Fr. Spohn wasn’t the only great teacher at SI. Another favorite of many students was Warren White, who taught at the Stanyan Street campus between 1948 and 1955. He was also the originator and first moderator ofInside SI and the director of numerous plays. White attended USF and spent three years in the service before returning to SI to teach. “Suddenly, my former teachers were colleagues, including Mr. McNamara, Red Vaccaro, Barney Wehner, Sgt. Storti, Edward Dermot Doyle, Fr. Joe King, SJ, Fr. Alex Cody, SJ, Fr. William O’Neil, SJ, Fr. Ray Buckley, SJ, and President Dunne. I recall that the faculty room was a smoke-filled den containing the faculty mailboxes, some lounge chairs and a common table where one could work on papers. Other than the physics and chemistry rooms, there were no dedicated rooms and the faculty had no offices. The faculty room also served as a lunchroom if you brown-bagged it, but there was a provision of coffee. In the cafeteria, we sat in an area screened off from the students, but it was not very attractive. The Jesuits repaired to their rectory on the Hilltop, and we laymen made do.
“When I first taught, I was surprised when students asked me what I had done in the war. I wondered how they knew I was a veteran. Then I realized I was wearing a lapel pin of an eagle that all veterans received and which we called a ‘ruptured duck.’”
“Everyone in the English department used the same anthology — Literature and Life — published nationally with separate editions for public and parochial schools. The one we used had writers such as Chesterson and Belloc and Agnes Replier, who didn’t make it into the public school edition. One advantage to this was that almost every high school senior in the U.S. would be familiar with at least four plays by Shakespeare, some of the sonnets, Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Churchyard,’ Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses,’ and T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men,’ for example. Student choice was honored in the assignment of book reports — at least one a semester. Students could select what they wished, subject to approval. Junior year was devoted to American literature, senior to British.”
With the sudden death of James Gill in 1949 (who had directed the school’s plays for 20 years), White took over the director’s job. He had acted in USF’s College Players under Gill’s direction. “Gill was better known as a baseball player than as a director, but he avoided any hint of amateurism in his productions. What I knew was what I had learned from him, and it worked for me by and large.
“The annual play was a fund-raiser for the gymnasium and had gone from using the Little Theatre at USF to performing at the Marines Memorial Theatre on Sutter Street. It was my responsibility to select the play and cast, organize a stage crew, build the sets, get the furnishings and props, schedule rehearsals and supervise the move to Marines and back to Stanyan Street. A stipend of $500 was added to my annual pay.
“Shortly after I had replaced Gill, Fr. Joe King came to SI with his enthusiasm for glee clubs and music of all kinds. He started organizing talent shows, and they evolved into musical productions in which I began to take a part. One was calledWin Winsocki. MGM had produced a “B” list musical set in a small Midwest college whose survival rested with the success of its football team. We ignored the book and the title of the film, but used the fight song, which went, ‘You can win Winsocki if you only try,’ and other stereotypical sentiments. It was a wonderful song, and it served as the basis for a pastiche of songs, dances, sketches, whatever Fr. King, the students or I could devise. The following year we topped it with a work we called Souther Pacific, which combined bits of Rogers and Hart with The Caine Mutiny, Mr. Roberts, and other ideas from Fr. King, the students or myself. These performances were at USF’s Little Theatre, and it didn’t occur to any of us that we should have paid royalties. I trust a statute of limitations applies.
“One year, Bing Crosby wanted to use the Marines Memorial for a broadcast, but we had the lease for the theatre. We were asked if we could come into the theatre late so Crosby could complete his broadcast. We did make up and costume by the swimming pool there and had our sets off to the side in the wings. Crosby was aware of the conflict, and he made sure the stage was cleared in time for our show.
“The Marines Memorial productions included Yellow Jack, a Pulitzer-winning play about the conquering of yellow fever in Cuba as a prelude to building the Panama Canal. We did comedies such as Three Men on a Horse, Here Comes Mr. Jordan,and The Gentleman from Athens. All had been successful on Broadway and had been made into motion pictures. All the female roles had to be changed into male roles. My last shows at Marines, and I think the last time SI used the hall, was forBilly Budd, a man-of-war saga, which had no female parts and needed no altering.
“A Jesuit seminary in the Midwest had established a cottage industry rewriting standard plays to change female roles to male ones. There were many boys’ schools and colleges, and thus a demand for scripts with all-male roles existed. The rationale, at least at SI, was that as a school activity, a school play should be open to as many students as possible. Using a girl in a part would exclude one Ignatian, and that didn’t seem right. Nor did the thought of female impersonation ever suggest itself. The policy, at least in my years at SI, was never a stratagem for separating the sexes. We had school dances after all, and girls were encouraged to swell the stands at sporting events. In the next few years, Mr. Dick McCurdy, SJ (later principal at SI), having succeeded me, chose to use the more convenient stage of the Presentation Theatre on Turk Street.”