Theater photography from an earlier age on Pittsburgh's North Side

Written by
June 21, 2017

In the mid to late 1970s, I managed a barely successful nightclub on the North Side of Pittsburgh called the Home Circle Club, which sounded more like a knitting circle than the gay girls bar that it was when my family took over the license.

The club was in a white, brick building with a forty-foot chiseled- hill looming over it. Branches and rocks often tumbled down onto the graveled roof that leaked whenever it rained. Parking was on residential side streets, and public transportation was a shadowy walk through a shuttered neighborhood.

Faux-oak paneled walls surrounded the oval bar and a pool table on the upper level, and table seating overlooked the lower level, which had an oversize stage with a dressing room and a dance floor lit up by strings of Christmas lights flashing to disco beats. An industrial gas heater hanging from the ceiling rumbled like an idling bus through the long Pittsburgh winters, and in summer, pedestal fans churned sweltering air, mixing cigarette smoke with the smell of sour beer.

Our bartender staged a walkout with her customers shortly after we took over, saying she said she didn't like the way we were running the place. Fortunately, I had known Pittsburgh's gay scene for years, so  my friends and I fanned out through the bars to bring in new business. Friends brought their friends and we collected a congenial mix of gay and straight patrons who found the atmosphere homey and comfortable. Some came just for the homemade meals that mom cooked on Wednesdays and Sundays. It was a family operation.

Among our new customers were actors from local theater groups, among them, Gorman Lowe, who also became a good friend. Gorman had recently played a seriously overweight King Herod in Jesus Christ, Superstar, furiously pedaling an exercise bike while singing his part. He was a brilliant actor and playwright, and a very witty man. Gorman recognized the club's potential for theater, and it wasn't long before he proposed a theater production designed for our humble stage. His and fellow producer / actor KC's  musical comedy, Bosom Buddies, was the first in a string of performances by dozens of multi-talented actors, singers, choreographers, costume designers and musicians. Each show was written, directed and scored by the actors, who usually also played the leading roles. They were comedic geniuses, and audiences loved them.

The Wizard of Odds

  1. Above: Gorman Lowe as Dorothy in The Wizard of Odds, 1977. Gorman was a comedic genius who, together with his friend KC, initiated the theater series at the club. Wizard of Odds was one of the major skits within That's Entertainment, part 2 1/2.
  2. David Pressau, left, and Don DiFonso as Scarecrow and Tin Man. (1977). David was also the pianist for a number of shows and Don was the troupe's wonderfully talented costume designer and actor, who only recently retired from the business.
  3. Dorothy's audience with the Wizard.

The shows needed publicity and I was thrilled to provide photography for it. Most of the photo work I had done prior to this was quiet stuff that required little in the way of interpersonal skills. It became a real joy to work among these talented, creative and often zany people. Our time together was magic and fun, and I love how it shows in these photos we made.


What's a Nice Place Like This Doing in a Girl Like You?

Joyce Lewis was another one of the mega-talented actors / actresses who regularly produced and performed her own shows at the club, and also performed as a cast member in others. Each producer had his or her own entourage and Joyce's troupe, combined with her quick wit, sparkle and charm, made for a successful string of performances over several years at the club. What's a Nice Place Like This Doing In a Girl Like You included a wide variety of musical and comedy skits.

  1. Above: Joyce Lewis rehearses for What's a Nice Place Like This Doing in a Girl Like You?
  2. Below: Joyce Lewis during a publicity photo shoot for "Nice Place."

Scorpio ...Live

Dann Howard was a member of the theater group who also had his own gig hosting Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi films as Scorpio on WPGH channel 53, one of Pittsburgh's few UHF stations at the time. Like most of the other producers, Dann opened both his Home Circle productions and his television show to friends and colleagues. Scorpio had many gay overtones in its skits, and in August or September, 1977, the series was cancelled following the airing of an egregiously politically incorrect spoof of a Japanese horror film.

  1. Above, top photo: Dann Howard on the television set of Scorpio ...Live.
  2. Dann Howard prepares for a Scorpio performance at the club.
  3. Kevin Bossolono prepares for his part in a Scorpio ...Live performance at the Home Circle Club.
  4. Joyce Lewis and Kevin Bossolono on the television set of Scorpio ... Live. This is one of my favorite photos.
  5. James "Chico" Elway on the television set for Scorpio. Chico was a friend and regular at the club. While not a member of the theater groups, Chico loved acting, singing and dancing. Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Chico had one of the widest, warmest smiles of anyone I've known.

The Home Circle theater productions ran over about two years, between 1977 and 1978.

Related: 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on Gorman Lowe

Related: 2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obit on Gorman Lowe: 'he had a voice like the angels'

Technical notes:

Some of the images are scans from vintage prints (including some Ektacolor prints that I processed myself back then) and others, both B&W and color, are from recent negative scans. The old Eastman 5247 negatives were the most difficult. The Kodak color negatives still look great and were not too difficult. The B&W negatives, of course, held up the best.

Click through the gallery below to see additional images:

(The window has buttons for full screen and auto play.)

Comments

Oh my goodness! I had no idea this was going on in Pittsburg in the late 70s! So much talent on display...and, Dan, your photos are truly wonderful. Thank you for sharing this time in your life!
XO
John

Author
John F Paynter
Wed, 06/21/2017 - 18:10

Thank you, John. It was fun scanning and putting all these photos together again.

Author
Dan Murano
Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:20

These are amazing, Dan. I truly look forward to the Dan Murano solo exhibit and being able to buy the Dan Murano coffee table book. These pictures deserve a wide audience!!!

Author
Liz
Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:40

Liz, Thank you for your wonderful comments, here and elsewhere. 

Author
Dan Murano
Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:41

Add new comment