February 1, 2013 in Mach's Musings

The Theatre, The Dress and Gertrude Fox

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Gertrude Fox (nee Rogerson) graces a 1953 program for a production at the DIA.
Gertrude Fox (nee Rogerson) graces a 1953 program for a production at the DIA.

Village Players, Birmingham, MI.  The recent (and highly successful) production of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile” at Village Players, was highlighted in part by the delightful performance of our very own Gertrude Fox.   Gertrude played the improbably named “Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes ” (lower case, a hyphen,  and double ff”s,  if you please).  The show also featured a special appearance by a costume piece from her past, but more on that later.  Talking with Gertrude after the show closed, we were delighted to learn her wonderful story of a life in the theatre.  Gertrude joined Village Players in 1988.  She was sponsored for membership (required at the time) by legendary members Helen Romain and Barbara Underwood.  Joining the group was the return to the stage for Gertrude who had been quite active in Detroit-area theatre from a young age.  Born in Canada, and raised in Birmingham, Gertrude got the bug at Birmingham’s Baldwin High School playing the role of “Penny” in her first show, a production of “You Can’t Take It With You.”  Once bitten, Gertrude remained active working with a theatre company in Detroit operated by Robert F. Hampton.  Shows were staged at the auditorium at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It was here that “The Dress” was created.  Although known for her work as a character actress, “The Dress,” with its simple elegant lines, was created for Gertrude to wear in a glamorous featured role. Previously, Gertrude performed with the Detroit Civic Players, and eventually was asked to join the Pit and Balcony players of Saginaw in their East Tawas summer stock program.   Along the way Gertrude went to business school, and eventually, in the 50’s fell in love with a handsome young actor and retired from the stage to raise her family.  Once her children were grown, the song of the stage called Gertrude back to Village Players.  A few years later she donated her costume wardrobe, which had been languishing in her closet, to the group.  Fast forward to January 2013.  In the days leading up to the opening of “Nile,” the production team was searching the Village Players costume archives for the perfect dress to costume the beguiling, and quite possibly insane, Jacqueline De Severac (Cathie Badalamenti).  Dress after dress was tried, and rejected, until…. the lovely coral colored gown, worn by Gertrude some 70 years earlier, was slipped over Cathie’s head.  Jacqueline De Severac was born, and the dress joined Gertrude on stage once again.  –Gary Mach

Cathie Badalamenti wearing a dress made for Gertrude Fox (seated) in 1943
Cathie Badalamenti wearing "The Dress" made for Gertrude Fox in 1943