I am Bob Adler, POW #3931. Shot down 4/18/44 – arrived at Stalag Luft 3 late April 1944.
We were the first ones in the west compound, except for the cadre there to indoctrinate us.
I ended up as producer for the theater, although an intelligence major was nominally in charge. He knew less than I did which was practically nothing. My background was supervising a few radio commercials for a beer company for the advertising agency – I was a minor partner.
The theater was built for us by Russian POW’s, whose barracks were just outside our compound. The seats were made from Red Cross boxes used to ship Red Cross parcels. The electrical equipment was furnished by the Salvation Army on a parole basis. They also furnished the band instruments on the same basis.
When you get about 3,000 top U.S. officers you have a tremendous talent pool. To give you an idea – make-up from a professional kit was headed by a guy from Perc Westmore’s group. Costumes from a guy who knew how to sew. Lights from a previous stage technician.
John Stahl was the stage manager. Prior experience was with a stage management team on Broadway.
Wally Steck was the band leader. If you haven’t heard of him contact me and I can give you some background of the musicians. For instance, lead trumpet was from Tommy Dorsey’s band. Wally himself played alto sax in the NBC pit orchestra before enlisting.
We started with three one acts, each directed by a different person. Not too good, but we got no complaints
from a captive audience.
Next was a minstrel show. The interlocutor, George Wenthe, was an emcee for a Major Bowles Traveling Group in previous life. It was well received.
The theater was too small to accommodate everyone, so only two or three barracks at a time.
Next (if my memory is right) was a Shakespearean thing where (John’s idea, my execution) four of Shakespeare cronies sat around a tavern discussing his plays and their stars. This was half the stage. As they talked an actor appeared on the other half doing a soliloquy – slightly rewritten.
We had one movie, Man in the Iron Mask. The Hauptman could not understand the whole thing.
We did (I directed, and had to write out the female roles) the Front Page.
The second run was a band concert. I don’t remember any of the music.
We also had a full chorus. I don’t remember the director. The chorus did a great Christmas thing and a soloist sang the National Anthem.
Our commander asked that we keep the theater going full tilt as both the Russians and our troops were getting closer.
The most terrific pianist was the Oberfeltwebel. He would come to the theater, take off his gun, put it on the piano and play. He was a graduate of Heidleburg (scar and all) and a wonderful person. He saved a few American lives on a forced march at the end of January.
We were in rehearsal for “The Man Who Came to Dinner” when the Germans broke up the camp and we were on our way south.
There is nothing funny about a dirty joke if there is no woman to repeat it to. We tried and it was boring.
I also wrote a piece called “The Colonel’s Return” – piano and monologue to fill the void in the theater.
Remember, the Salvation Army kept us amused, the Red Cross kept us alive.
I was from Chicago. John was from California. Wally was from New York.
There must have been more. The theater opened to us around June 15, I think, and took about a month for our first production.
I believe this to be fairly factual – but 60 years???
P.S. During the last night of the Minstrel show we had a flasher! Everyone yawned.