June 12 – 18, 2020Vol. 22, No. 1

In Pursuit of On Golden Pond

by Martha F. Barkley

How many of you have read the original play by Richard Ernest Thompson? I have found very few readers who have. As a newcomer around these parts, I felt obliged, as a curious reader, to find the original script and read it for myself.

So off I went to Barnes and Noble in Augusta, of all places. Yes, dear reader, I was a great buyer of books back in the olden days, 30 years or more ago. Now, I check my public library first. Sometimes one gets better as one ages...and smarter...

Frustrated at Barnes and Noble because they did not know what I was talking about, I consulted neighbors around the lake. If you keep checking, you will find it, I kept saying to myself. We happen to live next door to the Runoia Girls Camp and Betty Cobb suggested that I check with Joan Williams.

I walked down Woodlands Camp Road to Echo Cove where several Runioa alumni have summer camps. Joan cheerfully answered my "knock, knocks" and helped me find her copy of On Golden Pond. I had to precariously climb onto her sofa and reach high up among the cobwebs where her old collection of treasures was stored.

The play On Golden Pond was published in book form and signed by playwright Ernest Thompson. The Thompson family camp was nearby on the other side of the tennis courts from Echo Cove. How grateful I was that Joan would let me borrow this yellow-paged version of the original play.

She actually let me take it home for a slow read...what reading pleasure it brought me to find some very good lines not even in the grand movie. Yes, the original is better than the movie. How often have you heard that? But how could that be? The movie is so very good.

Come to find out that the boat crash was not in the original. Ernest Thompson was asked to write it into the movie version. What would we do without a wounded Henry Fonda (Old Poop)? Every scene in the play is true to my Great Pond experience. Even those huge old gnarly trees growing along Woodlands Camp Road where Fonda went blueberry picking and lost his way.

David Webster was the very kind man who rented us our first boat when we stayed the first time at Crystal Springs Camp. His friendly personality is conveyed beautifully as mailboat guy in the play. From boats to loons to squeaky screen doors, all is there in the play.

That gazebo in the movie could easily be Judge Crater's gazebo which still stands near the old Thompson camp. Judge Crater enjoyed his red canoe outings with Thelma, or Mrs. Thompson. I love the fact that the play simply quotes his parents. No wonder it is so real.

Judge Crater and his mysterious disappearance got me started on another wild goose chase! Many Judge Crater books out there to read, but my favorite is The Empty Robe by his widow Stella Crater. Fun to talk to the neighbors around that home and hear about Stella's sister, the artist, painting all the boulders different colors. (Editor's Note: Originally published in 1961, this book is out of print. One may be able to find a copy through a local library or a seller of used books.)

I asked about the lilac bush by her door that Stella fainted into when the FBI came to Belgrade Lakes to investigate Judge Crater's disappearance. The Bean Brother (L.L.'s brother Ervin) delivering to Stella her new red canoe was strange since the judge was missing in New York City on her birthday back at the lake. Mystery and dredging of the lake for his body...

Yes, I returned Joan's copy of On Golden Pond and felt the warmth of the original play for a long time. Our Belgrade Historic Society did a pontoon ride around Great Pond and we swished by Judge Crater's gazebo and nearby Thompson camp where a future writer of On Golden Pond enjoyed summertime at the lake for every summer of his boyhood awhile back.

Ernest Thompson's mother became a friend through the years and she would honk and stop to talk on Point Road as I did my daily walk. When the television version of On Golden Pond was produced with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, of course, we knew it would be terrific. And it was, scenery and all. We agreed that the live performance was special for TV land...

When the black version of On Golden Pond hit Broadway [in 2005], I was prepared by my Charleston, SC neighbor. She had already seen it at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and told me how well done it was. Friends of hers had tickets given to them by Colin Powell's daughter, the performer for Jane Fonda's part.

What impressed me about this particular Broadway play was that not one line was changed from the original version of the play. Now that is theater at its best, don't you think?