John Travolta: In 1969 a 15 year old John Travolta appeared at Pioneer Playhouse in The Ephraim McDowell Story, an original play about a 19th century Kentucky surgeon. He later recalled the experience in a letter to Col. Eben Henson and recited the line from his professional dialogue debut: “Yes, Margaret Miller was suffering from pyloric stenosis and at the time of the operation I had no chance of success.”
Today the 2-time Academy Award nominee is known for such movies as Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, Primary Colors, Grease and many more!
Lee Majors: Majors was only twenty while training at Pioneer Playhouse. Shortly after leaving Danville he went to Hollywood and was cast in the mid-60s western The Big Valley. In the 70s he became a cultural icon as The Six Million Dollar Man and in the 80s starred in the hit series The Fall Guy.
Bo Hopkins: Bo was 18 when he was at the Playhouse. The list of approximately 60 films to Hopkins credit include American Graffiti, The Wild Bunch and Midnight Express.
Jim Varney: This Lexington native, who was at the Playhouse for the 1972 and 1973 seasons, had roles in a succession of short-lived TV shows before hitting success with the “Hey Vern” commercials — which he then parlayed in to the popular character of Ernest in eight Ernest Goes To … films. He played Jed Clampett in the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, and was the voice of Slinky Dog in both Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Sadly, Varney lost his battle with lung cancer in 1999.
Other Success Stories
Many alumni of the Playhouse have done well in New York and Hollywood, including Ken Garito (1990) who had a major role in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, John Capodice (1968) a police sergeant in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, 1986 former Intern Kate Miller was cast in two major roles on Broadway and narrated the audio book “Icy Sparks“, and Leo Burmeister is a regular on Broadway with major roles in Urban Cowboy and Shenandoah. Col. Henson’s son, Robby Henson, is a past recipient of the prestigious Student Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award. His feature films have been seen at Sundance, the Guigenheim Museum and PBS. He wrote and directed The Badge, a southern crime drama starring Billy Bob Thornton & Patricia Arquette –which aired on ENCORE. He also wrote and directed the documentary, Summerstock, featuring our own Pioneer Playhouse which was aired nationally on PBS.