Interviewee: Edith Gotwols (with her daughter Carol Dougherty - CD) Interviewer: Dave McClenahan Date: June 24, 2009
Interview focuses on Edith’s involvement with Old Academy Players and the Falls Presbyterian Church. She received an honorary plaque from Old Academy in 2014 – text of speech and photo attached.
So, my name is Dave McClenahan and I’m here talking to Edi Gotwols and her daughter Carol Dougherty. Okay so, Edi, what’s Edi is Edi your name or is it Edith?
Edith? Okay. And your….
Maiden name or original name is…
(Laughs) Oh okay real good stuff. Let’s see, you we were talking about your parents’ names before – who your parents were?
Sara and Joseph
Sara and Joseph. Do you remember Sara’s last name?
Patterson, right her maiden name. And Joseph was?
And they were from…where were they born do you know?
My mother was born in North Ireland. I don’t know about my father – he died when I was a year old.
CD: They say he lived in Belfast.
And your mother where she lived?
Okay…and let’s see now, so they came to this…were they married here or they must have been married over there…
No they were married here.
Okay so you say he died when you were one year old – that must have affected your life. What happened when he died? Did you move somewhere else after?
My mom put my brother Ernie and my sister and I in the Presbyterian Orphanage and I was the youngest child there so my Aunt in New York took me to Woodside, Long Island.
So that’s why you were near Coney Island right? And so Woodside was partway out the Island?
Do you remember how long you were there?
I was there for 5 years and then mother wanted me closer so I came to live with the Johnson’s in East Falls. They were also Presbyterians and I lived there till I married I guess.
CD: And that’s how you got to go to Falls Breck (School).
And the Johnsons lived on Bowman Street?
No, Vaux Street.
What block was that do you remember?
3514 was their number.
Wow, so that was around till Ainslie.
Right Ainslie and Sunnyside.
Between the two, right? So let’s see how long did you live with the Johnsons?
Well I started school in 3rd grade and let’s see I lived with the Johnsons till…
CD: You married Dad.
Yeah right till I married Howard. Howard Conway.
So you originally went to school up in Long Island?
I would have gone to school there, yes, okay, because I started here in 3rd grade.
And that was at Breck School?
Do you remember any teachers’ names at Breck?
I remember all the ones – Ms. Kaid, Mrs. Wertz, Mrs. Toppen, Ms. Edwards taught math.
So did you like Breck School?
Oh yeah it was okay, it was close to home
So coming out of Breck School, where’d you go to high school?
I went to Germantown High School. But in my teens – did you want this? – I joined the Old Academy.
Well let’s finish high school, because I got a couple questions about how you went to high school.
The Trolley. The 52 Trolley.
Did you switch to the other trolley on 23?
I remember the 52 Trolley going up Midvale.
I remember that too, and the 23 – I used to take that too.
So, did you play sports or anything, or acting in high school?
No I didn’t do any acting there. I was acting in Old Academy.
Okay so tell me about Old Academy.
In my teens I joined Old Academy and, as I enjoyed to be part of the theater, a friend in East Falls had a small part in a show in Olney called the Berkley Players. She had to drop out and her name was Ruth Emmert. She lived in East Falls. And she asked me to do the part. It was there I met Howard Conway, a tall handsome man that lived in East Lansdale. The director asked him to bring me during the show. He had a wonderful voice – didn’t know about his singing till later.
We fell in love and married in 1941. Lived in a small apartment in West Philadelphia, Carol was born on February 24, 1942. War broke out and Howard was inducted November 11, 1942. Carol and I went to live with the Conways in East Lansdale.
Howard was stationed in Camp Shelby Mississippi. He was in a talent contest and won a $25 bond. Paper article said “Soldier wins bond for 1 year old daughter.” When he came home we moved to East Falls. Our friend Ruth told us about a house for sale at Bowman and Osmond Street. I was expecting Allen when we moved there. Howard got a job at Teleflex for a few years when a young man asked him to go into business with him. The shop was called Conway and Slavin.
Howard left there after he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 1955. He was out of work for a while when a new hospital called Eastern Psychiatric Institute opened near East Falls and Howard got a job there in research, making tools for the doctors. They all loved him and it was close to home. After a year he was getting too weak and had to leave and had many transfusions in the hospital. On September 18, 1957 got a call from Abington Hospital that he was not good. Called Joan, my sister-in-law, to go with me he was unconscious. They sent us for coffee when we got back he was gone. Losing Howard was hard – we loved him so much.
