Music & Theater

Postcard from Court Square Theatre
Postcard from Court Square Theatre, where Ted worked as an usher.

Ted enjoyed music and theater from an early age. His home on Fairfield Street included a music parlor where Ted’s mother played on an upright piano while the family sang together in English and German, the language of the household. She encouraged Ted to take piano lessons with their church organist at a studio above Court Square, and bribed him to do well with promised trips to get books from the nearby Johnson’s Bookstore. The experience perhaps inspired Ted to later write The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a musical screenplay about a boy forced to take piano lessons.

Ted’s musical talent also extended to a popular stringed instrument of the era. At Central High School, Ted played the banjo and helped organize the Mandolin Club. His banjo was signed by the other students in the group, and the always-doodling Ted drew a caricature of Uncle Sam on the front.

Geisel’s banjo from high schoolTed’s banjo, now on display in the Wood Museum of Springfield History.

Ted loved to watch movies at the Bijou, sometimes skipping Latin class to see a show. For a while during high school, he also took a job at the Court Square Theatre working as an usher. This allowed him to watch several of the touring performances that came to Springfield, which had a vibrant theater district in downtown. He saw the great actress Helen Hayes star in Bab and the performances of other notable actors and comedians of the era, including Otis Skinner and Al Jolson.

Ted’s love of the theater led him to perform and write his own theatrical works during his high school years. To help fund the traditional senior class trip to Washington D.C., the seventeen-year-old Ted presented a one-act comedy titled “Chicopee Surprised” in the Central High School auditorium on April 29, 1921. Ted wrote and staged this minstrel show, in which he also sang in blackface.

As a high school student, Ted was well known for his witty theatrical performances. He played the comedic role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which was chosen for their senior play, and he also appeared in the comedic opera The Mikado. In a letter of recommendation sent to Dartmouth College, Ted’s high school principal wrote, “I remember him best as bringing down the house in comedy work,” and commented on Ted’s natural gift for humor. Ted continued to sharpen his wit and creative skills while he was a college student at Dartmouth in New Hampshire.

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