Rebecca Hamilton Brothers ’00’s Endpiece in the spring 2020 Centrepiece brought me out of my seat. I, too, remember Child of Glass. Not so much because I had watched it over and over. But because I was in it.
It was shot in the summer of 1977. Kate Ewing, Janie Davis and I had been active in the Centre theater department and had just graduated. Having been active in theater, we, of course, had no marketable skills but still needed work.
Somehow, we ended up at Pioneer Playhouse, a summer-stock theater on the edge of Danville. Pioneer Playhouse was a camper/RV park with a theater on-site. It was open all summer for campers who just might catch a play or two at the open-air theater during their stay.
Pioneer Playhouse was run by Colonel Eben Henson. He, along with his wife and three children, were the heart and soul of the operation. Colonel Henson gave birth to, raised, and nurtured Pioneer Playhouse. And he had a lot to show for it.
He loved to point out to each and every audience that as actors, we followed in the footsteps of such luminaries as Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man), John Travolta (who Colonel Henson would always announce was famous for his role in Welcome Back Carter) and Jim Varney (who anyone from the Class of about 1995 back would remember as “Hey Vern!”). The actors knew Colonel Henson’s spiel so well we could mouth along to it as he greeted the audience just before we took the stage.
The pay was meager but we received living quarters and three meals a day. Days were long as we spent the nights performing and the days rehearsing for the upcoming performances so that there was no lull in the action. There was an enormous swimming pool that we would take advantage of after the performances, sometimes in swimsuits and sometimes, not so much. (Hey, we were actors!)
The acting ensemble was eclectic. There were serious professional actors from all over the country who made regular summer visits and who were quite talented. Their ships just hadn’t come in yet. We were exposed to our first defacto same-sex couple, who would come from Los Angeles each summer to perform. And then there were the newbies like us who were sticking our toes into acting just to see how much fun we could stand.
That summer, a film crew was in Danville shooting Child of Glass. They needed extras and Colonel Henson was happy to push us front and center. The day we filmed, we were at a stately house between Danville and Harrodsburg. One of the actors in the movie was nearing the end of a lifetime of making movies as a character actor. His name was Anthony Zerbe, and I seem to remember that he was playing a drunk groundskeeper at the mansion. He was an obvious pro and was very convincing.
The whole town was atwitter about the presence of the film crew being amongst us. On the day we were filming, a police car pulled up. We recognized the officer and he invited us to the back of his cruiser. At that time, Boyle County was bone-dry with the Nicholasville as the nearest oasis. So we were pretty excited when the officer opened the trunk to reveal a sea of ice-cold beer and a law officer telling us to help ourselves.
What was my part? I was one of Anthony Zerbe’s employees. As the actors were walking out of the house discussing something or other, I can be seen pushing a lawnmower by them. For all of about a quarter of a second. Brushes with greatness.
Thank you, Rebecca, for that great memory!
by Stephen Leffler ’77
Steve “Roscoe” Leffler ’77 is a trial lawyer in Memphis.
Header image: Centre dean of men and history professor Max Cavnes with Steve Leffler ’77 in 1976. The two played father and son in a Centre Players production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers.