Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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A New Era in Politics: Clinton, Obama, and Trump
New forms of communication made the party system largely obsolete.

Theatre in Philadelphia

Theater has declined, everywhere in the western world. But in Philadelphia, even today if you attended every new play you would keep pretty busy.

Fanny Kemble

{fanny kemble sully}
Fanny Kemble (Sully)

Frances Anne Kemble, universally known as Fanny, was just about the most magnificent Philadelphia woman of the Nineteenth Century. She spent much of her time abroad and others claimed her, but she was ours. Coming from a famous English theater family, the niece of Mrs. Siddons and the daughter of the founder of Covent Gardens, she quickly rescued the failing family fortunes by becoming the most striking Shakespearean ingenue of the time. It took very little time for her to know Lord Byron, Thackeray, and various other luminaries of the literary and artistic world of Europe, along with Queen Victoria. One might as well say she knew everybody unless one made the point that everyone knew her.

{Butler}
Pierce Butler

On a theatrical grand tour of America she met and married the Philadelphian Pierce Butler, one of the richest bachelors in the nation, heir to huge estates in Georgia. She had plenty of other choices, including the most dashing and romantic devil of the century, Trelawny. That glamorous friend of Byron's had been the one to drag Percy Shelley's body from the ocean, and was surely the greatest heartthrob of the century. Toward the end of her life, Fanny demonstrated the range of her appeal by totally subjugating the intellectual novelist Henry James, who was 34 years younger than she was. Her portraits by Sully now hang in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and in the Rosenbach Museum. Although Sully was said to have glamorized her a bit, her movie star qualities are evident. But appearance alone could not have mesmerized Henry James, known in literary circles as The Master. She was evidently one of those powerfully self-assured personalities encountered from time to time, who dominates every conversation, fills every room she enters, inspiring admiration rather than jealousy. As a youth, she was enchanting, as a mature woman, magnificent. Henry James described her as having "an incomparable abundance of being."

But this was not just another Cleopatra. Fanny Kemble had two personal achievements of enduring note. Because of health limitations, she went beyond being a Shakespearean actress to inventing a style of a public reading of Shakespeare, taking all the parts herself. She and Dr. Samuel Johnson were the two successive forces transforming Shakespeare's reputation from the quaint playwright of the past into the permanent towering figure of the English language.

Her other achievement destroyed her private life. As the wife of the owner of a thousand slaves, she led the attack on slavery before the Civil War. During the War, her passionate defense of emancipation was the main factor in persuading the British Government to refuse badly needed loans to the Confederacy. However, the publication of her journals was the last straw in a tumultuous marriage, and Pierce Butler divorced her, taking custody of their daughters, exiling her to England. Southern plantation owners were always short of cash, and realistically one has to acknowledge the strain of demanding to emancipate a thousand slaves, each one worth a thousand dollars. In one of the supreme ironies of a tragic situation, the forced sale of the slaves compelled the Butlers to liquidate an asset just before it was going to be destroyed by wartime events. Butler died in 1863, but she had done him a financial favor.

Fanny's daughter married Dr. Caspar Wistar, of Grumblethorpe and the grounds of present LaSalle College. Her grandson was Owen Wister, the college roommate of Teddy Roosevelt, later the author of The Virginian. Famous for the phrase "If you say that to me, smile", Owen Wister and his roommate created the fable of the romantic cowboy which still dominates movies and fiction, and, from time to time, the Presidency of the United States.

Swashbuckler

{Privateers}
Howard Hughes

In 1947, Howard Hughes was summoned to Washington to testify at a Senate hearing. Claude Pepper, Democrat of Florida, was in the chair, clearly angry about Hughes' conduct of munitions contracts, including flagrant non-performance. Three wooden flying boats had been commissioned for $18 million but not produced, people had been killed in crashes of test planes, and the newspapers were full of obscure allusions to unspecified wrong-doing in high places. Although the Hughes hearings were front page news for weeks, in those days it was only necessary to walk in and sit down if you wanted to watch them.

