Keep Off the Grass

“A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterizations and ludicrously improbable situations.”

 

That is the definition of a farce, and a chief example of this classification of theatrical arts is the 1934 play, “Keep Off the Grass.”

 

It is a three-act play featuring a man and his wife and their two daughters. The one daughter is engaged but reneges on that to marry the new boy in town. Her sister is the first one to fall in love with that new boy but settles for the one-time fiancé of her sister, but only after he inherits one million dollars, which is equivalent to $19,431,940 today and therefore certainly enough to compensate for the loss of one man.

 

As you can see immediately, there are sufficient “ludicrously improbable situations” in the plot line of this play that proved to be quite popular across the county in the years after it was published. You can buy a copy on Amazon and at least 20 university libraries have a copy you can borrow (or at least review).

 

But none of these will point out the most improbable of all historical facts related to this common drama: namely, that in its debut on the stage of Daviess County High School in Owensboro, Kentucky, on May 20, 1940, the father of these two daughters caught up in the vortex of love was none other than George Thomas Moody.

 

His role as a married man was not out of character, nor his relationship to two daughters; both of these foreshadowed what actually transpired a dozen years later. No: what is improbable in the extreme is the notion that George Thomas Moody would actually audition for a part in a play and perform in front of even a friendly crowd.

 

How do I know? That George Thomas was my dad.

 

Weeks after the play he graduated, moved to Detroit, joined the army, matriculated at the University, married a beautiful and smart coed, and settled into a career as a minister. Which meant he grew accustomed to the stage and to reading his script and speaking his part. But performing? I don’t think so, and neither do my siblings when we discovered this piece of history.

 

Not once did my dad ever discuss this play, or any high school experience, or even any episode from childhood—except that day in 1936 when he rode into town to witness the last public and legal hanging in America. And the only thing he said about that was, “It was over so quick!”

 

But not a word about anything else, least of all about this stage performance.

 

It may have started something, though, and in a way we have never dreamed.

 

I took to acting in college, and a generation later my high school daughter caught the bug right there in Owensboro. Together we auditioned for parts in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and a year later, “Annie, Get Your Gun.”

 

The former had me in the men’s chorus singing, at one point, that wonderful song, “L’chaim” (which is Hebrew for “to life”) during which we danced and drank and fell down drunk on the stage floor. None of which went over so well with my people; and by “my people” I mean the congregation of which I was pastor at the time.

 

Apparently, it was not just the ministerial gene I inherited from my dad but also the theatrical gene—which in turn I passed on to my daughter. The difference, of course, was simply this: in George Thomas and Dwight Allan that gene was recessive (and perhaps should have remained hidden), but in Sarah Kate it rose to dominance so that on and off the stage, life for her is drama indeed.

 

She has no children, but my grandson by another offspring has shown signs of kinship with the stage, and that is alright by me. Unto the third and fourth generation—isn’t that what the Bible says?

 

And just to prove this story itself is not buffoonery, check the picture at the top of this column. There, in the back, second from the right, is the man: George Thomas Moody. Folks called him Tom, friends call him G. T., and the G T produced the nickname “Good Times.” Now, perhaps, we know why!

 

Read other articles in the GTM File.

 

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(December 2020)