Last Word: The Start of Something Great
What one photo can tell us about beginnings, legacies and all the promise that lies ahead.
By Richard Humphrey ’74
While an undergraduate at Bucknell in the early ’70s, I would walk along the lengthy corridor backstage of the Coleman Theatre and admire framed photographs of student productions going back decades. One image from 1964 always grabbed my attention. A gangly, funny-looking lad is staring into the camera’s lens. His eyes are wide and intensely concentrated, reflecting a chimerical blend of tragedy and comedy. That young lad is Edward Herrmann ’65, P’02 in a campus production of Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. Who would have guessed that this moment at Bucknell University would be the nascence of Edward’s journey into a multifaceted, award-winning career that would span more than four decades, into movies such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and the ’80s cult classic The Lost Boys; into television as Richard Gilmore in Gilmore Girls; and on to plays, audiobooks and commercials?
As fate would have it, I met the subject of my fascination in 1973, when Ed came home to Bucknell to coach theatre students at the request of his mentor, Harvey Powers. For decades, Harvey and his wife, Betsy, formed the center of a dynamic, artistic microcosm in which students could gather at their home on South Water Street and commune with famous and on-the-way-to-famous artists, actors and musicians, and dream of the world of artistic opportunity awaiting beyond Lewisburg. Ed’s professional career had begun, but he was still two years away from his breakthrough portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the popular and critically acclaimed Eleanor and Franklin. I vividly recall being enthralled by his presence (a looming six foot, five inches), energy and optimism. I also remember feeling slightly jealous of his palpable talent.
As the years progressed and his reputation grew, Ed never left Bucknell far behind. He returned to campus repeatedly to humbly share his mentorship, his love for the arts and the halo effect of the momentum of his notoriety and successes — which included a coveted Tony Award for Best Featured Actor — in support of Bucknell’s next generation of students and the University’s capital plans for growth. Ed was granted an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 1983 and spoke at Bucknell’s Commencement in 1989. He delivered a beautiful eulogy for Harvey Powers when Powers died in 1993, and Ed and his wife, Star, performed A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters in 1997 at the Weis Center to celebrate the Coleman Theatre’s new name — the Harvey M. Powers Theatre. Ed’s daughter, Ryen, graduated from Bucknell in 2002, and Ed relished his new role of parent quietly, and behind the scenes. As the years passed, I would continue to see Ed on campus and at industry award ceremonies and events, where we would joke and marvel that it all began for us both at Bucknell. And so it was with shock, sadness and regret that I opened The New York Times to read of Ed’s untimely passing on Dec. 31, 2014, at the age of 71.
Even so, I continue to reflect upon that image from 1964. It is altogether natural that the edges of the photograph have become brittle and browned. This is life. But I’m glad that it holds for us, fellow Bucknell alumni, and for the students who will take the stage after him, a forever-youthful Edward Herrmann, as he stares into a yet-unknown future and all the promise it holds.
Richard Humphrey '74 is an award-winning entrepreneur and producer. He was a two-term president of the Bucknell University Alumni Association and its board of directors, as well as a two-term president of the Bucknell Association for the Arts. He is CEO/CCO of The Ride, LLC., in Times Square.