Under the circumstances, it would have been understandable if Hughes had been reduced to a trembling mumbler, probably advised to "take" the Fifth Amendment with every question. Congressional chairmen, particularly Claude Pepper,

{Claude Pepper}
Claude Pepper

quite regularly grandstand and bully the helpless witness at hearings like this, since it portrays them to the voters as heroic defenders of the public interest, and could even forward their chances of becoming a Presidential candidate. Hughes the scapegoat seemed to be in for a public flogging. The first step was to haul him before the committee and then keep him waiting for an hour or so, while the members attended to important public business, maybe even had to go for a roll-call vote or something. You could tell that things were not going according to the usual script when Hughes himself arrived quite late, accompanied by quite a large staff or retainers. When Pepper still delayed the hearing, Hughes called for a newspaper and elaborately read the comic pages.

The Texas swashbuckler didn't look the part. His accent and tailoring reflected a New England boarding school, and while his mustache resembled that of his friend Errol Flynn, he had a voice like a lion and lightning retorts that would do credit to Bill Buckley. Reminding the Chairman that he had been deafened in the crash of a racing plane, he asked him to repeat the question. Sorry, please repeat it again. And again, and again. Pepper was beside himself.

{The Spruce Goose}
The Spruce Goose

Flustered, Pepper tried to reverse the treatment. Senator, I have already answered that question. Well, answer it again. No, I stand on my previous testimony. I forget what you said. Have the stenographer read it to you. Her transcript is not complete. Very well, my own secretary will read it back to you.

{Glomar Explorer}
Glomar Explorer

As if to demonstrate that he hadn't defrauded the government, Hughes, who always test-piloted his own planes, flew the H-4 about a mile in less than a minute during what was supposed to be a taxiing test on November 2, two months after his congressional testimony.

In another strange and unexplained footnote, the Glomar Explorer was a ship built in Philadelphia and used in Project Jennifer in an attempt to salvage a sunken Russian nuclear submarine and discover any secret technology it might contain. This was long past the time when Hughes was supposed to be disgraced and banished from Government contracts. The Senate hearings obviously had no effect on his status, and indeed might even have been entirely staged to mislead the Russians and others. Like so many things in his life, this episode has no readily obvious explanation.

Only in retrospect is it possible to see that Hughes was involved in lots of top-secret matters, and the bravado of his defiance -- not to say contempt of Congress -- might have had roots in some sure knowledge Pepper would not dare touch him. The CIA commissioned him to build the Glomar Explorer to find a sunken Russian submarine, using a phony story of manganese recovery. The supposed political victim of the much later Watergate break-in, Larry O'Brien, is said to have once been a Hughes employee; on the other hand, Hughes was very close to the Nixon Administration. There were inevitably many ties between his Las Vegas gambling empire and Cuban underworld figures, as well as Hollywood figures. Hughes was an owner of the Dallas movie theater where John Kennedy's murderer Lee Oswald tried to hide and was captured. It is not possible to judge Howard Hughes by the usual standards; this eccentric billionaire was capable of doing unimaginable things and it will be remarkable if spectacular news about him ends with his death.

Show Biz Image: Hepburn, Rogers, Kelly

A fair lady's image depends, Bernard Shaw told us, not on how she acts, but on how she is treated. The case in point is a beautiful Main Line heiress in The Philadelphia Story, who can choose any man she wants. What she cannot do, is escape grief for a wrong choice.

When Broadway and Hollywood paint your image, not believing your own press releases takes strength. Toward the end of the Great Depression around 1938, show business turned full and nasty attention to Philadelphia high society. Earlier, while author Christopher Morley was at Haverford College, Katharine Hepburn at Bryn Mawr College, and Grace Kelly at school on Schoolhouse Lane, Hollywood had picked up just enough authentic detail to be dangerous. Kitty Foyle and The Philadelphia Story are two fairly accurate snapshots of a complex society, but one cannot be fully understood without the other. Indeed, the real-life trivialities of Howard Hughes, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Ginger Rogers sharpen the outlines of the graceful gentlefolk they attempted to portray.

