Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Playhouse and World War II

by Pat Blaufuss
Public Relations Manager

Westport Country Playhouse was closed during World War II – from 1942 through 1945.  Blackouts; rationing; actors, staff, patrons in the armed forces; the population’s concern and apprehension – all contributed to mothballing the theater for four seasons. 

Lawrence Langner, who founded the Playhouse in 1931, was artistic director during the war.  Born in South Wales, he lived his young years in London. A toy Victorian theater with red and gold décor that he had as a child later became his inspiration for the Playhouse’s interior design.
Langner was also a successful patent attorney.  His British heritage and his law practice were factors leading to his close involvement in the war effort.


The first meeting of the National Inventors Council,
 1940.  Dr. Charles F. Kettering sits at the head of the
table with Lawrence Langner standing to his left.
“Though he neither sought nor received much credit for it, in 1940-41, Langner was already playing a crucial role in the United States’ secret preparation for war.  He had watched in agony---but with great pride---as his native country stood alone in the hot summer of 1940, and fought, and won, the Battle of Britain.  Because he had traveled extensively in Germany throughout the inter-war years, he knew about some of the terrible things that were happening to his fellow Jews in Germany---and he had written passionate and angry letters to people (like George Bernard Shaw) who seemed to be misrepresenting them.  He knew better than most that the United States could not, in the long run, remain neutral about Nazism, and he found a lot of people in Washington who agreed with him.  That is why, in July 1940, President Roosevelt endorsed a plan to create a National Inventors Council, and why Langner was immediately asked to become its (unpaid) secretary. 

“The National Inventors Council’s contribution to victory is one of those intangibles of the war years, something that is impossible to calculate or measure.  Writing of it much later in a brief fragment of autobiography, Langner dismissed it in two sentences:  ‘My efforts resulted in the formation of the National Inventors Council, under the chairmanship of Dr. Charles F. Kettering, which performed the job of examining inventions for the Army and Navy during World War II.  During the period of the war, this council evaluated of 210,000 inventions and submitted over 11,000 files as including worthwhile suggestions to the war agencies.’

“This makes it sound a much more bureaucratic organization than it was.  In many vital fields, reflecting the characters of its chairman and its secretary, it was proactive.  It was largely responsible for introducing dry batteries that proved invaluable in tropical climes, gyroscopic stabilizers for tank turrets that made cannon fire from tanks more effective and more deadly than ever before, and the Stiles-Hedden land mine detector that saved untold numbers of lives in every theatre of the war and contributed most greatly to the defeat of Rommel in the North African desert. 

“A much bigger example, which ultimately, of course, was given its own very secret organization, was brought to Langner’s notice in 1940 when Dr. Vannevar Bush, head of the National Research Council, showed him a letter President Roosevelt had sent him on June 14 of that year. ‘I noted in it,’ Langner later wrote, ‘the instruction to continue research in the field of fissionable uranium, indicating that from the very beginning Roosevelt was fully conscious of the importance of this research.  This information, which I kept locked in my bosom, was a source of constant apprehension to me during the war, for I knew that the Germans were working on this fissionable material.’”  

2 comments:

Saimon Leo Watson said...

“Awesome!” I am in Gettysburg all the time as I only live 45 minutes away and love the town. I have heard about this place for years, even prior to them being featured on ww2 artifacts, but never ventured in because I always just want to be out on the battlefield itself. world war 2 artifacts

Dr.Jones Methews said...

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