By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
For example, here's a snippet of Act One, Scene Five of Kilroy Was Here, written by Pioneer's most prolific playwright, Tim Kelly:
ANGIE (a USO hostess): Good news! They deliv-ered the bananas! Banana splits in the soda bar!
VOICES: Wow! banana splits!
Just like home!
Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry!
I could eat six or seven all by myself.
"We did Kilroy last spring as an all-school unit," Gilchrist remembers. "The play was somewhat deeper than Little Luncheonette of Terror, and everyone in the school was involved. We invited grandparents and people in the community, and the last big number--a wonderful patriotic, rousing number called 'We Are One,' but it has 'America the Beautiful' woven into the middle of it--well, there were tears in the audience."
Pioneer Drama Service started as just another one of Shubert Fendrich's hobbies.
"Life with Shubert was never, never dull," says Anne, his widow. "He was my creative pragmatist. He would get suddenly bored and have to find something new to do."
He always found it.
"Our basement," says Steve, prompting his mother.
"Oh, yes, there are all those trays with Marilyn Monroe lying on them nude," Anne says. "I don't even remember what he ordered those for. Maybe now they're worth money? Late in his life, I gave Shubert a wine-tasting class for a present. When he died, there were more than 250 bottles in that basement."
"And the mail-order novelty business," Steve recalls. "Things like plastic ice cubes with flies in them."
"Oh, those are still down there," Anne says. "What wasn't he into? Well," she decides, "there was nothing temperate about him."
Anne and Shubert met in Los Angeles, where she'd grown up and he was attending business school. After their marriage in 1950 the Fendriches moved to Shubert's hometown of Portland, Oregon, where he went to work in the family furniture store--which, almost immediately, wasn't interesting enough for Shubert. He found the brand-new subject of gerontology much more intriguing. "He got a Social Security Administration job in Billings, Montana," Anne recalls. "We moved. Six months later there was a reduction in force, and that was the end of that job. For a while, he started an insurance company."
When that paled, Shubert contacted an employment agency, where an astute job counselor asked him which courses he'd liked best in college.
"Sociology, theater, English," Anne remembers. "What he liked least, it turned out, was business. So she found him a job as a radio-station copy writer in Cody, Wyoming. It was a small town, but not lacking in culture."
The Fendriches quickly became enmeshed in what there was of it. Shubert joined the Cody community theater, where he found success as a melodrama villain. Soon he was writing his own melodramas, and he directed Anne in her first (and only) stage appearance, as "a French maid with a phony French accent" in a one-act farce. Anne hated the stage fright.
But her husband loved the theater. Often Anne would find herself sitting in the audience of yet another melodrama, written by and starring Shubert and featuring the amateur actors of Cody. "Being the straight man in the family, I never could see how the actors would ever pull it off," she says. "Rehearsals drove me crazy. I stopped going. Then I'd go to opening night, and everything would be fine in front of an audience."
Shubert was hooked. "Soon," Anne says, "he decided that what the world needed was a publisher of non-royalty, one-act plays." More specifically, the world needed non-royalty, one-act plays that community theaters in small towns such as Cody could put on cheaply and easily. But appropriate one-acts--affordable and with just the right, light touch--were hard to find. So in 1960 Shubert placed a "writers wanted" ad in a playwriting magazine, picked the best ones he received, bought a mailing list and started Pioneer Drama Service.
For the first fifteen years, Pioneer was strictly not-for-profit. Steve and his sister, Karen, would come home from school to find stacks of catalogues piled around the living room and know that they'd be spending the evening pasting on mailing labels. When Shubert left the radio station to take over publication of the Cody Rustler, a local shopper, he gained access to a printing press, and the family started printing Pioneer's catalogues, too.
"Which plays were successful? Very often, not the kind of plays I like to read," Anne remembers. "I would find plays I thought were just beautiful, and no one would buy them." A Pioneer catalogue from the mid-Sixties, however, makes the Cody theater scene sound quite impressive: "If your travels lead you to Yellowstone Park, we hope you'll stop by and pay us a visit," it reads. "Many prominent painters and writers make their home here...and the community is justly proud of its reputation as the world center of Western Art and Western Americana...We also extend a personal invitation for an evening at our own Pioneer Playhouse, where we have the opportunity to try out many of the new plays you will find in our catalogue each season."
The 1966 catalogue had something for everyone--with a vengeance. About one-third of its offerings were melodramas, including no fewer than five one-acts written by Shubert himself and featuring villains with names like Snipe Vermin. "Melodrama is great fun for both actors and audience, because everybody takes part," the catalogue explained. "Add a community sing plus olio numbers and you have the grandest evening of entertainment possible."