All the doctors from research were pallbearers they asked me to work in research which was good and close to home so I could have lunch with Aan; Carol was in high school. We missed Howard so much. He played the piano and sang every evening. He was a wonderful husband and father.
Three and a half years later I married Dr. Lester Kant. He was part-owner of a lovely apartment called Sherry Lake Apartments. The good thing was bringing mother to live with us. She wasn’t well and died in 1968. Les bought a cottage in the Poconos in 1967. In ‘72, I was divorced and moved to the Poconos; Les signed the house over to me. Had a fire in the bathroom and it was well-insured, they totaled the house and I got a brand new home. I worked at a department store in Wyoming Valley, stayed a year, then worked in a new store in Mount Pocono.
Stayed a few years then got a new job at Brookmont in Effort, it was more money and I was a practical nurse. Frank Willy worked there also so we took turns driving. In 1981 received a note from Earl Gotwols asking if I would have dinner with him as he came near the area. He sold industrial tools to big companies. Our first date was April 13 1981, when we saw each other it was like old times as we dated in our teens. We were married…we married December 13, 1981 in a Methodist Church in Shamokin by his brother Webb that was the minister and his 65th birthday. Millie and Mike stood for us and friend Connie sang “I’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ave Maria.” Carol and Debbie and Diane were there.
The years with Earl were happy, he was a caring husband. He wrote me many notes and always signed “and I love you more.” We traveled a lot went to England, Scotland, Ireland, visited Ruth and Bill in California. Many times visited Pat and Allen in Colorado, Earl loved to go there. July 14, Earl was in pain, I took him to the hospital. He had leukemia; he was moved to Hospice and died the 24 of July 2002. On the 27th, Pat and Allen came. On the 28th, 18 people came and supplied lunch for all paid by Anne and Ben Bowers.
Missed Earl so much but in 2004 moved in Masonic Village in Lafayette Hill. My apartment was new and lovely, not too far from Carol to visit. Dinner was included in monthly rent, meals good, people friendly it’s better than being alone in the Poconos with a house to worry about. Only wish Earl was here to share it, he would be happy I’m here.
And the good thing is it brought you back to us in East Falls.
What? I didn’t hear that.
I said the good thing is it brought you back to us in East Falls, too, coming here. Because we missed you when you were in the Poconos.
Oh okay well thank you.
Let’s go back…When you met Howard, through Ruth Emmert, she asked you if you wanted to be in that play? He was in that play. How did you get to Old Academy then, was he in Old Academy?
I joined Old Academy as a teenager so I was pretty young. I lived with the Johnson’s.
CD: Well you walked right, you walked to Old Academy?
I guess did Howard bring you into Old Academy or Ruth or just the fact you knew it was there?
I knew about Old Academy.
Okay so your first acting was the one you did with Howard over in…
Yeah at Olney…the Berkley Players in Olney, right.
Then you just thought this is fun and you wanted to do some acting locally. Do you remember the first play you were in, in the Old Academy?
Oh no, I don’t think so.
CD: Well I know who could tell you: Bob Freed. They just interviewed him.
Oh that’s right yeah.
Yeah he gave me a paper of all the shows I was in, maybe it would be in that.
Okay, we have a paper that was written by Bob Freed concerning Edith and her acting at the Old Academy so I am going to ask her to read that now.
[Reading from paper]: “In 1940 a beautiful black haired, blue eyed, young girl named Edith Havalent joined Old Academy. Edith’s first acting assignment was to play the part of Nancy Lee Faulkner, the widow of a suicidal or murdered multi-millionaire in her first production on the night of January 16. From that time on she was one of our best and busiest leading ladies. She also became the wife of Howard Conway and the mother of 2 beautiful children. Howard was to die at far too young an age.
Off stage, Edi was always a very willing backstage worker and a member of numerous committees. On stage, she gave memorable performances in among other things, Death Takes a Holiday, The Silver Whistle, Outward Bound, The Corn Is Green, A Hat Full of Rain, Kind Sir, Any Wednesday. Her last performance to date with us was as Leona Savage in the Time of the Cuckoo. The part originated on the stage by Shirley Booth and played in the screen adaptation, Summertime, by Katherine Hepburn.
