College and the Lively Arts: 1949-1954
 


Mila Jean Smith graduated from Kansas City MO's Central High School on June 7, 1949, less than a month after her 17th birthday; and in September embarked upon college life at the University of Kansas City, among what she would describe as "a density of students."  At registration "the lines were interminable.  So were the forms," griped the retrospective 1950 Kangaroo yearbook.  "Many of them morose and sulky, some 3300 new and old students poured into Swinney gymnasium...  They fought to get through the maze and out again, with such remarks as 'Why do we have to buy an activity ticket?'  'Why do we have to fill out a yearbook blank when we don't want a yearbook?' and 'All this trouble just to go to class and go home and study.  Nuts.'"  Jeanie, who planned to major in sociology as her mother had at Miami of Ohio, was dealing with that department's renowned founder and chairman, Ernest Manheim, when she felt something odd under the registration table—but it was only Dr. Manheim's dog being friendly.

"For one brief week the school came to life as the freshmen entered afire with high hopes and anticipation," the 1950 Kangaroo would recall.  "When the week of tests, coke parties, political bally-hoo, picnic, rally, and dance was over and the upperclassmen drifted in, the bubble burst.  The freshmen learned that it is not fashionable to speak at KCU, not the thing to show enthusiasm over a jam-packed social schedule, and not permissible to display any signs of being a normal mid-western college student.  Many of them had conformed by the close of the fortnight; a certain group was still carrying on the spirit of freshman week at the end of two months."

Though not singled out by name, Mila Jean carried on spiritedly among "The Crowd" at the KCU Roost.  Plunging into extracurricular enjoyments, she was for the first time "thrown into the society of older men"—a crowd of World War II veterans finishing their higher education, financed by the GI Bill.  Among these were Paul Patterson, who wrote letters to "Miss Hubba Hubba Smith" but would later be called "a pal, not a date"; the British-born Keith Cuerden, who went on to become a Broadway costume designer; and Ralph Stewart, "not a boy—a man... [who] had a steel plate in his head."

Then there was Jim King of Dodge City KS, who'd gone from the Navy Air Corps to study music at Louisiana State, singing baritone roles in university performances.  In 1950 he came to KCU to work on his master's and pledge the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity—of which sophomore Mila Jean Smith happened to be mascot.

1951 was "the great year" for Jeanie at college: changing her major to music, she joined the A Cappella Choir (whose activities included a television appearance on NBC) and became one of Sigma Alpha Iota's "secret sisterhood," consisting of "talented students who show excellence in scholarship and who are vitally interested in maintaining the highest ideals of music education and professional advancement."  (As per the '51 Kangaroo.)  Mila Jean also found a lifelong friend in Joann Stegman, a fellow choir member who'd graduated from Kansas City's Paseo High School in 1948 as "a future language translator."  After KCU, Joann would go on to New York, Europe, and the Far East as the wife of Jean Soulier, France's ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia; but she and Mila Jean would maintain their bond for over half a century.

Alas, the same cannot be said for "fickle Jim King," whom Mila Jean's father believed would marry Jeanie—"and take me off his hands at the age of eighteen," she'd quip—especially after some canoodling on the Smith family porch resulted in damage to a window.  But Jim was "stolen away by exotic Ardis Brown" (a onetime candidate for KCU Bushwhacker Queen) and they got married on the closing night of the Starlight Theater's 1951 summer season.  Mila Jean would later admit this to have been a "slightly traumatic" experience; yet when James King died in 2005 at the age of 80, following an illustrious international operatic career, she called him "Beloved Jim—not just a famous tenor remembered for his obvious talent, but kindness, humor, and patience with a very young and attentive young girl."

For her, the Great Year continued to unfold.  Hanging around the Roost that September, junior Mila Jean met Charles Moore, Assistant Director of the KCU Playhouse.  "He was blond and bespectacled, with a dapper Eastern seaboard style (smoked cigarettes in a holder)," and he sought to audition Jeanie on the basis of her looks.  She crept into the Playhouse "like Marjorie Morningstar peeking at Noel Airman," got cold feet and ran off, but later returned to successfully try out.  The Playhouse always needed stage help, so she got involved with this also.

During Oct. 22-27, 1951, the Playhouse put on Dark of the Moon, with Mila Jean as assistant stage manager (and appearing as one of the Townspeople).  This was followed Nov. 26-Dec. 1 by Lysistrata, in which she was one of the Young Women; and Jan. 7-12, 1952 by The Enchanted, a production she stage-managed that included a troupe of little girls, among them Thomas Hart Benton's daughter Jessie.

