• Steven Spielberg was looking for an actor to play Oskar Schindler in the movie Schindler’s List when he and his family saw Irish actor Liam Neeson in the play Anna Christie. The mother of Mr. Spielberg’s wife, Kate Capshaw, was visibly moved by the play and was crying, so Mr. Neeson hugged her. Ms. Capshaw later told her husband, “That’s exactly what Schindler would have done.” Mr. Neeson got the role.
• Actor Patrick Macnee once appeared in a play titled The Assassin, whose lead character died in his arms at the end of the play. Playing the assassin was Peter Glenville, who added a few seconds to the death scene each time he played it. After one performance, Mr. Macnee staggered home, collapsed on a couch, then told his wife, “Tonight Peter Glenville took seven minutes to die!”
• Actors and actresses have strange skills. One day, Roger Prout was passing by Elizabeth Vaughan’s dressing room, where he heard her coughing and coughing as if she were about to die. Concerned, he asked if he could do anything to help her, but she stopped coughing, smiled, and then said, “It’s all right — I was just practicing.”
• As a young, impoverished actor, Harry H. Corbett traveled with a troupe in a very old truck. Frequently, the police would order that the truck be repaired in a shop. The mechanics did what they could, but on the bill they would write, “We are no longer responsible for the state of this vehicle.”
• Dr. Samuel Johnson could be complimentary when he wanted to be. When he received a visit from the actress Mrs. Siddons, one of his servants was slow in bringing her a chair. Referring to her ability to sell out a theater, Dr. Johnson said, “You see, madam, wherever you go, there are no seats to be had.”
• Two great Dames of the English theatre — Dame Sybil Thorndike and Dame Edith Evans — appeared together when they were aged. This caused a major problem for the manager of the theater: Which Dame should get the star dressing room? He went to Dame Sybil and explained the problem. The two dressing rooms in question were both very good, but the number two dressing room was at the top of a flight of stairs. Dame Sybil replied, “Well, then, there’s no problem. Dame Edith must have the number one dressing room — I can still climb stairs.”
• When Sir Ralph Richardson was 74 years old, Richard Eyre visited him in his dressing room, where he was surprised to see Sir Ralph using makeup to put lines under his eyes, the way young actors do. Sir Ralph noticed the look of surprise on Mr. Eyre’s face, so he explained, “Ah, I’m playing an old character, you see.”
• When theatrical maven George Abbott was 95 years ago, he had to get a pacemaker. When he asked about its disadvantages, the doctor joked, “You’ll have to have a new battery after 10 years.” As it happened, when Mr. Abbott was 105 years old, he needed a new battery. Eventually, he died at age 107.
• The last time Leslie Caron saw Fred Astaire was at a benefit for Gene Kelly. A waiter accidentally brushed against her and knocked her off-balance. Mr. Astaire, then 85 years old, immediately grabbed her wrist and steadied her. Ms. Caron told him, “Fred, you haven’t lost your grip.”
• Diana Adams auditioned for George Balanchine for the Broadway show Dream with Music, which would star Vera Zorina, but before the audition her agent told her not to settle for anything less than the second dancing lead. After the audition, Mr. Balanchine told Diana that she had passed the audition and he would hire her. Immediately, she remembered what her agent had told her, and so she told Mr. Balanchine that she wanted the second dancing lead. Mr. Balanchine looked at her and replied, “In this show, there is only one dancing lead.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Buy