Edi then moved to the Pocono area with her husband Earl Gotwols. Through all the years however, her support and interest in Old Academy has been unflagging. She has made enumerable trips back to see our productions and has maintained an avid interest in the welfare of Old Academy. Edi, with her personal warmth and sincerity, has managed the feat of being universally liked and admired by all those who had the privilege of working with her.
Edi lost her beloved husband Earl within the last year but tonight she is here with her lovely daughter Carol and tonight the Old Academy wishes to bestow on you, Edi, the highest honor of distinguished membership.”
So now that we heard that beautiful statement about a beautiful lady obviously it was when you became a distinguished member of the Old Academy which was…about how many years ago?
CD: When was that? It’s on here…May 2003.
Okay, so that was a big night. Are there many distinguished members do you know? I don’t know…
Yes there’s quite a few now I think.
I also noticed he said the plays to date, maybe you’re gonna have a comeback? I guess we should talk about your acting career with Grace Kelly since that’s another beautiful lady from the Old Academy. So you did a few plays with Grace Kelly do you know how many?
Do you remember what any of them were?
So do you remember stuff about Grace Kelly or information about her?
I remember a few little things about her. She was a bit on the quiet side. She was lovely and I think I told you this one little thing about her – she was sitting next to the prompter, who was my friend Ruth Emmert, and she looked down and said, “Grace, you have runners in your stockings!” and she says, “My mother makes me wear them.”
She was pretty young then right? She was a teenager…
Yeah, cause she was younger than me.
There was another person at the Old Academy, Bob Prosky. Robert Prosky?
Yes, I remember Bob he was in a show or two with me. He had gone professional.
After he did the Old Academy things, yeah. But he always remembered Old Academy right?
Yes he did.
CD: And who took him home?
I used to take him home – he lived in Manayunk.
Oh he lived in Manayunk and you used to get to drive him home after the Old Academy, huh. And he passed away just this year.
But did you see him? Carol, I know you saw him.
CD: I did, yeah. Oh we saw his one man show at Old Academy. Now that was like…
A couple years, 5 years ago, 10?
CD: Well, I know it was after ‘03, so maybe ‘05? Somewhere around there.
I don’t remember that he did that.
CD: Yeah, mom and I went with Ruth Riddiough and then they had a reception upstairs afterwards.
What kind of things did he do in the one man show?
CD: He just told us how he got started in the Old Academy and how he went on to become an actor in the shows he was in.
Yeah I have a picture of him.
We’ll get that at the end. Let’s see now…Old Academy…you’ve been telling us that you acted with Grace’s sister, which sister?
Lizanne, the youngest.
And that wasn’t with Grace at the same time, was that?
No, Grace was already in New York or something.
Oh she had already moved to the professional?
And Lizanne’s husband?
He acted there at the Old Academy. Did Peggy act?
Peggy, they all did.
Wow, a real theatrical family. Did Howard ever act at the Old Academy; your Howard?
Oh yes, yes. One time a lot of the members from Old Academy came to our home. Marie Hess was one of our finest directors and she wanted Howard to join Old Academy. So they all came and talked him into joining Old Academy. So he did because Marie Hess was directing Portrait in Black and it was about two lawyers and she wanted Howard for that part and that’s what made him join. It was Marie Hess that did it.
Did you ever get to act with Howard?
No, no I didn’t. Someone had to mind the kids.
CD: They had cabarets back then and my dad used to sing in the cabarets.
He had a wonderful voice.
He sang professionally didn’t he? Or semi?
CD: Well he was a paid singer.
Yes, he was paid. He sang in a synagogue because it was a reformed synagogue and they take Gentile singers and he was their soloist and when he died, the rabbi came and said do you mind if I get up and speak? And we said no we’d love it. He got up and it was so beautiful we wish we would have recorded it.
What kind of voice did Howard have because I know it was very good but was it tender or baritone?
Did he ever sing at the church, Presbyterian Church?
Yes, he did.
CD: He sang all over. He also sang at an Alpha Baptist Church and there was some other one.
He was a soloist there.
CD: Just all over. I brought one album to show you later but I have three albums of my father’s. He was also a model for Models Guild of Philadelphia and they used to do shows for Gimbel’s and he was in that too.