Mila Jean was now firmly in her element, populated by numerous Personalities—not least that of the Playhouse Director.  "What can you say about John Newfield that doesn't sound like a caricature?" Jeanie would speculate long afterward.  One of KCU President Clarence Decker's discoveries, Newfield had studied with Max Reinhardt in Austria and worked with theater and opera companies in Europe and New York before being hired in 1948 to serve as the new Playhouse's first professional director.  With a thick Viennese accent, cosmopolitan charm, and yellow fingers from chain-smoking, he was a "volatile, immature, brilliant director" who once smashed a yellow-fingered hand through the glass Playhouse door.

It was not John Newfield but Charles Moore who persuaded (or "forced") Mila Jean to portray Mary Boyle in Juno and the Paycock, Feb. 18-23, 1952.  "I was too shy and untalented for such a big role, but I did it for him!"  Adele Thane, who'd just founded the Boston Children's Theatre and would be its artistic director for the next three decades, guest starred as Juno; while L.W. Donaldson, "well-known by Kansas City housewives in his dual capabilities as an antique dealer and an auctioneer," made his dramatic debut as the Paycock.  Playing their daughter, Mila Jean "turned in a very creditable performance," according to the KCU News.  "More than anything else, she was convincing and earnest, both of which combined to make such things as her occasional lapses in the difficult brogue relatively insignificant."  The Kansas City Star added that "Jean Smith is attractive as the hapless Mary Boyle."  (She was a bit hapless in real life too when the Kansas City Times mentioned her real age—nineteen—whereupon a popular hangout, Boots & Sully's Bar at 47th and Troost, told her "not to come back.")

May 5-10, 1952, Mila Jean played Minerva in Orpheus in the Underworld.  She kept her grades up onstage and off, being awarded Sigma Alpha Iota's Music Lesson Scholarship ($50.00) for three consecutive semesters, and receiving A's in her Applied Music voice exams for the next year and a half: "Exceptional... you really have talent there"; "Fine voice—positively thrilling at times."  During her senior year, 1952-53, Jeanie served as treasurer of Sigma Alpha Iota and was selected for Who's Who in American Universities and Colleges.  She also found another lifelong friend in Mary Jane Davis (later Dodds, eventually Carter) who appeared as Olivia in the Dec. 8-13, 1952 Playhouse production of Twelfth Night.  (Sebastian was portrayed by Arthur Bunker Jr.; as a future car dealer, he would sell a couple of Volkswagens to Mila Jean's husband.)

John Newfield left KCU for the University of Kansas in 1952 and Mila Jean was unimpressed with his immediate successors, remembering one as "a no-talent nonentity who couldn't direct or teach" and another as "an excellent (at times) director but an unstable person [who] got into trouble... was into rough trade boys."  Charles Moore also left KCU ("alas, too soon") in 1952; his successor was John Templeman Douty from Baltimore:

Similar to Charles in build, looks, demeanor, but not charismatic, no wife (recently divorced), a brilliant scholar, good director (in charge of Children's Theatre), better teacher...  I ended up being Douty's assistant... especially on the kiddie shows.  We all socialized a lot outside of the theatre (drinking in bars, eating out, etc.) this "behavior" didn't seem at all wrong.  Everyone was buddy-oriented, as theatre departments are wont to be.

Mila Jean served as Assistant to the Director in Douty's May 4-9, 1953 production of Ring Round the Moon.  She herself directed scenes from Anatol's Wedding Morning (with Mary Jane Davis as Ilona) on Mar. 11; The School for Scandal (with Mary Jane as Lady Teazle) on Apr. 15; and her own adaptation of Spoon River (with Mary Jane as Elizabeth Childers) on May 18.  All these were part of a Playhouse series called Four Projects in Directing.

Jeanie was also one of 500 students who engaged in a mass boycott of classes during the Feb. 25-27 "Revolution" against President Clarence Decker, when his vice president, registrar, and two deans quit simultaneously, contending that Decker was "the greatest single obstacle to sound growth."  Decker, saying "When anyone washes his dirty linen in public such actions are bound to hurt the university," asked KCU's students to judge him with mercy and wisdom; they staged their class boycott and circulated petitions declaring a "complete lack of confidence in Dr. Decker," who thereupon resigned.

(Into this melee wandered George Ehrlich, who'd been hired to teach art history at KCU in July 1951 just before being recalled to active Air Force service for the Korean War.  Discharged in January 1953, he returned home to Illinois via Kansas City so as to at least see its campus a second time.  Going from administrative office to office, he was told each person he wanted to see "wasn't in," with no indication why they were out or when they might return.  "The thoroughly annoyed George finally left Kansas City in a to-hell-with-them mood, and went back home to Urbana.")

