581 Commercial Street

Gerald Mast and Pitti, 581 Commercial Street, Provincetown (1970s). Courtesy of Alex Gildzen. 
Gerald Mast (1940-1988), described as America’s film scholar laureate, was living in Greenwich Village in 1971 when he bought this house from Hannah Dale Henderson and Charlotte Dean of California for $52,000. He spent summers here with his partner, Peter Burnell, a classically trained actor who won his greatest renown as Mike Power on The Doctors, a daytime soap opera on NBC. (Mast is pictured above in the yard, with Pitti.) Their friend Alex Gildzen (b 1943), a poet, artist, playwright and blogger (Arroyo Chamisa), describes life here in a comment below. Gildzen himself wrote the poem Cats in Provincetown in this house, which he recounts in “Remembering Provincetown.” During Mast’s years here, he grew remarkably in stature with the publication of The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies and Film Theory and Criticism.

“Because of his writings on film history,” The Times said, “he is credited with helping establish the subject as a serious academic discipline.” (“Gerald Mast, 48, Dies; Wrote Histories of Film,” The New York Times, 2 September 1988.) It was the film critic Tag Gallagher who described Mast as America’s film scholar laureate. He was the chairman of the English department at the University of Chicago, his alma mater, at the time of his death from AIDS in 1988, a year after Burnell’s death at 44.

In 1990, Mast’s mother and sister sold this house to Frank X. Fisher, the president of Fisher Hotels in Provincetown, and his wife, Eleanore. • MapHistoric District SurveyAssessor’s Online Database PDF ¶ Updated 2013-08-20

2 thoughts on “581 Commercial Street

  1. In the 1970s and ’80s, this was the home of Gerald Mast and Peter Burnell.

    Gerald was a one-time child actor and Hollywood bit player who became a prominent film historian. His major works are A Short History of the Movies (1971) and The Comic Mind (1979). He often spent his Provincetown afternoons writing his books and articles on a typewriter in the living room. Both of these classics had numerous editions and continue to be used as college textbooks.

    Peter was an actor perhaps best known as Mike Powers on the soap The Doctors. In 1975, he won the Theater World Award for his Broadway debut as the son of Julie Harris and Rex Harrison in In Praise of Love. During summers, he had leading roles in Provincetown productions of classic plays by O’Neill and Williams.

    I first visited them (and their dog Pitti) at this residence in July of 1976. And it was in this house that I wrote my 1982 poem, “The Cats of Provincetown,” which first appeared in the chapbook Cat Scratches and was reprinted in The Avalanche of Time (1985).

    • What a splendid and important addendum, Alex. I had no idea of this connection. Thank you for enriching the site.

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