Volume 77 / Number 29 - December 19 - 25, 2007
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Mary Calvert, 84; Started a theater as young actress

By Josephine Calvert Conty

Mary Calvert, a longtime resident of Greenwich Village and an early member of the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association, died on Nov. 9, two days before she would have turned 84.

She was born Maria Cutaia in Chicago, Ill., in 1923, the oldest daughter of Joseph and Josephine Cutaia, a Sicilian farmer and his wife who later became tavern owners.

As a young child, Mary lived on a 60-acre fruit farm in Coloma, Mich., and went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. But when she was 6 her family returned to Chicago. In school, Mary found that she was artistically inclined. Her artistic talents were seen through her many drawings, her sewing and design of her own doll clothes and creating her own paper dolls. She cooked constantly for her sister and herself while her parents worked in their tavern on Belmont Ave. in Chicago.

At an early age, Mary realized she wanted to be an actress. After completing a short secretarial course, she decided to audition for Goodman Theatre in Chicago. She was accepted and studied with name actors, such as Geraldine Page and Shelly Berman. She also attended the Art Institute of Chicago where she won a scholarship to study art. 

After graduating from Goodman Theatre, Mary moved east to New York City where she first lived on the Upper West Side with her best friend. She acted in Off-Broadway and tent shows where she met her husband, Henry Calvert. For a short time, Mary and her husband continued to perform in tent shows throughout Wisconsin and Iowa. Settling in New York City, they found an apartment on the Upper West Side.

In 1950 they started an Off-Broadway theater in Greenwich Village called The Green Room Studio at 145 Bleecker St. This was a very innovative early Off-Broadway theater where they performed many Eugene O’Neill plays. At The Green Room Studio, her husband won an Obie for producing August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” in 1954. Mary not only did the publicity for the theater, but she acted in plays, sewed the costumes, and made the drapes for the stage. However, Mary soon retired from theater during the pregnancy of her daughter, Josephine. After giving birth to her daughter, she moved to the West Village apartment on Commerce St. where she lived for 52 years until her death. 

Although Mary retired from theater, she still had a heart for theater and always had time to do scenes with friends auditioning to get into places like The Actors Studio. She also rehearsed and performed scenes with her husband. She continued to make costumes for many of her husband’s shows, including “Hamlet” in 1958. She also made costumes for St. Luke’s in the Fields Church’s theater to help pay her daughter’s nursery school tuition. Aside from acting, Mary’s talents included watercolor painting, home decorating, cooking and sewing. She would often prepare many of her beloved Sicilian dishes. She even made lentil soup the day before her demise since cooking had become her favorite pastime in her old age.

Mary helped to raise her granddaughter, Annette, with her single-parent daughter, Josephine. In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, she is survived by her sister, Carmela, and her younger brother, Anthony. 

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