Who was this woman?
1) She received two degrees after high school.
2) She taught Elocution early in her career.
3) She called herself “Mrs.” but her students knew nothing about her husband.
4) She was in charge of drama at a fairly small Oklahoma school and developed an outstanding program, partly because she insisted on directing Broadway releases.
5) In retirement she took theatre to her community.
6) She made the following statement: “Meeting a resistance, confronting an obstacle, or overcoming a difficulty always demands creativity and intuition. . . You develop your muscles in the art of overcoming resistance — your artistic muscles.” ¹
7) The following was said of her: “She believed in the creative act of making Theatre. She believed in its ability to transform the individual.”²
If you think I’m describing Dora Hobbs Heintz, you are wrong. I’m describing Dora’s first drama coach Rhetta Mae Dorland at Oklahoma Baptist University. However, except for the direct quotes, I could have been describing Dora. The similarities between these two women are remarkable. They possessed the same dedication to theatre, devotion to quality, and force of character; and just as Dora had a tremendous influence on those of us who worked with her, Rhetta also influenced her students and probably influenced Dora just as profoundly as Dora influenced us.
But how did Dora’s dedication to theatre begin?
Tent Shows in Hennessey, Oklahoma
Dora Mae Young was born in 1906 in Cushing, Oklahoma, the daughter of Fredrick E. Young and Stella Marion Hoyt Young. Her mother died in 1914 and her father in 1919, so Dora, her brother (who died at a young age), and her sister Thelma separated to live with relatives. Thelma eventually married and lived in Oklahoma City. Barbara Sparks, Dora’s niece by marriage, said that, like Dora, Thelma was a very gracious, refined lady and that Margaret, Dora’s daughter, liked Thelma and her two male cousins.
After the death of her parents, Dora lived with Miss Walker, an aunt in Hennessey, Oklahoma, who owned Hennessey’s newspaper The Hennessey Clipper. She told John Dexter an Oklahoman reporter in 1955 that she couldn’t remember when she’d first become interested in drama, but as a high school student in Hennessey she had spent “breath-taking hours on the front row and backstage at several tent show performances . . .”³
Dora told me once that she’d almost run off with a circus, so I thought that’s what she meant by “tent show performances,” but it wasn’t. She was talking about tent repertoire companies that toured the country in the early 1920’s. They performed in tents, often circus tents, and offered programs like those of the opera house repertoire companies. Robert Lee Wyatt III describes them as follows:
In tent repertoire, the cast presented minstrel shows and renditions of Uncle Tom's Cabin patterned after show-boat productions. Actors and actresses played roles, doubled as orchestra members, performed individual numbers between the acts, and often helped pitch their tents. Between the acts they sold candy and earned a percentage of the profits.
Tent repertoire companies moved through virtually every rural community in America and in Oklahoma by wagon, truck, or train⁴
Listed are the tent shows that visited Hennessey in the 1920’s,
shows that Dora may have seen:
The “Georgia Smart-Set Minstrels” a “Selected Company of Famous Minstrel Men” contained “Music—Singing—Dancing.” (The Hennessey Clipper, June 10, 1920)
“Brunk’s Comedians” called themselves “a tent show with thirty people, a brass band and jazz orchestra. . . . a repertoire company with special vaudeville." (The Hennessey Clipper, June 10, 1920) They performed “The Straight Road” with “Vaudeville Between Acts, ADMISSION: --Adults 40c; Children 10c—This price includes War Tax” (The Hennessey Clipper, June 17 1920)
The “Gooding Dramatic Company” was part of the “Chautauqua” series of tours. During the afternoon they performed “Sketches in costume, vocal quartettes, solos, and readings” and at night “Concert and monologue ‘The Melting Pot’ by Evabelle Long” Admission was 55c for adults, 25c for children. (The Hennessey Clipper, August 12, 1920)
In 1924 “Chautaugua” offered the “Comedy Drama: ‘Dangerous People’” as part of its concert and lecture tour. (The Hennessey Clipper, Sept. 4, 1924)
In 1925 Chautauqua offered the comedy “Give and Take” which had been a Broadway hit three years before. (The Hennessey Clipper, August 20, 1925)
The “Manville Bros. Big Tent Show” also visited in 1925 and presented “Bobbed Haired Bandit,” “Saintly Hypocrites and Honest Sinners,” “The Man from Texas,” and “Poor Little Rich Girl.” The latter play featured Toby, a stock comic character of tent show plays. This company featured vaudeville performer Herb Cook and his “Bear Cats.” (The Hennessey Clipper, July 23, 1925 and July 30, 1925)
When an actress in one of the traveling shows became ill, Dora was offered the role. Excited, she ran home, script in hand, but her aunt wouldn’t let her accept the part. Later Dora laughed and said it was just as well. “The best acting wasn’t found in the tent shows.” ⁵
Lyman Hobbs Jr. came from a prominent Hennessey family, one of the pioneer families of the area. Lyman and Dora fell in love at Hennessey High School; and according to Barbara Sparks, theirs was a stormy relationship. They argued constantly. Drama wasn't offered at their school; but in 1923, when they were juniors, they acted in a production of "His Uncle’s Niece" at the City Opera House, a production sponsored by the De Molay.
