Fred Stone (1873-1959) lived a life characterized by a love for performing and a passion for taking risks. By the age of ten, he was working with the circus and soon moved up the entertainment ladder to medicine shows, minstrel shows, variety acts, and musical comedy. His outstanding career in theatre and film spanned more than fifty years and included many memorable performances, among them the original Scarecrow in the 1903 stage production of The Wizard of Oz and Katherine Hepburn's father in the 1935 film Alice Adams.
For many years he was the most consistent box-office attraction in the American theatre. Along the way he developed a range of useful talents: he was a dancer, acrobat, ice-skater, lariat thrower, and tight-rope walker. Another significant quality that distinguished Fred Stone was the intense loyalty of his lifelong friends, including legendary humorist Will Rogers and well-known novelist Rex Beach, who remarked, "To my way of thinking, the biggest thing about Fred is not his genius as an entertainer and his hold upon the affections of the American public, nor is it the fact that he made good with but few advantages; it is the fact that in spite of his enormous success he has remained a simple, honest, and charitable man. He is the Peter Pan of our day."
|Fred Stone with longtime friend Will Rogers|
In 1939, Fred Stone received an honorary degree from Rollins College. It was then that a small theatre space near the Annie Russell Theatre was dedicated in his honor.
The history of the building itself is as transient as that of its namesake. The original building was a small wooden bungalow. In the 1970s, a brick and wooden church was rededicated as the 90-seat black box theatre that we have today. However, it has been moved several times around the Rollins Campus. It now sits – somehow still in one piece! – on the corner of Chase Avenue and Fairbanks.
In 2007, the college performed extensive structural and cosmetic renovations to the building, but preserved the unique “church-like” quality of the exterior. Now, the Fred Stone Theatre is home to the student-produced Second Stage season, presenting edgy, controversial, and original plays and performances. The current slogan for the series is “Spank Your Mind.” Alumni will be glad to know that the tradition of the cabaret-style talent event Evening at Fred’s, is still alive and well.
Fred Stone was a lifelong actor and risk-taker. It is fitting that a theatre space devoted to challenge, growth, and experimentation bears his name.