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History museum features Hollywood actor, dancer

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In 1946, Hal Aldridge appeared in the MGM musical Till the Clouds Roll By, starring Judy Garland. Aldridge, to the far right, with his elbow pointed out, once dated Garland’s sister, he said. SUBMITTED
The late Hal Aldridge, who lived in Springfield during his later years of life, is the focus of an exhibit this month at the Robertson County Historical Society & Museum in downtown Springfield. SUBMITTED

In cooperation with the Robertson County Players, the Robertson County Historical Society & Museum's newest exhibit opens this month featuring Tennessee born actor, singer and dancer Hal Aldridge, who was featured in several Hollywood musicals, including the 1933 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair.

Museum director David Allen said the exhibit includes memorabilia, scrapbooks and items that belonged to the late Aldridge, who once lived in Springfield prior to his death in 1990.

"The exhibit harkens back to the Hollywood Golden Age of movies," Allen said. "We're calling it 'Hal Aldridge, the Hollywood Years.'"

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Aldridge, a Jackson, Tenn. native and a trained dancer before the war, went to Hollywood to try and make it in the movie business.

After arriving in tinsel town, in a plot right out of the movies, Hal was able to snag a role as a dancer in a big budget Twentieth Century Fox musical State Fair.

Aldridge once said that after the success of Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair, "Things dropped in my lap like plums."

Aldridge became a member of the studio dance pool and appeared in musicals like Yolanda and the Thief with Fred Astaire, Good News with Peter Lawford and June Allyson and Easy to Wed with Lucille Ball.

He also made friends with some of the biggest stars of the era.

Aldridge said he attended beach parties, "Where you might be playing charades with the likes of Agnes Moorehead and Ricardo Montalban, or go over to Gene Kelly's house for backyard volleyball."

Aldridge also said he became close friends with a young Judy Garland and dated her younger sister.

After the golden age of movies came to a close with the increasing popularity of the new medium television, roles for dancers became a victim of the economic crunch and Aldridge left the movie business forever.

For many years, Aldridge worked for American Airlines and also found the time to begin directing plays.

He came to live in Springfield with his widowed sister Dorothye Mathews. Hal had also brought along with him his treasure trove of Hollywood memorabilia, which is now the source of the artifacts displayed at the Robertson County Historical Society & Museum.

In the mid-1970s, Aldridge, with the help of Verne and Marge Bolen, Guy and Judy Stanley, Donna Wilkins, Charley Ralph and many others, was able to put together a viable and then new Robertson County Players Community Theatre, which celebrates its 40th season next year.

While Aldridge directed many of the early plays of the Robertson County Players, he was also keen in developing new talent from the community and instilling in actors, directors and audiences a deep love for the theatre.

During that time, Hal along with his sister Dorothye, herself an accomplished dancer, also taught ball room dancing for many years.

Many of the Robertson County Players today hold fond memories of Aldridge and his Hollywood stories, according to Danny Atchley.

"When one of his movies was scheduled on Turner Classic Movies, we would get together for a movie viewing, usually at Roger Bunch's house," Atchley said. "Hal would then regale us with stories of Tracy and Hepburn, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and many more. Chances are, if the name of a well-known actor from that era came up, Hal knew him."

Atchley said Aldridge's stories were always backed up by his collection of movie memorabilia.

That Hollywood scrapbook and collection has been passed down to Aldridge's nieces, Becky Mathews Petty and Tracye Stroud Bryant.

"The exhibit is a window into the life and career of a humble man, who was so instrumental in bringing to Robertson County the joys of movie musicals and the enjoyment received in our very own community theatre," Atchley said. "Now, 30 years after his passing, the museum has an historic and educational exhibit for all to see. It's almost like something out of a movie."

The Robertson County Historical Society & Museum is located at 124 6th Ave. West, on the historic downtown square.

The Hal Aldridge exhibit is scheduled to open on Aug. 10 and will run through September.

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