I met Helen Hayes in the late sixties in Nyc, when I was serving the APA-Phoenix Repertory company as its one and only helper director.
The companys fortunes were definitely on the rise in 67 and 68 when founder Ellis Rabb asked into its ranks such famous and unforgettable stars since Miss Hayes, Melvyn Douglas and Elaine Strich. Of these three, just Miss Hayes actually became a member of the company for virtually any length of time, so when she came dutifully to assume her various roles in the representative, Ellis happened to be out of town. It fell to me to put her into the players of You Cant Take It with You while the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina. I was all entirely intimidated and breathless with the image of the First Woman of the American Theatre, emerging to believe the character part of a woman whom only shows up in the last action, and then simply for 15 minutes.
It was hard to think if perhaps Helen Hayes had ever played a part this small , and what might be the effect on the market coming to find an ordinary matinee performance of the farce, just to read inside the lobby: At this performance, the role with the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, usually played out by Cavada Humphrey, will be played by Helen Hayes! On the afternoon of the initial rehearsal, the corporation assembled in the lower reception of the Lyceum Theatre in Broadway, and waited patiently until Miss Hayes, escorted by Capital t. Edward Hambleton, the Phoenix Theatre maker, arrived. Small, relentlessly build, she bobbled and tipped like a thoroughly dressed sparrow, stuttering, fumbling, all insecurity and apology. She was, of course , word-perfect in the component, and necessary very little mentoring, but even if she had needed it at that point, I actually felt about as valuable as a fourth dresser.
At the conclusion of the rehearsal, the girl turned carefully to me and said, Will that do, do you think? Oh, Miss Hayes, My spouse and i responded, it was sensational. Sensational? she sniffed, fixing me personally with that baleful Irish look she reserved for IRS guys or their very own equivalents. I actually swore after Anastasia that Id hardly ever try that idiotic feature again. We cant suppose this is gonna be not humiliating for every you! The lady was direct, no-nonsense and genuinely funny, with a streak of sensible sensibility that made you immediately comfortable with her.
non-e of these First Lady stuff to get Miss Hayes. She was a working presenter in a tough profession, desperate to learn, stressed to you should, happy to be of help. And that tone of voice! Warm, abundant, evenly located, with impeccable effortless American diction, reinforced with a burnished r which was part Asian Seaboard, component pure theatah diction. I could hear it continue to, barking your blunt cadences of George Kellys Ma Fisher in The Show Off, a role she eventually toured for people, and one of many last significant plays your woman did, ahead of confessing that she experienced developed an allergy to theatre particles and could will no longer tolerate backstage life.
Im sure it was accurate, but just Miss Hayes would have identified that unmistakable theatrical turn of phrase that differentiated a regular sinus state from an intimate exile. Someone asked me lately how I believed she would be remembered, and I must confess, the idea gave me pause. Once i speak now with young, aspiring actors, it appears to me that they can dont actually know anyone who came before them. What do they know of Helen Hayes? What of Avoi LeGallienne? What of Ina Claire? These types of giants of American theatre made their kudos by taking their work to not Broadway only, or even in to film and television, although by schlepping their excursions to every significant and even slight theatre town across the country.
It was designed for nothing that Miss Hayes identified with Queen Victoria, one of her greatest tasks, after to whom subjects in the streets went, calling to her at the end of her life, Go this, Old Girl. Youve carried out well! A similar can be said of this diminutive giant of an occasional actress, whose career was not based mostly on one or possibly two tv show, or a couple of movies exclusively, but rather transcended eight decades of continual service to the American theatre.