Theatron and CCSO
Baruch students joining together to make a difference was recently in the news, as student groups worked to help those in the Tri-State area devastated by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. That tradition of student volunteerism goes far back in the annals of Baruch (“City College Downtown”) history. One of the most moving examples is Theatron’s commitment to City College Service Organization (CCSO) in the early 1950s.
Students active in that longstanding theatre club left the sanctuary of Pauline Edwards Theatre in 17 Lex to entertain local GIs and disabled veterans. At that time, America had recently welcomed back the men and women who fought in WWII, and the country had already begun fighting the Korean War. “I think that the Class of ’52 had the idea to form a group from Theatron,” says Felice (Rochman) Giordano (’54), of the CCSO group. Giordano was active in Theatron and is still remembered for playing the title role in Kiss Me, Kate in 1953.
It is not a stretch to assume that CCSO took its name and mission from the larger, famed USO (United Service Organizations, Inc.), founded in 1941 to provide programs, services, and live entertainment to U.S. troops and their families. The USO’s live performances during that era are particularly legendary (think actor-comedian Bob Hope).
Of course, the Theatronites’ contributions through CCSO were modest in comparison. Their shows followed a variety format, with individual and group acts performing popular music and show tunes; there was even a comedian. Nonetheless, they were a big hit locally.
“We went on CCSO buses to New Jersey’s Fort Dix many times and to the army hospital at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn as well,” remembers Giordano. Larry Levy (’55), another Theatron star of that era, remembers about half a dozen CCSO bus trips annually. At army bases, the students entertained as many as 400 or 500. But Levy remembers with special fondness shows in veterans’ hospitals, like the VA Medical Center in St. Albans, Queens. “Sometimes no one could even applaud,” he says of the wards of wounded veterans, “but those were the most rewarding performances of all.”
Historical Addendum: Before the traveling shows of the 1950s and even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Theatron had connected with the USO, inviting draftees and members of the nation’s armed forces to attend productions, including the November 1941 production of Out of the Frying Pan, a comedy by Francis Swann about stage-struck young people.