Pewter Plough Playhouse

A Jewel Box of Community Theatres on the Central Coast of California

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
PEWTER PLOUGH PLAYHOUSE AND ITS FOUNDER

             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. [Olga] 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.

       "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. "

       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.  (Now Jim's widow Rebecca Buckley designs and creates the sets for every play.)

       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.'"  

     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.      


Jim and Olga Buckley - Founders of the PPP

       "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 on sale at the PPP: inquire at the ticket booth.   A wonderful read!)

        "When Buckley's association with producer-entrepreneur Jack Wrather as his director of design came to an end six years ago [1970], 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.'"

           

After Jim passed away September 2015, Rebecca Buckley (owner/artistic director) began a transition of operations, staff changes and building repair and improvements ... which is still continuing. A huge change in management followed. "We're still here!" she says, "and we plan on being here for  years to come presenting live stage plays and other programming in Jim's jewel-box of community theatres on the central coast of California in our lovely seaside village."
 

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