Star of Stage, Screen and Richmond – Betty Anne Grove

Re-post of a blog from September 9, 2009 celebrating the life of Betty Ann Grove who passed away peacefully on November 13, 2015, in Richmond, Va.

Star of Stage, Screen and Richmond

By Bruce Miller

Today we’re pleased to wish Betty Ann Grove a very happy 81st birthday. Betty Ann is Richmond’s own Broadway Baby—and she’s such a good friend and familiar face that it’s way too easy to forget what an amazing national career she had before moving to Richmond with her late husband Roger twenty or so years ago. How big a deal is our friend Betty Ann? Consider these brief anecdotes from the wealth of articles that pop up when you type her name into Google.

When she was only 21 years old, Betty Ann began her seven year stint as co-star of Stop the Music, a mega-hit musical quiz show that began on radio in 1949 and soon transferred to the up-and-coming medium of television. When Cole Porter saw adorable Betty Ann on TV for the first time, his people immediately called her people and offered her the chance to replace Lisa Kirk as Lois Lane / Bianca in the original Broadway production of Kiss Me Kate—Betty Ann’s Broadway debut.

And it wasn’t just Cole Porter who loved her. Betty Ann was so popular and appeared in so many TV shows in the early 50s that her beautiful face wound up on the cover of Look Magazine over a caption that read “America’s Most Televised Women.” And what are the TV credits that earn her recognition as one of the great women pioneers of the new medium? Stop the Music, The Bert Parks Show, The Big Payoff, All in Fun, Ozark Jubilee, The Red Buttons Show, Summer Holiday, The Merv Griffin / Betty Ann Grove Show, The Arthur Murray Party, and many others.

At the peak of her success as a television singer/actress and recording artist, Betty Ann was dating her manager, Peter Dean. Peter Dean took Betty Ann with him on frequent visits to see his niece, a little girl named Carly Simon. Betty Ann had such a strong influence on young Carly that to this day Ms Simon credits Betty Ann as the singer she wanted to be when she grew up.

When Betty Ann returned to Broadway in George M! in 1968 (the second of her four Broadway shows), she was so well known in the entertainment industry that she received second billing after Joel Grey. All the advertising materials for the original production list Betty Ann’s name on its own line, just below the title, in type about twice the size of the names that immediately follow beneath her name, names like Broadway stars Jill O’Hara and Bernadette Peters.

If you decide today that you’d like to buy on an Internet auction site the autographed photo of Betty Ann you see at the top of this post, you can! And if you Buy It Now, you can pick it up for only … oh … $399!

“Betty Ann Grove is an American actress,” Wikipedia states. “A petite redhead with a powerful voice, she recorded in the 1950s and debuted on Broadway in Kiss Me Kate.”

Even though the Wiki article goes on, it tells such a small part of her story.

Richmonders love Betty Ann for her star turns in The Music Man and Da at Theatre IV, and Driving Miss Daisy and Smoke on the Mountain at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, among others. But as we celebrate with her the joy of turning 81 years young, let’s not forget that Betty Ann Grove is not just our sweetheart, but America’s sweetheart as well.

We love you, Betty Ann. Happy Birthday!!!

–Bruce Miller

Learning to Want to Grow Up

By: Lauren Devitt at Elk Hill

Why would you want to stay a kid forever?

Ask a grown-up, and they’ll give you a laundry list of reasons. No work, bills, backaches, or heartaches. But that’s because adults forget what serious business growing up can be. Even the best childhood has moments of fear, sadness, and pain.

Kids and Staff at Elk Hill
Kids and Staff at Elk Hill

Peter and the Starcatcher hasn’t forgotten – and the play’s honest, playful look at the darker side of being a kid is one reason we’re so excited to share it with the young people at Elk Hill.

Like Peter, the kids we serve haven’t had the best childhood. Many have faced overwhelming challenges or trauma at young ages. So they can understand why for Peter, staying a kid isn’t about holding onto a carefree youth. It’s about trying not to become the kind of grown-up he has learned to resent and distrust – for good reason!

Because in Peter’s experience, “grown-ups lie. They lie and then they leave.”

And they leave you so “busy trying not to die” that you miss out on the bigger things in life, like education, role models, or helping other people out.

And they beat you until you almost believe their “Rule Number One: Life is meant to be horrible.”

At Elk Hill, we see every day how this kind of dark experience can erode healthy development and a child’s ability to trust adults or imagine a positive future. We see it in the eyes of a seven-year old boy who sucks on a pacifier to stay calm in school after his mother’s murder. In the hostility of a teen girl who lashes out at every helping hand. In the anxiety of a graduating senior who knows that landing his first job is all that stands between him and generational cycles of poverty.

But we also see how, at the same time that it’s hard and frightening and terribly sad, life for these kids is also joyful, silly, inspiring, and FUN.