Mila Jean stayed put, graduating with honors and the highest scholastic average in her chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota.  Having taken a radio workshop her senior year, she spent the summer of 1953 as a research assistant at WHB, Kansas City's second oldest radio station (which briefly expanded into television, sharing Channel 9 with KMBC).  In July the KCU English Department offered Jeanie a graduate fellowship, which turned out to be a year as the Playhouse Costume Assistant; she worked on The Grass Harp (Nov. 2-7, 1953), The Taming of the Shrew (Dec. 14-19, 1953), Babar (Feb. 3-14, 1954, featuring Mary Jane Davis as Celeste), Summer and Smoke (Mar. 1-6, 1954), Arthur and the Magic Sword (Mar. 24 to Apr. 3, 1954, with Mary Jane as Morgan le Fay) and Green Grow the Lilacs (May 10-15, 1954).  While playing this backstage role, Mila Jean was profiled by the KCU News:

As the 1953-54 Play Series gets under way at the University of Kansas City Playhouse the responsibility of costuming the various characters from Roman to Flapper is shouldered by a girl who has been around the Playhouse practically as long as the building itself has existed.  This distinction goes to Mila Jean Smith, graduate student.  This year as a graduate fellow she has been named costume assistant of the University Playhouse...  In the large but narrow, L-shaped costume room close under the eaves of the Playhouse, Jean can usually be found behind the scenes figuring just how the actors for each production will appear to the audience as the curtain goes up opening night.  Although Jean insists she "can't sew a stitch" she has proved herself very adept thus far in the season...  Being indispensable to the Playhouse is only one of Jean's many activities.  She is a member of the Chiko social sorority, Sigma Alpha Iota music sorority, and Torch and Scroll honor society.  She was elected to Who's Who in "American Universities and Colleges" in 1953.  In previous years Jean was active in A Cappella Choir and the Radio Workshop...

The Dec. 6, 1953 Kansas City Star mentioned her in the article "A Job on the Side Gives Added Training to the Students of K.C.U.":

A handful of safety pins and a needle and thread are the tools of Mila Jean Smith, a graduate student.  Standing in the wings of the University Playhouse, she goes to the rescue of actors when costume emergencies arise.  And the emergencies are not infrequent.  "A hysterical business" is her description of her job, which is costume assistant at the Playhouse.  She aids in selection and supervision of costumes for all the plays, including those produced by the Community Children's theater.

Planning for a play, she first reads the script carefully.  Then she is ready to help choose the costumes, fit them and provide all the necessary accessories.  Next comes her nightly vigil in the wings with safety pins in hand. A graduate of Central high school in 1948 [sic], Mila majored in English at K.C.U. and went in for dramatics.  One year she was in five of the six Playhouse productions.  If her application for a Fulbright scholarship is accepted, she will study the history of dramatic literature and staging techniques next year at the University of London.

In October, John Douty and technical director Mort Walker had "encouraged me (forced!) to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship in 1954 about the British pantomime (a good topic for study in the UK, very scholarly—early influences include commedia dell'arte)."  Mila Jean's Fulbright application included her reasons and plans for study abroad:

I am applying for study in England as the basis of a proposed research project to be used as thesis material for my Master's degree, its general subject being that of the history and development of the pantomime, and its particular application being that of producing plays for children.  My project would include attending the Christmas pantomimes held in and around London every year, which employ many interesting stage devices suitable for use in the American children's theatre.  The project would also include a study of the evolution of the pantomimic art from its origin in the Greek comedy and Oriental mime, through the commedia dell'arte and the seventeenth century masque, to the English extension of the tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from which the Christmas pantomimes are the direct descendents.  Paralleling this would be the supplementary study of the staging techniques employed during the various periods of the art.  As a result of my studies I hope to be able to enhance my teaching of dramatic literature in the future and to increase the scope and effectiveness of children's theatre productions.

On Apr. 21, 1954 she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for one academic year at the University of Bristol, beginning Sep. 23, with a maintenance allowance of £468.  Mila Jean's reaction: "At last!  An escape from costuming!"

Hubert Wheeler, the Missouri state commissioner of education, formally announced the grant to "Miss Mila Jean Smith, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Francis S. Smith, 3908 College" on June 16; that day's Kansas City Star headlined it "AWARD FOR FOREIGN STUDY" while the June 17, 1954 Kansas City Times lyricized, "TO BE A CO-ED IN ENGLAND."

