James Nathan Hale: Mormon Actor
James Nathan Hale was an American actor, theater founder, and quiet philanthropist. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hale, who was known as Nathan, was born on November 21, 1910, in Afton Wyoming. He was the son of William Whittle Hale and Ella Brown Hale. The family later moved to the Salt Lake Valley.
Hale served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ to the North States in 1930–1931. He also served a mission with his wife, Ruth, in Nauvoo, Illinois, reinstate theater in the Old Cultural Hall. They were guides during the day and then did mini skits about life in the old city of Nauvoo in the evening. . Hale married Ruth Emma Hudson on December 22, 1933. Soon after their marriage they were asked to serve as ward drama leaders. They could not find a non-royalty play to perform, so they asked their bishop if the Church could afford to pay a royalty fee. When he was told it would be $25—during the Depression—he told the Hales to write one instead. So they did. They traveled throughout the Salt Lake Valley performing and the play was purchased and published in a church book of plays.
With four children in their home, Hale worked in the Utah copper mine during World War II. He came home one day and told Ruth that he did not want to be working there still when he was in his 60s. She told him that she had read in the Deseret News that there was a shortage of leading men in Hollywood due to the war. Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart had both joined the service. She suggested they move to California and get him into films.
In California, Hale worked as a milkman during the day so he could be available for rehearsals and performances in the evening. He performed with the Altadena Players. They gradually became disillusioned with their Hollywood film dreams, and a member of the Players cast suggested that they open a theater where they could perform in whatever they wanted. So the Hales found an old home in Glendale that had been made into a dance theater. The Glendale Centre Theatre was born in 1947 with 125 seats. Their first performance had only six people in attendance. Their plays featured family entertainment, so audiences grew by word of mouth and soon they had outgrown their humble beginnings. Ruth sold some property her father had left her in Utah to fund a new 230-seat theater. Allan and Sandy Hale Dietlein (the Hales’ daughter and son-in-law) joined the business and they opened another theater, but later consolidated into a larger theater that seated 450 patrons.
Ruth Hale wrote plays and helped Hale run the theater. They also produced a few films for The Church of Jesus Christ under their company name Seagull Film Production Company: Oliver Cowdery: Witness to the Book of Mormon, Is Fast Day a Headache? and A Choice Land.
After their mission to Nauvoo, Hale and his wife decided to retire to Utah and turned the Glendale Centre Theater over to Sandy and Allan. After six months, they were bored. When a woman saw them in a grocery store parking lot and asked them why they were in Utah, she was relieved to learn that the Glendale theater was still running. Hale told Ruth they should start a theater in Salt Lake City. They found an old lingerie factory and opened a new theater, the Hale Center Theater. They opened another one in Orem, and then started a summer theater in Grover, Utah. In 1990, they opened a new theater in Salt Lake City to replace the old one. Eventually the family opened a theater in Gilbert, Arizona.
The Hales were the parents to three sons and four daughters. He passed away on January 30, 1994. At the time of his passing, they had 84 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.