In 1938, Hepburn was a smash hit on Broadway with Philip Barry's Philadelphia Story, which essentially tells of the agonized turmoil of a Main Line princess, facing a three-way choice between a charming but worthless blue-blood, a self-made dullard, and a poor but noble New York magazine writer. (Just guess who the author was rooting for.) In real life, of course, Ms. Hepburn chose to spend four years with movie producer Howard Hughes the dare-devil Texan with a hundred starlets in his bedroom. Most of her competitors wanted a movie contract and/or a diamond bracelet, but Katy wanted the movie rights for Philadelphia Story, which Howard readily bought for her. Although other actresses played the role, she made herself into the image of a Philadelphia heiress, thereby nudging that Main Line image toward her own. At the time the image did not include much mention of Howard Hughes or actor Spencer Tracy, another long-time companion.

{Ginger Rogers}
Ginger Rogers

Meanwhile, Ginger Rogers, who was also engaged to Howard Hughes at one point, was making a great name for herself as the star of Christopher Morley's Kitty Foyle. Morley's Haverford experience taught him somewhat more respect for the Philadelphia Gentleman than Barry ever had, while his experience at the Curtis Publishing Company also made him appreciate the smart and plain-spoken Philadelphia girls from working-class districts. Highborn Philadelphia women are only sketchily imagined by Morley, except they somehow fail to appeal to his manly fictional cricket-player from the Main Line.

As matters turned out, Katy lost to Kitty. Although Hepburn was surely the more talented actress, eventually winning five Academy Awards, Ginger Rogers walked away with the 1940 Oscar for her interpretation of a working-class Philadelphia lady. Either way it turned out, of course, Howard Hughes was bound to be a happy fellow.

{Grace Kelly}
Grace Kelly

And yes, in 1956 Grace Kelly was the star of High Society, a renamed version of the Philadelphia Story for which, remember, Katherine Hepburn still controlled the rights. The film was a mediocre performance, just a little short of embarrassing. But however inexact all three of these portrayals may have been, there is little doubt that Philadelphia society moved a bit in their direction, involuntarily living up to an image created by three observers who seemed to their own observers to retain hostility traceable to their own undefined turmoils.

Philip Barry stacks the deck somewhat, portraying the leading lady as movie audiences during the Depression were likely to fantasize, indulging a luxury only a rich girl would supposedly be careless about. She rejects the colorless rich suitor out of hand. But while her remaining choice between a charming magazine writer and a charming playboy is made to seem a closer call, it really never makes our Philadelphia Cleopatra hesitate very long. In the single editorial comment, the play's author permits himself, is tucked the snarl, "She's a lifelong spinster, no matter how many times married." That's New York talking. Bitter, bitter.


REFERENCES


Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class: E. Digby Baltzell ISBN-13: 978-0887387890 Amazon

Falstaff Without Prince Hal

{W. C. Fields}
W. C. Fields

William Claude Dukenfield was born in Philadelphia in 1880, the eldest of five children of Cockney immigrant parents. He spent four years in school, was roundly abused by his parents, and left home at the age of 11 after being hit on the head with a shovel. During a self-taught adolescence, W.C. Fields slept in jail many times but learned to be such an accomplished pool player and juggler that he became the toast of Vaudeville. When silent movies made their appearance, he was successful in a second career, and then again when talkies came along. He was one of the ten or twenty most famous actors of the golden age of motion pictures, and, following the legend of the Great Depression, lived in a Hollywood mansion in great style.

Although he was a great natural comic, and had a sharp piercing wit, the image he was destined to project was that of the great alcoholic reprobate, during the period of national Prohibition. It was wicked that he was so lovable with his unashamed praise of gin martinis. And, of course, his outrageous defiance was a very thinly disguised symbolism of the growing public feeling that perhaps the Volstead Act had been a mistake.

It has not been made clear whether his repeated insults aimed at Philadelphia were fundamentally bitter or fundamentally just rough expressions of affection for a home town that never welcomed him. He constantly insulted just about everything and everybody. If it was a bitter war, he probably won it. His jibes and caricatures of the hometown have endured, long after his death in 1946.

"I once spent a year in Philadelphia. I think it was on a Sunday."

" I can love almost anything, except children and small dogs."

Hangman: "Any last words?" W.C.: "Yes, I'd like to see Paris before I die. (Pause) Philadelphia will do."