That summer Mila Jean again worked at WHB (which had just given up sharing Channel 9 with KMBC-TV, but was about to adopt the Top-40 format that would dominate local radio for the next two decades).  On September 5 she served as bridesmaid at the wedding of Dolores Ann (Dee) Glogau, her best friend at Central High, to Eugene Dale Chambers; three days later Mila Jean set off for New York City, sending her parents the following telegram:

ARRIVED SAFELY NO CATASTROPHES YET LOVE JEAN





















Notes

[click on the > at the end of each Note to return to its source above]
 

●  Much of the text above was derived from 1984's Further Family Forest, an expanded sequel to 1983's Family Forest, which had been compiled to document the Smith/Ludeke family background for Mila Jean's newly reassembled scrapbooks.  This background, uploaded as Fine Lineage starting in 2003, has been growing by fitful leaps and startling bounds ever since.  >
  E.F. Swinney Gymnasium, a stark square stone edifice named after the chairman of the First National Bank, was built in 1941 "without any obvious architectural style," according to George Ehrlich's 1979 Walking Tour of UMKC Volker Campus.  As a child I found it daunting, not least its inscribed decree to RUN HARD / LEAP HIGH / THROW STRONGLY AND ENDURE (attributed to John Ciardi, who taught briefly at KCU).  I underwent my own freshman year regsitrations at Swinney Gym in 1974-75.  >
  The Hungarian-born Ernest Manheim (1900-2002: often misspelled as "Mannheim") was an eminent sociologist, anthropologist and composer, who earned doctorates in Leipzig and London before emigrating to the United States in 1937 and settling in KCMO a year later.  Though he would step down as chairman of the UMKC Sociology Department in 1970, Dr. Manheim continued to lecture as professor emeritus until the age of 91.  >
  Unmentioned by Mila Jean was whether, as a freshman, she attended the KCU Kangaroo Hop at which Gene Krupa and his orchestra performed "to the tune of $1500"; or the Bounders's Burly-Q-Ball, "which featured 'Sophie' Guest, local female impersonator.  Guest gave the howling audience surprise after surprise and ended his last encore by doing the 'splits.'"  (As reported by the 1950 Kangaroo. >
  Nothing further has been discovered about Paul Patterson in KCMO or Chicago (where the formal photo of him was taken); at any rate he was not the Paul Patterson who led the University of Illinois to a Rose Bowl victory in 1946, and later served as a director of the United Negro College Fund.  >
  In Aug. 1951 Keith Cuerden (1930-1997: often misspelled as "Cuerdon") married Nancy Lee Gregory, who came from a wealthy Kansas City family; they moved to Fire Island and Keith became a costume designer.  Three years later Nancy (with Gypsy Rose Lee as attendant) wed Keith’s employer Charles James, “America’s First Couturier,” who (according to the Nov. 1998 Vanity Fair article "Gowned for Glory") had “a very public fling” with Keith first.  On Broadway, Keith designed the costumes for a 1954 production of The Girl on the Via Flaminia, and in 1963-64 he was production assistant on Strange Interlude and The Three Sisters.  >
  Ralph D. Stewart graduated from KCU in 1952, after presiding over Alpha Phi Omega his final semester.  He may have been the Ralph Deyon Stewart who graduated from Central High School (without a senior picture) in 1946, three years before Jeanie; and also the "Ralph D. Stewart, U.S. Army" (1927-1976) buried at Kansas City's Floral Hills Cemetery.  >
  Joann Elizabeth Stegman was born exactly fifty-one weeks before Mila Jean.  She hailed from San Antonio TX, as did her older sister Patricia; their Austrian-born father Ignace Stegman worked as an commercial artist.  After marrying Ruth Kaneff in Keokuk, he moved his household from Iowa to Texas to Indianapolis and thence to KCMO.  Joann's first name habitually took on a final E or lost the second N; it was spelled "Joan" on her birth certificate and "Jo Ann" in the 1940 Indianapolis census, and could appear variant ways in a single publication.  > 
  "Yes, I guess I did first meet Jean at the A Capella Choir," Joann Stegman Soulier would write in 2016.  "I was majoring in music at the University of KC and studying piano with Mary Weaver and had solfégé classes with Mrs. Mackie and I also was in the Fine Arts building to use the practice rooms when available for the piano.  But from the first time [Mila Jean and I] met, we became friends and she was always part of my life...  We wrote frequently even from the days I was in NY and then from everywhere else.  I also wrote to [her] parents and called them 'Ma and Pa Smith.'"  >
●  The Jan. 17, 1952 Kansas City Times mentioned "James King and Ardis Brown King, the young couple in the chorus of the Starlight Theater company, who were married on the closing night of the session last summer...  King, a baritone, and Mrs. King, mezzo soprano, are students at the University of Kansas City.  Mrs. King will complete work on her B.A. degree in music this semester.  King, a graduate fellow and assistant to Everett Hendricks, director of the university chorus, will finish work for his M.A. degree...  Last summer King sang several minor roles here, including that of MacGregor in 'Brigadoon.'  Mrs. King was Effie in 'Bittersweet.'"  >
●  The outdoor Starlight Theatre in Swope Park was built in 1950 for Kansas City's centennial celebration, Thrills of a Century—a historical revue that went on despite the theater's still being unfinished.  >
●  After leaving KCU, James Ambrose King (1925-2005) taught music and directed choirs at the University of Kentucky from 1952 to 1961.  During these years he made "the difficult transition from baritone to tenor, studying under Martial Singher
."  For the next four decades he was "among the foremost heroic tenors of the latter part of the 20th Century, particularly noted for his singing of the strenuous roles in Wagner and Richard Strauss operas.  At a time when such singers were in very short supply, he was in continuous demand, extending a busy career well into his 60s."  Jim also served as professor of voice at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music from 1984 to 2002.  "He was married three times and had five children."  (As per his Nov. 22, 2005 obituary in The Guardian, and the biographical note in a guide to his papers at the Indiana University Archives. >
  In May 1951 Jeanie was awarded a $200 scholarship for payment of tuition and fees in the 1951-52 school year, together with a $100 employment grant (in return for 100 hours of work each semester at 50¢ per hour).  >
●  The University Playhouse was one of what I, in my youth, thought of as "manila folder buildings" because they appeared to be constructed of that material: five structures, most of them surplus barracks, moved to KCU from Camp Crowder in 1947-48.  The post's movie theater became the Playhouse and remained so till finally condemned as unsafe in 1976.  Its patio and outdoor fireplace survived, sporting large ceramic masks of Comedy and Tragedy as openmouthed chimneys.  >
●  In 2006 my brother Matthew remarked: "I never knew (or if I did know, I forgot) that the old KCU playhouse was imported from Camp Crowder after the war.  That would have been the same playhouse (actually, movie house-slash-auditorium) that Carl Reiner would have become acquainted with while he was based at Crowder.  Consequently, in the episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in which Rob meets Laura at Camp Crowder and inadvertently breaks her foot during a dance routine, they're in effect dancing on the stage of the KCU Playhouse—the same playhouse that helped bring George and Mila together at roughly the same time of the mid-1950s."  >
●  Found tucked into Mila Jean's Fulbright Year scrapbook was a reminiscence, handwritten long afterward, about her early years on the KCU stage:

