Remembering When

by Jerry Person
Huntington Beach City Historian

Dedicated to the people of Huntington Beach and its rich past

The Plays the Thing Called Murder


The big thing that's happening around Huntington High these days is that its open again after a year of closure for the pandemic. Noises of students again fills the hallways where the ghosts of students past roamed the halls during its year of closure.

I wonder if all todays sounds could be frightening away the ghost that some believe haunts the school's tower. I doubt that I’ll ever witness that ghost since the rules of the Ghosts, Goblins and Spirits union forbids its members from haunting before the hour of midnight and by than I’m sound asleep.

Over the auditorium’s 95-year history many an actor has “died” onstage, but for this week lets remember a murder mystery that was played inside its theater for laughs.

It was on November 15, 1940 that the drama class of Mrs. Condon staged a play entitled “320 College Avenue” inside the auditorium. The students would be preforming this fast-moving mystery that combined thrills, chills and sidesplitting laughs.

Shop teacher Charles Brisco and his stage crew worked hard to build the sets that added realism to the plot which transformed the stage to look like a college sorority house’s dining and living rooms.

“And now he’s gone! Murdered! Who killed him?”

These were some of the startling lines spoken by the players as the curtain slowly opened for Act One.

Eerie blue lights illuminated the actors who were now dressed in evening gowns for the girls and tuxedos for the boys , who were attending a dance.

While a dance was going on a body is found of one of the students with a woman's hat-pin sticking in him.

Police are summoned to the scene and because of the hat pin the girls are the primary suspects, but after a search of the body for money he was holding, the searchers found that it was missing . The money came from a pool the boys participated in, now the suspects turned to the boys.

Joseph Fadler was perfect as the sarcastic, hardboiled police detective who knows a lot more about his stomach then the murder.

Each act was crammed with laughs, thrills, horrors, puzzles, surprises, romance and the action was fast and continuous with each act beginning where the last one left off.

The ending to the play was even kept secret from the actors when Mrs. Condon, the director, tore out the closing lines of the script and the identity of the murderer was hidden from the cast and audience.

When the most popular college girl Judy (Lorraine Mauldin) is about to find the victim, another murder is committed right under her nose. The detective and his assistant began questioning the suspects that included Omar Paxson as a loquacious, backslapping college student.

Doris Hager portrayed Lucy, the temperamental poetess that with her flights into poetic realms provided many of the laughs for the audience.

The detective now questioned the freshman wallflower Mossy played by Eileen Howard and the piano-playing crooner Wallace Perry, but to no avail and the detective was still in the dark.

Other members of the cast included Barbara Jean Bristol as the sentimental Dean of Women who teaches “yellowcution” and the romantic college heartthrob, Robert Heil. Other students in the play included medical student Phyllis (Marjorie Smith) and Ken (Donald Harding), romantic poet Ronny (Richard Cowdry) and another wallflower Ernie (Bill Janes).

Chester Hemstreet portrayed the college football hero who was awkward when it came to romance and women. Dorothy Sork played Minna, the athletic amazon and Alberta Horton played a college law student Nan along with Dick Claus as law student Hap. 

Now if you think I’m going to tell you who the murderer was, I’m not, you’ll have to find someone who was in the audience at the time to find out. 

When 320 College Avenue was performed, it was said that it was the funniest murder mystery that the audience had ever seen.

Now if you happen to see a ghost with a hat-pin sticking in his body wandering the halls at night, don’t worry, it’s just our murder victim searching for his killer, we hope!