Camp Roan at Elk Hill
Camp Roan at Elk Hill

Peter and the Starcatcher is all of these things too – and that’s the other reason we can’t wait for our kids to experience this play. Even Peter’s darkest moments are seconds away from a joke, a discovery, a new friend, or a flying cat. It’s that manic, magic mixture that makes him so resilient and able to defy the odds to become the hero of his own story. As the narrators tell us, “Even with so little ground for hope, despite his distress and sorrow, still he believed” – and “to have faith is to have wings.”

When we describe the many ways Elk Hill helps kids transform overwhelming challenges into successful futures, we list things like schools, summer camps, mental health support, residential services, and workforce programs. We usually forget to mention love, imagination, laughter, and play. And that’s a shame, because as often as not, those things are the best starstuff we can offer to help kids soar above the darkness and learn to navigate towards adulthood with confidence, purpose, and hope.

Forgive us. We’re grown-ups! But we’re so grateful there are children, and plays like this, to help us remember.

Virginia Rep thanks Elk Hill for being a Community Partner for our production of Peter and the Starcatcher. 

Community Partner, Children’s Home Society of Virginia on “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Laura Ash-Brackley
Laura Ash-Brackley

By Laura Ash-Brackley
Chief Programs Officer, Children’s Home Society of Virginia

This play will certainly strike a familiar chord with anyone who knows what it’s like to wish for a family to love them.

Before I had the opportunity to preview this show as a community partner of Virginia Repertory Theater, I wasn’t familiar with the story of Peter and the Starcatcher — the story of how Peter Pan came to be. Peter, an orphan, and his two orphan friends are locked in a crate and are being shipped off to become snake food for the king. While onboard, the boys meet Molly, a young girl with confidence and independence but, more importantly, a family and a place to call home. These are what Peter and his friends long for most: a home and a family. Adoptive and foster families will recognize this recurring theme right away.

The play is witty, funny, and exciting. There is a dark side, too. Peter dreams of the mother who abandoned him, hearing the song she sang to him in happier times. But the dream turns into a nightmare when he recalls the abuse he suffered at an orphanage. This scene, as well as several others, might ring too true with children who have themselves experienced trauma. Children with histories of abuse and neglect can become anxious or upset when something makes them remember the hurt they suffered in the past. Keeping this in mind, parents might want to prepare their child before the show, explaining that some scenes may be upsetting and, of course, talk after the show about feelings that may have bubbled up.

Virginia Rep has recommended this play for children ages 10 and over, and I agree it is best for older children who can better understand its themes and scenes.

Photo by Aaron Sutten
Photo by Aaron Sutten

By partnering with agencies that serve children in Richmond, Virginia Rep has brought awareness to the fact that we all need a family and a place to call home. This is a valuable opportunity to recognize our Virginia adoptive and foster families, and remember there are still children in our community who are waiting for a family and a place to call home.

Hopefully this show will make you think about family – and the 1,400 Virginia kids who are longing for one – a little differently.

Virginia Rep thanks the Children’s Home Society of Virginia for being a Community Parter for Peter and the Starcatcher.

“With faith, you have wings.”

Lia Walton
Lia Walton

By Lia Walton, Founder & President of VCU’s Adoptee & Foster Student Association

Written in partnership with Children’s Home Society of Virginia,

Overall Peter and the Starcatcher is a very entertaining production. It has humor for every age group, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. From my perspective as an adopted child, I think Peter and the Starcatcher effectively conveys the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of kids who never really had a true home or family.

There are experiences fosters and orphans go through that many of us have not experienced or felt. I was a baby left on a doorstep, who was found and taken to an orphanage. Like Peter, I know what it is like to not be wanted by your own biological parents. Much like any adopted or foster child, Peter figures out who his real family is. Though they may not be of the same blood, they are there and care for each other much like a family does. And isn’t that all that really matters?

I also identified with the fact that all that Peter wants is to be a boy. I am 20 years old, about to turn 21, and one of the biggest things I have dreaded each year is growing up. I have always wanted to stay a kid, because I felt so much of my childhood was taken away, just like Peter’s. When you experience difficult life moments that make you grow up at such a young age, you have no choice but to be strong when all you want to do is be happy and enjoy your childhood.

“With faith, you have wings.” Throughout the play, you can see the orphans have not experienced everything Molly has. They do not know who they were and what their purpose in life was, let alone have their own name. One of the biggest struggles any adopted or foster child faces is a loss of identity. To an extent, I am sure everyone has gone through this in their lives. However, to begin your life not knowing who you are, who your biological family is, reasons why your parents didn’t keep you—those are major obstacles many adopted and foster children have to face. But through my personal experiences and my 20 years on this earth, I have started to figure it out, much like Peter. With faith, you can do and be anything you want to be, no matter what your limitations are—no matter where you came from.

Photo by Aaron Sutten