EG: He was tall and he made a good model.
Let’s see…You talked about Carol’s brother and I guess we ought to just mention again his name, Carol’s brother?
Currently lives in?
Does Alan have children?
One son. One son from a previous marriage.
Now you came to East Falls Presbyterian with the Johnson’s. Do you remember anything there? Like first of all where was that church at the time?
That church was a long walk for us. On Ridge Avenue, and it faced the Schuylkill and we had wonderful picnics there, wonderful.
We’re coming up on the 4th of July so they had 4th of July picnics down there, right along the river?
Yes, I mentioned that. They had those ground beef sandwiches and lemonade.
Did you ever act in any plays at the church?
CD: You said you did.
EG: I think I did, yes. I did I have some pictures.
That’s right, you did save a picture on that stage. That was probably at the old church.
Yes it was.
So by the time you moved out of the area that was before the old, the new church was built?
CD: Because Alan was the first to be christened in the new church.
Oh that’s right yeah. So that was around 1945 or so?
CD: Yeah because he was born in August of ‘44 and December was when that opened.
EG: There was some other one christened the same day as Alan in the new church.
Oh I’ll have to look that up and that was with the new Baptismal font. There was something else that we talked about and I forget it.
I taught Sunday school. I wanted to tell you that I used to be in Matilda Brim’s class and then one day all these young people came over and said they wanted me to be their teacher and two of those go to our church, Betty Caruso and Jane Heck. So I taught them Sunday School and I used to have them at my home for meetings and I took them roller skating at CheVu so they were thrilled with their new teacher.
What age were they? They must have been teenagers when you were teaching them.
Yeah, definitely right.
Do you remember how long you taught?
No I don’t remember that how long I guess… I don’t know what I did after that.
What ministers do you remember that were there?
I don’t remember their names.
CD: He christened me. I don’t know how long he was there because growing up I only remember Reverend Harvey as a child.
Mister Myskins never moved to the new church, he left between the two churches.
Oh I remembered him. Myskins and Harvey.
Your son was the first one to be baptized in the new church and my parents were the last ones to be married in the old church.
Yeah my mom and dad used to say they had to close it after that. Now let’s talk about your husband, Earl Gotwols. And he came from East Falls originally, and his brother was…who was his brother?
Webster became a minister.
Web Gotwols. How about his other brother?
And his other brother was Harold but we always called him Torch he had reddish hair.
And they basically went to the Methodist Church. Is that correct?
Yes that’s right.
So what did Earl do for a living I think you mentioned it earlier but…he was involved with?
EG: Garret, yeah he sold industrial tools.
Okay, but besides selling tools he had a passion for writing; is that correct?
Writing, yes. He wrote beautiful poetry and had a book published and he also wrote a little one called “Cartoonettes” that he wrote. He was really very talented.
He wrote a poem that I don’t know who put it to music…
CD: Barbara Hedges-Gaydle.
EG: Oh that’s right.
CD: Now I’ve been trying to find out how to get that published as a hymn and who comes up to me on Sunday but Brenda and says she heard from Barb and wanted to know if I had a copy of that she put the setting to. She set it to Sibelius’ Finlandia and I said “yes” so Brenda said ask Barb if she knows how to go about that.
Was that one of the poems in the book?
And I remember he brought some books to church once and he was signing them right?
Right. He sold them I have one and I have several little “Cartoonette” books, you know, you remember those, Dave?
Not really, not at the moment. So I’m looking at a book called “My Cartoonettes” by Earl F. Gotwols, 1996. “With thanks to Edi, my wife and friend.” There’s a little short one would you read that for us?
Sure, I also want to tell you there was a poet in the Poconos and he’s the one that pushed Earl into writing these and getting a book published.
Oh really, do you remember his name?
Yes, I did. This is Snow: [reading]: “There’s nothing like a snowstorm whether that be good or bad to help one discover muscles that he never knew he had.”
CD: They’re all short little quips and they’re so cute. I forget…ugh Mr. Rigmanti.
EG: Rigman-Gene. G-E-N-E. Gene Rigmanti was a poet and Earl spent a lot of time with him and he pushed Earl to get his work done.
Did he teach Earl about poetry or did Earl already know?
I think Earl already knew, yes. But Gene was a great teacher for him and a pusher you know…