Actress Herta Ware, widow of Will Geer and one of the founders of the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga has died. She was 88.
Ware was born on June 9, 1917 in Wilmington, Delaware. A singer/songwriter and classical actress, she married Will Geer in 1934 and appeared with him in the original Broadway productions of The Cradle Will Rock and Let Freedom Ring.
Aside from her classical repertory work onstage at the Theatricum Botanicum, Ware appeared in films and on television, including notable appearances in 2010, Cocoon, Slam Dance, Species, Top Dog and Cruel Intentions. Among her many television credits are roles on “Amazing Stories,” “Knots Landing,” “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” “Golden Girls,” “Cagney and Lacey” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” She received an ACE award for “Crazy in Love,” a TNT movie special, and starred in an episode of “ER” with family friend John Randolph.
In 2000, she released a self-titled CD of her own songs.
Her performances at Theatricum Botanicum over the years ranged from Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie to the soothsayer in Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, and she appeared annually accompanied by her own dog Willie in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Ware’s grandmother Ella Reeve Bloor was a union activist and she and Geer were very active in the Labor Movement in the ‘30s and ‘40s, helping to form unions and taking their children to workers’ rallies, teaching them union songs that the family performed at fundraisers.
The lifelong relationship between Woody Guthrie and the Geer family began in the late 1930s when Guthrie, Geer and Ware performed together at labor rallies and immigrant camps in California . When Geer got a job on Broadway in a production of Tobacco Road, Guthrie joined the family in New York where they became friends with Pete Seeger and others who would forever be at the center of the family’s musical and political activities.
In 1950s, Geer was among the actors who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era witchhunts that were supported by the Screen Actors’ Guild, which was then headed by Ronald Reagan.
The couple lost their house and, after traveling around the country, they moved to the property in Topanga which is now the Theatricum Botanicum.
Initially, the Geers founded a theatre where blacklisted actors and folk singers could perform, and, until the blacklist was broken in 1961, the family earned a living selling vegetables, fruit and herbs and theatre.
The Theatricum Botanicum was founded in 1973, and, since Will Geer’s death in 1978, has been run by daughter Ellen Geer and family members.
After the theatre renovated its amphitheatre in 1997, at a celebration honoring her 80th birthday, Ware remarked, “This has been a tremendous effort, but it’s our way of giving to the community and to our audiences who every summer seem to grow and come from everywhere—the young couples, the elderly, the kids . . . and if anyone can rescue us in this country, it’s the kids! It’s so exciting for me, Ellen and the whole family, that now there’s really nothing stopping us.”
Ware died at noon on August 15, at her home surrounded by family members. .
She is survived by daughters Ellen Geer, Kate Geer and Melora Marshall (by late actor David Marshall), one son Thad Geer, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson.Public memorial services will be held on September 10 at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Theatricum, designated for “Herta’s Young Actor Fund”: P.O. Box 1222, Topanga, CA 90290