Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Vacation - Madison, Concerts, Ralph Bellamy and Badgers

Madison, Wisconsin 
(c) Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Most of our family trip was spent in the city of Madison. Golden era Hollywood and Broadway actor Ralph Bellamy once described the city of Madison, Wisconsin like this: "Madison is a beautiful city, between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It's cold with lots of snow in the winter. Buddy and leafy and fresh in the spring. Green and lush and hot, with frequent lake breezes, in the summer. Blazing with color and sunsets in the fall. The university [of Wisconsin] inspired an intellectual excitement. Cop's Cafeteria on the Capitol Square was a gathering place for students at night, and they were friendly...Madison was a spirited, progressive city." Bellamy was describing the city as it was during his days living in the city performing in a stock company in the early 1920s, but his description is still a perfect way to describe the city as it is today.

Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas

Bellamy's friend and fellow actor, Melvyn Douglas, had landed the part of the leading man in a Madison stock company. Douglas was able to get Bellamy a job as a general businessman and stage manager, earning $40 a week. The stock company performed in a theatre just off the Capitol Square. Today there are still many theaters, nightclubs, and other entertainment around the Capitol Square and in the summer there are even outdoor concerts on the square. If Bellamy were still with us, I'm sure he would feel right at home in the present Madison.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in front of the capitol.

During our visit to Wisconsin, Zinnia, Hazel and I joined some relatives and friends for one night of Concerts on the Square next to the Capitol. On Wednesday nights during the summer, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs on the steps of the capitol. Attendees can bring their blankets and picnic baskets and find a spot on the capitol lawn. There are also food vendors around the square where you can purchase food.

People gather on the capital lawn for some outdoor music.

Every night of Concerts on the Square has a different theme. This year the themes ranged from "Star-Spangled Spectacular" for a Fourth of July show to "Sweeping Soundtracks" featuring music from films like Ben Hur and Harry Potter. The night we went the theme was "Across the Pond" featuring British music.

The family in front of the Capitol.

An alternative to picnicking on the lawn is to reserve a table near the orchestra on the sidewalk leading up to the capitol. Our family and friends had reserved a table for ten just to the side of the orchestra. Our view was fantastic and the sound was too! If you reserve a table you can still bring your own food and drinks or you can reserve a box supper, order from one of the vendors, or have a catered meal.

Diners who have reserved tables on the capitol sidewalk.

Hazel's first time inside the Wisconsin State Capitol.

One interesting film fact is that the Madison capitol is sometimes featured as a film location but not as the state capitol. Recently in the film Public Enemies (2009) with Johnny Depp, the Madison Capitol was used as the FBI Headquarters and in Chain Reaction (1996) with Morgan Freeman and Keanu Reeves, the interior of the Madison Capitol stands in for the D.C. Capitol.

When Bellamy was in Madison, according to his memoir, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, he "lived in a rooming house at 222 Monona Avenue." He doesn't mention if Douglas lived in the same house or not, but he does mention that they jointly owned a Model T Ford. Although Douglas had the role of the leading man in the stock company, during one Sunday matinee, Bellamy got his chance to play the lead when Douglas, while putting his makeup on suddenly fell off his chair with an attack of appendicitis. Douglas was taken to the hospital and Bellamy, being about the same size as Douglas, put on his costume and played the lead role in his place. At the end of his performance playing the lead part Bellamy recalled that,
"many students came to our Sunday matinees. When the curtain touched the floor, the company lined up for a curtain call. When it rose again, through the applause came a loud, prolonged 'Hiss-ss-ss,' and the curtain dropped. I was pretty upset because I took the hiss to be for me. The curtain rose again to continued applause, and through it cam 'Boom! Bah! Bellamy-Bellamy-Rah! Rah! Rah!' I felt pretty good."
Not far from the Capitol Square, a straight walk down the eclectic State Street, a street filled with cafes and bars, head shops, thrift stores, hip restaurants, street musicians, theaters, and many colorful characters, is the Memorial Union Terrace. The Terrace is a popular hangout for University of Wisconsin students and local Madisonians that faces the shore of Lake Mendota. During the summer there is live music five nights a week and on Mondays there are movies by the lake.

The Memorial Union Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin

Sailing and windsurfing on Lake Mendota

The Memorial Union Terrace

Hazel and Daddy relaxing by the lake.

On a hot summer day, the Memorial Union Terrace is the perfect place to grab a beer, a brat or a scoop of ice cream. There is the Brat Stand serving up brats and local beers on tap and the Daily Scoop which serves up Babcock Dairy Ice Cream (made fresh locally in the University of Wisconsin Dairy Plant), gourmet coffee drinks, sandwiches, wraps, salads and fresh bakery treats.

