Can the Show Go On?
When the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre closed, it was the end of an era. Was it the end of a legacy, too?
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The Acromaniacs were so famous in the 1940s that Tommy Dorsey led their backup band. Now, far removed from the spotlight, the two surviving stars choose to live in isolation.
Hugo, 88, slumps into his kitchen chair. He’s 10 pounds thinner than he was a year ago and his famous golden glow has paled. Shortly after the theater went down, he was blindsided with the death of his wife, Anna. She died two days before Christmas.
“I’m very sad,” he says. “I’ve lost my best friend and my business. When you spend your lifetime hoping there will be a legacy for your children, for their lifetimes, and it falls apart, it’s tragic.”
Anna’s wedding ring hangs on the gold chain around Hugo’s neck, and he tugs on it every few minutes. His Hockessin condo is a daily reminder of a good marriage. Hugo refuses to move away from it and, in essence, away from Anna. Her place setting at the kitchen table remains untouched. A flower from her funeral is tied to her chair. Her silk scarf covers a bedroom pillow that bears the couple’s monogrammed initials.
“We had a beautiful life,” he says, walking slowly from room to room, staring at walls covered in photos of Anna, their children, 32 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
Nick, 86, surrounds himself with TLB memorabilia in the same Fairfax home he bought in the 1950s. He sits alone, watching musicals on TV. His only relief from isolation comes from driving to the market or park to walk his dog, Winnie. Hundreds of snapshots surround him, detailing The Acromaniacs’ rise to fame. Photo albums overflow with pictures of his wife, Hazel, a former first lieutenant Army nurse he met while serving in World War II. Hazel died in 2005, about the same time the business started downhill.
“I sat with builders days and nights to help create that theater,” Nick says, picking up a yellowing photograph of the three Acromaniacs yucking it up with The Three Stooges. “I haven’t visited since they tore us down. I won’t look at the property.”
Hugo and Nick are equally sad, yet separate. As Hugo sits in his space, watching the daylight creep through the curtains in morning then disappear at night, anguished by the loss of his wife and his business, his brother sits in his recliner, brooding over what could have been.
“Ninety percent of family businesses fail when they’re handed down to the next generation,” Nick says. “Younger generations, people with great educations, don’t want to follow the same footsteps as the seniors. That’s OK. But in our case, it didn’t work out.”
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