Sitting in a coffee shop a few doors down from Newburgh’s Ritz Theater, Carol Hollenbeck lays out several newspaper clippings dating from 1967. They describe a promising Hollywood actress celebrating her film’s premier at the Ritz. Little could Hollenbeck have imagined that she would return to the same theater 50 years later, this time for a dramatic reading of a play inspired by her life experience, Hometown Premier.
Hollenbeck, a former actress turned playwright, grew up in the city of Newburgh in the 1950s.
“It was an innocent time despite the fact we weren’t so innocent,” she said.
Inspired by actresses like Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe, Hollenbeck had dreams of becoming a movie star, with her sights set on California.
“Growing up in that time, the golden age of Hollywood was going on. I was runner up in the Miss Newburgh beauty contest… and, well, the next step was Hollywood! Naturally,” laughed Hollenbeck.
â€‹Hollenbeck’s plan for stardom was to be discovered La-La-Land style on the streets of Los Angeles. Remarkably, that was nearly what happened: Hollenbeck was walking along Hollywood Boulevard, and happened to be in the right place at the right time.
She recalls a woman running out onto the street asking if she was a model or actress. When Hollenbeck said yes, the woman replied, “‘Well, come on with me right now.”
“So I went down and they made me up and put me in a commercial,” Hollenbeck said. She began by going by “Carole Holland,” landing her first role as “Miss Vanilla” in a Skybar candy commercial. She then moved to Las Vegas as a showgirl at the Riviera Hotel, and eventually landed the lead role in the film, Eden Cried. Both she and her Hudson Valley hometown could hardly contain their excitement when she came back to Newburgh for her movie premier at the Ritz.
Hollenbeck showed me newspaper photos of her with the mayor, breaking ground on a city project, silhouetted by the Ritz, which was lit up with the words “World Premier Tonite Carole Holland.” It was the romantic, Hollywood-style homecoming any starlet desires.
“I was a little bit of a diva,” Hollenbeck admitted. “It was beautiful, it was wonderful, but I was overwhelmed.” Hollenbeck wistfully asked, “Did I really have all that going for me?”
It wasn’t long after returning to L.A. that Hollenbeck decided to leave.
“I left Hollywood because of the casting couch. I felt, ‘They are going to eat me up and spit me out here,’” she explained.
Not comfortable compromising herself to advance her career, Hollenbeck moved to New York City. She was involved in several soap operas, some off-Broadway plays, and murder mystery shows before she turned her creative talent elsewhere: writing.
Hollenbeck found that her memories of growing up in Newburgh during the ‘50s was excellent fodder for her playwriting. Plays about her experiences went on to be performed off-Broadway, and were even nominated for awards in the Samuel French One Act Play Contest. Her newest drama-comedy Hometown Premier, as the name suggests, is based on her 1967 premier at The Ritz Theater.
When it came to deciding where to host a reading of the play, what could be better than The Ritz? Even after all these years, Hollenbeck is still very much attached to the upstate city. “What can I say except that Newburgh is my hometown?” said Hollenbeck.
The dramatic reading of Hollenbeck’s play Hometown Premier will take place at Safe Harbor’s Lobby at the Ritz Theater on Saturday, June 10th at 7:30 p.m., and will feature SAG equity actors Betty Hudson, Hannah Beck, Sharlene Hartman, and Brandon Boruch.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or online at www.safeharbors.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.