By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – In the 1950s, Westport became a mecca for writers and actors. When they took their talents to Hollywood, the suburban enclave remained an inspiration and found its way into many films and TV series. Now these integrations, writers and artists are being celebrated in a new exhibit at Westport Historical Society.
“Next Stop: Westport” opened with a cocktail reception late Sunday afternoon, entertaining a full house that came to see photo stills, original scripts, props and costumes on display from leading TV and film productions with a common Westport element. An exhibit subset, “The Cold War in Our Backyard”, featured an archival film compilation by Lisa Seidenberg of 1950s programming, news items regarding a NIKE missile site once located in Westport and early space mission activities.
“We’ve done a lot of exhibits on artists but fewer on writers,” said WHS Exhibits Committee member Dorothy Curran. “There was a particular influx of writers to the area in the 1950s due to a variety of factors,” she said. “Dick Berg, who owned The Paint Bucket, an art supply store, and was a freelance TV writer, was instrumental in introducing writers and artists, forging relationships that led to a lot of creative synergy.”
In the late 1950s, TV moved from live to filmed content and writers work moved from New York to California. “However, Westport remained in these writers’ minds and became integrated into TV and film productions,” she said.
Writer Sloan Wilson, for example, set and filmed in Westport “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” Writer Max Shulman’s “Rally Round the Flag Boys” was based in part on an actual Civics Committee meeting at Westport Women’s Club in January 1955, wherein members met to discuss a NIKE missile site in town. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in a film adaptation of Shulman’s book.
Rod Serling moved to Westport around 1952 and won the first three of his six Emmy awards while a resident. Westport became a motif in a Twilight Zone episode he produced titled “A Stop at Willoughby.” Perhaps the most notable Westport connection was made by Bob Weiskopf, a writer on the “I Love Lucy” TV series, who suggested the Ricardos move to town in the show’s final season.
Forty-six still photos, a “Lucy” dress and other memorabilia from the last 14 episodes of “I Love Lucy” are a main feature of the exhibit.
“Lucy and Desi never actually lived in Westport,” said Bob O’Leary, who curated the exhibit with Larry Untermeyer, “but we get the impression from Hollywood that they did. The sets were patterned after a home at 1 Old Hill Road.”
Other main exhibit features were blow-outs of the aforementioned writers’ work, including Serling, Wilson and Shulman. The suit worn by Gregory Peck in “Man with the Gray Flannel Suit” is a highlight.
The overall show title “Next Stop: Westport” was adopted as train commuting was a common theme in the Westport-related storylines.
Westport Historical Society is located at 25 Avery Place, Westport. “Next Stop: Westport” is on display through April 28, 2012.