Horizoners: UPI’s series of feature stories

Back in the 70s and 80s, UPI offered a regular diet of feature stories to its newspaper clients. Since I worked in New England, my weekly 500-word feature was distributed along with the work of people in the other five New England states in a package called New England Horizons. Maine was rich in feature story opportunities, so this chore was usually fairly simple to accomplish, and the lighthearted nature of these stories was a welcome break from the usual grind of stories about state government and politics. Lakewood, a nationally-known summer theater, was usually good for at least one feature story per year.

 

Lakewood tent in 75th season

 By ARTHUR FREDERICK

SKOWHEGAN, Maine (UPI) – The play first produced at Lakewood in 1901 comes back this year as the oldest continuously operating summer theater in the nation celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Lakewood began in a roller skating rink at the end of a trolley line at the very start of this century.  And it hasn’t missed a season since “the Secretary” was first produced way back then.

For Joe and Katy Denis, who have been operating the theater the past three summers, finding a script for the “The Secretary” was a difficult task.

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Lakewood

“In 1973 the artistic director for the American Theater Co. in New York, Richard Kuss, suggested that we try and find the script,” Mrs. Denis said. “The former owners had seen a script for the play and said they didn’t think it was playable. But we said we would consider it if Kuss could kind a script.”

Kuss searched for a year and a half, and finally found the original script in a library in Philadelphia.

“The script was sent here, we read it and thought it was great,” Mrs. Denis said. “It ran for six weeks in New York, I went down to see it and the audience received it like a newborn babe.”

Beside “The Secretary,” Lakewood also will present “Life with Father,” which premiered at Lakewood in 1937. In addition, Patty Duke and her husband John Astin, Betsy Palmer, and Imogene Coca will appear this summer in such productions as “In Praise of Love”, “My Fat Friend,” “Irene,” and “Kiss Me Kate.”

The last production of the season will be a new one, “Winter Chicken.”

“We’re sort of starting the season with the very oldest and ending it with the newest,” Mrs. Denis said.

Lakewood began as an amusement park.

The owner of a local trolley line, Herbert Swett, purchased it, thinking the amusement center would help his business if the trolley line was extended. Later, some of Swett’s friends talked him into producing plays they had written.

Swett wasn’t overwhelmed with the idea, but he began producing the plays in the roller rink. The theater has been operating ever since.

The Denises purchased Lakewood three years ago and have been trying to carry on the Lakewood tradition of producing quality plays.

“We’ve tried to carry on the philosophy, we feel we owe our patrons and varied an entertaining season,” she said.

Mrs. Denis met her husband at Lakewood in 1950.

“We are both from this area. In fact, we met at Lakewood. Joe was a chemist. I’ve never been in the theater. The closest I ever got was that I worked on the switchboard and in the box office here in 1949 and 1950,” she said.

The Denises also own a wire manufacturing plant in Skowhegan, but their love is Lakewood. And the whole family is involved in running the theater.

“One of our sons drives the garbage truck, our daughter has done several different jobs here, and our other son has worked on the maintenance crew,” she said.

“We’ve all been in there, pulling together.”

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