We’ve started on the actors, now time to give the actresses a little blog room.
I have worked with many terrific actresses in the industry, all talented and hard working in a challenging world, but one or two are memorable for their extraordinary, extrovert personalities.
Lets start with Glynis Johns. Glynis was a really fine actress of her day, retired now. She started her career in the British Film Industry….remember her paying a mermaid in Miranda? Glynis will probably be always best remembered for her role in A Little Night Music as Desiree Armfeldt, here she is singing Bring in the Clowns. I worked with Glynis in a play adapted by Anita Loos ( Gentleman Prefer Blondes), called The Kings Mare. This was a play about Anne of Cleves and her disastrous marriage to Henry VIII, English King, who had a nasty habit of chopping off the heads of the wives he didn’t like, to clear the way for a new one. Glynis played Anne, slightly miscast as she really was too attractive and delicate to be playing the hefty “Flanders Mare”, as Henry called her. But as always she gave a clever, funny performance despite breaking her arm on the opening night, which consequently had to be postponed. We had a beautiful, but very difficult stage set, designed by brilliant designer Ralph Koltai. The stage had a huge rake on it…..it slanted down from back to front….. and was not smooth, being very textured, neither feature making it easy to move around on. The highlight of the play is the disastrous wedding night between Anne and Henry. Their bed was made by four large flaps rising from the floor, encircling a space, which was designated as THE BED!
I was playing Catherine Howard, next wife after Anne, naughty little thing who did lose her head for having an affair with her music teacher ( Anne was lucky, she only got divorced). When I was offered the role, I was asked if I could sing…the answer was a definite “no”, not one of my talents. Was told not to worry…you have only one song! Well, I thought, Glynis is definitely a good singer, as was our “Henry” an actor called Keith Michell…..they’ll do all the real singing. I was wrong! The play was not a musical, not an unreasonable assumption, given the casting of Glynis and Keith, So I was the only one singing…a song, accompanied by myself on the guitar, based on “Blowin in the Wind”, by Bob Dylan. Some nights I did OK…others pretty bad, but it was an interesting experience. One night, Keith unable to bear it any longer just charged on with
the scene, basically cutting out my singing and the song!
Anyway…I digress. We were doing a warm up rehearsal prior to the first night and Keith and Glynis were running through their bedroom scene, Glynis did a little hop over one of the large flaps making up the bed, tripped and we all heard a loud and distinctive crack…”Oh” says Glynis” oh dear, I think I’ve broken my arm.” Well as you can imagine that was the end of that first night, ambulance called, Glynis carted off to hospital and we all went home. My dear Dad arrived to watch the show, only to hear that one of the actresses had been taken to hospital….no- one said which one, so he assumed the worst! Possibly because one day very early on, in my driving days, he was driving home from work, turned a corner and saw my first little car, distinctive by its white roof, a written off wreck on the side of the street, with police all around. That time I had been taken to hospital after being broadsided by a black London taxi cab…too much tonnage for my little vehicle. Life is full of interesting experiences.
I enjoyed the run we had of “The Kings Mare”. It was a funny entertaining play, with good, nice to work with actors and a great back stage staff. I met one of my oldest friends Stella Richards who was assistant stage manager on it. She is now a terrific agent for stage designers….won’t touch actors with a “ten foot barge pole”….(English expression)….can’t say I blame her…we can be a tricky lot.
Last memory of that time…..the theatre we were in was the Garrick Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue….named after the great 18th century actor David Garrick. The theatre sits flush along side the Duke of York’s Theatre the front of which looks on to St Martins Lane. There is or was access to backstage of both theatres across the roofs. I had long spells of not being on stage in the play, while Keith and Glynis did their stuff, so I would sneak out the window of my dressing room in full period costume, climb across the roof to the Duke of York’s into the dressing room of old friend actor John Standing, who had equally long spells off stage in the play he was doing – The Recruiting Officer. We would visit, gossip and do crossword puzzles. Sometimes he would come to me in my dressing room. It all helped to pass the time….long runs in plays can be boring after a while…one reason I like filming so much.
I meant this to be about other actresses too, but have rambled on too long…so will save the Gabor sisters….Eva and Zsa till next time, not to mention Katharine Hepburn!