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The Pilgrimage Play

The Pilgrimage Play(1949)

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Opening credits include the following written statement: "Based on the Life of Jesus Christ as presented by the Hollywood Bowl Association through the Pilgrimage Play Foundation in Hollywood, California." Author Christine W. Stevenson, who was heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint Co. fortune, also contributed to the creation of the Hollywood Bowl. The play was first performed on June 27, 1920 in an open-air amphitheater across from the Hollywood Bowl. When a fire destroyed that area, a permanent theater was constructed in 1931 and was eventually donated to Los Angeles County. With the exception of a few years, the play was performed annually until 1964, when a lawsuit challenged the County's involvement in religious theater. The 1949 rendition of the play marked actor Nelson Leigh's ninth season in the role of Christ.
       In May 1949, Hollywood Reporter announced that Ralph Ravenscroft had completed a deal with the Hollywood Bowl Assocation to film a 35mm color version of the stage play. Arthur Pierson was announced as the film's director at that time. Ravenscroft's contribution to the completed picture, if any, has not been determined. Most of the cast of the stage play, including Leigh, Stephen Chase, Leonard Penn, Richard Hale and Fiona O'Shiel, recreated their roles in the film version. The onscreen credit for the theological advisor was not readable in the viewed print, but May have been Dr. William Pruitt. Although the picture was shot in 16mm and was intended primarily for showings in churches, the Hollywood Reporter review announced that 35mm prints were being made for screenings in "art theatres in this country and possibly in England." One-third of the film's profits were to go to the Pilgrimage Play Foundation, which funded the play's annual production, according to the May 1949 Hollywood Reporter item. The Copyright Catalog indicates that a "Catholic version" of this "Protestant version" was released as Upon This Rock.