I Dare Say – 'Poaching' popular pastime of actors (5-11-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 11, 1941)

Parry

I DARE SAY —

’POACHING’ POPULAR PASTIME OF ACTORS
And why don’t they confine themselves to their own mediums?

By Florence Fisher Parry

Why don’t stage stars confine themselves to the stage, movie stars to the movies, and radio stars to radio? They’d all benefit immeasurably. For poaching as they do on each other’s territory they are fast setting up a suspicion in the minds of their helpless, hapless fans that they are out to grab everything while the grabbing is good.

Even the beloved Helen Hayes in taxing our high regard to the uttermost, by appearing with alarming frequency in a program which calls upon her to play upon the horror strings, the heart-strings and the credulity centers of her listeners with almost acrobatic versatility. And who shall deny that this growing familiarity with Miss Hayes’ every tonal inflection is turning her most ardent theater devotees into routine and careless radio fans already tempted to tune her out for some even more bloodcurdling Drammer?

Katherine Cornell has not fallen into this professional error. Lynn Fontaine is but rarely heard on the air. Ethel Barrymore’s appearances are still a great event. Only the agreeable Helen (who I am sure just didn’t have the heart to say no to her sponsors) has risked her reputation as America’s Most Beloved Actress, by making herself… shall we say too easily Had?..

Don’t tell me that young people will get the same thrill out of going to the theater to see Helen Hayes in Shakespeare, after hearing her week in, week out, on the radio, as they would have, had she held herself a rarer product.

The other night I heard Ginger Rogers in a radio version of Kitty Foyle. I’d just seen her on the screen, and the unseen performance suffered immeasurably. Movie actresses need to be seen to be appreciated; and Ginger Rogers is no exception. With few exceptions, movie stars are pretty terrible when they deliver themselves of radio scripts.

Anyway, I saw, live and let live. No $5,000 or $10,000-a-week star in ONE medium ought to supplement his income by regularly appearing in another; there just ain’t that much room on this crowded earth! Anyway, by the time we see Jack Benny in a stage show, in a movie and on the air, all in one week, we begin to get a sort of fixation against this nice fellow, and that’s too bad. Bad for us and bad for Benny.

The genius it is!

Well, evidently one can be a genius and wear a beard and show evidences of having a screw loose, and STILL produce a great picture. Citizen Kane, which every rival of RKO, every director, every production manager, every associate producer and I dare say every star in Hollywood devoutly prayed would be a flop, is a sensation! It is even said that it marks a turning point or milestone or whatever, in Motion Picture Making. Just how this crown will sit upon the head of the already bemused Orson Welles it is hard to predict. It would be wonderful if one reform would come out of it: and that is, letting ONE MAN see a screen production through, instead of the traditional practise of having it delegated to a hundred overlords and underlords.

One man’s contribution to this picture has been made too little of, it seems to me: and that is the photography of Gregg Toland, who did the amazingly original camera work. We just have to remember that Orson Welles had the best photographer in the industry to work out his nebulous ideas.

It makes me think of the fabulous Belasco, who got the whole credit for the work of a genius of an electrician, without whom it is extremely likely even Mr. Belasco could have obtained a mall percentage of his reputation.


Prizes

The Pulitzer award to There Shall Be No Night, and the Critics’ award to Watch on the Rhine, point to the fact that despite our desperate attempt to escape, through our entertainment, from the horrible fact of Hitler, we are drawn irresistibly to the truth and render it its due.

Robert E. Sherwood wrote There Shall Be No Night during the first impact of the war upon his sensitive mind. Its terrible shape had just cast its first shadow. The plight of Finland was still remote and unreal to us, if pitiable. We could not, then envisage its threat to our own peace.

Now, seen through eyes grown old in terrible knowledge, the play has taken on an increased stature. It has become, not just a poignant play, but a symbol. Its people have become the Innocent People of the whole world. Seeing the play a second time gives it an entirely new meaning.

Watch on the Rhine, however, brings the war even more closely home; for it draws a sharp picture of our own growing realization of what is to happen – what has already happened – TO US. Here. Now. And so becomes more truly and more actually an AMERICAN play.

The casting of these two plays reminds us how rich in stage talent America finds itself. Surely no one could have been procured who more perfectly fitted the role of the German fugitive than Paul Lucas, who at last has come into the rewards that he has deserved for so long a time, And when all else has been forgotten that The Lunts have done, their performances in There Shall Be No Night will stand out clear.

The Lady Eve

Hope springs eternal, when it comes to the movies! Just when you have resolved that you’re OFF movie-going, having suffered a run of mediocre so-called “comedies” along comes a gem, to lift your faith high again.

It was called The Lady Eve, and was the work of that blithe young genius, Preston Sturges. It was completely rare and original, a delight from start to finish, and so superior to all the other comedies about Love-trying-and-not-succeeding-in-finding-a-way-even-between-husband-and-wife, that I found myself nursing a quiet peeve that there was no way for the exhibitors to indicate to us that any discrimination is made between the genuine and spurious, and that exactly the same exploitation and raves are accorded a silly piece as a genuine and original product!

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