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 Raising The Bar Jeannette Clift George at 89 young continues her dreams with a new Galleria theater underway

Jeannette Clift George is loving the butternut squash soup at Lynette Hawkins’ Giacomo’s cibo e vino.

“I’m a soupologist,” she claims. “And this is wonderful soup.”

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Jeannette Clift George and Jerome Kidd in the Alley Theatre's production of Colette 

At 89 years young, this doyenne of Houston theater is still going strong, running the A. D. Players she founded, acting, writing and teaching, and sharing her amazing story over lunch.

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Villa-Real: Jeannette Clift George and Joe in the A. D. Players' production of Whatever Happened to the Villa Real? 

This daughter of a Texas wildcatter wound up in Houston around 1940. Not too long after that her mother took her to her very first theater experience to see a performance of Madame Butterfly. It didn’t exactly make her want to be a thespian.

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Jnet-Julie 2: Jeannette Clift George and Julie Harris in The Hidding Place 

“I left there resolved to become a beautiful Japanese lady who sang!” she says with a twinkle in her eye. And while that never quite happened, she has an amazing run in theater.

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Jeannette Clift George and Jerome Kilty in the Alley Theatre's production of Dear Liar. Photo by Robb Webb

She acted in high school, college and in New York City before returning to Houston where she met Nina Vance, the founder of the Alley Theatre.

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Scott Wentworth, Jeannette Clift George, and Neil Flanagan in the ALley Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet.

“When I first met Nina she asked me to do a cold reading and handed me a script,” George recalls. “When I finished she cried. I got hired and it wasn’t until years later I told her the script, Golden Boy, had been my acting final at U.T.”

Despite her success with the Alley, she found another passion, her faith. In 1967 she formed the After Dinner Players (now A. D. Players), the first and still only Christian theater in Houston. Beyond just Bible plays, the theater produces secular plays and programs that uphold human value, offer creativity and promote literacy and education.

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Jeannette Clift George in the Alley Theatre's production of The Rivals. 

In 1971 she married Lorraine George, a construction executive who also built sets for local theaters. Lorraine George passed in 2004, but not before turning his wife’s passion into a brick and mortar reality. He bought the old Grace Bible Church building on West Alabama Street and turned it into a permanent home for their theater troupe.

Over the decades George has met many celebrities, touring with Bob Hope for the U.S.O. and starring in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s 1975 film The Hiding Place, based on the true story of Corrie ten Boom’s life in a World War II concentration camp. She was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her role as ten Boom and became lifelong friends with Billy and Ruth Graham.

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Jeannette Clift George and Jerome Kidd in the Alley Theatre's production of Colette.

“The first time I was alone with Ruth I was intimidated,” she recalls. “I thought ‘what do I say to Billy Graham’s wife?’ But she turned to me and asked where did I get my shoes!”

Now, in the A. D. Player’s 48th season, George is still just as passionate about her faith and her theater. She not only acts but also has written 360 plays and eight books, teaches bible class weekly and produces an Internet radio show.

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HPLMGJCG: Jeannette Clift George and her husband Lorraine George

This year she will have a permanent archive at the University of Houston and a longtime dream will become a reality when the theater company breaks ground this December on a new facility on a four-acre site just west of the Galleria. In the works since 2003, the construction of the new complex — that will combine the three current locations that now house the main theater, children’s acting school and administration offices — stalled during the recession but plans are now on track to start construction of phase one at $17 million. The complex will be named the Lorraine George Performing Art Center, in honor of her late husband.

“He always believed,” she says with a smile. “And when we break ground around Christmas we will be the first Christian theater to be programmed from the ground up. I truly believe that the concept of Christian theater has come into its own time.”

George may have never turned into that beautiful Japanese singer, but she has left an indelible mark on theater in Houston and beyond.

Article by Marene Gustin