Hazel and Mommy sitting in front of The Memorial Union.

Sally Kellerman & Rodney Dangerfield by the Terrace

Another film to feature Madison is a personal favorite, the comedy Back to School (1986), starring Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Robert Downey Jr., Keith Gordon, and Ned Beatty with appearances by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Sam Kinison, and the band Oingo Boingo. This film features quite a few places on the University of Wisconsin campus, the home of the Badgers, but in the film, the school is the fictional "Grand Lakes University."  

Back to School (1986), Movie Trailer

To close on an old Hollywood note, the real University of Wisconsin has produced a long list of alumni that went on to make their way in Hollywood. Some famous University of Wisconsin students from the classic Hollywood era include Fredric March, Agnes Moorehead, Tom Ewell, Don Ameche, Macdonald Carey, and Walter Mirisch who was the producer of such films as West Side Story (1961), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Vacation - Ten Chimneys (Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne Estate)

Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Noel Coward walk the
grounds of Ten Chimneys. (c) TCF

My wife and I recently returned from a two week trip to Wisconsin to visit family. It was our first time traveling with a baby, something I was a little anxious about. I was preparing myself to be "that guy with the crying baby," but fortunately, I had nothing to worry about. Hazel was probably the happiest baby to go through an airport and fly on an airplane. She was all smiles until she fell asleep. She did well enough that we will likely take her on another family trip. Although the primary reason for our trip was to visit family, we did venture out on occaision to check out some local attractions. Over the next two or three weeks I'll share some snapshots of our trip.

One of the first places we visited was "Ten Chimneys," the estate of husband and wife Broadway stars, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. During the 1920s, 30s, 40s and into the 50s Lunt and Fontanne, or simply, "The Lunts," were the toast of Broadway. Alfred and Lynn were considered two of the finest actors ever to grace the stage and had played a large part in developing what is considered modern acting. The Lunts popularized "realism" in acting. For example, The Lunts were known for talking over each others lines as opposed to waiting for the other to finish speaking (just like in real life we don't always wait for the other person to finish speaking before we ourselves start speaking). The couple had many offers from Hollywood to appear in the movies and they did appear in one major motion picture, The Guardsmen (1931), but The Lunts preferred the stage to the screen. When asked why they wouldn't do more movies, Lynn famously responded, "We can be bought, but we can't be bored." The Lunts desired the energy of being on the stage and the reaction of a live audience. When The Lunts were not appearing on the stage they were spending time at their estate, Ten Chimneys, in rural Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. Eventually when they retired from acting the couple would live out the rest of their lives at the estate.

Note: Click any of the pictures to see the images larger.

Wifey, Robby, Hazel at the Ten Chimneys Program Center

Ten Chimneys is now open as a museum. To begin a tour you first have to check in at what they call the Program Center. This is a separate building across from the estate where the tour starts. In the Program Center there is an art exhibit space, an excellent gift shop filled with all kinds of fun stuff, photographs, a seating area, and some interactive exhibits. 

Listening about The Lunts inside the Program Center.

Zinnia and Hazel take to the stage inside the Program Center.

Hazel waits for Mommy & Daddy to return.

Unfortunately, we could not take Hazel with us on the tour. Kids 12 and under have to hang out in the Program Center, so we left Hazel with Grandma. This is because on the tour you actually walk into each room, as opposed to standing in a hallway on some estate tours and only being able to look into a room. Also, there are a lot of steps around the property, so not very stroller friendly. From the Program Center a shuttle picked up my wife, Dad and myself and drove us to the entrance of the main house.

The entrance to the main house.

The Lunts ride bikes in front of the main house. (c) TCF

The estate gets its name from ten chimneys that are on the property. The estate consist of several buildings: the main house, a cottage, a pool house, green house, creamery, a chicken coop, a log cabin studio, stables and a few other buildings. The main house was always a work in progress. The Lunts were always adding on rooms and decorating the house with antiques and adding murals to the walls.

The entrance hallway. (c) TCF

There is no photography allowed inside the buildings, only outside photography is allowed, so I purchased some postcards from the gift shop. There are so many charming rooms but I only have a few to show off. One of my favorite interior rooms was the entrance hallway. On each of the walls is a mural showing characters offering up items to make your stay with The Lunts as comfortable as possible. The murals are both pretty and playful and are indeed a welcoming touch.

To be invited to Ten Chimneys and be a guest of The Lunts was quite an honor. Regular guest, broadway star, Carol Channing said, "If you get to go to Ten Chimneys, you must have done something right." Other regular guests included their close friend, writer/actor Noel Coward, who also wrote several plays starring The Lunts, including Design For Living, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and Helen Hayes. Coward, Olivier and Hayes in fact each have rooms in the home named after them because of their frequent visits. Some other guests have included Katharine Hepburn, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julie Harris and John Gielgud.

