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Jim and Olga Buckley, co-founders
In 1977, Kevin Thomas (L.A. Times Staff Writer) wrote a lovely article about the Pewter Plough Playhouse and the Buckleys. The following are excerpts from that article:
"Striking accessories, gathered by the Buckleys over the years, range from a superb 17th-century Venetian arch at the rear of the theater to outsize corbels in the Pub. While Mrs. Buckley presides over the horseshoe bar, [Jim] Buckley often entertains at the piano, over which vintage sheet music is scattered. From time to time a localite, who comes in for a drink — and some warm hospitality — ends up being cast in a play."
Although Jim Buckley isn't playing the piano these days, vintage sheet music is now hidden in the piano bench and is mostly displayed at the Buckley residence. On occasion a visiting pianist discovers the piano-friendly pub and graces playgoers with renditions of jazz, pop, or classical tunes. And, if we're lucky, Jim Buckley will join in song. Jim just celebrated his 92nd birthday on 4 Dec 2004. And although his late wife is now of the spiritual world, her presence is still felt and cherished. Drawings, paintings, and photos of her don the foyer, along with those of Jim and many of the stage productions performed on the Pewter Plough stage, over the past 28 years.
"The Pewter Plough, which takes its name from an old Welsh plough out front — Cambria being the Latin name for Wales — has begun its second season with Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum production of The Glass Menagerie. Remaining performances are today and Saturday at 8pm, with Pewter Plough glad to make reservations for dinner and accommodations as well as for the various performances (805-927-3877)."
Oh, so many plays have graced the PPP stage since then. You figure at least seven a year, sometimes more...and they've all had the glorious touch of Jim Buckley's set design. The photos in the lobby attest to the incredible creativity of the man. Not to mention his wonderful thespian performances in many of the productions.
In the article, Mr. Thomas quoted Jim Buckley:
"'We'll be celebrating our first anniversary Thursday,' says Buckley, a large, low-key man with a walrus mustache. 'After a year's operation we're encouraged by the support we've had. We've had 10 different shows, both those brought up from L.A. and those we've staged ourselves. For our opening attraction Terence Shank brought up his production of Look Homeward, Angel. What a marvelous guy he is! He came up a week early and re-blocked the whole show. Fredd Wayne did his Benjamin Franklin, Kres Mersky did her At The Codfish Ball and her Isodora, Bruce D. Schwartz brought up his puppet show. The Story Theater's been here, and Smash Hit Unlimited came with their Merry Wives Of Windsor, which they had done at the Globe in San Diego. The Baraka Dancers, a group of belly dancers — Near East ethnic dancers, I should say — from San Luis Obispo, performed for us. Our own productions were Paul Osborne's Mornings At Seven and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and I played the Rudy Vallee part in that. We're working on a Cambria Theater Guild and had inquiries from people who want to be sponsors. Our local people are anxious to get involved. We're thinking of a subscription series.'"
And Jim Buckley is still going strong accomplishing more and more every year, continually seeking improvement as artistic director of the Pewter Plough Playhouse. He's on site every Friday & Saturday night to welcome patrons as he always has.
More by Kevin Thomas...
"Buckley's rich and colorful background makes his proprietorship of the Pewter Plough seem inevitable. He grew up near Paramount's old Astoria studio on Long Island and remembers his father driving a taxi in a scene with Nita Naldi. A fond recollection is 'the marvelous glow of the light of Broadway and Times Square from across the East River.' While studying graphic design at Parsons, he supported himself working at Bloomingdale's, which influenced his becoming a noted window display designer — 'visual merchandising is the fancy term,' he says. He also worked at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. While employed at Saks in Beverly Hills in 1938, Buckley met Olga, who was a stylist in charge of selecting accessories for the displays; they married the following year."
"After the war, Buckley attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and signed up for a course at the U.S. Army's theatre school in Biarritz. Richard Whorf was there to stage Richard II and Guthrie McLintic did Winterset. Albert McCleery, who was in charge, and for whom Buckley would later design sets for NBC's Matinee Theatre, assigned the inexperienced Buckley to direct Gertrude Stein's last play, Yes Is For A Very Young Man. After three weeks of rehearsal, however, Stein canceled the production because the Army was curtailing her movements through Europe — recently at war."
"Buckley was briefly a set decorator at MGM, designed hotel interiors, exhibits for Disneyland and the overall design of Movieland Wax Museum. In 1953 he wrote a much respected textbook, The Drama Of Display, with beautiful photo-illustrated pages. He has just privately printed his own The Silent Knight, a whimsically illustrated tale of a space-age child's adventures with the traditional spirit of Christmas as it is celebrated in numerous countries."
The Silent Knight is long overdue being adapted to stage; it would be a marvelous Christmas-time play for the PPP, and certainly Jim's most challenging set to design. We'd hoped to have the time to adapt it last season, but our schedules were too full. However, the book is on sale at the PPP: inquire at the ticket booth or in the piano bar. A wonderful read!
"When Buckley's association with producer-entrepreneur Jack Wrather as his director of design came to an end six years ago , the Buckleys decided it would be a good time to make the move from Bel-Air to Cambria, where they had vacationed for 20 years and had invested in property."
Again, Thomas quotes Jim...
"'Like everybody else who comes to this town, I sat in a real estate office for a couple of years while Olga was running an antique shop that is now the piano bar. I was putting on the back addition as an art gallery and a museum for my prop collection, when I realized in a flash that I had a little theatre on my hands. So I bought proper theatre lighting equipment, and here we are.'"
And here he is — in his 28th year in Cambria's unique jewel box of a community theatre — one he has created. It's continually in a metamorphosis of divine shapings and offerings to suit the palate of all who experience Cambria's Performing Arts Center at the corner of Sheffield and Main Street, in the West Village.
Written by Rebecca Randolph Buckley, slightly updated for 2004 by