Theater and Film of the 1920’s and ’30’s As Seen By My Dad – NY theater illustrator and cartoonist Harold K. Simon
“This was part of history I was so enamored of. To hear it come from you, first hand, reminiscing about your father, it came to life – because he contributed to it. You telling it made it very exciting for me.” These kind words were spoken by a gentleman who had attended an online presentation celebrating the Pawling Library’s 100-year anniversary. The person he praised was our presenter, the esteemed actor, director Roger Hendricks Simon. Mr. Simon’s program Theater and Film of the 1920’s and ’30’s As Seen By My Dad – NY theater illustrator and cartoonist Harold K. Simon took place on the evening of November 16th and drew many people from coast to coast. Mr. Simon gave a fascinating talk on the gifted career of his multi-talented father and how he interpreted theatre & film through his art during the 1920s and 30s. Throughout the presentation the audience viewed numerous examples of his father’s artwork. The talk was followed by an equally compelling discussion.
At the turn of the 20th century, artist Harold K. Simon created a variety of works of art for Broadway and the famed Radio City Music Hall in the form of theatrical cartoons, posters, playbills, newspaper and magazine illustrations. He also worked for the film industry, working for a period of time with Walt Disney, and Screen Gems motion picture company. At the time, Screen Gems was in charge of doing much of the artwork and publicity for both Hollywood and Broadway.
Mr. Hendricks spoke of his father’s connection to the evolving performing arts of the 1920s and 30s. “My dad really loved the theater and that was his heart”, said Mr. Simon. He was in the theater every night of the year covering the Broadway scene.
Theater productions declined because of the economy in the depression, but interestingly enough in the 1930s the quality was getting better, becoming more polished, and thought provoking. The acting was also changing. The overblown and heavy emoting was ending and replaced by acting that was much more in the realistic realm, which suited the writing of the more serious plays. It was a big change; a style that was finally being realized in the 1930s. The theater of the 30s went from one extreme to another. It should have been a decade of loss because of the depression, but instead, for the artistic theater, it was a period of great transitions and growth. “In a time of pain – the depression, and the 2nd world war – that may be when artists are the most creative, and develop the most exciting periods of creating art,” said Mr. Simon.
At times Mr. Simon was brought to tears during his very moving presentation about a brilliant and complex man – for he was talking not only about a theater legend, but about Harold K. Simon, his dad.
“A wonderful history of the American theater. It really is exquisite,” said one person from the audience. Another person commented, “It was such a beautiful tribute to your dad; you captured the soul of the man.”
Roger Hendricks Simon is a founding member of the Yale Repertory Company. He went on to direct and act for Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, London’s Royal Court Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, La Mama, Roundabout, Los Angeles Theatre Center, PBS, BBC-TV, National Public Radio and many more. Elected to Notable Names in American Theatre, Roger directed international premieres by Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, David Hare, Terrence McNally, Lanford Wilson, and William Saroyan. He has directed John Lithgow, John Travolta, James Earl Jones, and James Woods, to name but a few. Roger Hendricks Simon is the founding artistic director for The Simon Studio in New York City.