Early letters recount the opening of Ojai Art Center Theater

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Approaching the 80th season opening night of “Night Must Fall” on Feb. 15 for the Ojai Art Center Theater, a surprise set of letters came into Artistic Director Richard Camp’s possession. The daughter of ’40s and ’50s stage and screen star Dana Andrews, Katharine Smith, who now lives in Upper Ojai, owns two letters from Paul McGuire, the original director of the Theater Branch, inviting her father to the opening of the first show presented at the theater, “Night Must Fall,” in 1939.
“My father saved every letter he received,” said Smith, “and often a copy of his reply. He wrote journals detailing everything he did, even saved cleaning receipts. I had shipped most of his papers off to Sam Houston State University, his alma mater, but decided to keep these two Ojai letters. At lunch with friends two weeks ago, someone mentioned that “Night Must Fall” was going to open the Art Center Theater’s 80th anniversary season. I remembered the letters and decided to bring them to the Art Center.”
The letters, written in 1939, discuss a few sociable matters and the invitation to come to the play. However, there seems to have been a delay in the chairs arriving in time and the opening was postponed a month. Ironic that 80 years later, new chairs have just been installed in the theater. Copies of the letters will be on display in the theater lobby.

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