"His Uncle’s Niece" was billed as “A Rollicking Farce Comedy in Three Acts.” The plot is simple. A wealthy man is coming to visit his nephew. For some reason this man thinks his nephew is a niece, a girl. He says he will leave all his money to his niece IF she will marry Philander Fillmore (played by Lyman Hobbs). The nephew disguises himself as a woman and marries Philander in a fake ceremony. It’s discovered though that Philander is actually the scoundrel who married Mrs. Mullen (Dora Young) some time before and ran off with all her money. (The Hennessey Clipper, May 5, 1923)
Dora was the Worthy Advisor of Rainbow Girls in 1924, and that’s also the year she and Lyman graduated in a class of 29 people. Lyman was the class president.
Then she attended Oklahoma Baptist University and obtained her first degree after high school. That’s where she became a member of the Dramatic Club and studied under the head of the Expression Department, Mrs. Rhetta Mae Dorland
A Student at Oklahoma Baptist University
Dora was a member of a number of clubs at OBU:
1) The Moorer B.Y.P.U. Members of this union “endeavored to present the message of the Master through the program and general work of the B.Y.P.U.” (from the 1928 OBU yearbook) Dora was the pep leader of this organization one year.
2) F.A. B. Club. This pep club not only supported the school at sports events but also at debate contests.
3) The Courtney English Club. This club prided itself in being made up of intellectuals. They discussed plays and poetry and wrote plays.
4) The Yathian Literary Society.
5) Theta Alpha Phi. It is a national honorary dramatic fraternity. To be eligible for membership, a student had to be able to take a lead in three-act plays and one-act plays, direct a certain number of plays, or write an original play. In 1927 Dora was one of nine members. In 1928 one of fourteen members and vice-president of the club.
6) The Dramatic Club. The Dramatic Club met twice a month and presented at least one or two one-act plays at each meeting. They performed two three-act plays and at least one one-act play for the public each year. Dora was secretary of the club her senior year.
Dora undoubtedly participated in a lot of productions connected with The Dramatic Club, Theta Alpha Phi, and The Courtney English Club; but The Bison, the school paper, only mentioned a few of them.
She gave a review of the play “The Truth” by Clyde Fitch at a meeting of the Courtney English Club and gave a reading at the Yathian Club. She was part of the cast of “The Pot Boiler”; directed “Sue Em,” a one-act radio play; played the part of a peasant woman in “Where the Whirlwind Blows”; and played Susan Ruggs, Mrs. Delavan’s maid, in "Miss Somebody Else," a comedy in four acts by Marion Short, directed by Rhetta Mae Dorland.
"Miss Somebody Else" was also presented at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania in 1925, and is described below:
”Miss Somebody Else” was presented to a large and appreciative audience on the 28th of March. Constance Darcy, tired of being rich, submerges her identity into that of an Irish maid and also helps some poor friends of hers to prosperity by her clever schemes. Constance, or Nora, as she is now called, likewise succeeds in apprehending a gentleman crook who had stolen funds belonging to her father. The play was full of humorous incidents, witty dialogues and dramatic incidents. 6
Dora studied English and Psychology and graduated in 1928 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Then she returned to Hennessey. That’s when she gave private expression and elocution lessons, gave lessons, that is, until she married her high school sweetheart Lyman Hobbs Jr. and moved to Mercedes, Texas.
From Mercedes, Texas to Cushing, Oklahoma
The “Mr. Hobbs,” whom we knew nothing about, had fruit orchards in Mercedes, Texas, when they were first married, and that is where their daughter Margaret Flo was born in 1934. After their divorce in 1937, Dora accepted a teaching position at Avant High School in Avant, Oklahoma, and then in 1943 accepted the teaching position at Cushing High School.
During the summers from 1939 to 1945 Margaret stayed in Hennessey with D. G. and Grace Dawson, who were related to Dora’s ex-husband; and Dora lived in Norman so she could attend the University of Oklahoma and obtain her second degree after high school, a her master’s degree in speech in 1945.
I tried to find out which student shows, if any, she was in at OU but had no luck. The newspapers only covered productions directed by faculty. But perhaps she spent most of her time preparing for and writing her thesis, "The Spoken Art of Mark Twain." It contains 165 pages and a bibliography of 47 books and 37 articles. It describes Twain’s background and emergence as a platform performer. But most important, it describes the painstaking preparations Twain made before his speeches, his careful selection and arrangement of material, his attention to delivery—his careful use of volume, pauses, and gestures, for instance, and even his need to “lie abed all day in order to be rested and equipped for talking an hour at night,” . . . 7 Dora’s thesis is a very comprehensive study of one of American’s most successful speakers.
