• Early Shakespearean actress George Anne (not Georgiana) Bellamy knew how to correct an injustice. She had won the role of Cordelia, but suddenly the theatrical management changed its mind and gave another, younger actress the role and substituted her name over Ms. Bellamy’s on the playbills. Therefore, Ms. Bellamy secretly ordered some flyers printed up that pointed out that the role had been promised to her. Her servant gave a copy of the flyer to each person who bought a ticket for King Lear. When the younger actress walked on stage, the audience called out, “OFF! OFF! WE WANT BELLAMY.” Ms. Bellamy, of course, was dressed in the costume of Ophelia and waiting offstage. The audience got the actress it desired, and Ms. Bellamy got the role she desired.
• In 16th-century England, before the establishment of theaters such as the Globe, professional actors sometimes performed plays in such venues as the yard of an inn. However, getting the audience to pay for the performance was sometimes difficult, as people could quickly slip away without paying after the play was finished. Therefore, actors used to perform a play until an exciting point was reached, then stop. After collecting a fee from the members of the audience, the actors continued the performance until its conclusion. Later, after the Globe Theatre had been built, playgoers entered through narrow passageways, which ensured that they entered in single file so they could not avoid paying the entrance fee.
• Dramatic critic Alexander Woollcott owned an island. One day, a group of schoolteachers took a boat to the island and started to have a picnic. This annoyed Mr. Woollcott, so he went to the schoolteachers and denounced them, but they ignored him. Fortunately, one of Mr. Woollcott’s invited guests was Harpo Marx, who volunteered to get rid of the schoolteachers. Harpo sneaked down close to the schoolteachers, then suddenly appeared out of the bushes. He was completely naked except for a ribbon in his hair and a fife in his hand. Harpo pretended to be Pan (a god known for his randiness), and very quickly the schoolteachers jumped into their boat and went away.
• Even late in his career, Rudolf Nureyev demanded respect. At the end of a performance of The King and I in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Nureyev took a curtain call and bowed first to the audience, then to his fellow cast members. Not all of the cast members bowed back. Mr. Nureyev immediately brought his hand down to the level of his crotch — since his back was to the audience, they couldn’t see what he was doing — and darted a finger out like a penis for a moment. At the next curtain call, all of the cast members bowed back to him.
• American scoundrel and playwright Wilson Mizner once married a rich society lady; unfortunately, they were incompatible — Mr. Mizner enjoyed spending money, but his wife kept a tight hold on her money. Therefore, Mr. Mizner employed many stratagems to get money from his wife. Once, he convinced his wife that it was a custom to give diamond cuff links to ambassadors who dined at the homes of members of society, then he convinced a bartender-friend to dress up and pretend to be the ambassador from Spain.
• Police make a distinction between high art and low entertainment. In 1922, the New York Vice Police attempted to shut down the Ziegfeld Follies because the women in the entertainment didn’t wear enough clothing. Therefore, the Follies playbills were immediately altered to include a few blank pages — and small pencils — so that patrons could draw the models the same way that an artist would sketch a model in a studio. The Follies continued to be performed.
• While touring, Anna Pavlova danced on many stages that had broken boards and gaping holes. Her husband, Victor Dandré, began stretching a heavy carpet across such stages and nailing it down, then stagehands drew circles in chalk on the carpet to indicate holes in the stage. This carpet helped prevent many broken bones. A floorboard once broke under Ms. Pavlova as she danced — only the carpet kept her from falling through the stage floor.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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