Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah serves as an iconic symbol of status and distinguished culture. It has hosted dozens of notable names, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Donny Osmond to Joe Biden. Some local performing arts groups are even known to have started at the Hall, including The Utah Symphony, Ballet West, and Repertory Dance Theatre. The university states that it “provides a valuable gathering space for community events and campus partners.”
On March 6, 1962, The Daily Utah Chronicle published an article titled, “TV Star Sets U Appearance.” The article tells about the upcoming play, Old Acquaintance, by John William Van Druten, performed at Kingsbury Hall by well-known actress, Arlene Francis. Francis portrayed a young American novelist, whose work is admired but rarely given the attention she feels it deserves. Counter to her, is a rich, successful novelist played by good friend of Francis, Mary Cooper. According to the Chronicle, it was set to be one of the major notable events of the school year for the University of Utah. Visiting artists have influenced students and the local community for decades and Old Acquaintance foreshadowed the rich cultural atmosphere Kingsbury Hall would foster for years to come.
The arrival of Arlene Francis was a great honor for the University of Utah in the 60s. Francis wore many hats: radio presenter, actress and popular television personality known for her place as a panelist on the show “What’s My Line?” She was one of the sole female hosts throughout the program’s entire run, becoming a pioneer for women in television.
Days after opening night, the Chronicle published a piece on March 9, titled, “Old Acquaintances gets Reception at Kingsbury.” The article said of Francis, “Noted for her graciousness on stage, as well as off, lent a note of slick sophistication to the part of Kit Markham. Arriving in Salt Lake only two days before the play opened, Miss Francis assumed her role with an ease acquired by most actresses only after hard weeks of rehearsal with the same cast.” (Trevithick, 1962) Finishing off its final shows, the play received extremely successful reaction from all of Utah. Writer, Joan Trevithick, mentioned that it was “fast-moving, exhibiting a battery of hard-hitting dialogue, unique not only in its humor, but also in its magnificent costuming and set decorations.” The play continued 2 more evenings before it closed. While it was free for students and faculty with their activity cards, many residents in the community attended to see the renowned TV star on stage.
Since Kingsbury Hall’s initial opening, on May 22, 1930, there have been a variety of changes that have played a pivotal role in making it what it is today. In 1996, the hall underwent a $14 million renovation. This included updated dressing rooms, bathrooms, refurbished lobbies, building a larger stage for performances and expanding the lobby area with a new plaza for guest accommodation. Around 5 years later, Kingsbury Hall created their own presenting series, titled Kingsbury Hall Presents. For the next decade or so, this program would bring some of the world’s greatest artists and speakers. In 2015, Kingsbury Hall Presents became UtahPresents, with the mission to bring more diversity and rich cultural experiences for those at the University of Utah, but for the surrounding Salt Lake region as well. The effects of each specific change are being felt today by students, faculty and locals, as Kingsbury Hall continues to host impressive artists, events and performances.
Alison Tanner is a senior at the University of Utah. She is currently studying Communication, with an emphasis in Journalism.
Joan Trevithick, “TV Star Sets U Appearance,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, March 6, 1962.
Joan Trevithick, “Old Acquaintances gets Reception at Kingsbury,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, March 9, 1962.
Old Acquaintance. John William Van Druten. December 1940.
“Arlene Francis,” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 16, 2019.
“Kingsbury Hall History and Mission,” The University of Utah.