His famous recommendation for an epitaph: " On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Friends of Boyd

{Boyd Theatre}
Boyd Theatre

Howard B. Haas a lawyer, and Shawn Evans an architect, are captains of a team trying to "save" the old Boyd Theatre at 1908 Chestnut Street. Since Clear Channel, the present owner has invested $13million in the property, and the preservationists agree that renovation of the movie palace to all its former glory would cost between $20million and $30million more, it's easy to understand why every other movie palace in central Philadelphia has been demolished. Furthermore, that area of town is having a resurgence of high-rise construction, so one use of the property must be balanced against others.

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/SamEric%20phila.jpg}
Sam Eric

The Boyd was built in 1928, just before the stock market crash, and closed in 2002. In fact, it changed its name to SamEric in its dying days, but the public remembers it as the Boyd, one of ten movie palaces in center city. The definition of a "palace" is arbitrary but is generally taken to be a theater with more than a thousand seats, normally with hyperbolic architecture to fit its hyperbolic advertising. Scholars of the matter say the earliest movie houses were constructed in Egyptian style, soon evolving into French Art Deco. Ornate, whatever it's called.

The palace concept developed in the era of silent films, with subtitles. Anyone who has experimented with home movies knows that the silent film sort of lacks something, particularly between reels and at times of breakdown in the projection. That's why brass bands played on the sidewalk outside, pipe organs played during intermissions, and all manner of vaudeville appeared on stage. Sound movies, or talkies, were immediately much more popular when they appeared in 1927, and had less need of the window dressing from other distractions which had grown into a moviehouse tradition which was slow to die.

The movie studios owned the films and soon built theaters to display them. The movie business was quite profitable from the start, so studios had the necessary finance to spread a network of very large theaters across the country quickly. The ability to concentrate hyped-up advertising with immediate display of the product in large captive theaters tended to drive the model of the "palace", which was able to sustain higher ticket prices than trickling a larger number of film copies to myriads of small "mom and pop" local theaters. In very short order, going downtown to see movies became at one time the largest reason for suburbanites to go to the center of town on public transportation, fitting in nicely with the concentration of huge department stores, also located there. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and shops grew up to address the crowds. Furthermore, the economic depression of the 1930s slowed down what was to become a relentless automobile-flight to the suburbs. After the spread of free television at home in 1950, the downtown movie palaces were doomed. The legal profession helped, too. Small suburban theater operators eventually won an antitrust suit against what they described as monopoly power of studio-owned center city palaces, so a host of small sharks in the suburbs started to eat the whales downtown. Furthermore, the sound quality was easier to achieve in a smaller auditorium. To tell the truth, fire hazard was also lessened without the arc-lamps needed to project images across a long distance.

So, a new technology interacting with an old theatrical tradition quickly created the movie industry in its downtown movie palace form; more advancing technology quickly destroyed it, with a little help from economics and politics. Good luck to the friends of this historical epoch, who have a monumental task ahead to work up the public nostalgia and political strength required to overcome a huge economic obstacle of the "highest, best use of the land". In many ways, the most valuable contribution of this movie palace restoration movement is to dramatize in the public mind just how urban centers function. Department stores are gone, going in town to the movies is over. How else are you now going to get the couch potatoes to go downtown voluntarily, and often? Just imagine ten palaces simultaneously filling up with several thousand suburbanites apiece, seven nights a week. Without those additional drawbacks on ample display in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, please.

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Valentine Tours, Right Here in River City

{Zoo Opening}
Zoo Opening

The Philadelphia Zoo claims to be the oldest zoo in America, although New York's Central Park Zoo is older. The explanation for this puzzle is that the Philadelphia Zoo was chartered by the legislature in 1859, but its opening was delayed by the Civil War until 1874. Meanwhile, the Central Park Zoo was opened in 1862. One hopes the true priorities are perfectly clear, although the Romans had zoos, and Montezuma had a spectacularly big one when Cortes arrived. Why all this wandering prologue before a discussion of a Valentine Tour? Well, since the internet is so plagued by a dispute about what is suitable for children to read, it is not clear that our Zoo's legitimate activities would escape hostile robot detection, banishment by Google, or the like if we talk about them on this website. So we will be indirect.

