Rebecca’s men: Three men with similar acting roots working to put on Little Theatre play

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Nurturing by the same college professor helped to crystallize a love for performing arts within three men working together in the upcoming production of the play &uot;Rebecca.&uot;

Michael Gemmell, Eric Glatzer and Layne Taylor, all graduates of Millsaps College, reminisced this week about the discipline and dignity of their theater mentor and long-time Millsaps Players director Lance Goss.

The three and others in the cast are in the last days of rehearsal for &uot;Rebecca,&uot; based on the best-selling novel by Daphne DuMaurier, preparing for opening night on Dec. 4 at the Natchez Little Theatre Playhouse on Linton Avenue.

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Glatzer and Taylor, both theater majors, went on from Millsaps to pursue careers in acting, directing and producing.

For Gemmell, for whom theater was elective and not his major, coming back to the stage has kindled memories and given him a new appreciation for community theater and its importance.

&uot;I didn’t pursue theater, but I’ve been on stage all my life running an association,&uot; he said, referring to his position as executive director of the Association of Schools of Public Health. &uot;At Millsaps in 1966, I joined the Millsaps Players because our esteemed professor, head of the drama department, would give you a C if you were taking drama as an elective &045;&045; only theater majors could get A’s &045;&045; but you could get a B if you had a part in a play. I was First Soldier in &uot;Becket.&uot;

Taylor, president of the NLT board of directors, convinced Gemmell to take the part of Col. Julyan in the play, assuring him it would not be difficult. &uot;I told him he didn’t even come in until Act III. But I didn’t tell him he was the pivotal part of Act III.&uot;

Getting into the role took a little time, Gemmell said. &uot;One night when my self-confidence was at a low point, I said, ‘what am I doing here,’ and Eric said to me, ‘you’re having fun just like the rest of us,’&uot; he said. &uot;That clicked with me. Eric has been a great mentor and help along the way.&uot;

The play is coming together beautifully, the men agreed. &uot;Nobody should miss this performance,&uot; Gemmell said.

Glatzer and Taylor both had experience with a production of &uot;Rebecca&uot; prior to the one now in rehearsal. Taylor, however, plays the role of Maxim DeWinter for the first time.

Glatzer is not new to the role of Jack Favell in the play. &uot;This role, Jack, the bad guy, was my first serious part at Millsaps,&uot; he said. &uot;I’d been thinking about getting involved in the Little Theatre, and what better time to get back in. It feels wonderful, and I love it. There is no feeling like being on stage in front of an audience.&uot;

Gemmell, who grew up in Latin America, attended Jefferson Military College in Washington, 1958 to 1962,

danced in &uot;The Soiree&uot; in the Spring Pilgrimage pageant and took part in the filming of &uot;Horse Soldiers&uot; with John Wayne at the college in 1959.

He met his wife, Elaine Lord of Natchez, when they were students at Millsaps. In recent years, on a sabbatical to work on a book, he and Elaine have spent more time in Natchez. Now they have put a &uot;for sale&uot; sign on their Virginia home and have bought a house on Orleans Street in Natchez.

&uot;Thomas Wolfe was absolutely wrong. You can come home again,&uot; Gemmell said. &uot;This was absolutely the right decision for us. We were not expecting to be accepted so quickly. Elaine is very happy and comfortable here.&uot;

Glatzer and Taylor both spent years in New York. In addition to theater work, both were successful as models.

Taylor relishes the opportunities he had to work with big-name stars on stage and even to hobnob with some of the 20th-century legends in the acting world, such as the late Claudette Colbert.

Glatzer, who grew up in Jackson and worked alongside his father, a television and video producer, also worked with and among some of the best known of Broadway and theater arts, always seeking along the way his own special field of endeavor.

&uot;I was looking for my niche. I was evolving toward producing,&uot; Glatzer said. He found that niche in music, specifically, the blues.

He founded World Blues Festivals and in 1995 held the biggest block party Manhattan had ever seen, with the entire Murray Hill section cordoned off for a blues festival.

Glatzer and his wife, Elise, parents of two small children, became concerned about safety in New York City about that same time.

During a visit to Natchez, they had an opportunity to look at Lagonia, a historic house for sale in Church Hill. &uot;In 15 minutes, we knew we wanted it,&uot; he said.

Like Gemmell, he is certain the decision was a good one. He founded a blues festival for Natchez in 1996, six months after arriving. It is a big success and continues to grow.

And Glatzer believes the decision was a good one for his children, now 9 and 13. &uot;We had to consider for a kid, what’s more important &045;&045; to have a yard full of dogs or to see a Broadway play?&uot;

Taylor returned to Mississippi with much the same attitude, loving the state and particularly hoping to find a way to use his talents and background in Natchez.

&uot;I’m in Natchez because I love Natchez,&uot; Taylor said.

&uot;It is a nurturing place, a very secure place. Everyone knows you and loves you in spite of it.&uot;

He grew up on stage and is comfortable there. &uot;I was very fortunate that I went to New York with wonderful connections. And I found so many Millsaps grads living in New York, and most had been Millsaps Players.

The Millsaps connection is one the three men appreciate, especially as they rehearse for a play that they believe would please the man who taught them so much about the theater.

&uot;He taught us responsibility and drive,&uot; Gemmell said.

Taylor said he knew a Millsaps degree would be a plus for him. &uot;I knew that if I attended that school, my background would be proper to go on to any field of acting and directing.&uot;

Glatzer left Millsaps to continue his acting studies at the storied Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. He never forgot his mentor in Jackson.

&uot;Lance instilled in all of us a sense of quality. You didn’t just do the show. You did the show right.&uot;

Taylor knows the late Lance Goss would approve of this production. &uot;It’s a wonderful play,&uot; he said.