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9/11 brings Pappidas’ to the Methow

Jane Pappidas at her Methow Valley home.
Jane Pappidas is one of those people who retire to the Methow only to soon find themselves busily engaged in pursuits from an earlier life. In her case, it’s back to acting and directing readers’ theatre at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp, where she’s vice chair of the board of directors.

She and her husband Aristides also are among the many Methow Valley parents who followed their children here. In this case, it was their son, news photographer MacLeod, who had discovered Twisp on a cross-country trip.

But the story of why MacLeod’s parents came to settle in the Methow is more gripping than most. Jane and Aristides were living across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Jersey City in a five-story brownstone with a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty the day the Twin Towers were felled by terrorists.

They were at home when the news came that something had happened at the World Trade Center. They ran outside, where they had a view of the towers, and saw a black strip of smoke and some flames. “It looked like it had come from the inside. It still didn’t occur to us that it was a plane,” she says. When the second building was hit they finally understood planes had hit the towers. “We realized we were being attacked.”

Cell phone service was wiped out but they still had a working land line, and people came to use it in frantic efforts to locate loved ones, she says. Worried about former co-workers at a nearby restaurant where she’d been the catering manager, Jane decided to walk there to invite to her home anyone needing a place to stay. Hurrying along, “I saw a woman fall down – just throw herself down – on the street. I turned around and saw the first building come down,” she recalls. “I was in such shock, I was just shaking.”

Nearby hospitals were prepared to take the injured, who were to be brought by ferry to a dock a block from their home. “But there were no injured people coming across, just people in shock covered with that white dust,” she says.

The 9/11 attack was a life-changing moment for Jane and Aristides. They had been planning to retire in Toronto but changed their minds. “We have to be where our son is,” they concluded. They had visited the valley just once, in 1995. They moved here in 2003 “with an 18-wheeler full of stuff,” she laughs.

Jane Pappidas was an ingénue in the theatre in 1968.
Jane was born in Manhattan of Canadian parents and grew up there. Her father Norman was an architect and her mother was Pegi Nicol MacLeod, a well-known artist who died when Jane was 10 and who recently was named “a person of historical significance” by the Canadian government.

“We were very poor,” says Jane, but somehow her parents got her enrolled in an elementary school for gifted students, then into a prestigious girls’ prep school, The Brearley School. “And because I attended Brearley, I got into Vassar,” she explains. “I’m not a good student. I never was. All I ever did was paint scenery and act.”

Her first acting role came when she was about 13. “I played the mother of Jesus Christ. How bizarre,” she chuckles mischievously. Eventually she played The Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest, “and that hooked me.” After graduating with a drama degree, she went to Broadway intent on becoming an actress. “I met this man I married three weeks later,” she says. He was David Ford, “a character actor, and I was an ingenue.” They sometimes performed together. That marriage lasted seven years.

After the divorce she acted in a movie called Guess What We Learned at School Today, directed by John Avildsen, who went on to direct The Karate Kid. “It’s not a very good film,” says Jane. But the upside was that she met Aristides, who was working as best boy to the gaffer, the chief electrician. “And he became my best boy,” she smiles. “We met the day after the moon was stepped on.” They lived in Manhattan’s Soho artists’ community before it became fashionable, then bought a wreck of a brownstone in Jersey City. “Twenty years later it became the Gold Coast.”

Her professional acting career spanned 12 years and included the starring role in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with the Hartford Stage Company, as well as lots of Shakespeare. She pursued her career until MacLeod was born.

Jane Pappidas played the part of Mistress Quickly from Shakespeare’s Henry V at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1960s.


Once settled here, she became involved with the Merc Playhouse, founded by Carolanne and Egon Steinebach. Carolanne was another New York transplant, but at least a year passed before the two women realized they had something else in common – The Brearley School, where Jane had been a senior when Caroleanne was a freshman, “She got out her yearbook, and I indeed had signed it,” says Jane.

The two women later teamed up for a well-received Merc production of the comedy Lettice and Lovage with Jane as Lettice, the role originally written for English actress Maggie Smith.

“Never stop learning,” is Jane’s advice to aspiring actors. “Have material ready that you know” that can be used for auditions.” Acting is a physically challenging profession, she notes, and at 73, “I harvest my energy so I have the energy to perform.”

Though MacLeod’s career has taken him out of the valley, she says: “I think it was a great decision to come here. It’s a very welcoming artistic community.”

posted 8/29/11