The North Hollywood Playhouse in 1962, when “Rebel Without a Cause” was being performed, from the Los Angeles Public Library. In her memoir, actress Teri Garr wrote being in the production.
For more than 75 years, North Hollywood has hosted theater companies offering acting opportunities for local residents, as well as presenting trained actors sharpening their skills. The North Hollywood Playhouse, located at 11043 Magnolia Blvd. and the corner of Blakeslee Avenue, perhaps served as the first theater in what is now theater row in North Hollywood, serving all ages as it promoted and extolled the joys of theater.
Little is known about the exact date the Playhouse opened and when it was built, as building records appear not to exist with the City of Los Angeles. City directories show that the address served as the Boy Scouts of America Hall from at least 1926-1930, but neither newspaper accounts nor building records show when this structure would have been erected, or whether it was later adapted into the Playhouse, though the city does list that an alteration permit was pulled in 1938 for the address. Not until February 20, 1941 was a certificate of occupancy issued for the theater.
Mary Mallory’s latest book, “Living With Grace: Life Lessons from America’s Princess,” will be released June 1.
A postcard advertising “Whistling in the Dark” from 1947, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
The space first hosted the Little Theatre of North Hollywood in 1939, which presented productions put on by locals of the area. The March 27, 1939 Los Angeles Times featured a story stating that the group would open the theater with the play “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” directed by Helen Linkmeyer, wife of the owner, Fred Linkmeyer.
Local organizations rented the space for meetings or to hold fundraisers, helping to pay the bills and keep it busy when the theater was not presenting productions. The October 1, 1943 Van Nuys News reported that the People’s Church of the Valley held its Sunday services led by Dr. Sheldon Shepard at the location, while holding weekday meetings at other locations.
As typical of small theaters, every few years saw a turnover of acting troupes, with new companies occupying the space. By 1948, the Valley Community Theatre Guild offered productions at the North Hollywood Playhouse. They also allowed local groups like the Girl Scouts to hold their meetings and special events there as well, as they would for more than 20 years.
Warner Bros. actress Imogene Williams, appeared in “Beyond Tomorrow” at the North Hollywood Playhouse October 6, 1948 with Richard Crane, Kay Morley, and Alan Wells, starting a tradition of Hollywood actors or soon to be entertainment performers appearing onstage there.
In the late 1950s-early 1960s, various groups gave productions at the theater, such as the Little Theater in 1958, Toluca Players in 1960, and the Valley Players in 1961. Former Toluca Lake Honorary Mayor Tex Ritter even attended some productions. During this time, a young Linda Kaye, who later starred on “Petticoat Junction,” “Dobie Gillis,” and “Mr. Ed,” appeared in productions at the stage, where she was discovered.
In a wire story in the July 22, 1965, Tarrytown Daily News, Linda Kaye noted, “When I was 16, I passed a tryout for the North Hollywood Playhouse. I appeared in “Gidget” and “Roomful of Roses” and finally “Bus Stop.” A talent agent saw her performing, signing her and sending her on auditions to Paramount Pictures, where she landed her first TV roles. Teri Garr also wrote in her autobiography that as a young actress she also performed in plays such as an adaptation of “Rebel Without a Cause” at the North Hollywood Playhouse as well.
In the 1960s, productions became more professional as more seasoned talent appeared there. Many adaptations of movie and television shows would also be staged. The July 23,1967 Los Angeles Times described how TV great Rod Serling gave the Players’ Group Workshop the stage rights to “The Rack,” originally a TV drama which became a movie with Paul Newman.
In the late 1960s-early 1970s, the theater changed hands between different performing groups. In 1967, the Tick Tock Players began performing at the North Hollywood Playhouse, offering children’s theater by the end of the decade, as well as renting it out to local clubs. The Penny Gaffers’ Dramatic Society took over for a few years, before departing in 1971.
A publicity photo for “Rebel Without a Cause,” Van Nuys News, 1961.
The Group Repertory Theatre, recently founded by television/film actor Lonny Chapman, made occasional appearances at the North Hollywood Playhouse beginning in 1972, attracting many entertainment professionals to its stage, before finally taking it completely over in 1975. Victor French directed shows and “Lou Grant” actor Jack Bannon appeared in several productions. On the group’s fifth anniversary in 1977, Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs presented Chapman with a Certificate of Commendation, highlighted with a photograph in the May 29, 1977, Los Angeles Times.
While the group loved performing onstage at the North Hollywood Playhouse, the city of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency had bigger plans for the property. Hoping to revitalize the area, they took over the playhouse and surrounding area, demolishing the theater in 1982 and replacing it with a large apartment building.
Though the North Hollywood Playhouse no longer exists, its long history helped bring a love of theater to the area and establish North Hollywood as a happy home for many creative theatrical institutions, offering a little something for everyone.