• Robert Benchley was the drama critic for Lifefor several years. He detested Abie’s Irish Rose, which set a record with 2,327 performances over several years. Unfortunately for Mr. Benchley, Liferan capsule reviews of plays previously reviewed, so each week he had to find a new way to write “awful” in his capsule review of the play. After running out of ideas, he began to fill the space with such “reviews” as “There is no letter ‘w’ in the French alphabet” and “Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as 15 feet” and “In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town” and “Closing soon. (Only fooling.)” Eventually, he held a contest for suggestions to fill the space. Harpo Marx’s suggestion was “No worse than a bad cold.”
• While performing in the play Angel Streetin New York, Vincent Price had the misfortune to bite into a well-frozen ice cream treat during intermission, dislodging a cap on a front tooth. Determined that the show must go on, Mr. Price lodged a wad of adhesive tape into the gap in his front teeth, then continued his performance. Unfortunately, the gap of adhesive tape came loose, flying out of his mouth during an impassioned speech and hitting his co-starring actress on her cheek. For the rest of what was supposed to be a stirring scene, Mr. Price lisped his speeches.
• Young inexperienced actors sometimes get stage fright and forget their lines. Appearing with Ada Rehan was a young actor suffering from a bad case of the nerves. The actor was supposed to ask Ms. Rehan a question, then as she hesitated, say, “You don’t reply.” Unfortunately, when Ms. Rehan hesitated, the actor forgot his line. A prompter from the wings of the theater whispered, “You don’t reply,” and the actor whispered back, “How the hell can I, when I don’t know what to say?”
• Richard Dennis appeared in the play Murder by Murder. At the end of Act II, his character was punched in the jaw, so each night he secreted a pouch of stage blood in his mouth so that during the fight scene he could let a trickle of blood run down his chin. Unfortunately, one night he accidentally bit into the pouch too early, and he was forced to cover up the accident by apologizing to the other characters about his bleeding gums.
• Some actresses act even when they are not on stage or in front of a camera. Tallulah Bankhead once complained about a young actress who had a bit role in one of her plays. Ranting and raving, Ms. Bankhead strode up and down her dressing room complaining about the actress. The play’s director, John C. Wilson, told her, “We’ve already fired that girl.” Ms. Bankhead replied, “I know that, but for heaven’s sake, let me have my scene.”
• While Eve Arden was appearing in a play, Tallulah Bankhead and her date watched from the audience and tried to break up the cast with laughter. Her date was wearing a wide red ribbon across his chest. At a crucial moment in the play, white lights shone in the ribbon, spelling out the words, “Call for Phillip Morris,” the slogan of the sponsor of Tallulah’s radio show.
• A man named Waxey Gordon once wanted a big-time star like Jimmy Durante, who was then featured in movies, to appear in a Broadway show. Informed that he would have to go through Irving Thalberg (a movie producer) to get Durante, he asked, “Who the hell is Thalberg?” After learning that Thalberg was a Hollywood big shot, Mr. Gordon said, “The hell with Durante. If Thalberg is that big, I want Thalberg.”
• Frank Benson was the manager of a traveling Shakespearean troupe and a lover of sports. He once sent a wire to an actor, asking, “Can you play Rugby tomorrow?” The actor wired back, “Yes,” and arrived the next day expecting in play in a Rugby match — and was startled to learn that Mr. Benson wanted him to play the character of “Rugby” in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
• In 1894, people were shocked by vice portrayed on the stage. When Constance Benson portrayed the prostitute Doll Tearsheet in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, shocked ministers preached against the immorality of the stage. In addition, all the schoolchildren in the audience were escorted from the theater by their shocked parents or teachers.
• Playwright Eugene O’Neill is the son of actor James O’Neill. Early in his career, Eugene O’Neill’s plays were rejected by George C. Tyler, who didn’t even bother to read them because, he explained, “Plays by actors’ sons are never any good.”
• George Bernard Shaw once gave English entertainer Joyce Grenfell a present — seven postcard-sized photographs of himself that he had signed. When he gave her the present, he told her, “One for every day in the week and all out on Sunday. And don’t sell them until I’m dead.”
• Richard Brinsley Sheridan scored an immediate success when his comic play The School for Scandalwas first performed on May 8, 1777. There was so much applause and laughter that a pedestrian walking by the theater thought it was collapsing and fled to safety.
• George White was a producer of revues during the Roaring Twenties. Often, he sat in the ticket office and sold tickets for his revue and was amused whenever someone he had never met demanded good seats because of being “a personal friend of George White’s.”
• At Smith College, President William Allan Neilson attended a play in which one of the college’s undergraduates played a prostitute. Later he congratulated her on her performance. “You acted very well,” he said. “That was acting, wasn’t it?”
• Actor Balliol Holloway was once asked why he didn’t accept an offer to perform in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He replied, “I’m not quite sure what part to play — Mercutio, and get off early, or the Friar, and keep my trousers on.”
• W.S. Gilbert once visited the dressing room of an actor who, in his opinion, had acted poorly, and said, “My dear chap! ‘Good’ isn’t the word!”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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