Before the famous Dr. Mac [Patricia McIlrath] theatre days dynasty, there was the John Newfield Playhouse era, around 1948-50?  He was an infamous, European (Viennese? German?) trained director (Max Reinhardt disciple) who specialized in doing European plays & Viennese type operettas.  Very talented, very temperamental, he tended towards volatile "hissyfits," even driving his hand through one of the old Playhouse doors.  Smoking and shouting, he made his desires & wishes known to everyone, whether it was the lowly UKC student, or a more mature and seasoned veteran actor.  These were the days of the University Playhouse, community theatre, extraordinary!  These were the Decker days!  (Clarence Decker was the U. President, given to hiring famous people, esp. European, to come to KC & teach or direct.)

His co-director's name was Charles Moore, tall, good-looking, dark blond, with spectacles & a cigarette in a holder!  He hailed from the East, with a gorgeous wife named Fay who designed the costumes (she was a Bennington graduate).  She wore knockout clothes, especially lovely gowns for opening nights.  Students were crazy about both of them...  Charles & Fay gave me flowers on opening night [of Juno and the Paycock] with a card that said "To Mary who couldn't say 'no.'"  I was hooked with Theatre mostly due to these two men.  One scared me to death but was inspiring.  The other believed in me (why?) and was charismatic.  Both left KC, alas, too soon...  >

