Friday, January 18, 2013

Letters from Alvina Krause: October 1980

October 11, 1980. The gala celebrating the opening of the Theatre/Interpretation Center. (Sometime during the summer, Krause had telephoned, wanting information ["The Dean hasn't told me anything"] -- the only time in the almost ten years of our relationship that she called me.)
Months earlier, in an effort to ease Krause's concern that she was being used by the university, the Dean had told her that the school was planning to give the President's Medal to her and to Lillian Gish and to Agnes de Mille. ("Lillian Gish," Krause said. "A has-been actress. I'm still doing things"). In the weeks after Krause (finally) agreed to attend, mention of Gish and de Mille disappeared.
I will be Alvina Krause's official university escort for the weekend.

To corroborate: We, Lucy and I, arrive Oct 9, on US Air flight 205 at 9:10 am. As I told the Dean we will stay at John Van Meter's. We depart Monday, Oct. 13 at 7:50 am -- Some BTE members insist they are driving to Evanston for the event. I am trying hard to discourage them. In this TV Spectacular [It was being taped as a television special -- DD] could they expect to meet anyone? Is there any place for Alumni in this gala? Alumni who do not have $1000? I hope Lucy is included in the Gala attendance.
I shall be wearing my strongest armor and pray to keep my cool. If you see friends who want to see me tell them Thursday night. Friday before late afternoon, or Friday evening. John Van Meter will be in Indiana until Thursday, I think.


The presentation of the President's Medal to Alvina Krause October 11, 1980. Charlton Heston, Dean Roy V. Wood, President Robert Strotz.

Krause's Remarks (She altered them a bit here and there)
Thank you, Mr. President. My gratitude is deep -- especially deep since Northwestern was my home...for most of my life.
But who is this Alvina Krause you honor? A myth? A legend?
A few weeks ago I loitered in the front yard of my Pennsylvania home. A car drove up -- I think you would call it a car -- with a New York license. A young man leaped out.
"Hello, Alvina!" And he kissed me!
Keep your cool! Keep your cool! This is 1980! And I grinned up at him. What did this young young man from New York say to this old old woman in Pennsylvania?
"Teach me!"
And suddenly it is 1914 -- Yes 1914! And I a stringy-haired, freckle-faced, undersized, runt of a girl am sitting -- at last -- in the auditorium of Annie May Swift. Dean Dennis is introducing -- as only Ralph Dennis can do it -- the founder of the school, Robert McLean Cumnock!
I know there were a hundred or more students in that room, but I swear the great man looked straight into my eyes as he said,
"Stand up! Tell me who you are, where you came from, what you have done."
"St. Paul, Minnesota, and I --"
"Boston, Massachusetts, and I --
"Portland, Oregon, and I --"
"Los Angeles, and I played Juliet in 'Romeo and Juliet' --"
"Tallahassee, and I played Rosalind in 'As You Like It' -- "
And I stood up and blurted out
"Alvina Krause, New Lisbon, Wisconsin" and I sat down. Nobody from Nowhere, who had done Nothing! That was my beginning in this famous school!
It is years later. I am sitting in the Dean's office in Annie May Swift. I try to tell him that first year of teaching in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not so bad. I -- and I heard the Dean's voice:
"I am inviting you to join the faculty of the School of Speech!"
Blackout! Complete blackout until I heard
"Well, Alvina Krause, do you accept?"
Did that Cumnock voice of mine ring out in jubilation? My mouth opened -- closed -- not a sound! Reflex action wagged my head up and down!
Now, fifty years later -- yes, fifty years -- I stand here holding the President's honor in my hand --
Who is this Alvina Krause?
I am a teacher!
And this teacher has a creed which must be spoken now. No, this is not the senile babbling of an octogenarian. This is the creed that has been the backbone of my teaching -- the spine that kept me erect through the long years.
I believe. I believe in Michelangelo. I believe in William Shakespeare. I believe in Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and all the great artists that preceded them -- and that followed them. And most of all I believe in that combination of the arts we call Theatre. I believe, in spite of all that has been committed in that name, I believe that Theatre can -- if we but serve it truly -- I believe the Theatre can illuminate the lives we live even in the darkness which is today.
I am a teacher. Ralph Dennis made me one, as did those students, thousands of them, who drove me, questioned me, challenged me every inch of the long road up to this moment.
And a teacher must ask questions. We are here to celebrate the dedication of this Theatre/Interpretation Center. To what -- to what do we dedicate this Center?
And deep within me there is still a faint voice which insists
I believe!

Krause insisted that artists must learn to make the ideas of others their own thinking. She did it always. Here is a quote from Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma:
I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. Amen. Amen.


The weekend came and went.

You were an heroic escort all the way. Thank you! I have not yet recovered enough to objectively view those incredible four days. Will anything ever be the same at NU? Do keep me informed of the aftermath.
If any write ups in papers come your way, do send me copies. I keep wondering how it all looked to outsiders. And besides my sane relatives like to keep track of their mad aunt. Surely such an extravaganza never was held on any other campus! How did the press view it. What did Kup [Irv Kupcinet, long-time columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times -- DD] think, I wonder. What's the Dean's viewpoint now?
The Doll's House [the next play Krause was directing with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble -- DD]
seemed very promising today. Was it by contrast?
Remind your Candida cast I love them. And those two who crashed the party remind them of their promises now and then.
Will we ever be the same again?


  1. I remember this like it was yesterday. It is thrilling to relive it. Including the memories of Candida. I still believe.

  2. That video was inspiring. Thank you for posting, David.