We are spoiled here in St. Louis regarding theatrical opportunities. Locals have a chance to see a show most weekdays and every weekend throughout the year. The Metro St. Louis community has no shortage of theatrical treasures, including dozens of venues and talents ranging from community level to traveling Broadway productions.I got the opportunity to spend an afternoon with one of our greatest treasures on his 97th birthday. When local thespian and recent Theatre Recognition Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award winner, George Lamb invites you over to share some of his stage experiences spanning the last 57 years, you don’t say no. If you’re thinking what else does he have to do at 97, you’d be mistaken. George isn’t the sit at home kind of guy. He squeezed me in for two hours between morning activities and dinner out with family and friends.
I met George in 2011 when he shared the stage with my daughter in Sound of Music, she was 7, he was 90. At that point, I was impressed with his experience on the stage and his stealthy ability to crack a joke when things slowed down backstage. Both my son and daughter would go on to work with him in later productions so I got to know more about him. I discovered that he adores his wife Bea and is proud of his three children, five grands, and nine greats. Over the years I would uncover other tidbits about George, for instance that he didn’t take up tap dancing until he was in his 70’s, “it’s never too late”, and that for years, he played trumpet in the OASIS New Horizon Band where Bea played clarinet.
He had some spare time on a Saturday afternoon, which is a lucky thing because he typically bowls in a weekly league (averages about 125) and was in the middle of rehearsals for his latest summer show, Annie at Over Due Theatre Company, where my daughter, now 13 gets to share the stage with him again. He is playing a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet and a resident of Hooverville. George is the only actor in the cabinet that was alive at the time of FDR, and he actually voted for him. I aspire to be as energetic as George Lamb, at age 97, in the middle of a summer show having recently wrapped a spring show, Sister Act, at ODTC.
I went into the interview knowing a lot about George but immediately learned something new. When he invited me to sit down, it was on a beautifully handcrafted couch, made by, you guessed it, George, an accomplished furniture maker. He spent many years building furniture. He also designed and built Torah stands for B’nai El, Central Reform Congregation. His furniture making looks more like a work of art than a piece of furniture. When I told him that, he quickly showed me some of his paintings. Keep in mind that George has accomplished all of this and was a scientist who practiced chemistry for 30 years and served in the Air Force during World War II.
Not one to sit still for long, he recalls waiting until his children had grown to start his path as a thespian. Though he started his career late in life, his list of shows is extensive. He keeps dozens of archival DVDs of his performances, and fondly recalled his first role in The Jewish Community Center’s Fiddler on the Roof. “It was great, getting to open the show and close it my first time on stage.” While Fiddler was his first show, Social Security in 2006 was his favorite. If George could play any role, it would be Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. His attraction to this role comes from Loman’s ability to “emotionally draw you in.”
When you get to sit down with a local legend, you have to ask the cliché questions, who is George’s favorite actor? I had to google Frederick March and was impressed to have learned something else from George. March wasn’t only an Oscar and Emmy nominee, he was the only actor to have won both the Academy Award and the Tony Award twice. George also lists local community favorite, Wayne Mackenberg, as his favorite local actor. Not only have they been friends for decades, but he appreciates Mackenberg’s “talents for nailing the character actor roles.” When I asked George who he would have dinner with, living or dead, Bea chimed in, “ME!” Outside of Bea and his family, George really didn’t have anyone for whom he was pining to share a meal. Watching this dynamic duo, you’d know there is a whole other love story there. I was lucky enough to have been
present at the Theatre Recognition Guild’s spring performance of I Remember It Well from Gigi, and admit to getting a little choked up. As if on cue, his granddaughter rang his room and George and Bea were whisked off for a proper 97th birthday celebration. As I was leaving, in true George Lamb tradition, he said, “I can’t let you go without a joke!” And he didn’t!
To answer the age-old St. Louis question, I like to think that if George hadn’t been a New Yorker and spent his high school years in St. Louis, he would have been a Jr Billiken.
Have you had the privilege of working with George? Maybe you have seen him on stage. Let’s celebrate this amazing man’s ongoing career by sharing your favorite memories.