Cinema great has seen it all: Roswell resident Edith Ivey regales Rotary of historic career

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ROSWELL, Ga. – Roswell resident Edith Ivey has seen a lot happen in her 60-plus years in the entertainment industry. She spoke Nov. 29 to members of the Roswell Rotary about her decades-spanning career.

Ivey has made a career out of performing as the world around her changed – first it was radio, then black and white television, then color and, most recently, digital projection. She has appeared as Indian Princess Summerfall Winterspring on the 1950s children’s show “Howdy Doody,” numerous performances with the Georgia Ensemble Theatre and a recent film credit as piano teacher Mrs. Maple alongside Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

“We were as low-tech as you could get,” she said of her first radio gig in Alabama when she was in high school.

Bear in mind, this was back when radio was the height of technology.

“When I started in the business 63 years ago, we used wired recorders,” Ivey said. “I had to operate my own sound effects.”

How do you make the sound of fire over the airwaves? Why, you crinkle cigarette wrapper paper in front of the microphone.

“There was a reason radio was called ‘Theater of the Mind,’” she said.

Armed with a degree in radio and television from Alabama State, she and her husband moved to New York City in 1950, traveling via Atlanta. While in the city, Ivey took part in several roles for the budding genre of television. Then it was off to New York to work for the large radio broadcasters.

“I loved it there,” she said. “It was called the Golden Age of radio and we loved it.”

As television quickly supplanted radio, radio stars had to learn new tricks. Ivey found work holding the cue cards for the new TV shows, even working on a Bob Hope show.

“TV came and radio was going away, so I had to work visually. I was not prepared for that,” she said.

She got a break-out gig when she auditioned and got the role of the Indian Princess Summerfall Winterspring in “Howdy Doody,” replacing the first actress Judy Tyler.

Ivey came to Georgia with her family and, after living in Buckhead for a few years, came to Roswell, where she has remained ever since.

She and her husband founded the first talent agency in Atlanta and began working for the Miss USA pageant.

“Then in the late 1970s, movies came to Georgia,” she said. “I guess I’ve made almost 50 movies now.”

Due to the 2000 Screen Actors Guild strike, Ivey sought work in local theater, specifically the Georgia Ensemble Theatre.

“The GET is a marvelous place for actors in Atlanta,” she said. “I’m so grateful that we in Roswell have such a great thing in GET.”

The last well-known film she was a part of was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” when she played alongside the age-defying title character played by Brad Pitt. Digital effects allowed him to age in reverse for the movie, effects that, just a decade earlier would have been unheard of.

“I’ve come from wired recorders to 78-inch discs to TV in black and white to small discs to color TV and now in a Brad Pitt movie in digital,” she said. “I’ve seen it all.”