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THOUSAND OAKS : Plaza Plaque Keeps a Star’s Name ‘in Lights’

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There is a tiny brass plaque on seat number 5E in the Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium in Thousand Oaks that bears Jeanne Carpenter’s name.

To most theater patrons, the unassuming little nameplate--one of 525 such plaques scattered throughout the 1,800-seat auditorium--may hold no special meaning.

But for Oxnard resident Robert Grimes, 74, the plaque is a tribute to his late wife, Theo-Alice (Jeanne) Carpenter, a silent film star whose lifelong passion was entertaining people through film, television and community theater.

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“I’m tickled to death to do something for her,” said Grimes, who paid $1,000 for the nameplate. “She’d love it. She was strictly a theater girl.”

The Name-a-Seat fund-raising program, launched by the Alliance for the Arts to drum up financial support for the new Civic Arts Plaza, has generated $525,000 so far, officials said.

“It’s a little piece of ownership in this facility,” Alliance director Dick Johnson said. “It gives people a chance to participate.”

But of the hundreds of individuals who have purchased engraved plates, Grimes’ stories of his wife’s 74-year career in the entertainment industry captured the attention of Alliance members.

“He was so glad there was some way of inscribing her name forever,” volunteer Ellen Tarantino said.

On Thursday, the organization held a small dedication ceremony to recognize the actress and her contribution to the arts. She died Jan. 5, 1994, at age 77 after a long battle with emphysema.

Sitting in the empty Civic Auditorium in seat number 5E, Grimes rested his arm on his wife’s shiny plaque and told stories about her heyday in Hollywood.

Her film career was launched in 1919, when at the tender age of 3 she was discovered by a casting director playing in the front yard of her parents’ Los Angeles home, Grimes said.

Her first movie role was Cupid in the silent film, “Daddy Long Legs,” which starred silver-screen legend Mary Pickford, with whom she maintained a longtime friendship.

A child actress raised on Hollywood’s sound stages in the 1920s and ‘30s, Carpenter appeared in 30 films throughout her 74-year career, including one of the first adaptations of “Black Beauty.”

She married Grimes in 1949, and the couple moved to Oxnard three years later when Grimes was transferred to Point Mugu by the U.S. Navy. They raised five children in Oxnard, where Carpenter continued to act in community theater.

Chatting with his grandfather in the Civic Arts Plaza, Chris Grimes, 26, of Oxnard said a plaque was a fitting tribute for his grandmother--or any actor. “Anything to get their name in lights one last time,” he said.

For more information about donor programs, call 379-1966.


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