Salisbury Actor is Set in New Broadway Play
New York Times  - February 15, 1947 [View Scan Version]

Salisbury Actor Is Set In New Broadway Play
By Don Bishop

It’s difficult to speak the name of Ralph Roberts without soon using "amazing" to describe him.

Roberts, 30, formerly of Salisbury, N.C., is a big, hard working actor with a small but amusing role of a policeman in "The Madwoman of Chaillot," a fine play which deservedly is climbing to hit proportions.

Roberts is on the stage of the Belasco Theater six evenings and two afternoons a week. And he also:

  1. Teaches public speaking at the Latin-American Institute – even though until he was 17 years old he was tongue-tied and couldn’t have been considered even remotely a possibility for acting.

  2. Is executive director of the Herbert Berghof dramatic school.

  3. Attends courses in Shakespeare.

  4. Attends classes in acting.

  5. Attends classes at the Swedish Institute of Physiotherapy.

  6. Does secretarial jobs in the office of the American Theater Wing.

  7. Mimeographs menus for Bill and Jerry’s Restaurant on West Fourth street in Greenwich Village in exchange for his meals.

Amusing Role

The above enterprises are more or less self-explanatory but one or two could stand elaboration.

First, "The Madwoman of Chaillot": Roberts protrays a literal-minded French policeman who believes in enforcing the exact letter of the law. He is one of a mad lot of characters who contribute to a laughable and thought-provoking evening in the theater.

Next, the public speaking: Roberts knows no Spanish, but his students speak English and he gives them pointers in delivery, enunciation, etc. He overcame his own handicap with encouragement from Peggy West, a Broadway actress from Salisbury.

In those days Roberts was just as amazing for his versatility and energy as he is today. He was an honor graduate of Salisbury high school and attended Catawba College in Salisbury. During the time he was thus acquiring his formal education he sometimes worked 12 hours a night in a textile factory and held down a library job in the afternoon. Roberts’ father is H.K. Roberts of Salisbury.

Roberts volunteered for the Army as a private late in 1940.

"To get my year out of the way," he explained.

He finally got out in 1946. During those years he rose to rank of major and became General Stilwell’s personnel officer in the China-Burma theater.

Opposes Stock

For the past two summers he has returned to the Army for duty. He has done so for the financial security afforded by the Army but, amazingly – there’s that word again – also because he thinks that summer theater is bad for a young actor.

"Unless he’s well established," he explained. Roberts held that a relatively inexperienced actor, lacking a technique for doing so, cannot master a part, play it a week, and then take up another role.

He was in summer theater in 1946 at Gloucester, Mass., and found this to be true for himself. This summer he expects to stay with the theater, but not in repertory. If plans work out, he will be part of a group which will tour summer playhouses with a single offering.

Roberts has been in four Broadway plays and one that closed in Philadelphia before reaching New York. Twice he has been a policeman and three times a sailor.

He was a sailor in "The Big People," which gave up in Philadelphia. At New York City Center last year he was a policeman in "Angel Street," a sailor in the Chekhov comedy, "The Wedding," and also in "S.S. Glencairn." Howard Barns said in a review of the latter that Roberts gave a "magnificent" and "three dimensional" performance.

"But I’m not afraid of being type cast," Roberts said.

He expects to remain in physical shape for such casting should it be necessary, however. He works out every morning with weight-lifting paraphernalia.