BiographyAustinville, Virginia, USA
Robert (Bob) Porterfield is better known for his activities in the live theater. The beginning of his career coincided with some of the deepest days of the Great Depression and, while his movie resume may be forgotten in time, he will always be remembered for starting the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. In 1932 he assembled a group of about 20 out-of-work stage actors from New York and brought them to southwestern Virginia to stage plays in the old city hall building on the barter system. Admission to the plays was 35 cents or the equivalent in produce (or other comestibles). Read more... idea was that even if they did not make cash, they would at least not go hungry, as Abingdon was replete with farms of all kinds. According to reports, the first "year" (plays were produced only in the summer, and players returned to New York in the winter to continue working, if possible) in 1933 the company made a little over $4 and gained about 300 pounds in weight, collectively. Porterfield even paid some writers with Virginia hams during this time in order to secure rights to produce some of the plays. The stories about some of the items brought in for trade are hilarious and Al Hirschfeld, the famous illustrator, did a marvelous sketch in 1939. The Barter Theatre continues today as the State Theater of Virginia on a year round basis and, although prices have adjusted with the times, it is rumored that you can still barter your way in. A wonderful biography, If you Like Us, Talk About Us, by Robert L. McKinney was published in 2006 by Barter Media and recounts the whole story, including Bob's work at the Barter with actors like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Ernest Borgnine, and even Kevin Spacey.