- 100 Years of Broadway Shows, Stories and Stars
- Louis Botto – 2002
- edited by Robert Viagas
- Copyright © 2002 by Playbill Incorporated
A theatre is a living thing.
It is born, it breathes, it eats, it communicates,
It grows old
And like all things in our universe,
It eventually dies.
Each theatre even has its own distinct personality—some are friendly, some brooding, some cozy, some expansive, some formal, some flamboyant. Its personality is initially defined by the entrepreneur who envisions it, the architect who designs it and the artisans who build it.
It is further shaped by the people and productions that take temporary residence in the theatres heart. Together, over time, this fusion of wood, metal, plaster, stone, sound, ideas, artists and audiences shape its spirit. One might even say spirits.
In November 1960 a beautiful play came to the Belasco. Tad Mosel’s All the Way Home, adapted from James Agee’s novel A Death in the Family, starred Arthur Hill, Lillian Gish, Colleen Dewhurst, and Aline MacMahon. It etched with feeling the impact of a young fathers death on his family. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the best play of the season.
In April 1930 producer Jed Harris, known as the boy wonder, returned from London and produced and directed an acclaimed revival of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, adapted by Mrs. Ben Hecht (Rose Caylor). Harris’s direction and the acting of his sterling cast, Lillian Gish, Osgood Perkins, Walter Connolly, Eduardo Ciannelli Joanna Roos, and others, made the occasion a theatrical event. The end of 1930 brought a taut, cynical expose of scandal mongering newspapers called Five-Star Final. It starred Arthur Byron, Frances Fuller, and Berton Churchill, and featured Allen Jenkins. Theatre goers supported it for 176 showings.
After a series of unsuccessful plays in 1930 and 1931, the Longacre finally had a hit in Blessed Event (1932), starring Roger Pryor in a thinly disguised impersonation of the egotistical Broadway columnist Walter Winchell, with Isabel Jewell and Allen Jenkins in support. A dramatization of the infamous Lizzie Borden ax murders, Nine Pine Street, had a fine performance by Lillian Gish as the neurotic killer, but it only ran a few weeks in 1933.
Hal Holbrook starred in Robert Anderson’s somber autobiographical drama / Never Sang for My Father (1968), also starring Teresa Wright (then Mrs. Robert Anderson) and Lillian Gish.
The National had a series of failures and quick bookings during 1932 and 1933 and was dark for more than a year during those gray Depression days. But on October 22, 1934, a distinguished drama opened at this theatre. It was Sean O’Casey’s Within the Gates, directed by Melvyn Douglas and starring Lillian Gish as a prostitute, Bramwell Fletcher as a poet, and Moffat Johnston as a bishop. The play took place in London’s Hyde Park, and the very large cast represented the great variety of humanity who spent their days in the park. There was music, dancing, and philosophizing, and Brooks Atkinson in The Times pronounced: “Nothing so grand has risen in our impoverished theatre since this reporter first began writing of plays.”
Mr. Gielgud was in the National’s next production as well, Crime and Punishment, costarring Lillian Gish, but the adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel was not a success.
Stuart Erwin and Lillian Gish in Mr. Sycamore.
St James Theatre
Lillian Gish and John Gielgud in Hamlet, which moved to the St. James in 1937.
Circle in the Square Theatre
Lillian Gish, George C. Scott, Nicol Williamson, Barnard Hughes, and Julie Christie in Uncle Vanya.