCP and all the extraordinary people who make everything happen so beautifully, on stage and off. So, I’m glad to bring him to classes, rehearsals and the plays. Helping out with the rehearsal dinners is just a small part I can give for the large part you all do.


Bobbi Avery
March 6, 2013

© 2015 Bobbi Avery
Used by Permission

A Letter from Metro Lynchburg / Moore County Chamber of Commerce

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you so much for your help and support of Lynchburg’s “Frontier Day 2013” Chamber of Commerce fund raising live auction. We have had the best year ever and it is entirely due to you and your generosity to the auction.

Your donations helped us support ten scholarships this year, as well as continuing assistance to other non-profits in the Lynchburg/Moore County area.

We couldn’t do it without you and we greatly appreciate your help.


Candy Richard

© 2015 Candy Richard
Used by Permission

A Letter from The Make-A-Wish Foundation® of East Tennessee

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

On behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of East Tennessee I would like to thank you for supporting the Waltz for Wishes Gala held April 28, 2012. Through your help, the gala will net over $155,000! This amount will help to ensure that we are able to fulfill the wishes of our extraordinary wish children in the year ahead.

Through your help, we provide suffering children and their families with a much-needed respite that is filled with hope, strength, and joy. We have discovered that a child’s wish often uplifts their spirit giving them the inspiration to enjoy a bright and promising future.

Please know that we are so appreciative of your generosity and thoughtfulness. It is because of your commitment to these children that we are able to bring moments of wonder, magic, and laughter to so many families in need. The impact of a wish on the entire family seems to take precedence over the condition, from conception to well after fulfillment. They are able to forget about the illness that has dominated their lives and focus on the joy that comes from a granted wish. A wish is a wonderful experience for a child with a life-threatening illness and their family, but it also enriches the lives of those who help make this dream come true.

Together, we can aspire to achieve our ultimate vision – to provide empowering, spirit-lifted experiences for every eligible child in East Tennessee.

Best Wishes,

Bob Lewis
June 08, 2013
Chattanooga, TN

© 2015 Bob Lewis
Used by Permission

A Letter from Cumberland Cove

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Cumberland Cove Property Owners Association, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your kind donation of Playhouse tickets which were given away at our July 4th celebration.

The quality of entertainment you provide to Crossville and all the surrounding area is outstanding. In addition to those Cove residents like Ken and Julie Hobbs, and Skip and Terri Ritter, who are deeply involved with the Playhouse, there are a great number of other residents that regularly attend your productions. I personally try to take any of our out-of-town visitors to one of your shows and without fail they are impressed.

The preservation, appreciation, and promotion of the Arts is critical for our society (especially our children) and the Playhouse is an essential part of that effort. The value of having a venue like the Playhouse where aspiring actors can participate and learn the craft is immeasurable.

Again, thank you for your tickets and for all the Playhouse brings to our community.

Sincerely yours,

Tim Schmidt

© 2015 Tim Schmidt
Used by Permission

A Letter from A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee, Inc.

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

On behalf of the Board of Directors for A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee, I would like to thank you for the donation of two theatrical show tickets for the silent auction to be held at Rock the Cradle on April 13, 2013. These items will be a wonderful addition to our auction!

We greatly appreciate your partnership to our efforts to prevent newborn abandonment.
Thank you again for your generous donation.


Shannon McCloud
February 21, 2012

© 2015 Shannon McCloud
Used by Permission

A Letter from Jets Baseball

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

I would like to thank you for your continued support of the Cumberland County High School baseball program as evidenced by your recent donation for our annual chili supper this November. Our chili supper was a huge success and one that could not have been realized without wonderful donations from businesses and individuals like you. Because of your generosity, we are able to continue to provide a first class experience for each of the young men in our program. We frequently talk about the importance of family in our program and how every part of our team and family plays an integral part in making us the best that we can be in baseball as well as in life. Thank you for being a very important part of our Jets Baseball family.


