AGN exhibit explores many aspects of Dressler

By Cecilia Nasmith

The love Cobourg has for its home-town daughter Marie Dressler is at least equalled by the love she inspired internationally as an Oscar-winning film star.

The many aspects of both love affairs are being explored in the current Art Gallery of Northumberland exhibition that coincides with the sesquicentennial of Dressler's birth at 212 King St. W.

Cobourg's Sweetheart: Celebrating Marie Dressler opened Sept. 8 at the gallery, located on the third floor west at Victoria Hall – a building that was still new when the future star was born just down the street in the northeast room of the humbler Ontario cottage now known as Dressler House.

In a press release from the Marie Dressler Foundation, president and chair Rick Miller noted that the exhibition explores the relationship of the community with Marie Dressler over the past 90 years through video interviews with community members and displays of historical significance.

In an interview earlier this year, Miller also enjoyed recalling a special Cobourg event that tied the star back to her roots – the Nov. 9, 1933, celebration of her 65th birthday.

The epic party took place in Hollywood, drawing 800 guests in the depths of the Depression.

Television was not a staple of American homes at the time, so – via radio – it was broadcast throughout the US. In addition, a special radio feed was arranged into what was then the Capitol Theatre in Cobourg (now the Dutch Oven).

It was the subject of a front-page story in the Cobourg Sentinel, Miller said. And on an inside page, there was a quarter-page ad saying Mayor J.P. Delanty (father of recent mayor Peter Delanty) would be dedicating a plaque and taking part in the big night at the Capitol.

Because Hollywood is several time zones away, Miller said, they began the evening with a showing of Emma (introduced by Delanty).

Miller has read about this landmark Cobourg evening in two separate books, and the accounts are similar – with one addition. MGM head Louis B. Mayer actually said in the feed, “Hello, Cobourg. I hope you will enjoy this show.”

This is just one story that ties Dressler and Cobourg together. Dressler House was owned by the Fisher family, who made it into a popular ritzy restaurant for decades until a devastating 1989 fire, Instead of sadly watching it bulldozed, a community effort spearheaded by Bill and Delphine Patchett invested in its restoration. The renowned Vintage Film Festival the Dressler Foundation hosts each year was begun to help pay off this effort, Miller noted.

Later, Ed Haynes and Gael Moore were tireless in establishing the beginnings of what has become an extraordinary collection that can be seen at Dressler House today.

“It's the stories attached to the story of the house, and it's going to be an interesting exhibition,” Miller predicted of the AGN exhibit.

The foundation press release outlined a number of guest speakers in conjunction with the exhbition - open free to the public, thanks to the generosity of community sponsors. The first of these was Northumberland Orchestra and Choir director John Kraus with a Sept. 15 presentation on the impact of music in silent movies.

Three presentations are still to come.

On Sept. 23, Station Gallery curator Olexander Wlasenko presents Art Deco: High Style for the Jazz Age. This event examines the artistic movement of that age.

On Sept. 27, the gallery welcomes Capitol Theatre artistic director Antonio Sarmiento on Stage and Cinema: Why Some Work and Some Don't. The man who brought local audiences such productions as Mamma Mia and Singing In The Rain will look at the opportunities and challenges of engaging an audience who has seen a stage production with a movie version (and vice-versa).

On Oct. 4, pianist-composer Jordan Klapman will share an up-close-and-personal talk (with musical elements) about his creative approaches to scoring classic silent films.

The gallery is located at 55 King St. W., and the exhibition runs through Nov. 10.