{Central Park NYC}
Central Park NYC

It is related that it was the women's committee of the zoo who first proposed an adult zoo camp which now goes by the name of Valentine Tours. For a modest fee of $75, it is possible to join this activity, involving discussions and demonstrations of the varieties and complexities of vertebrate reproduction. It is not only the Philadelphia public which needs education in these matters. One of the main sources of infertility among rhinos and gorillas derives from the surprising fact that they must be taught what to do. Apparently, when removed from the voyeur opportunities of their native environment, these monsters can't figure out what is expected of them.

John Bernard, a docent at the zoo for 18 years, has written a book about the varieties of romantic experiences and recently addressed the Right Angle Club on the matter. He tells of four-footers and hundred-pounders, and the like. Apparently, male elephants make their ladies wait in line for their turn, male gorillas have several girlfriends at all times, and male lions are so occupied with demands made on them that they scarcely do anything else. Bats cavort upside down, eagles lock claws and fall out of the sky, polar bears starve for months afterward. The fascination just goes on and on.

The inside details of some recent events are also revealed. Male African elephants go into a variant of heat that lasts three months and makes them dangerous to be around. That's really why the zoo recently decided to get rid of its elephant collection. Orangutans will rape a female zoo employee if given a chance. The Women's Committee of the Zoo is certainly to be thanked for alerting us. For more details, stump up the $75 and take a Valentine Tour.

Neglection

{William Lyon Phelps}
William Lyon Phelps

Billy Phelps, that's William Lyon Phelps, once remarked he had watched a performance of every single Shakepeare play, except two. That put the idea in my young impressionable head, and eventually, my wife and I watched a performance of every single one of those plays. Some of these blur in my recollection, a little. And although watching those thirty-six performances was a great overall experience, I would have to say that about fifteen of them seemed very poor. It's particularly vexing that several of the bad plays were written after most of the divinely wonderful ones, so their poor quality can't be blamed on inexperience, and the whole thing is a little hard to explain.

Indeed, if you did nothing but read the plays, you would think many more of them are of poor quality. But in the hands of a clever director, the bloody plays like Titus Andronicusare extremely effective; one easily sees why Elizabethan audiences flocked to see the melodrama. That's also true of the scenes of shipwrecks and storms , as seen in The Tempest and ,Pericles, or on land in King Lear. And the silly little comedies, with ladies in disguise or twins confused, are delightful little jigs on the stage when you actually see them performed. The experience leads to the question whether some of the other plays are not poor at all, just misunderstood.

After sixty years of intense devotion to a scientific specialty, the Shakespere Society of Philadelphia created a refuge to return to. After long sensing that scientific colleagues regarded attendance at thirty-six plays as a strange quirk, there was a group which regarded it as an achievement to be respected. A group which understood that the only times Shakespeare signed his own name, he spelled it, Shakespeare. And who took seriously the idea that some of the inferior plays in the canon might well have been written, wholly or in part, by some other person.

It thus happens that this group, after fifty years of avoiding it, was restudying Pericles. The tradition has been that this secondary play was written about the same time as King Lear, although it is hard to believe. Eminent scholars regard the first two acts as having been written by someone else, while the last three acts were written by Shakespeare, but this group thought it questionable that any of Pericles measured up to standard. The speeches are choppy, the plot jumps all about, the characters seem unreal. And then we come to neglection. As in the speech by

Calendar of Local Events

Plays and Players, Haddonfield Version

{Privateers}
Haddonfield Plays and Players

First, an anecdote from my own lurid past. When I went there, Yale was an all-male institution with one exception, the Drama School. It's true that Shakspere had boys play the part of women in his plays, but Yale evidently felt that was going unnecessarily far, and had thus let the nose of the female camel get under the all-male tent. Meanwhile, I had discovered that a course in Advanced Chemical Engineering was carrying my amateur interest in chemistry sets a long way too far, and after two weeks, I wanted out of it. Out!

{Privateers}
Yale Drama School

The Dean was sympathetic until I answered what I wanted to transfer into -- a course at the Drama School. Somehow, he felt that was immensely amusing, one he hadn't heard before. But, finding my grade average satisfactory, he gave a big wink and signed the paper. I didn't pretend to be offended, but I did pretend to be solemn. The experience subsequently served me very well, since that class of girls went down to Broadway at the same time I went down to New York to medical school. Almost none of my mostly all-male class of medical students knew any girls in New York, but by comparison, I knew lots. It made me very popular with both groups.