●  Charles Werner Moore was born in Stafford Springs CT in 1920.  "His love of acting began on a whim," said a profile in the Aug. 1, 1996 Hartford Courant.  "While a high school student at Westminster School in Simsbury, Moore heard about tryouts for a play and decided to audition for a part.  He ended up with the lead."  Graduating from Williams College, Charles served in the Pacific theater during World War II before arriving at KCU in 1950.  From 1952 to 1964 he taught at Carnegie Tech, where "among his students were actors Robert Foxworth, Rene Auberjonois from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, George Peppard, and television producer Steven Bochco."  From 1965 to 1988, Charles was a professor in the Brandeis theater arts program, twice chairing his department; in the 1990s he taught at the University of Connecticut.  "At age 75, Moore still doesn't want to leave the stage and stop teaching," so he planned to offer private voice and acting lessons at his home or a local community center.  He died Apr. 24, 2000 and was buried at Stafford Springs Cemetery with a marker reading: CHARLES W. MOORE / 1920-2000 / ACTOR - DIRECTOR / "IF I'D HAD ANOTHER WEEK, IT WOULD / HAVE BEEN A GREAT PRODUCTION."  >
●  "They tell stories about Charlie Moore, professor, director, actor, playwright and fly fisherman," stated the Winter 2002 Carnegie Mellon Magazine.  A fellow teacher said, "I remember thinking in acting and directing class that this man could explain anything and make it seem simple and understandable—and even more important for actors, playable."  "Others remembered his cigarette holder [and] his 'electrifying' performance in a Dostoevski adaptation...  Such reminiscences prompted a group of Charlie Moore's former Carnegie Tech students and faculty who worked with him to establish the Charles Werner Moore Memorial Fund for student travel and a Moore pictorial archive."  >
●  Fay Mowery Moore, born in Cambridge MA in 1920, began her artistic career as a child model (with "hair the color of fire") in Provincetown.  Earning her bachelor's degree at Bennington and MFA at Yale Drama, she taught stage design at KCU and created the settings and costumes for the 1952 production of Orpheus and the Underworld; she'd previously designed the costumes for Dark of the Moon, Lysistrata, and The Enchanted.  Accompanying her husband to Carnegie Tech, Fay taught costume design there while winning prizes as a sculptor.  After divorcing Charles Moore she spent a year painting in the south of France, then went on to become the first woman recognized as a sports artist, specializing in equine subjects and racing scenes.  Fay's second husband was Roger Donoghue (1930-2006), the professional boxer who trained Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront and James Dean for Rebel Without a Cause.  Of Fay's artwork, he remarked, "She's better on canvas than I was."  >
●  John Newfield was born in Vienna in 1905, and may have been the Neufeld who Anglicized his surname upon becoming a naturalized citizen in 1940 (in North Hollywood).  A May 1950 program from KCU's production of The Merchant of Venice stated:

Dr. John Newfield began his professional studies in Vienna with Max Reinhardt.  Before the war he was associated as a director-producer with theatres in Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia, the Royal Opera House in Rome, and the Salzburg Opera Guild.  For two years he directed the Opera Guild's tours in South America and the United States, which included performances in Kansas City of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tufte and Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea (1938).  From 1941 to 1944 he was production manager for the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York.  The following two years he was stage director of the New York City Center Opera Company whose production of Strauss's Gypsy Baron he brought to Kansas City in February, 1945.  Since September, 1948, he has been the Director of the University of Kansas City Playhouse.

