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John Edward Kinzer
Department of Theatre and Drama

Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011

Lilly Library exhibit on 'The Music Man' accompanies Indiana Festival Theatre production

July 1, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In June, the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama (within the College of Arts and Sciences) launched its inaugural season of the Indiana Festival Theatre with a large-scale production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man, the story of how love changes the lives of a fast-talking salesman, a small town librarian and the good folks of River City, Iowa.

Preston and Feltus

Robert Preston and Catherine Feltus Preston in their California home. Note "The Music Man" poster in the background.

Print-Quality Photo

Robert Preston, star of the original 1957 Broadway production of The Music Man, wooed his own small-town girl, winning the heart of Bloomington native and IU graduate Catherine Feltus long before his journey to River City began. The couple married in 1940 and maintained a strong connection to IU throughout their lives.

In 2010, IU alumnus and Bloomington native Charles Leinenweber -- nephew of Catherine Feltus Preston and Robert Preston -- donated Preston's papers to the Lilly Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, along with photographs and papers belonging to Feltus Preston that are now in the IU Archives.

In conjunction with the Indiana Festival Theatre's production of The Music Man, Leinenweber, trustee of the Preston estate, brought additional Preston-related materials to the Bloomington campus, including Preston's Tony Award statuette for his performance as Harold Hill, to create three displays about his uncle and The Music Man.

Leinenweber said he believes Preston would be thrilled about IU's production, and that the three exhibit cases (two in the Lilly Library and one in the lobby of the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center) will be of interest to anyone who enjoys Willson's great American musical and its original production.

The exhibit includes personal letters, photographs and memorabilia from the couple's lives and careers, including a backstage look into several original Broadway musicals such as The Music Man and Victor Victoria. The items will be on display in the Foyer of the Lilly Library throughout the run of the Indiana Festival Theatre production until July 11.

First Mrs. Fraser

"The First Mrs Fraser" is a photo of the 1933 production of the first University Theatre production. Catherine Feltus is seated third from the left.

Print-Quality Photo

It is particularly fitting that the memory of Feltus Preston should help ring in a new era of professional theater at IU because she was also present when the IU Theatre program began, Leinenweber said. In 1933, Professor Lee Norvelle established the University Theatre to present plays on campus. The first production of the new organization was The First Mrs. Fraser, a comedy about love and marriage that featured then-student Catherine Feltus in the title role.

The play was "so well presented," wrote the IU yearbook, "that the commencement committee requested that it be given as part of the 1934 commencement program."

Feltus maintained a close relationship with Lee Norvelle, even working as his teaching assistant, until she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from IU in 1936 and made her way to Hollywood to work in movies and radio. She eventually enrolled in the theater school associated with the Pasadena Playhouse, whose alumni include actors Raymond Burr, Dustin Hoffman, Leonard Nimoy and Gene Hackman. There, Catherine met a student who would become as well known as any, a young Robert Preston.

The two worked together for several years in Pasadena before marrying in 1940. Catherine went on to play small parts in mostly "B" movies, although she was featured in starring roles in some of her films in the 1940s, including the female lead opposite Randolph Scott in one of Scott's classic westerns, Albuquerque (1948). She retired from motion pictures after her final film, 1950's No Man of Her Own, after which she performed with Preston in several stage roles and supported her husband's career.

The couple continued an association with Lee Norvelle, corresponding and visiting with her former professor throughout the years until Norvelle's death in 1984. Acting almost to the end of his life, Preston died in 1987. He had been married to Catherine for 47 years.

Feltus Preston lived until 2004. A memorial scholarship is awarded annually in her name that helps fund the education of undergraduate theatre majors. In 2010, the award was presented to IU junior Taylor Crousore -- who, coincidentally, is playing Harold Hill in the Indiana Festival Theatre production of The Music Man.

More information

The exhibit is on display at the Lilly Library, which is open Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Exhibit cases are on display in the Foyer of the Lilly Library, 1200 E. 7th St. and in the Michael Lobby of the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan. Admission to the Lilly Library is free. Visit for information on tickets for the Indiana Festival Theatre.