Ruth Hale, playwright and theater founder, dies

Published: Monday, April 21 2003 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ruth Hudson Hale, 94, matriarch of one of the country's longest-running family theater operations, died Sunday at Highland Care Center of complications of a stroke.

Hale, who wrote more than 75 plays and acted in most of them, leaves a legacy that includes a 54-year-old venue in Glendale, Calif.; the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City, Hale Center Theater Orem and the rustic Hale Summer Theater on the family's ranch in southern Utah.

Her plays are filled with homespun humor, and she exhibited boundless energy on stage. She won numerous awards, including a PBS Peabody Award, a presidential citation from Brigham Young University and a Utah Governor's Mansion Artist Award.

In recent years she enjoyed a spin-off career acting in TV ads and doing voice-overs. She was among local celebrities driving animated vehicles in a TV commercial announcing the opening of the first major leg of the I-15 project.

She and her husband, James Nathan Hale (who died on Jan. 30, 1994), left Utah during World War II and moved to California. But acting jobs were scarce, and a producer suggested that perhaps they should start their own theater. "You could star in your own shows, and no one could fire you," he said.

The comment sparked a dream that resulted in the Glendale Centre Theatre, now celebrating its 54th season in Southern California. The theater quickly gained a loyal following.

The couple were parents of seven, and the extended family numbers 160.

The Hales attempted to retire about 15 years ago, turning the reins of their Glendale operation to younger family members, and moved to Utah. But retirement didn't last long.

"A person could die from watching television and tatting doilies," Ruth Hale said.

Instead, she, Nathan and other family members opened a theater in South Salt Lake. Eventually it was replaced by a theater in West Valley City. Today, that venue, the Hale Centre Theater, attracts more than 208,000 patrons annually.

Ruth and Nathan Hale served a mission for the LDS Church in Nauvoo, where one of the historic buildings was a vacant theater. They felt that a play geared to missionary work would fill the seats.

They wrote "Are the Meadowlarks Still Singing?" about a returned LDS missionary who falls in love with a minister's daughter. The play is frequently performed, free, on Sunday evenings at Hale Centre Theatre as part of an ongoing "fireside" program.

McDougal Funeral Home is handling funeral arrangements, which are not yet finalized.

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