Donna Whitehead, Wicked Local –
MANSFIELD – When a Hollywood actors’ strike threatened to shut down production of On Golden Pond in the summer of 1980, actress Katharine Hepburn got on the phone with the Screen Actors Guild and pointed out that the lead actors had about 17 minutes left to live since both were in their 70s.
The guild relented and On Golden Pond, the story of cantankerous retiree Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his wife, Ethel, (Hepburn) won Academy Awards for Fonda, Hepburn and a young screenwriter who once lived in Mansfield named Ernest Thompson.
Thompson returned to Mansfield Sunday, Dec. 5, to share stories and answer questions about the making of On Golden Pond at the newly renovated Massachusetts Music & Arts Society center on South Main Street.
Thompson will premiere his new play, “Ask/Answer,” at MMAS in January 2022. Thompson will write, direct and star in the play along with actress Pamela Lambert.
The play is inspired by Lambert’s own experience with colorectal cancer 10 years ago, Thompson said. It’s about two people who meet through a colorectal clinic, their shared experiences and how one works to prove his worth to the other. All communication is through texts and memes.
For Thompson, a good story must have heart, hope and humor. He said “Ask/Answer” has all three.
“If you can make an audience laugh, you can take them anywhere,” he said. “It’s very funny despite the subject matter.”
Thompson said when MMAS Artistic Director and Director of Education Dori Bryan Ployer, a breast cancer survivor, read the script she called it “hopeful.”
“You will walk out of the theater knowing we’re going to be OK,” Thompson said.
Thompson recently connected with MMAS when he and his wife, Kerrin were visiting the area. Thompson moved to Mansfield he was about 8 years old. His father, Theron Thompson, was the school superintendent. The family lived where the current gas station is next to the Xfinity Center from 1957 to 1960. His back yard was the Great Woods. Thompson would skate on the Norton Reservoir in the area where the arts center is located.
Last summer, Thompson and his wife were on their way home to New Hampshire from visiting family in Mattapoisett and decided to take the long way home through in Mansfield. They stopped at the MMAS property to have sandwiches on the picnic tables by the Reservoir and use the portable restrooms.
“We were trespassing,” Thompson said.
When Thompson saw MMAS Executive Director Ken Butler come out of the building he stopped to talk with him and explained he used to live around there.
“I said, ‘What goes on in this building?’ and he said ‘We’re building a theater,’” Thompson recalled. “And that always gets my attention.
“I said, ‘I work in the theater too.’
“And (Ken) said, “Have you ever written anything I would have heard of?’”
Thompson introduced himself and Butler after recovering from his surprise gave them a tour. They decided it was serendipitous meeting and they should do something together.
“My philosophy is I was going to do (the play) somewhere, why not do it in Mansfield?” Thompson said.
“What a great place to grow a play,” he said of MMAS. “I love the intimacy of a space like this.
“If I can be helpful in some way, that’s a pleasure for me, because theaters should survive. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I’m excited about building a partnership (with MMAS) that will go on for years.”
In addition to debuting Ask/Answer, Thompson will be doing a national tour of On Golden Pond with Leslie Ann Warren and Barry Bostwick this spring and has a novel coming out next fall. Now, 72, he played the role of Norman himself for the first time two years ago.
On Golden Pond is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary as Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures are bringing the film to select cinemas nationwide for a special limited engagement.
If you’ve never seen the film or would like to watch it again, MMAS is having its own a special screening at noon Wednesday, Dec. 15, at Showcase Cinemas in Foxborough. Thompson will attend and answer questions after the screening. For tickets go to www.showtix4u.com.
Ask/Answer will open Jan. 19 at MMAS and run through Feb. 13. For tickets and more information, go to mmas.org.
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Staff writer Donna Whitehead can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also friend her on Facebook. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to the Journal News Independent today.