{Cole Porter}
Cole Porter

It thus develops that I had the courage recently to accompany to a theater party in Haddonfield, a lady who had spent twenty-five years on the stage. The play was Cole Porter's Anything Goes, put on by the Haddonfield Plays and Players, a group celebrating its 75th year of productions. You seldom see musical comedies anymore, because the large cast and orchestra requirements are pushed by Union rules to the huge expense which a professional group cannot safely risk, and amateur groups mostly cannot enlist a large enough audience to support. In addition to the orchestra, stagehands, and administration, I counted thirty members of the cast up on the stage for the big chorus numbers. There might have been a hundred in the audience to pay the bills. This wasn't the only play of the season, there will be five I understand, so the performers have to be quick studies, which generally means considerable experience. Even with what therefore must have been a short time to rehearse, this group was good, really, really good. The lady by my side remarked these people must be semi-professionals, at least. I didn't think so, so she demanded a playbill to see. Sure enough, semi-pro.

{Anything Goes}
Anything Goes

All of which may seem a round-about way to get to an observation about the current theater revival in Philadelphia. There are at least fifty new amateur theater groups scattered throughout our region, filled with "kids" having a wonderful time playing Shakspere, Albee, Shaw and whatever. At cast parties, almost none of them expresses any interest in going to Broadway or Hollywood; they are mostly software engineers or similar. Since the Philadelphia revival of interest in performing arts is so striking, it has led to ruminations about why the theater similarly flowered in Elizabethan London, at a time when there were only two theaters in Paris, by comparison. Perhaps this parallel has something to teach us about the hidden social impact of Sir Thomas Gresham and dual coinage, or Sir Francis Drake and the Armada.

But maybe, I realize for the first time, there is a flight in our direction, from New York City.

Musical Theatre at the 11th Hour

{Michael O'Brien}
Michael O'Brien

Philadelphia is having a theatrical revival, very likely leading the cities of America in that regard. One of the central movers and shakers of that movement visited the Right Angle Club recently. Touting his own company, without a doubt, but nevertheless illuminating a movement which seems pretty central to Philadelphia's future. Michael O'Brien is the Producer and Artistic Director of the 11th Hour Theatre Company, which had its origin eight years ago in the Studio of the Walnut Street Theatre, and has since spread out to many venues within Philadelphia. Since Mike O'Brien got his start in theater at the Walnut, it is only fair to say the Walnut Street Theatre was a parent of the 11th Hour. The 11th Hour is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation, so it sort of sounds as though the William Penn Foundation was somewhere in the background, at least at one time.

The 11th Hour Theatre Company is one of 1200 theater companies now active in Philadelphia but is the only company dedicated exclusively to musicals. More finely tuned than that, it specializes in small productions with five or six members of the orchestra, and about the same number of actor/singers on stage. It happens there aren't very many such productions to chose among, so someone must stimulate more composers to pay attention, or the 11th Hour could run out of musicals to produce. Some of this is economic. The kind of big-time musical comedy which makes a gazillion dollars with a huge cast, huge orchestra, huge scenery is very expensive to produce, and probably soon runs out of audience members who are willing to pay huge ticket prices for anything except a huge production success, produced at huge financial risk. For the most part, the national market will only profitably support one or two of those a year, with the consequence that lots of people lose a lot of money on the ones which fail, and most of the successes are rescued by movie and television revenue, which involve further financial risk-taking. Apparently, the successful composers either try to claw their way to the big brass ring or else look for other lines of work. Someone may eventually figure out a way to start with a small musical and then scale it up to the big-time, but what has happened seems to be that actors and musicians who shrug off the big time, cluster together and try to produce a career which prefers a normal sort of home life, to the neurotic struggling which seems inherent in those who consider themselves big-time theatrical material. Somehow, the dictionary definition of the 11th Hour -- the time when most creativity appears -- has instant appeal to the sort of person who prefers to live a normal life within a close circle of like-minded friends and finds that to be a possibility in Philadelphia. We'd like to remind him you can't fill the seats of a theater without an enthusiastic audience, but it's nice to hear our town is a congenial place to live and be an actor.