The dining room. (c) TCF

Alfred and Lynn in the dining room. (c) TCF

The above images show the dining room how it looks now and when The Lunts were living there. As you can see it is almost exactly the way it was left. The Ten Chimneys Foundation even leaves the candles all slightly crooked because in every photo of The Lunts in their living room the candles are never straight.

If you were a guest at Ten Chimneys Alfred would probably have prepared some very gourmet meals. Alfred was known to be quite the chef. He was even certified by the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and in the kitchen hangs his diploma. Alfred's cooking was very European, rich in butter and cream that was prepared on the estate, and with vegetables and fruits grown on the property. Alfred was encouraged to make a cookbook, which he never completed during his lifetime, but you can now buy in the Ten Chimneys gift shop a beautiful hardcover book that includes many of Alfred's recipes and photos of the estate. Noel Coward wrote in his diaries that The Lunts "are deeply concerned with only three things: themselves, the theatre, and food - good hot food."

The Drawing Room in the main house. (c) TCF

Above is the drawing room which is another room filled with hand painted murals that wrap around the entire room. The murals were painted by artist Claggett Wilson. Wilson was a portraitist, decorator and a set designer. The Lunts first hired Wilson to design costumes for their 1935 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Then in 1938 they hired Wilson again for another project - to paint murals throughout their home, a project that lasted a few years.

Katharine Hepburn had said of Ten Chimneys, "Every time I was visiting with the Lunts in Genesee Depot, I was in a sort of daze of wonder; the dining room, the table, the china, the silver, the food, the extraordinary care and beauty and taste...a sort of dream, a vision."

Lynn and Alfred in the Belasco room. (c) TCF

Helen Hayes Bedroom in the main house. (c) TCF

A back view of the main house.

Above is a view of the back of the main house. Can you spot some of the chimneys?

One of the trails leading from the main house.

Genesee Depot was then and still is very much today a rural location. In the photo above you can see one of the woodsy trails leading away from the main house.

Looking at the cottage from the main house.

Alfred and Lynn in the cottage kitchen.

Alfred had a strong interest in Scandinavian arts and design and you can see the influence all over in the cottage. Some of the furnishings were picked up on trips through Scandinavian countries or were designed to look Scandinavian. The most impressive room in the cottage is probably the upstairs bedroom which I don't have an image for, but I do like the image of the kitchen because of the black stove. Apparently, Alfred imagined that black stove to have a top piece, which it did not have, so he painted the top part of the stove onto the wall so that it would blend into the stove, like an illusion or stage trick. The Lunts's were less concerned with what something cost and more concerned with how something looked. Extremely rare antiques would be mixed in with items that were inexpensive finds. If The Lunts liked the way something looked, that's all that mattered.

A view of the pool house and cottage.

A view of the pool house.

The Greenhouse and chicken coop.

The creamery I think? I can't remember.

Back at the Program Center.  In front of a wall of playbills.

At the end of the tour a shuttle picked us back up and returned us to the Program Center where we were able to continue looking at the exhibits there and browse the gift shop. I highly recommend the tour for anyone interested in the theater or Golden Era Hollywood. The estate is much more impressive in person and our tour guides were so informative. They had so many great stories about The Lunts and the property. If you are visiting Milwaukee, the state capital in Madison, or one of the other nearby cities in Wisconsin, it is worth the drive. I also highly recommend reading one of the biographies on The Lunts before your visit. I had read the biography, Design For Living: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne by Margot Peters before my visit and I think it made me appreciate the estate even more.

The estate is also more than a museum. Every summer there is the "Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program" in which 8-10 actors are selected from around the country to "participate in a weeklong master class and retreat with a world-renowned and respected Master Teacher." Acting classes and activities take place around the Ten Chimneys property and the Program Center. This years fellowship just ended when we arrived and featured musical theatre legend Joel Grey as the master teacher. Other Master Teachers have included Olympia Dukakis, Lynn Redgrave, Barry Edelstein and next year it was recently announced that Alan Alda will be the Master Teacher.

Ten Chimneys also hosts "conversations" or lectures with luminaries that have a connection to the theater, Ten Chimneys or the Lunts. Some of these special guests have included Robert Osborne, Dick Cavett and Michael York. Actress Laura Linney will be appearing at Ten Chimneys on August 24 for one of the Conversations at Ten Chimneys.

More to check out:

Have you ever visited Ten Chimneys or heard about this fanciful estate before?


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