For over 100 years Fitchburg, Massachusetts has been home to Stage and Theater.
From the mid 1880's up until the mid 1980's there were as many as Ten Theaters all serving an important social role within the neighborhoods and communities.
The oldest of the Theaters, and perhaps the most popular, was at Lake Whalom in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, on the grounds of the Whalom Amusement Park, the tenth oldest family amusement park in America at the time of its closing in 2000.
In its various incarnations, the Whalom Theater, dating back to a rustic rough hewn timber dwelling in the open air built in 1893, eventually became known as the Whalom Playhouse.
MERV GRIFFIN AT THE LAKE WHALOM PLAYHOUSE
Talk show host, TV game show host and creator, media mogul and hotel magnate Mervyn Edward Griffin Jr. was once a ‘B’ movie actor and occasional Broadway performer. In his first stint as talk show host with the Merv Griffin show, created for him by Jack Parr in 1962 (this show lasting only a year), Merv's show was rife with Broadway performers. One of his favorite guests over the ensuing years was musical theatre legend Ethel Merman.
MANY CAREERS, INCLUDING SUMMER THEATER
Somewhere in between Mr. Griffin’s many careers (his wife Julann sparked the idea for Jeopardy in 1964) he found time to appear in Summer Theater, most notably for us in the Fitchburg area, in the week of July 27, 1964.
When Guy Palmerton’s Lake Whalom Playhouse opened for the 1964 season on the 6th of July, the first two shows featured heavies Imogene Coca and Donald Woods.
The third show, advertised as “George Abbott's Great Comedy Songs - Dances - Jazz & Girls” was ‘Broadway’, and starred 39 year old Merv Griffin.
The show was described as:
"a comedy-melodrama of the 1920's about a small town hoofer in a nightclub when the bootleggers and the gangsters held sway in this thirsty land. Murder, mayhem and music!"
WE MISS OUR PLAYHOUSE
Local residents of the Fitchburg-Leominster area have many fond memories of “Seeing the Stars at Whalom” on warm, romantic summer nights being entertained at the Whalom Playhouse or at the equally famous 70 year old Whalom Ballroom, where the masters of the Big Band such as Tommy and Jimmie Dorsey and even Bill Haley and the Comets played over the years.
Whalom Park also had a vintage 19th century wooden floor roller rink where an organ player provided live music for skating enthusiasts and the Rose Garden, where the roof opened up to the in the summer and patrons could ‘dance under the stars’.
THE FUTURE OF THE WHALOM THEATER
We were indeed lucky ‘once-upon-a-time’ of having the opportunity to see great Hollywood, Broadway, and Burlesque stars such as Merv Griffin and Mickey Rooney perform here, and to take in fantastic Operas, Musicals and Plays. After a few years’ hiatus, between the closing of Whalom Park and the opening of the New Whalom Park in Winchendon Massachusetts, people will once again thrill to enriching entertainment experiences so sorely missing from the area for so many years now.
The New Whalom Park Ownership program (Whalom.org) plans to bring back the best of the old era while incorporating the new. Mickey Rooney’s manager has asked when Mickey would be able to perform at Whalom Theater again, as Mickey and his wife are still touring. And let’s bring other acts into town. Built on a solid reputation firmly established and time tested since 1893, the residents of Central Massaschusetts have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
RIP Merv Griffin (1925 – 2007)
We gratefully acknowledge the following sources: