Many families build playhouses in their backyard that attract kids from all over the neighborhood. Carolyn and Red Blount’s version of this playhouse is the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, housed in a $22 million theatre complex they built, literally, in their backyard in Montgomery, Alabama. The ASF offers world-class Shakespearean and modern plays that attract more than 200,000 visitors a year from all 50 states and more than 60 countries.
The festival was an excellent, but financially troubled, summer-only drama series in Anniston, Alabama in 1982 when organizers asked for $80,000 to avoid bankruptcy. The Blounts offered to pay off all debts and build a new festival home. It was and remains today the largest single gift in American theatre history. ASF is the fifth largest Shakespeare Festival in the world.
The Carolyn Blount Theatre is only a part of their vision. The 300 acres surrounding their home is the Blount Cultural Park, a horticultural mecca which includes the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, outdoor sculpture, walking paths, and the Shakespeare Garden.
Carolyn grew up in Auburn, Alabama, earning degrees from Auburn University and Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. She taught literature for some years in Montgomery and has served on the boards of many arts, educational, historical, and healthcare-related institutions. In 1989, she received the Auburn University Award for Alumni Achievement in the Humanities for her contributions to the arts and service to others.
Red grew up in Union Springs, Alabama. He enlisted as an air cadet in 1941 and became a bomber pilot and flight instructor. In 1945, Red came home and started a construction business. The rest is the history of one of the most spectacular success stories in American business. His company’s initial $1 million contract, the First Avenue Viaduct in Birmingham, came in 1949. In the next 40 years, Blount International completed several major projects: the first Atlas ICBM silo complex, the launch pad from which Neil Armstrong took off for the moon, the New Orleans Superdome, and the $2 billion King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. In the 1990s, Red guided the company successfully out of construction and into manufacturing.
In 1952, Red Blount organized support for Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential bid and went on to help build the modern Republican Party in Alabama. In 1969, he was tapped by President Richard Nixon to serve as postmaster general.
Red Blount died in 2002 at his summer home in North Carolina, and Carolyn Blount died three years later. They are buried in a private chapel near the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Theatre. The Blount estate endowed research chairs at the National Postal Museum and Rhodes College, as well as the Blount Undergraduate Initiative, a liberal arts honors program, at the University of Alabama. The Winton M. Blount Elementary School in Montgomery, named in memory of Red, opened in 2003 following his death.