Trojan spirit: A portrait of Mary Pallares

Mary Pallares

On this Giving Tuesday, the USC School of Dramatic Arts celebrates one of our loyal supporters, Mary Pallares, and her long history of consecutive philanthropy to the School. We thank her, and all of our loyal supporters, today and every day.

Not long after Mary Pallares graduated from the USC School of Dramatic Arts – in 1954, when it was called the Division of Drama – she began to support her alma mater with financial contributions. During her time as a student, Pallares acted in a few one-act plays, but she was more interested in the technical aspects of drama: she remembers lighting classes with much-beloved professor William C. White, scenery painting and props, and more. She found her place in the tight-knit backstage crews of many productions. It made perfect sense, given that her father Antonio Reveles was a notable scenic artist in the local film industry.

“I felt right at home backstage,” she says.

Of course, working in live theatre, there was the occasional mishap. Pallares recalls a particular stage blunder from 1953, when USC presented the world premiere of the opera Volpone, with famous German director Carl Ebert at the helm.

White, Pallares’ mentor and lighting professor, recommended that she be hired to run the lights for the production. She would sit high in the cage above the Bovard Auditorium stage, and she’d operate the house and stage lights, and handle the special lighting effects.

“It was quite an honor, and I even got paid,” Pallares recalls. “It was quite an experience, but there was one incident…”

A statue onstage had a light installed in its eye; Pallares controlled the light, and her cue was to blink the light after scoundrel Volpone pledges reform. The statue’s wink casts doubt on Volpone’s promises. But one night, nothing happened when she flipped the switch.

“The director came storming down the aisle, cussing in German, because he thought it was my fault that the light wasn’t twinkling,” Pallares remembers. “Bill White was upset because he thought I was going to cry. And I said ‘I’m not going to cry, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.’ And I just sat back, pulled out a candy bar and ate it while everybody’s fussing below me.”

It turned out that one of the actors had kicked the electrical cord and unplugged the light.

“That cooled off the director, and we made sure from then on that actors did not touch that cord,” Pallares recalls with a laugh.

The School is still very much a part of Pallares’ life. She attends the spring musical without fail, and other productions as often as her schedule allows. In recent years, she attended plays with her grandson while he was studying at the Viterbi School of Engineering. (Two of her children also are USC grads: a daughter from the School of Pharmacy and a son from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry.)

“I’ve already marked my calendar with several upcoming shows I’d like to see,” she says.

A teacher herself, Pallares feels strongly that SDA is beneficial both to the growth of young professional artists and to the future of the arts, and that its impact deserves support.

“The school is a very helpful tool in the community and to the art form of drama,” she says. “You have to nurture that, and encourage and support the teachers and students who have chosen that field.”

Pallares admires SDA Dean David Bridel, who she credits with doing a “wonderful” job at the school.

“I’m very fond of everything the school is doing,” she explains.

Pallares is the perfect example of the Trojan spirit. She has held many positions in the Trojan community. In addition to her support of SDA, Pallares was active for decades at the USC School of Pharmacy with her late husband, Oscar (PharmD ’55), and was past president of the Trojan League of Los Angeles, a supporter of Town & Gown, Life Member of the Alumni Association, a Premier Member of Cardinal and Gold, a regular at the Monday Morning Quarterback luncheons and a season ticket holder for both football and basketball.

Pallares’ connections to the School run deep, and her steadfast loyalty to her alma mater is a testament to what it means to be part of the Trojan Family. This Giving Tuesday, every dollar will make an impact. Please join Pallares in support of our SDA students by texting “SDA” to “71777” or by visiting ignite.usc.edu/drama.