John Schmidt Documentary

$2,100 of $30k goal

Raised by 20 people in 3 months
Chuck Pennington
for Grandparents Living Theatre

Johnnie Schmidt just celebrated his 95th birthday. He has been a pole vaulter for Ohio State University (1944 National Collegiate Champion), a private detective, in WWII, and originated roles in four Broadway shows from 1947-1951 (Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Out of This World, and Polonaise). He also sang on the radio, was the first live person seen on WOSU television (1956), had his own children's show, taught at OSU, produced agricultural educational films --- and all the while he was (and still is) a tree farmer!

I met John when I joined the board of directors of SRO Theatre Company, formerly known as Grandparents Living Theatre and Senior Repertory of Ohio. The company was founded by Dr. Joy Reilly in 1984 as a senior theatre company that evolved out of oral history workshops with Columbus residents. I was interested in meeting the surviving former members of the company, and John was at the top of the list.

After getting to know John and looking through so many of his scrapbooks and sampling his 16mm films in his basement archive, I proposed making a documentary on his life to be produced by SRO Theatre Company. At age 95, John is still full of life, and everyone who meets him ends up wanting to know more about his experiences. I have started the process of digitizing many of his films, photos, articles, slides, and negatives, and I have started doing on-camera interviews with John covering all the different facets of his life. As the President of SRO, I am donating my time and equipment to make this project a reality, but we still need outside help to bring it to fruition.

We intend to make our finished documentary available for the public to view on our YouTube channel as well as arrange theatrical screenings in the area. We hope that this will be the first of many such projects highlighting the extraordinary lives of area seniors, and John's stories about being on the sports field as a pole vaulter and performing on Broadway will appeal to all kinds of people all across the country. I firmly believe in the company's original mission set forth by its founder Dr. Reilly: our seniors should only grow in esteem and respect as they grow older, and their wealth of knowledge and experience is a resource not to be ignored.

The funds we raise through this campaign will go directly to costs related to the production of this documentary (film scanning, rights to footage and music) as well as supporting the theatre company with costs ranging from theatre rental space to rights to perform shows as part of our season. John and I are not receiving any money from this campaign for our work and participation; it is all going to SRO Theatre Company, a non-profit organization that serves to produce intergenerational theatre in Columbus, Ohio.

Honestly, we need financial support as quickly as possible. John is in very good health for someone quickly approaching the century mark, but time is against us. We need to preserve as much of his history as we can while he is able to assist in the process. This includes scanning and preserving many films, photos, and scrapbooks, including slides and negatives from the 1920s-1940s that only John can identify and explain to us. To meet our target releasing the documentary in fall 2017 and guarantee production, we need to raise $30,000 before April.

I encourage anyone with a curiosity about the life of a man who has had so many fruitful careers to support our work in preserving his life story. No, John Schmidt may not be a household name, but he was quite well known in Columbus for many decades in the middle of the last century from being a staple on WOSU television. He is in OSU's Sports Hall of Fame, and he still performs in public! He has stories about Broadway composers Cole Porter and Frederick Lowe, choreographer Agnes DeMille, and stars Burl Ives and Charlotte Greenwood, but his expertise also extends to the early days of television broadcasting. John's unabashed honesty in recounting his life - flaws and all - is refreshing, and I firmly believe that there is an audience out there who will benefit and enjoy the wisdom and life experiences John has to share.

More information about SRO Theatre Company can be found at

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Update 11
Posted by Chuck Pennington
25 days ago
Here is another image scanned from a seriously underexposed negative circa 1926. The film looked opaque until I tried scanning it and played with the levels. Eventually I was able to bring out of it this image which I doubt was ever successfully printed in the analog world. John was very surprised to see it for the first time and laughed at the black eye. "How did you get that?" I asked. "Probably something to do with Birdie," he said, referring to his older sister.
Circa 1926 - John Schmidt and his black eye
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Update 10
Posted by Chuck Pennington
1 month ago
Last Friday I found a box full of large format negatives, all scattered about with no organization or labeling. John thinks perhaps the box was given to him when his older sister Birdie died in 2009. I held some of the negatives up to the light and recognized some for which we have prints. Still, there are so very many more where no prints exist, but I am scanning these negatives so the images can be seen once again. Some of these negatives show John's parents courting in the late teens before John was born! Others show John as a toddler in the 1920s, but the newest of the lot appear to be from around 1942. Here is an image scanned from one of these original negatives of John in his junior year of high school in 1938!
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Update 9
Posted by Chuck Pennington
1 month ago
John Schmidt's wife, Mary, was in Annie Get Your Gun while John was in Brigadoon on Broadway. The photo she had was so far back and high in contrast that it was difficult to tell. I had to do some layering of photos with different gamma adjustments - it was tricky - simply changing levels would have crushed the blacks too much. Now we can see her clearly. When I showed it to John's two oldest children yesterday, they were shocked. They seemed to know nothing of this part of their mother's past or to have ever seen the photo. Here are two before and after pictures.
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Update 8
Posted by Chuck Pennington
1 month ago
Brigadoon opened on Broadway exactly 70 years ago today! Here is a photo from Life Magazine of that production. See our John Schmidt on the far right next to the tree?
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$2,100 of $30k goal

Raised by 20 people in 3 months
Created January 22, 2017
Funds raised will benefit:
Grandparents Living Theatre
  Certified Charity
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Columbus, OH
EIN: 311277963
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2 days ago
Edward Santos
17 days ago

Such a wonderful cause --- good luck with the project

David Scott
24 days ago
Kevin Parcher
1 month ago

Best of luck with your project!

John Dorka
1 month ago

John Schmidt is a remarkable man with a remarkable life. His story deserves to be told.

Rebecca Denbow
1 month ago
Barry Beck
1 month ago
Bonnie Steinberg
1 month ago

Thanks for helping Mike. Hope you reach your goal.

Joel Steinberg
1 month ago

Go, go go!!!!

Scott McMillan
1 month ago

I'm glad to add my support to the SRO Theatre Company. It's great they have access to John's personal collection of films, slides, and scrapbooks. Looking forward to watching this documentary film.

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