August 28, 1953 – Edward H. O’Connell Concludes 59 Years as Theater Stage Manager

The closing of the Commodore Hull Theater last night, brought to a conclusion a career of 59 years as theater stage manager for Edward H. O’Connell, of…Hamden, formerly of Derby, 26 years of which was spent with the local theater.

Mr. O’Connell started in as a stage hand in the old Sterling Opera House in 1894, when the theater was under the management of the late Ira F. Hoyt. He was with the theater throughout the remainder of the “Gay Nineties”, when stage presentations were the order of the day and when many theatrical troupes came here. He saw the advent of movies, the silent dramas of other days, which first became a Saturday night “educational” feature and later were to eclipse the legitimate stage productions as public entertainment.

Mr. O’Connell saw the theaters adjust themselves to the new medium of entertainment. They began with the one and two reelers and gradually branched into the big productions. “The Birth of a Nation“, David Griffith‘s masterpiece and other movie dramas were shown while some of Griffith’s other productions had their premier at the local theater. For many years, the movies compromised the program with vaudeville but gradually the latter type of entertainment went out.

Mr. O’Connell remained with the Sterling Theater until 1921 when the Capitol Theater in Ansonia was opened for silent pictures and vaudeville. He remained there until May 7, 1927, when he joined the staf of the newly built Commodore Hull Theater and has been with the local theater since its first performance. The advent of “talking” pictures came later and with it a new era for movies.

Mr. O’Connell says that television has greatly interfered with theatrical attendance in the past few years. He was instrumental in organizing the first theatrical union in the state in 1900 in New Haven.

Known as the New Haven Stage Employees Local 74, it has been the union’s Naugatuck Valley business representative for the past 53 years. Mr. O’Connell said today that the termination of his employment at the local theater while temporarily concluding his long career as stage manager, he hopes, will be followed by a new assignment.

Note: The Commodore Hull Theater closed on August 27, 1953. This was the first time the theater closed since it opened in 1927. While many feared the theater would close forever, the title of its “final” movie, Remains to be Seen, proved prophetic. The theater reopened on September 17, 1954, and remained open for many years afterward. It is unclear if Mr. O’Connell was present for the reopening.