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The Hills Are Alive

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Friday, October 14, 2005

"STREETCAR"

I got my Equity card that first summer at Sea Cliff when I was cast as Eunice Hubbell-The Woman Upstairs in "A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE". This was an Original Production at Sea Cliff and not a traveling 'package'. The reason I got cast in this play was because of "Pal Joey", which had been the 5th week of that first season, and what an exciting week it was! It gave all of us such a lift, especially the apprentices...there were lots of little fun colorful 'set' pieces that had to be built and painted---things that could be moved in and out of scenes very quickly, this being a musical with many scenes. This particular production is what sparked the very first revival of this terrific musical, on Broadway that following season---though not with the cast that was traveling that summer. Our cast was Carol Bruce as Vera and Bob Fosse as Joey! Fantastic together and alone! The whole cast was fun and the show was a hoot. These 'packages' of musicals always did have more of a cast that they traveled with than the usual shows...but cut way back because of costs. In this case there were four chorus girls and four chorus boys---that was it. All the supporting players who had musical numbers came with the package, too, but the rest of the cast was filled in by the 'Resident Company' and the apprentices. This show was a smash hit, wherever it went and Sea Cliff was no exception, and because our theatre was so close to NYC a lot of show people and agents and related celebrities would trek out to see their friends and clients...it was a very exciting week and everyone was psyched by the energy that was generated by this fantastically talented cast....I mean, Bob Fosse? Hello! He was a heart breaker if there ever was one...everyone in the show was sharp and funny and absolutely professional and we all had a ball with them! I had actually seen the Original Broadway production with Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal....some people would say this was a strange show to bring a child to....but, I loved it and the only scene or song I had any memory of from all those years ago was The Pet Shop scene and "I Could Write A Book"....the most innocent of scenes and songs, already the great romantic, was I; You see, it just shows you that what you do not understand as a child just goes right over your head, (I think...hmmmmm.)
Anyway....the apprentices all got together and did a late night take-off of the show and I played Vera, (all-be-it a rather pudgy one)....and whatever it was about what we did that night, the Producers immediately cast me in "Streetcar"!
Louis McMillan, one of our Producers was going to play Stanley. He was an extemely attractive man and though I'd never seen him act, one just felt something from him---an animal magnetism---that made you know he was going to be a terrific Stanley. I loved this play and had seen that Original Broadway production, too, with Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Marlon Brando as Stanley and Kim Hunter as Stella...
At Sea Cliff, that summer, Blanche was to be played by an actress named Helen Twelvetrees. I was not familiar with her, but was told she had been a pretty big star in Silent Films and then moved to 'talkies' and then suddenly her career was pretty much over by the early 1940's; And that she had worked in the theatre before ever going into films....
Being very young and fairly opinionated about 'The Theatre' (not just because I was in Drama School, but I think because I had seen so many many plays and musicals in my still young life, I thought, no one could possibly be a better Blanche than JessicaTandy...Ahhhh the unbelievable confidence if youth, about some things, anyway....)
That very first day of rehearsal, the whole 'Streetcar' company was on the outdoor back platform, behind the theatre; it was huge and it was where all rehearsals took place when it wasn't raining. All of us were there and I was very very nervous. My part was a pretty big part for an apprentice---one that would have normally been 'jobbed in', so I felt a lot of pressure to be really good and was deeply afraid I was going to be very bad...In one scene, which was offstage, I had to scream a truly blood curdling scream....my husband in the play, Steve, was an abusive wife beater and this scene was there to illustrate the fact that we fought all the time and that the neighbors, (The Kowalski's) could hear us. I honestly did not think I could do this but was afraid to tell that to anyone.
A lovely actress and an excellent writer too, Anne Marie Barlow, who as playing Stella in this production was already there too, and we were waiting for Miss Twelvetrees, who we were told had arrived at the theatre and would be with us at any moment. Shortly thereafter, this ethreal looking woman---blond and very pretty, though in a faded sort of way, came down the path towards the back platform. She was wearing a very feminine white summer dress with flat shoes and she was truly 'a vision' right out of 'The Elysian Fields' . She looked quite a bit older than her actual years, particularly by today's standards---we are not used to seeing women of her age looking that dissapaited, anymore, most of the time, but alcohol had taken it's toll I'm afraid, and as she came closer to greet each of us individually as we were introduced to her I couln't help but notice that she had the saddest eyes I'd ever seen. I thought to myself, 'My God, she is Blanche'. Everything about her was soooo 'Blanche'. She seemed terribly fragile physically though one sensed great strength in her, too. But it was also obvious that she had an extremly fragile psyche, as well....she was a sweet woman; a very nice person and a really lovely lovely actress as it turned out; and she was the character of Blanche Dubois, down to her marrow....you wanted to 'take care' of her; something about her brought out the caretaker in all of us and we all wanted her to succeed, desperately, because of that.
It was a very exciting week for all of us, but especially for me. Our Resident Actor, (as he was known), George Mitchell, a dear dear man and a superb actor, was playing my husband, Steve Hubbell. As I said we lived upstairs from Stella & Stanley and Steve was one of the regular poker players in the Kowalski apartment. It was the wonderful George Mitchell, who coached me through the screaming and helped me to release these blood curdling sounds. No, he didn't actually hit me, but on one of those first days of rehearsals, I shared with him my fear about screaming...(So ironic that not 20 years later I would be reaching down into my deepest feelings in something called Primal Therapy, where I had no trouble screaming at all, and still don't, but I was pretty repressed in those early days at Sea Cliff, and so very young, too, in experience) George and I were walking into the sleepy little town of Sea Cliff at a lunch-break, and I told him how scared I was that I would not be able to scream realistically. And this gentle man said, 'I'll make you scream...If you really believed I was going to hit you...', and he raised his hand in such a menacing way, that I screamed...tentatively at first, but it did get better and better as the two of us rehearsed on the way to lunch! Whatever works, you know? He never did actually hit me, but the threat of it was so real....it worked. And once I gave voice to this scream, I got over my inhibition about it; it was a really terrific lesson for me that I was able to utilize as an actress long after that. Once I conquered the fear of screaming, I could relax and move on to all my other fears!
The production came together beautifully during that week of rehearsal;
Louis was a wonderful Stanley; Ann Marie Barlow was a terrific Stella and Miss Twelvetrees was 'The Real' Blanche, in every way. I never did find out what her personal story was but it was certainly all in her face and persona, so that what she brought to the play was a unique quality; she didn't have to worry about 'acting', all she had to do was 'be', and it worked like gangbusters for this play; (she had some problems remembering lines...one perfermormance she skipped about seven or eight pages, but somehow we got back on track;) but she was a 'professonal' and because she was such an emotionally fragile woman in and of herself, her Blanche was deeply deeply touching; it broke your heart. Like I said, she truly was Blanche. This week of "Streetcar" was very successful for Sea Cliff and audiences literally ate it up! It was incredibly exciting for me to have my first paying job as an actress be in this great great play and with such a lovely and talented cast, particularly the tragic Helen Twelvetrees. It was a memorable week, in every respect. Just seven years after that summer, poor sweet shattered Helen Twelvetrees, died by her own hand. (As Birdie says in "All About Eve", ...'Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her heals....').

