Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hail and Farewell to Betty Ann Grove

Posted by Bruce Miller
On Friday at noon, a small group of us met for lunch to toast our lovely, charming and funny friend, Betty Ann Grove, who moves this week to the Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Going left to right, that's me, Robyn O'Neill, Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Janine Serresseque, Eric Williams, Larry Cook and Betty Ann. Phil's the one taking the picture.

On the Richmond theatre scene, Betty Ann has been the cream in our coffee for just over 16 years now. We celebrate with her during this transition, and we look forward to hearing all the news about her new New Jersey adventure. We especially look forward to bringing Betty Ann back home to Richmond for an upcoming production or special appearance.

Betty Ann was a cultural treasure in our very midst, and thankfully we had the good sense to appreciate her. She appeared at Swift Creek Mill in Driving Miss Daisy, Something’s Afoot and Smoke on the Mountain. She joined us at Theatre IV in Da and The Music Man. Most recently, Betty Ann dazzled our Bifocals’ audience with her one-woman presentation, My Life on the Great White Way.

So what was Betty Ann’s showbiz life like before she and her late, beloved husband Roger Hunting brought their good will to Richmond? Well, I wouldn’t be telling a lie to say that for about five years in mid-century, Betty Ann Grove was America’s sweetheart. The photos of Betty Ann scattered throughout this post are merely what I could find in one evening on eBay.

She graduated with stars in her eyes from Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts just at the end of WWII. To tell the truth, there must be something in the water up there. Other Cambridge graduates include Walter Brynnan of The Real McCoys, the great American poet e e cummings, Peggy Cass of all those game shows we used to watch in the 60s, Donald Regan (Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan), Olympic Gold Medalist and NY Knicks superstar Patrick Ewing, Orson Bean (I seem to remember him with Peggy Cass on those game shows and also in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and a couple of mugs named Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Within three years after graduation, Betty Ann found herself starring on the hit TV variety show, Stop the Music. Cole Porter saw her, loved her, and selected her to replace Lisa Kirk in the major role of Bianca in Broadway's original Kiss Me, Kate (see photo to the left), a gig that she continued until 51.

For a while, she was starring on TV (Stop the Music, The Bert Parks Show [see photo to the right]) at the same time she was starring on Broadway, dashing from TV studio to Broadway playhouse and often just making it in time for curtain. One day when her TV broadcast ran late, she had to start changing into her Broadway costume as she was running down the New York streets.

After Kiss Me, Kate closed, it was back to the small screen for Betty Ann. She starred in The Big Payoff (51), The Red Buttons Show (52 – 54), Summer Holiday (with co-star Merv Griffin in 54), and the Jane Froman Show (she shared guest host honors with John Raitt while Jane was on vacation). For a while, she and Merv Griffin co-starred again in the Merv Griffin / Betty Ann Grove Show (see photo above to the left).

In 1953 she made the cover of TV Digest. Shortly thereafter, she was on the cover of Look Magazine as one of “America’s Most Televised Women.” Her recording of Waltzing Down the Aisle was a chart-topping hit.

In the late 50s, she co-starred on radio with Jim Backus in The Jim Backus Show. In the early 60s she moved on to regional theatres and the straw hat circuit, starring in stock productions of The Sound of Music, Hit the Deck and many others.

In the late 60s, it was back to Broadway, where she created the role of George M. Cohan’s mother in the hit Broadway musical George M!, starring with Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters. Shortly after George M! closed, Betty Ann married the love of her life, Roger Hunting, a successful trial lawyer and, eventually, New York City Civil Court Judge.

Betty Ann returned to Broadway in 1979 with I Remember Mama, opposite Liv Ullman, and again in a revival of Rodgers and Hart's On Your Toes in 83 and 84, appearing with Natalia Makarova and Dina Merrill.

In the early 90s, Betty Ann and Roger moved to Richmond, and we fell in love with the both of them.

Betty Ann, please know how much we’ll miss you, and how much more we’ll be thrilled to see you again when you return to us down here and/or we visit you up there. You’ve earned your way into our hearts, and no matter how famous you are on the national stage, all of us in the Richmond theatre community will always claim you as one of our own.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I had no idea Betty Ann Grove was leaving town--and only a little idea of all that she achieved in her remarkable career. I first saw her in Da and thought she was wonderful. We will all miss her. Thanks for a great article.

The Red Hat Ladies said...

We all love Betty Ann Grove. Please bring her back soon!

Allen J. Duffis said...

I remember Betty Anne Grove from early television. She appeard to be a bundle of energy who showed up just about everywhere.
I have one problem: I remember her appearing omnn the Garry More Show in and about 1950 she appeared on the Garry Moore Show (mong many). I was born in 1939, and was entering the 6th grade at the time (age 10 and closing in on 11).

If she was born after WWll, that would have made her about 4 years of age. Can't be right! Also, why is there no complete listing for her on the IMDB 9Internet Movie Data Base)?

Allen J. Duffis
The Conservative Independent

My personal e-mail:

DrKathleen said...

I was three in 1950 and would pretend that I was Betty Ann Grove. Then she disappeared and was just a legend in my own private fantasy archive. Glad to see what a career she's had. I'd treated John Raitt with acupuncture. Wish I'd known that I could have asked about her...

Dottie said...

I was a fan of her when I was a teenager and in 1948 when I was in he USAF and stationed at Hanscom AFB, Betty came out to the base to see me. I was away from the base and did was not able to make contact with her later.I found out later that my family and her's had been friends while in Maine.I always loved her singing, watched the Merve Griffin show, when she co-starred and always tried to see her on TV. I hope she is still goood health and will always remember her as a lovely actress,vocalist,and role model for others. Bill Langevin, Saco, Maine

Hope said...

Can anyone tell me if Betty ann is still alive? I have a photo of her, she was very pretty, the photo was taken in 1954 it says and looks to have been signed by her in Blue Ink pen. I had no idea who she was until I looked her up I would apreciate any info on her.

Bruce Miller said...

Dear Hope,
I'm pleased to say that Betty Ann Grove is going strong in Richmond, VA. She doesn't perform any more, but she attends local theatres with regularity, and is greatly loved by the Richmond Theatre community. Anyone who would like to send a note to Betty Ann can write to me, Bruce Miller, Artistic Director, Barksdale Theatre, and I will see that it gets to her. She loves to hear from her fans. Thanks for asking.