Bert DeRose taught Amsterdam how to act

Categories: News

Next Saturday, Aug. 17, from 6-9 p.m. his former drama students will produce “A Tribute to Bert DeRose” at Amsterdam’s Riverlink Park.  The public is invited,\.

Umberto “Bert” DeRose was born in 1932 and grew up on River Street on the city’s South Side.  His parents were James and Anna Pagliaro DeRose, children of Italian immigrants. 

DeRose’s father, a Mohawk Mills carpet weaver, took his son to see James Cagney in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942.  It was there the young man discovered his calling.

DeRose learned the title song and performed it for a Mount Carmel Church show.  He loved the applause.

DeRose wrote a speech to promote buying war stamps and his Fifth Ward School principal took him to other elementary schools to deliver his address.

In 1949, DeRose teamed with Bill Levine at Amsterdam High School and produced variety shows.  They convinced the football team to dress as cheerleaders for a musical number.  It brought down the house.

DeRose’s mother went to work so her son could attend Ithaca College.  His first goal was to be a symphony conductor.  Soon, he switched to speech and drama.

Each summer, he returned to Amsterdam to put on plays for the city Recreation Commission.

“They gave me fifty dollars and we did the musical ‘Good News,’” DeRose said.  The following year was “Oklahoma,” the first big hit, and then “Carousel” and other Broadway shows.

From 1953 to 1955, DeRose earned a master’s degree and met his future wife, Barbara, at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He directed plays there but continued to come home to direct Amsterdam’s summer shows.

In 1955, DeRose taught a year in Fonda.  Bert and Barbara married that November.  In 1956, he began teaching English and social studies at Amsterdam High School.  Eventually, he was teaching drama and directing four plays a year, including the summer show. 

DeRose moved into administration, spending many years as co-principal with Claude Palczak.  DeRose came up with the concept for homecoming weekend.  He helped create the Vietnam and Korean War memorials at what is now Lynch Middle School.  He picked the ram as the school mascot, reasoning that rams live on hills and Amsterdam is built on hills.  When he retired in 1995, DeRose was high school principal.

The old high school auditorium on Brandt Place was named in his honor and in 2007 the new high school performance space on Saratoga Avenue was dedicated as the Bert DeRose Theater.

DeRose led the 2013 campaign to name the theater at what is now the middle school on Brandt Place for Michael Lynch.  Pvt. Lynch, a medical corpsman and former president of the high school drama club, was tending to a wounded soldier in Vietnam when Lynch himself was killed by gunfire in 1969.

“I always tried to instill with the kids that no matter what they did for the theater, they were part of it,” DeRose said.  “Forget about the star.  Forget about the lead.  There is no lead if the kid who is pulling the curtain pulls at the wrong time.”

Watching video of DeRose’s productions, his actors convey emotional intensity.

DeRose said, “What we did was study the script.  I went deep into the inner character of the character — the meaning of it all, the feeling at that moment.  If you get the teenager, teenagers can do tremendous things.”

Since his retirement, DeRose has performed in Rotary shows, the Amsterdam Oratorio and in 1998 directed a play for Barkley Elementary School.

“I enjoyed every minute,” he said. “For a director, the saddest night is opening night.”


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