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Then: A Grand Gala

Spring 2018
News
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In October 1980 some of Northwestern’s most prominent alumni working in Hollywood and on Broadway assembled in Evanston to celebrate the completion of the Theatre and Interpretation Center, now the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

From left, Jerry Orbach ’56, Tony Roberts ’61, Ron ­Husmann ’59 and Nancy Dussault ’57 sing the songs they made famous on Broadway. Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives.

Hosted by Charlton Heston ’45 and Ann-Margret Olsson ’63, The Way They Were included a cast of alumni entertainment icons who sang, danced and joked about their time on campus. Performing on a set that resembled a hotel lobby, Heston reminisced about his night shift work at an Evanston apartment building, where he often practiced his lines when the switchboard went quiet. Paula Prentiss ’59 and her husband, Richard Benjamin ’60, re-created an audition they’d done together as students, which Benjamin joked had landed Prentiss a contract at MGM and him a job at Gimbels. Stars Nancy Dussault ’57, Penny Fuller ’59, Ron Husmann ’59, Carol Lawrence ’54, Jerry Orbach ’56 and Tony Roberts ’61 performed songs they each introduced on Broadway. Patricia Neal ’47, ’94 H, who had been partially blinded after a stroke, performed a monologue from Helen Keller’s description of blindness.

Current students performed alongside this collection of esteemed alumni, which also included Claude Akins ’49; Cloris Leachman ’48, ’14 H; Garry Marshall ’56; Sherrill Milnes ’60; Charlotte Rae ’48; Robert Reed ’54; and Peter Strauss ’69.

The Way They Were celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Northwestern’s theater program, and in his opening remarks McLean Stevenson ’52 implored the School of Communication not to wait another 100 years to reunite. And it has not. On April 20–21 the School of Communication will host CommFest 2018. The event will include a performance and celebration hosted by Stephen Colbert ’86, ’11 H. Read more in “TK.”

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Reader Responses

  • I could not believe my eyes when I saw the article on The Way They Were detailing an event about which I have told people for decades. [Editor’s note: In October 1980 some of Northwestern’s most prominent alumni working in Hollywood and on Broadway assembled in Evanston to celebrate the completion of the Theatre and Interpretation Center. The event, recorded and edited as a television special, aired three times in prime time to a national audience.]

    I was an elementary schooler in Berkeley, Calif., who had just discovered my singing voice when I watched that television special and decided that night I absolutely wanted to go to Northwestern. There were so many famous alumni whom I had heard of (even at such a young age) that I figured it had to be an excellent school!

    Back in those days, 2,000 miles away from campus, Northwestern might not otherwise have been on my radar. I’m so thankful for that wonderful show that changed my life and appreciate the great memory!

    Sarah Lundquist ’91 Oakton, Va., via Northwestern Magazine

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