Dave Prichard
November 8, 2013

© 2015 Dave Prichard
Used by Permission

Family Tree

My first direct experience with CCP came in 1987. I had just graduated High School and started dating a girl and on our second date I took her to Crossville to see her favorite musical, The Sound of Music. We were very impressed by the show, had a great time, and the experience helped set the tone for twenty-three years of marriage.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that CCP had already had a dramatic effect on my life, indirectly. In 1979, a man named Richard Northcutt had the harebrained idea of starting a community theater in Woodbury, Tennessee. As he began looking for models of how to make that happen and how to build a rural audience, he looked just down the road to CCP. I grew up in that community theater which would become The Arts Center of Cannon County. After college I came back to run the organization as it became a model in its own right. Throughout my nineteen years there, we would constantly ask What would Cumberland County do? or How would the Playhouse handle this?– many times picking up the phone and asking Jim directly. I can honestly say much of the success of The Arts Center came from the influence of The Cumberland County Playhouse.

As we reflect on CCP’s legacy after 50 years, I think that it is easy to miss the ripples. By serving as a model rural arts organization CCP has affected countless people (people CCP does not even know about) in dramatic, life altering, ways. Not just kids like me, in Cannon County, but also a kid I just heard about in McNairy County in West Tennessee who is part of an organization that used the Arts Center as a model. Or even someone down the road that uses Arts in McNairy as a model. You see, if rural arts in Tennessee is a family tree then CCP is a big part of that trunk, and as such will continue to have a positive effect on lives for years to come. This, for me, is one of the most widespread and enduring parts of the Cumberland County Playhouse legacy and one that should be celebrated during this golden anniversary.

The Playhouse calls itself “Tennessee’s Family Theater” and in 2010, when Jim asked me to direct Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, I became part of the family. Perhaps a cousin that only gets together around Thanksgiving, but one who is always made to feel welcome at the table. I cherish my experiences at Cumberland County and love the experience of working with a rep company of talented actors, designers, technicians and friends. It continues to be one of my favorite places to work. I’m excited to return this year to be part of the Golden Anniversary Season. I can only hope that the work that we do will continue to honor the legacy of the Crabtree family and of the Cumberland County Playhouse.

Donald Fann

© 2015 Donald Fann
Used by Permission

A Letter from Fifty Forward

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

We are most grateful for your gift to the FiftyForward J. L. Turner Center. Your support helps us fulfill the organization’s mission: FiftyForward enriches the lives of adults 50+ by providing  pathways to health, well-being, and lifelong learning. On behalf of the board of directors and in honor of those we serve, thank you for donating two free passes to any theatrical show valued at $48.00 as an auction item for the ‘Market Fest’ event.

As a donor, you have a positive impact on our future! We want you to know how much we appreciate and recognize you and others in the community whose support enriches the lives of older adults who are touched by our programs and services.

You have numerous choices for your charitable giving and we appreciate your including FiftyForward among those organizations worthy of your support. On behalf of the board of directors and in honor of those we serve, thank you for your generosity.

Best wishes,

Janet Jernigan
November 7, 2011
Nashville, TN

© 2015 Janet Jernigan/FiftyForward
Used by Permission

Only in Cumberland County

The story of the Playhouse is like a good piece of fiction from The Saturday Evening Post circa 1963. Something penned by John O’Hara or James Gould Cozzens or Paul Crabtree.

When you think of this couple – this extremely gifted, show business couple – Paul and Mary Crabtree driving the breadth of America with a carload of kids who had been raised between Hollywood and New York, and he’s setting out for a farmhouse in Tennessee to write a novel…well, it’s like one of the scripts Paul wrote for television.

In fact, his last gig in Hollywood before coming to Tennessee was head writer for The New Loretta Young Show. The show was about a widowed, free-lance writer with a house-full of kids (seven of them) – the role of the writer, of course, was played by Paul’s good friend Loretta Young.

By the way, it’s amazing to me how unknown Loretta Young is among the population under 50. She truly was one of the most beautiful and successful Hollywood stars of her time. She made 103 movies between 1917 and 1953 – everything from The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino (at age 8) to The Farmer’s Daughter, for which she won an Oscar.

