I. THE RAMONA PAGEANT
As a kid, I felt like I was always on the go. Actually, it was my Aunt Mae who had us on the go, and she would just drag my Uncle Titán and me along for the ride. Sometimes, other family members were invited like my folks and my younger sis, Vivian. A lot of these jaunts were taken annually — every year, every year, every year, and hey, I loved it!
The RAMONA PAGEANT in Hemet was one of the annual ones, and Aunt Mae always used to tell me in later years that we went to the very first showing in 1923. I was 5 years old in 1923, and I had always thought that the first year the Pageant appeared was in 1926, but when I went to “Google” in 2010, there it was big as life on my monitor — first performance was in 1923! So now here I am scratching what covers my brain wondering whatever happened to the great memory machine which I thought I had recalling all those events during my early years. Shot down! Of course, Aunt Mae was right, and it could have been that I had simply napped through the first 3 years. However, I don’t have a clue as to how I could possibly have slept through the entire play because at times there is a whole bunch of gunfire and thundering of horses’ hooves — very, very loud — and the gunfire scares the kids half to death. Then everything quiets down considerably for Ramona and Alessandro when they are in their romantic mode.
The setting for the Pageant is a natural amphitheater in the hills outside of Hemet. There is a little valley that spills out to this opening where the entire play takes place. Opposite this “stage” is where the audience would sit on the sloping side of a hill. How someone discovered this perfect arena, I will never know, but it is absolutely ideal. An English dramatist, Garnet Holme, was actually responsible for finding the venue. He had written the play “Ramona” from Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, “Ramona.” He directed the Pageant from 1923-28. He loved staging outdoor shows up and down California.
There were no seats in the early days. The hillside from where the audience viewed this play was quite rocky. We would spread out blankets and pillows, bring a picnic lunch, while we were treated to a magnificent spectacle. Later, there were plank benches, and eventually concrete terraced seats —- at last, finally cast in stone to survive the ages.
There were no microphones nor loudspeakers in those days, which goes to prove what a special place this is where all the audience was able to hear every spoken word, whether the players were on center stage or up on one of the mountains. It wasn’t until 1965 that a sound system was installed with fixed microphones scattered throughout the bowl. Now they have the wireless microphones so the sound is much improved.
After the first few years, the Hemet Chamber of Commerce bought acreage around the site. They needed room for parking and a small office building. When the first seats were put in, they were rows of plank boards so you still hauled blankets and pillows to try for a little more comfort. In 1965, more seating was put in, and was a little better; however, the last time I attended about 7 years ago — those seats are not exactly like the loge seats in Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Over the years I have seen some actors from the Hollywood scene who played Alessandro and Ramona. Victor Jory — such a handsome guy — and his gorgeous wife, Jean Innis, were such a beautiful couple. I still cherish the memory of their portrayals. Another year, Maurice Jara, also with striking good looks, played Alessandro. One actor I missed playing the title role was an 18 year old, Raquel Tejada – later Welch. She played Ramona in 1959 before her fame in motion pictures. Fifty years later in 2009,
Raquel showed up for a “reunion.” In pictures taken that day, at 68+/-, it all still looks good and put together.
I dare to say, that as long as there are about 4 or 5 hundred people left in the Hemet area there will be a RAMONA PAGEANT. That’s how many it takes to launch this annual extravaganza for just the last two weekends in April and the first weekend in May, a total of 6 performances.
I would love to go see this pageant just one more time before leaving on my “beeg” vacation. It played such a big part in my early years traveling all over the countryside with Aunt Mae —- what fantastic memories.
My advice: EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE THE RAMONA PAGEANT BEFORE THEY LEAVE ON THEIR “BEEG” VACATION.