8 Comments:

Anonymous joan said...

What a fascinating blog! Harold Arlen, Billy Strayhorn - my favourite composers - and much much more. I read your comment on Bighappyfunhouse, which I visit daily, and just checked out your site. What a treasure. Thanks for blogging. I'll definitely be back. I'm from the west coast of Canada, by the way, in case you care.

12:23 AM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

Hi Joan..So glad you came by, and hope you do come back. I don't know what I'm doing but I am enjoying reminiscing not knowing if anyone will visit or care! Thanks for your comment; Billy Strayhorn was a true wonder, wasn't he? And Arlen, Oh My! The BEST! My two favorite composers are Stephen Sondheim and Harold Arlen; of course there are a lot of other superb composers, too...so many--Thank God--it's hard to choose, but the two I mentioned touch my heart in a deeper way than some others.

Canada, eh? Where, exactlty? Not that I know Canada that well, but it's great to know someone in Canada has visited my blog! Welcome, and do come again!

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Great post. I wish I could see some of these old Sea Cliff productions—did anyone ever record them? I remember seeing Helen Twelvetrees is some OLD movies and I looked her up again. What a beauty and what an interesting, sad life. Where is the definitive Helen Twelvetrees biopic? I smell another Oscar for Charlize Theron! Twelvetrees (love that name!) never actually made a silent film, they started grooming her in 1929 to take the place of the silent stars who couldn't make the transition to talkies. Wow, how lucky you are to have seen THE production of "Streetcar" with Brando and Tandy, although I would have loved to have seen the production starring you and Ms. Twelvetrees!

11:29 AM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

You gave me a good laugh, Danny..(Charlize Theron remark..oh, how true..!)I LOVE that you know that Miss Twelvetrees did not make any silent films...leave it to you, you GRAND Wonderful Historian...
No--the plays and shows were never flmed, (we didn't have all the GREAT stuff we hve now..Tape/Digital....) But, I have lots of photo's of most of the shows..and I was thinking how great it would have been to post a photograph of Helen T. in "Streetcar"...then you could see all the sadness in her face...Grrrr, I need a scanner, don't I? Thanks for the great comment, Danny.

1:55 PM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

I was just realizing Danny, that Helen Twelvetrees was only 42 years old when she did "Streetcar". 42!!!! Lord! And if you could see how she looked, back then---more like 62, and like I said, by today's standards, 42 now is soooo young! Poor dear Helen. Where did you find photo's of her? The only photo's I have are those from the production.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous joan said...

I'm from Victoria BC, on Vancouver Island.

12:24 PM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

Hi Joan--I've never been to Vancouver but everyone I know who has been there says it is BEAUTIFUL! Maybe someday I'll see it, but it's doubtful. I do not travel anymore, at all. But, one never knows. Thanks for visiting my blog!

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are starting an exhibit that will include "Sea Cliff Summer Theater". Any information or photos you can send will be included in the exhibit. I am the Director of the Sea Cliff Village Museum. You can reach me at
SEACLIFFMUSEUM2AOL.COM

11:46 AM  

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