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marion weaver-topaz_edited.png


Composer / Librettist / Music Teacher

Born:  18 December 1902, Marietta, Pennsylvania

Died:  24 October 1982, Columbia, Pennsylvania

Marian Weaver is an enigma—at least, an enigma for someone trying to learn something about her. There is very little available, yet I've run into some folks who say, "Oh, yeah. I took piano lessons from her." Even her first name isn't firm. Some places spell it 'Marian' and others, 'Marion.' Because she had piano students in Columbia, I know she lived her final years here. But, I discovered she also lived in Reading when she was doing her stage work. Marion studied organ and voice at the Temple University School of Music. She played piano for silent films beginning at the age of 14, and was an organist and pianist in various Eastern Pennsylvania cities. 

Marion Weaver also studied with the renowned pianist, Stanton Becker von Grabill of Lancaster. Von Graybill was not just any piano teacher, and he only chose students he felt showed true promise. Stanton von Graybill was the son of a Lancaster County miller. He was the last private pupil of the famed Anton Rubenstein, and a favorite pupil of Chevalier DeKontski whom he succeeded as court pianist to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1895. In that same year, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria knighted him  Piano Master, also restoring to him his ancestral title of Count Dietriech Ruperth von Fahnstoke. His forebearers had relinguished that title when they came to the American Colonies in 1770. And, although the title came with an ancestral castle to boot, Stanton had to turn it all down because he would have had to agree to return to Austria to live to claim it—and renounce his American citizenship. For Marion to have been taught by such a man says much about her musical ability and potential.


More was discovered about Marion Weaver in an article from Allentown's The Morning Call written in 1988. An abridged version is offered below:

. . .

“People love to see Pennsylvania Dutch plays in this area. And that’s what I don’t understand: why they don’t realize that this is such a rich field locally,” said Roma Greth, Berks County author, playwright and collaborator on several plays with Reading’s Marian Weaver, whose “Plain Betsy” is currently at Shepherd Hills Dinner Theatre, Wescosville.

“Plain Betsy” isn’t the first and only Pennsylvania German (idiomatically Pennsylvania Dutch) play. There have been other plays before and after – notably, those written in the dialect by the Lehigh Valley’s Paul Wieand.

“I’ve written so many, I’ve lost count of them. I’m supposed to have written more than anyone else,” said Wieand, 82, who presented pageants for many years at the Kutztown Folk Festival.


“Plain Betsy,” written in English (with select dialect phrases thrown in) by Weaver and William Brooker with music and lyrics by Weaver, became in a later version the best-known Pennsylvania German musical. Rewritten by Joseph Stein and Will Glickman with music by Albert Hague and lyrics by Arnold B. Horwitt, “Plain and Fancy” opened on Broadway on Jan. 7, 1955, to positive notices. Walter Kerr called it “sweet, attractive, and normal as blueberry pie.” (Kerr obviously hadn’t tasted shoo-fly pie.)


“Plain and Fancy,” featuring the songs “It Wonders Me,” “Young and Foolish,” “Plenty of Pennsylvania” and “How Do You Raise A Barn,” ran for more than one year. The cast included Barbara Cook as the young Amish girl, Hilda Miller, and Renee Orin (ne Orkin, a Slatington native and wife of Hague). The show was produced by Richard Kollmar, husband of columnist/ actress/TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen.

Productions of “Plain and Fancy” were presented at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, 1963; Reading Civic Opera Society, 1975, the Municipal Opera Company of Allentown, 1982, and Dorney Park’s former Melody Circle and Lambertville, N.J.’s Music Circus, among other theaters. Time Step Productions’ Lawrence Fecho and David Neel, who took over Shepherd Hills Dinner Theatre this year, chose not to present “Plain and Fancy,” but instead its lesser-known antecedent. Few copies of the “Plain Betsy” script and no copies of the score (not the same as Hague’s music for “Plain and Fancy”) could be found, according to Fecho, former marketing director at Lancaster’s Fulton Opera House. “We literally pulled all that music off a tape,” he said.


Fecho was in a production of “Plain Betsy” as a beginning thespian at Reading’s Genesius Theatre. That show was directed by Jane Simmon Miller, who founded Genesius in 1971 and had played Kate (first as a sister and later, as she grew older, as a mother) in several productions of “Plain Betsy.” (Miller died while directing “Plain Betsy,” the first show she had ever directed. In her memory, Fecho named his daughter, Simmon.)

The story goes that Marian Weaver, a Mennonite turned supper-club entertainer (known as “The Lady of A Thousand Tunes”), sold the rights to “Plain Betsy” after a New York agent heard her and several singers perform songs from the show at the Abe Lincoln Hotel in Reading. The visitors were impressed. “They said they’d call her and they did,” said Fecho. “It was almost a storybook tale,” recalled Greth, who first saw “Plain Betsy” in the late 1940s at a Reading area school production with local actors. “It was a very long version. It was cut and greatly improved after that. William Brooker was the rewrite man.”

Weaver, an accomplished pianist, was born in Marietta, near Columbia, Lancaster County. She married a musician. The couple had no children. Weaver died in October 1982. (Brooker, her “Plain Betsy” collaborator, is also deceased.) The idea for “Plain Betsy,” Greth said, was one that Pennsylvania German Weaver had in mind for years. In the play, New Yorkers visit a plain order Lancaster area farm. “Her basic premise was the impact of outsiders on such a close-knit community. Her family didn’t remain Mennonites,” Greth pointed out. “But there was a heritage there. Marian had a deep feeling and great respect for the plain people.”

“She really enjoyed ‘Plain Betsy,’ ” said Greth of Weaver. “It was her baby. She really enjoyed it when it was done in Mt. Gretna. It was so successful.” If a demand arises for Pennsylvania-German musicals, Greth is ready. She and Weaver wrote “Satin and Strudel,” “The Distelfink Lady,” “Let’s Go Dutch” and “Music in the Night.”


It’s not easy to get Pennsylvania-Dutch things done in this area, for some reason,” said Greth. “Maybe it’s just the mindset. People want to do other things, New York things.”

Marion Weaver's highly-celebrated

piano teacher, Stanton Becker von Graybill, of Lancaster.


GETTING IN DUTCH: Playing 'Plain Betsy', The Morning Call, published 24 June 1988, updated 2 October 2021.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 April 1950, page 11.


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