Monday, September 10, 2012
When I came to Charlotte in 1980, I was in time to enjoy Lavitan's work near the end of her extraordinary career. (She'll turn 96 this week.) As a middle schooler, she had taken part in the first endeavor by the Charlotte Drama League on June 1, 1928: a reading of Sutton Vane's "Outward Bound" at Carnegie Free Library. The League became Little Theatre of Charlotte, then Theatre Charlotte, now the oldest continuously operating theater in North Carolina. She officially bid farewell to the stage there in 2007, with another reading of "Outward Bound."
Lavitan was actually present at the creation of two theaters: She met Dorothy Masterson as that grande dame was starting the Golden Circle Theatre at the Mint Museum of Art and worked for her. (And with her: The two taught elocution lessons for children and adults through that group.) At the same time, she had a radio gig at WAYS-AM in the 1940s and '50s; she interviewed celebrities, reviewed books and talked about local topics on her "Woman's World" show.
Sunday's tribute found her onstage, basking in the recitation of her deeds and the recollections of fans, fellow thespians and friends. Veteran actors and directors remembered her dedication, her professionalism, her quick mind and flexible presence onstage. People not easily moved to tears let them flow. One man recalled that his father had called Lavitan "Charlotte's answer to Helen Hayes."
I learned doing research that her favorite roles included "On Golden Pond," "Anastasia" and "The Lion in Winter," indomitable matriarchs all. But she could do comedy as well as drama, and the twinkle in her eye Sunday showed that her sense of humor has not been quenched. We too seldom honor folks this way while they're still around to hear us, and it was a pleasure to watch her realize the pleasure she'd given to so many others.
Photo: Gladys Lavitan, in a 2009 file photo with caregiver Rebecca Littlejohn.
Posted by Lawrence Toppman at 10:32 AM