During his years at KCU, Dr. Newfield had "a charming wife Inga" (mentioned by Mila Jean) who accompanied him to the University of Kansas in 1952; both were listed in the 1953 Lawrence KS census, which showed Inga to be seventeen years John's junior.  The marriage ended by 1955, when Mila Jean wrote: "I was sick [to hear] about Doc and Inga . . . she is positively his crutch in life, but I always wondered how two such caustic, dynamic personalities ever got along without some blowup or other . . . maybe it will all work out . . . I knew he was unhappy at KU."  Later that year Dr. Newfield married Linda Lee Stormont (also seventeen years his junior) of Lindsborg KS; she'd earned her master's in music performance at KU and received a Fulbright scholarship to Germany.  They had a daughter named Madeleine ("Mady") and spent the next several years in Colorado, where Dr. Newfield was director, manager, and set designer for the Aspen Festival and Greater Denver Opera in 1956-57, then the founding director of the Denver Lyric Theater (later renamed the Lyric Opera) from 1958 to 1962.  After a period in New York, the Newfields returned to Lindsborg KS, where Linda joined the faculty of Bethany College.  Dr. John Newfield died in 1987.  >
●  Mary Jane Davis (billed by her middle name at KCU) was born in Chicago, raised in Kenosha, and began college at Northwestern before her family moved to Missouri.  She attended the University of Kansas during the Fall 1951 semester, but apparently transferred to KCU for Winter 1952: she was listed among Juno and the Paycock's "Construction and Stage Crew," and also worked on Orpheus in the Underworld.  After receiving her bachelor and master's degrees at KCU, Mary Jane taught English, speech and drama in the Midwest, New England and New York, while acting and directing in many theatrical venues, including Kansas City's Lyric Theater; she also worked as a paralegal and with the League of Women Voters.  Mary Jane married David Findlay Dobbs in 1958 and, following their divorce, married Colin Carter of Racine, whom she met while working at the Racine Theatre Guild.  She died in Racine on Dec. 26, 2015, aged 86.  >
●  Besides portraying Celeste in the Feb. 1954 production of Babar (costumed by Mila Jean), Mary Jane appeared as Morgan le Fay in Arthur and the Magic Sword (Mar. 24-Apr. 3, 1954).  That year she and Mila Jean were sorority sisters in KCU's Chiko social society: "To Chiko we pledge our lives, our love, our all / To Chiko we'll come if she should ever call... / Fame and fortune, may they always be our guide / To Chiko we'll always abide."  (Anthem lyrics courtesy of the 1954 Kangaroo.)  >
●  John Templeman Douty (1920-1973) would play a major part in Mila Jean's Fulbright Year abroad; his biographical Note can be found in the next segment of Arrived Safely No Catastrophes Yet Love Jean.  >
●  Clarence R. Decker was born in Iowa in 1904 and received his doctorate from the University of Chicago.  He joined the KCU faculty as chairman of the English department in 1934, becoming KCU's president four years later at age 33: "the youngest university president in the United States."  In 1937 he married Mary Bell Sloan, with whom he'd collaborated the year before on a novel titled Wives of the Prophet.  During the postwar years, Dr. Decker recruited professors and intellectuals from Europe and Japan to come to KCU.  In 1949 he and Mrs. Decker represented the American Association for the United Nations on a round-the-world seminar for American Town Meeting of the Air.  Dr. Decker took a leave of absence from KCU in 1952 to serve (again with Mrs. Decker's collaboration) as assistant director of the Mutual Security Agency in charge of the Far East.  >
●  While Clarence Decker was away overseas, Vice President Robert Mortvedt received a detailed analysis of KCU's sharp drop in enrollment, income, and faculty salaries.  Along with Liberal Arts Dean Norman Royall, Pharmacy Dean Theodore Dittrich, and Registrar John Barnett, Dr. Mortvedt reported these concerns when Dr. Decker returned; but found the president "not willing to face facts objectively."  By Feb. 25, 1953, the four administrators had lost all "confidence in Decker's ability to make positive policy decisions and carry them out"; they submitted their resignations as a group, saying "conditions under Decker were 'intolerable to men of honor and integrity.'"  Supported in this "palace revolution" by other faculty and the student body, the four won out and Clarence Decker resigned.  He and Mary Decker then wrote A Place of Light: The Story of a University President, which sparked sympathy from Kirkus Reviews: "Another ex-university president caught in the crossruff between political hysteria and vested authority, in this case a Board of Trustees, Dr. Decker and his wife tell their story without rancor or bitterness."  Clarence Decker went on to serve from 1955 to 1967 as vice president of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey; there he and Charles Angoff founded The Literary ReviewMary Bell Decker died in 1964; her husband followed in 1969.  >

  Don Davis, longtime president of WHB Broadcasting, wrote Mila Jean a letter of recommendation in Nov. 1953.  As a research assistant in his office, "her duties consisted of general clerical work, manuscript reading and acting as assistant in the office of the managing editor of our publication, Swing magazine...  I recommend her with no misgivings.  She is obviously an intelligent, mature and observant person, thoroughly devoted to the theater...  She makes herself known by her enthusiasm...  Mrs. [Harriet Treash] Davis and I both feel that Mila Jean is someone who will one day achieve her goals because of her singular dedication to all phases of the study of the theater.  It is a pleasure and an honor to recommend her."  >
  Mila Jean's graduate fellowship in English for 1953-54 had a stipend of $800 plus eighteen tuition-free semester hours; her "services to the University [was] not to exceed (20) twenty hours a week to be assigned by the director of the Theater."  >
  In connection with Green Grow the Lilacs, the Playhouse displayed a Thomas Hart Benton mural and collection of lithographs provided by the artist.  >
  On Mar. 14, 1954 Mila Jean was part of the choir for a Graduate Choral Concert performed at the Playhouse.  >
  J. [for Jones] Morton Walker (1920-2002) hailed from Amarillo; he served in the infantry during World War II, then earned his bachelor's degree from Texas Christian in 1948 and his MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1952.  Along with teaching and directing productions at KCU/UMKC, Mort was a co-founder of the Kansas City Lyric Opera and Missouri Repertory Theatre.  He retired to San Antonio in 1978 (and should not be confused with Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker, who grew up in KCMO, worked for Hallmark, and attended the University of Missouri).  >
  Hubert Wheeler was Missouri's first Commissioner of Education, serving from 1947 to 1971.  The Missouri School for the Severely Disabled was renamed Gateway Hubert Wheeler in his honor.  >
  Among the congratulations Mila Jean received for receiving her Fulbright scholarship was a June 23, 1954 letter ("All best wishes for your future success") from Max Bretton of Bretton's Restaurant and Copper Lounge.  A former rabbi, Bretton offered Kansas City diners fine Continental food in an elegant setting, along with a "Gourmet's Nasch Table" and (opening in the basement in 1954) the Bali Hai Room, KCMO's first tiki restaurant, infamous for its Atomic Bomb drinks—maximum two per customer.  >


List of Illustrations

●  Opening the year's restrospective by the 1950 KCU Kangaroo yearbook
●  Mila Jean's freshman class photo
●  "The Crowd" at the KCU Roost, 1949
●  Mila Jean and friend Jody in front of the Fine Arts Building, 1949

●  Keith Cuerden, Sep. 1949
●  Keith and Mila Jean in front of Fine Arts, 1949
●  Ralph Stewart, Sep. 1949
●  Paul Patterson, Mar. 1950
●  Paul and Mila Jean in front of Fine Arts, 1949
●  Mila Jean as a bridesmaid for classmate Carol Destler and Clarence "Tommy" Thompson, June 1950

●  Part of KCU's A Cappella Choir, 1950-51—Mila Jean front and center, Jim King at top left, Joann Stegman at lower right
●  Mila Jean's sophomore class photo
●  Grad student Jim King's photo in the 1951 Kangaroo
●  Joann Stegman's 1948 Paseo High School senior photo
●  Joann dancing with Tom Carpenter at the 1950 KCU Turkey Hop
●  Mila Jean in bobbysox in 1951

●  "Jean Smith, 19 years of age / 5'8", 130 lbs / 36" bust, 27" waist, 37" hips / Sophomore, Music Major"
●  "Credit to Victor Berline of Paris, 'Studies in Portraiture' / 3438½ Broadway, Kansas City, Mo."

●  Mila Jean's junior class photo
●  The KCU Playhouse in the 1952 Kangaroo
●  Dr. John Newfield, Playhouse Director
●  Dark of the Moon
●  Lysistrata
●  The Enchanted

●  Mila Jean as Mary Boyle in Juno and the Paycock
●  Mila Jean as Mary Boyle with Adele Thane as Juno
●  Juno and the Paycock
●  Juno and the Paycock cast

●  Scene from Juno and the Paycock
●  Scene from Juno and the Paycock
●  Scene from Juno and the Paycock

●  Mila Jean on the Playhouse patio, 1952
●  Mila Jean and Mary Jo Brock with KCU Cap and Gown, 1952
●  Orpheus in the Underworld
●  Mila Jean as Minerva in Orpheus in the Underworld

●  Mila Jean's senior class photo and undergraduate accomplishments
●  Sigma Alpha Iota, 1952-53; Jeanie second from the left
●  Two headshots of Mila Jean Smith, Bachelor of Arts
●  Ring Round the Moon
●  John Templeman Douty and his Assistant

●  Mila Jean as a graduate student in the 1954 Kangaroo
●  Mary Jane Davis in the 1954 Kangaroo
●  (Mary) Jane Davis as Morgan le Fay in Arthur and the Magic Sword
●  Mila Jean as Playhouse Costumer, Nov. 1953
●  Mila Jean at sewing machine, Nov. 1953

●  The Old Lady and Babar, Feb. 1954
●  The Grass Harp
●  The Taming of the Shrew
●  Babar
●  Summer and Smoke
●  Green Grow the Lilacs
●  "A Job on the Side Gives Added Training to Students of K.C.U."
●  "Student's Playhouse Role is Costuming Characters"

●  Fulbright application photo, Oct. 1953: "Expectant, Eager, Youthful—"
●  Fulbright awardee, Apr. 1954
●  Passport photo, June 1954

●  Off to New York City and Beyond — Sep. 8, 1954
●  Undated Portrait

 


Proceed to The Fulbright Year Abroad: Part One



A Split Infinitive Production
Copyright © 2016 by P. S. Ehrlich


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