Chester Martin Remembers Esther Dressler, Director Of Plays

Saturday, June 25, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Esther Dressler
Esther Dressler

Many year ago - back around 1950 - I was involved in a number of theatrical productions here in Chattanooga. I was never in a major role, but there were a number of instances where a chorus was needed, or a crowd scene was required. I could help out with either or both, and it was always a lot of fun, even with rehearsals that ended at midnight or later.

Often there was a "new lady" present who, although not "the" director of our group, was obviously there to assist, and her superior knowledge of Stagecraft was quite apparent. She would be called in to offer her opinions and judgments as to how a scene should best be portrayed and everyone paid her great deference.

This lady turned out to be Mrs. Esther Dressler.

Her main focus at the time was with the Chattanooga Little Theater, which is now called the "Chattanooga Theatre Center." Although under their employ, she was free to volunteer her services as needed or requested at any other stage venue in the city, so that many other theatrical groups were benefited by her knowledge.

As readers of this "Memories" column may have noticed, I had a vocational school education, and my art teacher was Stephen A. Harding. Harding had grown up in Manhattan and learned Stagecraft there. He directed all the plays for the Frye Institute in Chattanooga and knew Mrs. Dressler through that connection.  He had great respect for her and the work she did at the Little Theater. They collaborated on a number of stage productions and were acquainted with many of the same people, frequently sharing the same performers.

Mrs. Dressler directed all the finest actors and actresses that Chattanooga had to offer, and those names had to include both Harriet and Walter Sumner - a husband and wife team - and also Roy Morris of local radio and TV fame - who found time to participate in many on-stage events.

Like her, many of our local theater people were transplants. She came originally from South Dakota - but by way of New York City, where she received theatrical training. Several other locals had also been schooled in the Big Apple, so were well-prepared to handle virtually any role that came their way. This was the "Grace Moore" era in Chattanooga, when there was a lot of interchange of talent between there and here. Dr. Werner Wolfe, and wife, Emmy Land Wolfe, of the new Chattanooga Opera Association, for example, were able to bring Metropolitan Opera singers to town to perform in key roles. The strong ties between the Chattanooga Times and New York Times newspapers also aided and abetted this situation. Chattanooga had some great connections!

(We also had some outstanding local people as well, such as Dorothy Hackett Ward).

Our local theater groups frequently followed what had been popular on the New York stage several years earlier, and I remember one especially delightful musical production of "Up in Central Park" which Mrs. Dressler directed - and in which Nancy Spotswood, a local performer with operatic aspirations (who lived, incidentally, on my street in Brainerd) sang the female lead. (ALL the original scenery and costumes came from the Broadway production, and I remember the scratchy wool suit I had to wear as a member of the chorus!),  Other productions - touring companies - came through Chattanooga which frequently needed a few local actors to play minor but important parts. Esther Dressler would be contacted well in advance and she would then prepare local actors for their roles in the traveling production. The enduring popularity of Theater in Chattanooga can be traced directly back to the enthusiasm of Esther Dressler, and her legacy continues today.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to contact such wonderful theater enthusiasts as Artie Lou Born who could have undoubtedly contributed some entertaining anecdotes to this story. Patricia “Tots” Moore could have done the same…

Esther was born in Watertown, South Dakota, but grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She moved to New York City where she met and married William Dressler. In the early war years the family moved to Chattanooga where they owned and operated Barron’s, a manufacturer of nurse and WAC uniforms. After the war they started a jewelry business which they continued into their 80’s after “retiring” to Florida. Besides Esther, I knew her son, (Dr.) Stanley Dressler, and daughter, Myrna, through Sunnyside School on North Germantown Road. Stanley likes to tell how they used to tease his father, William, by claiming he was a “loser”. It seems that Esther came in “second” in the 1927 Minneapolis beauty pageant, and did not get to go on to Atlantic City. There had been 20 candidates.

After all her duties as wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother – even great-great grandmother - were fulfilled, and after the time spent in Florida, she returned to Chattanooga where she passed away in 2006 – at age 96! (Almost exactly 10 years ago as I write this).

AND, Dr. Stanley, I want you to know you were totally wrong about teasing your dad in the manner you describe above, as HE was the FIRST PLACE winner, after all!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

 


Chester Martin
Chester Martin

Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 21: The Thrill Of Finally Getting To Solo!

150th Anniversary Of The Swiss Colony Of Gruetli Is July 27

Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 20: Getting More Of A Feel For Flying And Seeing First Snow


(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 94, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from ... (click for more)

A celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Swiss Colony of Gruetli will be held on Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m.04 p.m. The event will be held at the Stoker-Stampfli Farm Museum. Activities ... (click for more)

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 94, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from ... (click for more)


Memories

Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 21: The Thrill Of Finally Getting To Solo!

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 94, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from memory and a few records he still possesses his recollections of going through Army Air Corps pilot training at several bases in the United States during World War II. A lifelong writer, ... (click for more)

150th Anniversary Of The Swiss Colony Of Gruetli Is July 27

A celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Swiss Colony of Gruetli will be held on Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m.04 p.m. The event will be held at the Stoker-Stampfli Farm Museum. Activities will include music, food, tours of the farm, historical information, hay rides, a flea market and more. Admission is $5 for those 12 and older. The museum is at 328 Swiss Cemetery ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Construction Set To Start Next Spring On $25 Million Chattanooga Airport Parking Deck; Terminal To Expand; Enplanements Continue To Increase

Terry Hart, president of the Chattanooga Airport, said at the August board meeting that it has been a good summer for the airport with enplanements in June increasing 12½ percent above last year and seven percent in July. For the first seven months of the year, enplanements are up 12 ½ percent with an increase of 2,500 arrivals and departures year-to-date over 2018. However, a leveling ... (click for more)

Jobanie Martinez, 21, Sought In Dalton Shooting Of 2 On Sunday Night

The Dalton Police Department is investigating a late-night shooting incident on Sunday that sent two people to local hospitals with injuries that are not considered to be life-threatening. The man who investigators have identified as the shooter, Jobanie Martinez, 21, is still at large. The victims and the shooter were known to each other. The incident happened at approximately ... (click for more)

Opinion

Remembering LaVaughn "Whitey" Cantrell

Our community is blessed with many good Southern Gospel singers and groups. One such person was LaVaugh “Whitey” Cantrell. “Whitey” as he is known around here passed away on Friday. “Whitey” received His nickname at Rossville High School where he graduated. Mr. Cantrell worked at Combustion Engineering as a welder until his retirement in 1991. I first became acquainted with ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: 'White Privilege' Is A Myth

Several weeks ago, I must admit I had never heard of Patrick Hampton, an African American who has just joined a promising conservative think talk not-for-profit group known as Hamilton Flourishing. Headed by longtime executive and dream-maker Doug Daugherty, the group is in the perfect position to make a lasting impact on our all-inclusive community. Patrick Hampton made a huge ... (click for more)