Later, after teaching at Cushing High School, after her marriage to Calvin W. Heintz, when she and Calvin were teaching at Cleveland Heights High School, in Cleveland, Ohio, she produced the following:
MARK TWAIN'S TOM SAWYER, No. 1205: TWAIN'S ADVENTURES WITH INJUN JOE, No. 1165; STORIES OF MARK TWAIN, No. 1027. 33 1/3 R.P.M. Three twelve inch records. Produced by Caedmon Recordings. Cost $5.95 each. Available through Houghton Mifflin Company, 110 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02107. 8
Of course, the “fairly small Oklahoma school” where she developed an outstanding drama program was Cushing High School. Dora may not have made the statement Rhetta made about how overcoming resistance and difficulty develops our "artistic muscles," but she lived it. It must have been hard for a seven or eight year old girl to lose her mother and then lose her father just five years later. Her brother died early too. Her divorce must have been devastating. But she poured herself into her art and obviously grew as an artist with every difficulty she encountered. She taught us how to grow through difficulty as well.
Rhetta Mae Dorland took theatre to the children of her community after she retired. Dora took theatre to the older people of her community and founded The Village Players in Bella Vista, Arkansas.
While we studied drama and speech at Cushing High School, we not only discovered talents we didn't know we had, but we also acquired some of the poise and confidence this great woman displayed in everything she did. We can say of her too that she believed in the theatre's power to transform an individual. At least that's what she did. She used theatre to transform us, and we are forever in her debt.
1 Dr. Joyce Spivey Aldridge, “Resistance or Opportunity:
The Pioneering Spirit of Rhetta Mae Dorland,”
OBU Magazine, Fall 2008.
3 John Dexter, “Cushing High School Players Know No Flops,” The Oklahoman,
May 31, 1955, p. 37.
4 Robert Lee Wyatt III, “Traveling Shows,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s
Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,
5 Dexter, op. cit.
6 “Internet Archive,”
7 Dora Maye Hobbs, "The Spoken Art of Mark Twain," A Thesis Submitted
to the Graduate Faculty, The University of Oklahoma, 1945, p. 59.
8 “Audio-visual aides,” informaworld,
A special thanks to the following people:
◊ Barbara Sparks, Dora’s niece by marriage
◊ Mary Haney, Library Director,
Hennessey Public Library
◊ Tom Terry, Archivist, OBU Library
◊ Chele Marker, Library Assistant, OBU
◊ Sherman Brennan, Staff Assistant III,
Reference Dept., OU Library
◊ Matt Stock, Assistant Professor/Fine &
Applied Arts Librarian, OU
◊ Orinda Desper, Researcher,
Oklahoma Historical Society
Dora may not have made the statement Rhetta made about how overcoming resistance and difficulty develops our "artistic muscles," but she lived it. It must have been hard for a seven or eight year old girl to lose her mother and then lose her father just five years later. Her brother died early too. Her divorce must have been devastating. But she poured herself into her art and obviously grew as an artist with every difficulty she encountered. She taught us how to grow through difficulty as well.
Finally, those who answered the message I posted at http://www.circushistory.org and introduced me to traveling tent repertoire shows: Whitey, Ned Kronberg, and Fred Dahlinger.
NOTE: Carol Lavelle (Wilson) Snow is pictured above on the right 6/6/2009 in character as "Aunt Eller" in Discoveryland's! live production Oklahoma.
Carol Lavelle Snow (co-author of "The Gray Warriors") is a writer, actress, and former college English and speech instructor who grew up in Cushing, Oklahoma, and received an MFA in drama from the University of Oklahoma. She received awards there for Best Actress and Best Character Actress and toured the Orient in "George Washington Slept Here," presented by OU and the USO.
Since college she has played a variety of roles in a variety of places, from Alma in "Summer and Smoke" at the Ohio Valley Summer Theatre to the donkey in "Man of La Mancha" at the Palo Alto Community Theatre. Most recently she has played Aunt Eller in Discoveryland's production of "Oklahoma!" for nine summers.
She has written and directed three mystery shows based on Oklahoma history for the Spotlight Theater in Tulsa.
Her first novel was "The Search for Hezekiah's Gold" (pen name Carol Lavelle). Carol's poetry has won numerous awards and been included in two anthologies: "Shades of Tulsa" and "God's Gift of a Merry Heart." "Dream Catcher," a chapbook of poetry, contains her personal favorites. Many of the poems in this collection have garnered prizes.
"Tap Your Troubles Away! - The Words And Music Of Jerry Herman" CD
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