Texas’ ‘Leading Liberal Newspaper’ Some recent references to the Observer in other periodicals: “The Texas Observer has stood . . . as a compliment and a rebuke to Texas. It is a compliment in that Texas is big enough for a publication devoted entirely to state issues, and a rebuke in that Texas is small enough to need such a publication. . . . The Texas Observer well serves the state of mind known as Texas. . . .” St. Louis Post Dispatch, an editorial, November 16, 1962. “. . the Texas Observer, an intelligent, old-fashioned, in-the-grain political journal. . . . For many liberals, the Observer gave more than the news, it was written proof of their very existence, and its office served as a social nucleus for this group.” Barbara Probst Solomon in Harper’s Magazine, November, 1963. “The state’s leading liberal newspaper, the biweekly Texas Observer. . . .” Sam Kinch, reporter, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 6, 1964. “The Observer . . . is recognized as the leading liberal organ in Texas,” A United Press International report, as published in the Dallas Morning News, March 6, 1964. “The Texas Observer _, the Bible of the real Texas Democrat.” Archer Fullingim, editor, The Kountze News, April 23, 1964. The Observer “has long been the standard-bearer of the fight for liberalism in Texas.” William V. Shannon, columnist, in the New York Post, May 12, 1964. “. . . an influential, controversial periodical.” Houston Chronicle, news story, June 14, 1964. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 504 West 24th Street Austin 5, Texas Enclosed is $5.00 for a one-year subscription to the Observer for: Name Address City, State This is a renewal. This is a new subscription. vated local actors. He found them among mailcarriers and the unemployed. His father, a cab driver, sold tickets; his brother, Mickey, barely out of high school, acted and even directed. At first the skits packed in the customers, and for a while people even came to see the plays. For the first time Houstonians Could see the work of contemporary playrights like Pinter and Albee. As at the Living Theater, the setting was unimportant. There were small tables for about 80 grouped around a tiny stage. The air conditioner constantly broke down. The walls were dark. The modern paintings that were hung on one wall were intended, one suspected, to cover holes in the plasterboard. BUT AS THE REVENUES dwindled and his energy sapped, Bobkoff resorted to jazz and folk-singing programs on off-nights. Then the Hamlet was reduced to showing movies in the daytime, hoping to snare bored housewives. In the final days the Hamlet had to cancel performances for lack of customers. One night only seven showed up; five were friends of the actors. It is revealing that the Hamlet’s largest crowd came on a night when no play was being performed. They were there to hear a Contemporary Arts Association discussion of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Before the lecture, Bobkoff peered at the standing-room-only audience and asked how many had seen a play at the Hamlet. Only a half dozen raised their hands. The paradox was bitter to him. Here he was, essentially an anarchist trying to be a capitalist, and not understanding how he 12 The Texas Observer could fail in a citadel of free enterprise. All around him theaters were being spoonfed by the foundations, and the “underground”the culturally enlightened one sees at meetings of the Wednesday Club or the Council of Human Relations seldom came to see his unsubsidized plays. Early this year the Hamlet’s final production, “The Zoo Stbry,” went unreviewed in the daily press for several performances. Finally, the Post came; the Chronicle never did. When I was moved to write the Chronicle about this oversight, its critic explained that “Zoo Story” had been done in Houston before; hence no review. The absurdity of this would have appalled Ionesco or Beckett, the chief architects of the theater of the absurd. My retort was that in a cultural desert a sip of water especially a thirst quencher like Edward Albeeought to be welcome; and besides, how many times indeed has “Harvey” been revivedand reviewedin Houston? It is the final absurdity of Houston criticism that the city’s dean of critics never sat foot in the Hamlet. Like Barry Goldwater, he preferred to plunge ever onward into the 19th century. The curtain fell the night Bobkoff sold the Hamlet. “For a while it was like old times,” he says. “All the old actors and friends came and we really tore up the place.” After the show the cast auctioned off old posters, sets and costumes, right down to the shirt off Bobkoff’s back. Now, rising from the ashes of the Hamlet is the Herbert Kramer Theater. Kramer, a veteran of various Houston theatrical ventures, refurbished the building and draped the walls with burgundy brocade. But he has also furnished the stage sparsly with light opera and a dismal one-act play of his own unfortunate creation [“Kramer’s Theater,” Obs. June 26]. The wonder of it all is that despite this dire chronicle Houston seems on the brink of a theatrical explosion. Within two years the Alley, thanks to public subscriptions and a whopping Ford Foundation grant, will have an imposing new home, and there is hope that the Alley, under its talented director Nina Vance, will forget its role as a civic virtue and recapture the original vitality that distinguished it. One spur is the competition from the recently announced ANTA Theater, which plans to open next year in a remodeled church and talks of building a multi-million dollar plant in several years. To make a theater out of the church, ANTA has commissioned Howard Barnstone, a first-rate architect. But I am a pessimist about money and mortar. Inside the brick walls you need fire and courage, verve and talent, sweat and the genius of a living theater. The glow comes from the freedom within, not from the walls around. A park, a barn, a second-story nook, or a dingy cave can house truly living theater. THERE IS a sad footnote. Freed of his floor-sweeping shackles here, Bobkoff fled to New York with his last $200 and thence to Scotland, where a director’s job was awaiting him at Edinburgh’s Traverse Club Theater during the Edinburgh Festival. Alas, his unbending honesty did him down again. At British customs he was asked, “Are you a tourist?” No, he said proudly, he was there to direct a play. Having no work permit, he was dispatched, after a brief stay in jail, back to the United States. Now Bobkoff, one of the best directors Houston ever produced, is a soldier in New York’s army of unemployed show people. Subscriptions for $4 Subscriptions to the Observer can be bought by groups at a cost of $4 a year, provided ten or more subscrip tions are entered at one time. If you belong to a group that might be in terested in this, perhaps you will want to take the matter up with the others. MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada 1001 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686
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