BRIDGTON – Will Holt has traveled the world, crisscrossed the country and entertained on many stages, but the place he loves best is his home in North Bridgton on the shores of Long Lake.

On July 21 and 22, he’ll be onstage with Charles Strouse at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison in a benefit performance for Seeds of Peace International Camp. The two veteran composers have created an original musical revue, “Those Were the Days,” a backward glance at entertainment before television, when they performed live in supper clubs along with other up-and-coming young stars.

Strouse wrote the version of “Those Were the Days” that was sung so memorably by Edith on TV’s “All in the Family.”

Holt has his own list of Broadway hits including “Over Here” and “The Me Nobody Knows.” He wrote other hits popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Trini Lopez, Herb Alpert and Jimmie Durante.

His song “Charlie and the MTA” was banned as un-American during the McCarthy era. It was later a big hit for the Kingston Trio.

Holt has been around music all his life. His grandmother, Sarah W. Scribner, was “a wonderful musician,” he said. She was born in South Waterford, and taught music at Bridgton Academy and later at the New England Conservatory of Music. She started Holt on the piano. His mother, Marjorie Scribner Holt, was also a pianist, and she sang.

Holt grew up in Portland and came of age in the war years, when Congress Street pulsed with life, jammed with soldiers from Fort William and workers from the shipyards in South Portland. They could hear Hum and Strum in the Hawaiian Room of the Columbia Hotel or Mark Stimson at the Lafayette.

Amidst this atmosphere, Will Holt made his professional debut singing “You’re a Sweetheart” at Deering Oaks. By the age of 16, he was determined to go into show business, influenced by folk singers like JJ Niles, Susan Reed, Josh White and Richard Dyer Bennet.

Holt’s family spent summers on Long Lake. His first singing teacher was Jerome Swinford, who had a studio in Harrison.

After graduating from Exeter Academy in 1947, Holt studied with Bennet in Aspen, Colo., for three years. “I learned voice, composition, musicology, dance, movement, everything. Bennet introduced me to many people in the entertainment industry. It changed my life from what I had known.”

In 1950 he went to Europe, traveling by motorcycle, collecting folk music. Austria reminded him of his summer home on Long Lake.

Holt enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was stationed in St. Louis. When the Crystal Palace in Gaslight Square opened in 1952, Holt was the opening act. He became part of the “supper club circuit” along with young performers like the Smith Brothers, Barbara Streisand and Phyllis Diller.

Holt’s style changed over the years from folk to cabaret to Broadway.

He wrote one of his biggest hits while at home in Bridgton during the summer of 1983. “Over Here” starred John Travolta, fresh from his success in “Grease,” and featured the Andrews Sisters.

The inspiration for his next musical was his father, William Holt. An orphan who came to North Waterford from Portland by train at age four, Holt’s father was a chore boy who found his own sponsor so he could attend Bridgton Academy. He worked his way through medical school at Bowdoin College, and practiced medicine in Portland from 1920-1955.

It’s a story he wants to tell his grandchildren.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.