Joanne Woodward and Tradition

I had just received a press release from the Westport Country Playhouse informing me that Joanne Woodward was stepping down as co-artistic director (with Anne Keefe) and that Mark Lamos, along with Michael Ross, were stepping in as the Playhouse’s managing director. Lamos had earlier directed the theater’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice And Men” when Paul Newman bowed out because of “health issues.” When the play went on, in October 2008, performances were dedicated to Newman.

The press release was a good excuse to phone Joanne Woodward to see how she is in the new year, following the death last year of husband Paul Newman. There was joy in Joanne’s (phone) voice as we discussed the fine replacements for the job. But, of course, there was sadness in her voice as we talked about Paul.

What about her future? Would she think about directing, performing, or some involvement with the theater? “I’m sure I’ll do something — probably all of the above,” she laughed. But first she set out to continue the legacy of the Newmans — the Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang camps. Joanne said she and youngest daughter Claire will head out on a tour of the (many) camps in the U.S. And she reminded that there are also others in Europe, Israel, and Africa which they may visit at some later date, and also reminded me that plans continue for additional camps. And yes, the Newman girls continue the Newman’s Own charity empire, expanding into its organic branch.

In its 79 seasons, The Westport Playhouse, which had been restored by the Newmans, included in its roster of honored performers Angela Lansbury. The multi-honored (stage, screen, large and small) actress had recently been honored by that theater and she is now readying to return to Broadway. We had dinner with her during the holiday season at her daughter and son-in-law’s delectable restaurant, Enzo and Angela’s, a favorite in Brentwood. When I mentioned our dinner with Angela to Joanne and the talk of her return to Broadway in “Blithe Spirit,” she immediately noted she’d go to the Shubert during Angela’s run (the play opens Feb. 26 for a five-six month stay). She then heads to her home in Ireland “to crash.”

Angela starts rehearsals of the play Jan. 26 and she forewarns that the 2009 staging of the Noel Coward comedy has opened up many physical possibilities. “It’s a very physical role,” she laughed and hinted there will be uplifting physical innovations. She’s ready for them, having fully recovered from knee surgeries. I didn’t facetiously say “Break a leg!” I just spoke to her as she was supervising the pruning of the roses in her garden — making certain they will ready for her return. I agreed with Joanne Woodward, Angela Lansbury is remarkably talented.

Stefanie Powers winged back to Southampton tonight, rejoining the all-star company of “Pantomime,” in which she plays the fairy godmother in “Cinderella.” She had returned to L.A. when her mother Julie Powers, 96, passed away Saturday p.m. Stefanie now completes the “Pantomime” run through Jan.1,7 returns here and a private service for her mother. Stefanie will later renew her one-woman show, “One from The Hart” (as in “Hart to Hart,” the series in which she co-starred with Bob Wagner).

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  1. Doug Yancey says:

    About 50 years ago I lived on a street in Decatur, GA. I lived on Glen Road. The next street over was Bennington Drive where Joanne Woodward’s brother, Wade and his wife lived. I was in my early teens and was a Boy Scout. Wade was our Scoutmaster. I have not seen or heard from Wade since those days. I have an old photograph of Wade and his ‘boys’ with me as one of them. I would like to find Wade, if possible. How could I get a message to his sister about her brother?

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