A deeply religious woman, she nevertheless conceived a child with Clark Gable while filming Call of the Wild in the forests and mountains of California and Washington state. This has nothing to do with anything. I just always found it ironic that a good Catholic girl answered Clark Gable’s call of the wild while filming a movie called Call of the Wild. But that’s me.

The first Loretta Young Show was wildly successful and was broadcast on NBC for eight years – from 1953 to 1961. There is no doubt that, after a brief vacation from show business, Miss Young was ready to launch into another successful show. She even created a new production company for that purpose. She was still beautiful at 50 and she looked a good 15 years younger.

When Paul Crabtree was hired as head writer, he must have thought his ship had finally come in. He had earned it.

In a distinguished, non-stop 20 years of producing/writing/directing/starring on Broadway, in movies, and on television, the 42 year-old Crabtree had worked with the very best – Helen Hayes, Geraldine Page, Burgess Meredith, Jose Ferrer, E.G. Marshall,…He had even launched the career of a young actress named Cloris Leachman. On Broadway, she played in A Story for a Sunday Evening, the play he wrote, directed, and starred in, as well as, Lo and Behold!, the very next play in which he had a role. She even acted in an episode of The New Loretta Young Show.

At the Playhouse, there is a 16 mm film of Paul Crabtree interviewing a who’s who of 1950s actors he directed at the 813-seat Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, a summer stock “celebrity theater” he managed in the 1950s and early 1960s. You can tell by the easy banter between Crabtree and the stars – performers such as Celeste Holm, Arthur Treacher, and Ava Gabor – that there was much respect and genuine affection for Paul Crabtree among seasoned pros. He was one of the tribe.

It’s fascinating to watch Paul Crabtree in these black and white frames. He smokes a cigarette and carries on an easy conversation in his ever-so-slightly Pulaski, Virginia accent. He sort of reminds you of Bing Crosby or Hoagy Carmichael. There is something cool and musical about his voice — sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines…

Here’s a guy who started “trouping” in a travelling minstrel show at 4 years old and continued through his senior year in high school. He followed that by staging 60 productions in four years at his alma mater, Syracuse University. He played 40 leads and directed 12 of the plays, five of which he wrote.

So, by the time he hit Broadway in 1943 with $13 in his pocket, he was ready to conquer the Great White Way. He was picked for the national road show of “Kiss and Tell” – where he met his wife Mary – and never looked back. Next came five years in Oklahoma!, The Iceman Cometh, a long-term contract with the Theater Guild, and other triumphs.

But, alas, after years of hard work in the business, The New Loretta Young Show was a bust. Unfortunately, it premiered on CBS against the very popular medical drama Ben Casey, in its second year. The show quietly shut down after 26 episodes.

So, when we think of all the visionary local townspeople who helped make the Playhouse possible — like Joe Ed Hodges, Margaret Keyes Harrison, Bette Evans, Carl Sutton, C.C. Simonton, J. W. Brown, and “Shadow” Davenport – don’t forget the dark and brooding Vince Edwards. Without Vince’s sulking portrayal of Dr. Casey, Paul Crabtree may never have left Hollywood.

A couple of years ago, I found a boxed set of DVDs of The New Loretta Young Show. Miss Young liked Paul Crabtree so much, she begged him to play a recurring role of a drifter in the series. I wish every actor at the Playhouse could see this performance. He was pretty dang good. I’m glad there exists a record of his talent and stage presence.

Most readers of this blog know the Playhouse story. The Crabtrees came to town, Paul was persuaded to teach creative writing at a local school, this led to the production of a play starring a bunch of local kids called The Perils of Pinocchio, which created a cultural explosion, which created the Playhouse.

Scores of local business people, school kids, farmers, and regular folks bought shares in what was originally a for-profit corporation.

One of those shareholders was a legendary Hollywood star, Loretta Young.

I take it back. You would never find a story like this in The Saturday Evening Post. You really can’t make this stuff up.

John White

© 2015 John White
Used by Permission