George L. Lewis, BYH Speech Teacher

George L. Lewis &
His Aspiring Thespians
in Children's Theatre at BYH

George L. Lewis was a middle-aged, energetic, wiry man with thinning red hair. He stood about 5' 4” tall and could not have weighed more than 130 lbs. But he had enough spirit and enthusiasm for someone twice his size, along with a deep, resonant voice that filled the room. It was easy to see why he was a speech teacher and acting devotee.

As a newcomer to Brigham Young High School, I found George (no one called him Mr. Lewis) to be a lifesaver. My parents had moved to Provo from Brush, Colorado, where my mother and I had been the only Mormons. Mom wanted me to go to BY High to make up for my lack of church exposure as a young boy. She urged me to sign up for George Lewis’ speech class because she thought it would be a good way for me to become acquainted with other students.

I was initially very nervous and self-conscious in his class, but George was a master at putting us at ease. Almost from the first day, he encouraged us to also affiliate with the Children's Theatre, which held workshops after class and on weekends. Some of these sessions were convened in his classroom, some in the College Hall auditorium, and some in the little Children's Theatre facility near the campus. Most of the students who participated were those who were not active in school athletic programs, since the times of practice conflicted. In short, the Theatre group was a welcome haven for non-athletes.

Because of George’s enthusiasm and spark, his students readily bonded and engaged. Most of us became close friends as well as classmates and aspiring Thespians. I wish I could remember all the names, but time has faded many away. The few I can remember, however, remain truly bright spots in my life.

Our informal leader was Bill Demos, who lived with his mother and several sisters in a house just across the street from BY High. His mother worked at the grocery store that then operated on University and Fifth North. Billy was a wonderfully talented young man who usually played one of the lead roles in whatever play we were working on. Although he was a year ahead of me in school, we became close friends. He later went on to New York City to try his hand in off-Broadway productions, and became a professional stage manager, lighting director and sometime actor. He could not participate in sports because he had rheumatic fever which damaged his heart, but he sure could dance, and he was a great Thespian. I lost track of him but I have learned that he passed away some time ago.

Jo Ann Price was our comic relief expert. She was then a short, stocky, vibrant girl with a very pretty face. Her sense of humor knew no bounds, and she frequently sent our speech classes and workshops into frenzies of laughter. She drove George to distraction on occasion, but her acting talent was more than he could resist. He took great glee in casting her in comic character roles, such as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood. I actually had a crush on Jo, but she too was a year ahead of me and had no interest in dating someone who was younger, smaller and less talented. Nonetheless, she took me under her wing, so to speak, and helped me to find new friends in a new school. I will always remember Jo strutting around the stage with the audience convulsing in laughter.

Ellen Terry was our best female actress, and was probably the only one of us who was completely at home in either comedic or dramatic endeavors. While not yet particularly popular in terms of dating, she was extremely popular within the Thespian crowd. Upon graduation, I believe that Ellen went to a special theatre school in Denver. I am sorry that I don’t know where her adventures took her after that.

One of George’s more brilliant ploys was to stage a Christmas play starring some of the best athletes in the school. It was his way of getting them interested in more than sports, and of getting the rest of the school to respect his theatre efforts. I do not remember all the players, but I do recall that Harold Christensen and Jae Ballif (two top athletes) performed in a version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol.

When I reflect on the Thespians of my era other names that come to mind include Charlene Sessions, Louise Blackham (whom I later married), Jack Zenger and Henry Taylor. I wish I could remember them all. They were a very special group and filled a very singular place in my BY High experience.

My own life was greatly enriched by George and his aspiring Thespians. He cast me in a variety of roles in his Children's Theatre productions, but my crowning moment was playing the part of Rumplestiltskin in a production that ran for multiple performances before some of the elementary school classes in Provo. I still do some public speaking today, and I am forever grateful to George Lewis, Rumplestiltskin, and my fellow Thespians for giving me a good start down that road.

By Jon Katzenbach – Class of 1950

Rumplestiltskin play at Brigham Young High School
Rumplestiltskin at BYH - 1956

A Related Note

Probably my fondest Brigham Young High School memories were of working with George Lewis in the Children's Theatre program.

I worked as support back stage for most of the plays, however I did play the grandmother in Heidi.

We had such wonderful support from everyone and it was especially gratifying to know that the school children who came to our plays were totally entranced.

Provo school children
watch while high schoolers
perform timeless classics, such as Rip Van Winkle, in BYH's famous Children's
Theatre program.

I remember seeing photographs taken during one of the plays where there was not an eye that wandered from what was going on on stage.

I think that George Lewis had a real vision of what could be done in Children's Theatre and he certainly was able to generate enthusiasm in all of the students that worked in the plays, whether as an actor or as support.

I think that anyone connected with the Children's Theatre program had a wonderful experience. And we all loved George Lewis.
-- Margaret (Peg) Clarke Riley, Class of 1949

George Lowell Lewis, Jr.

George L. Lewis started at BYH in the 1945-46 academic year and continued through 1955-56 -- for a total of eleven years. Beginning in 1945-46 he taught Speech & Drama, and guided the Children's Theatre program. He taught an Advanced Speech and Speech Workshop.

His 1954-55 Forensics Team was the first BYH team to win the State Championship in Forensics.

George Lewis was born on December 3, 1916 in Treasureton, Franklin County, Idaho. His parents were Fred Le Roy Lewis, born October 12, 1889 in Bennington, Bear Lake County, Idaho and Inez Watson, born March 19, 1890 in Fairview, Oneida County, Idaho.

Having been given only a first name, he added his middle name to avoid confusion at commercial banks. George Lowell Lewis married twice: First, to Dorothy May McCallister on June 6, 1940 in Spanish Fork, Utah. They had three children: Michael Dalley Lewis, Terry Kent Lewis, and Patrick Mac Lewis. His wife Dorothy died in December of 1977.

George Lewis second married Catherine Mary Kalous on August 27, 1978, in West Virginia. Catherine was born November 8, 1916 in El Paso, Texas.

George earned a BA degree at Brigham Young University in 1941. He taught in Bancroft, Idaho from 1941 to 1942. In 1942 he taught at the Japanese relocation camp, Topaz, near Delta Utah.

He earned an MA degree at Brigham Young University in 1947.

George L. Lewis was a B24 Radio operator during World War II. He was in Radio School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota during the winter of 1943. He was in flight school at Yuma, Arizona during the summer of 1944. He earned a PHD degree in Theater at the University of Denver in 1952.

Lewis taught at Brigham Young High School from 1945 to 1956, and an entire generation of BYH students honored him by following in his footsteps to excel with the tools he provided.

After leaving BYH, he taught at Ohio State University in the Education College from 1956 to 1986. He served as head of the Speech Education Department there. He was an expert in childrens theater and production.

George L. Lewis, Jr. died on April 16, 1987 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio. His interment, Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio.

Dorothy May McAllister, his first wife, was born July 6, 1916 in Cedar City, Utah. Her parents were Warrington Walker McAllister and Keturah M. Dalley. She married George Lowell Lewis on June 6, 1940 in Spanish Fork, Utah. She died on December 30, 1977 in Columbus, Ohio. Her interment, Columbus, Ohio.

BYH Biographies