“Inferno! Fire at the Cocoanut Grove: 1942”A Story with a Purpose
It was November 28th, 1942. It had been almost a year since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Americans were busy with the war effort and praying for their boys "over there." On this particular night Boston was alive with excitement as Boston College battled Holy Cross College on the football field. Cocoanut Grove, the popular, swank Boston nightclub was hopping with nearly 1000 diners, students fresh from the game, servicemen on a weekend pass, newlyweds celebrating the beginning of their new lives, and even a Hollywood cowboy making the rounds to promote his upcoming film. In the midst of such gaiety, who could have predicted that a split second mistake and greed could spark an inferno that would claim 492 lives, changing fire safety code forever.
We are running this production at the Boston Center for the Arts. Most of the actors will be cast from Boston. The run will preview February 24th and 25th and run from February 26, 2016 until April 2, 2016. Shows will run 7:30 Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8pm Fridays and Saturdays and 4pm matinee Saturdays and Sundays.
“Inferno! Fire at the Cocoanut Grove: 1942” is a powerful story that not only profoundly affected the people of Boston, but touched my family as well. My wife, Annette, grew up hearing the story of the fire, not from a historical perspective, but a personal one. Annette's GranMary was partially raised by her sister, Sally, 20 years her senior, as their mother died when she was quite young. Living in her sister's household, she spent a great deal of time with her nephew, Jimmie, who was only ten years her junior. Jimmie was, “loads of fun,” and loved to tease her.
In 1942, Jimmie was a 21 year old Harvard medical student on the cusp of graduation. He had become quite a studious young man and was looking forward to his future. As GranMary tells it, on the night of the 28th, he was studying for finals. A friend of his was going to the Boston College/Holy Cross game with his best girl, and her friend did not have a date. Jimmie tried to beg off, as he had every intention of studying, but his friend prevailed on his good nature and off they went.
Of course, everyone was going to the Cocoanut Grove after the game, which is where Jimmie and his party planned to top off their evening. They were seated in the Melody Lounge, and had not been there long when the fire broke out.
A few days later, Mary's sister, Sally, found her husband collapsed on the floor in their home's entryway with a telegram in his hand. The news . . . Jimmy had been killed in the fire at the Cocoanut Grove.
For years, I told GranMary that someday I would write Jimmie's story. In 2014 as I began to research, I realized that this story was truly epic in that it touched far more than the 492 lives that had been lost and the several hundred that had been injured. Each of those lives touched dozens more at every social, economic and political level. The story of these people, this era, needed to be told. From these stories, “Inferno, Fire at the Cocoanut Grove: 1942,” was born. It was first performed on our small stage at The Core Theatre in Richardson, Texas, in November/December of 2014. We opened on November 28th, the 72nd anniversary of the fire. GranMary was unable to attend, as she lived in another city, but she had the satisfaction of knowing Jimmie's story had been told. She passed away one month later. She was 103.
So, here we are. We at The Core Theatre are taking this very personal story, in the spring of 2016, to the city of Boston, where they know all too well how this fire has impacted their town. Yet, when I traveled there last January I found that the people I spoke to who were under 35 years of age had only a vague idea that something bad had happened. In other words, the story is being lost. One of the purposes of carrying this story beyond my personal sphere of influence, is that fires like this are still claiming lives. In the 2003 Rhode Island Station fire, 100 people lost their lives in an overcrowded venue with too few exits. So, 74 years later, we still had not learned fire safety and personal awareness in a crowd. Fire is fast, unrelenting and merciless. And unfortunately, as Gustave Le Bon is quoted as saying, “In crowds, it is stupidity and not mother wit that is accumulated.”
The Core Theatre is a 501c3 organization from Richardson Texas it it’s 7th season of producing mostly original plays. Click the Go Fund Me link below to donate.