{11th Hour Theater}
11th Hour Theater

Michael O'Brien regards the theatrical revival of Philadelphia to be part of the restaurant revival of the 1980s. Just as the nightlife of Philadelphia was once centered around coming to town to go to the movies, Mr. O'Brien regards the theater as the centerpiece of an evening in town for a couple who want to come for exotic food, plus some entertainment. We have night clubs and celebrity concerts for the dating set, but a quiet dinner followed by the theater appeals to a different, somewhat older set. Once this movement gets started, performers arrive from out of town and discover they like the sort of life entertainers enjoy here, so they stay. And many graduates of local colleges and universities grow up close enough to the scene that they decide they never want to leave. Naturally, a producer and artistic director has the perspective of the performing community and tends to emphasize the attractiveness of Philadelphia to performers. In addition to that, of course, enough dumb old plain citizens have to be attracted to the theatrical product, in order to provide audiences for 1200 theatrical companies; and novelty alone is not enough to sustain that. Some such mutual need was once provided by the sudden Elizabethan flowering of the theater of London, and five hundred years later no one has completely explained it. But for comparison, in Shakspere's day, there were fifty-nine London theaters at the height of the Elizabethan boom, but only two in Paris.

The Last of the Algonquins

Jon Schau

The Franklin Inn has trouble fitting fifty people in the audience, but it has a long history of members writing little plays for the special interest of its members. The latest was written by Jonathan Schau about Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker, just before they went to Hollywood to try out, and received by the members with great merriment. Just in case anyone was still in doubt about the amount of alcohol being consumed in those days just after Repeal of Prohibition, I felt the urge to rise and tell the audience about an autopsy.

Robert Benchley

In 1945 I was a sophomore medical student at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, taking the course in Pathology. With a perfectly straight face, Edith Sproul the professor of pathology introduced us to an autopsy of a case of cirrhosis. The pathology classroom was not very different from the one at the University of Bologna which has been restored in Italy after unnamed pilots bombed the original into smithereens. But the famous painting of the original shows what it looked like, and the reproductions in Bologna and New York are very similar.

Nobody was indiscreet enough to mention it, but the canary-yellow subject on the table looked very much like Robert Benchley, whom the newspapers said had just died in that hospital. In any event, the subject had the worst looking case of cirrhosis of the liver which I ever hope to see. And in describing it I was surrounded by a club audience, every member of which had a glass in his hand. We don't need a cure for cirrhosis, of course. We have a cure for cirrhosis, perhaps a little more in use than it was in 1945, but not necessarily more popular.

{William Bingham class=}
Algonquin Round Table

While we are on the subject of the Algonquin Round Table, I might as well confess that my father-in-law was an occasional visitor. He wasn't an "official" member of the club, but Alexander Woolcott had been his roommate at college, so he was welcome. Alexander was often, in turn, a visitor at what was my wife's house, and my mother-in-law absolutely detested what she called "a dirty old man", for reasons that were never explained to me. Alexander sprained his ankle while visiting, and it is family lore that the whole episode is central to the play called, "The Man Who Came to Dinner". In fairness to Alexander, I hope the play does as little justice to him, as it did to my mother-in-law.

That's way the bestest asnewr so far!
Posted by: Bryson   |   May 1, 2011 7:56 PM

Locations in Shakespeare's plays.

KML Location

89 placemarks show almost all the places quoted in Shakespeare's plays.
For each place, the name of the play is noted with the number of the scene of the first appearence of the place.
Some places are in many plays, all are mentioned.

2 places are still missing, do you know where they are ?

The Earl of Gloucester's castle., King Lear : 1, 2
Yorkshire, Gaultree forest, Henry IV, part 2: 4, 1

Posted on Google Earth Community by Member # 177749 "World Explorer" an MD from Lons le Saunier, France with 304 posts to his credit

Posted by: g4   |   Oct 27, 2007 6:48 PM

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11 Blogs

Fanny Kemble
Frances Anne Kemble had it all: fame, beauty, wealth, personal friendship with real royalty and literary royalty. Beyond that, she caused a major new understanding of Shakespeare and was a major force in the abolition of slavery. Philadelphia wasn't big enough to hold her; perhaps no town was.

Swashbuckler
Your author is probably the only person still alive who attended the Senate hearing of Howard Hughes. There is probably a lot to this story yet to emerge.

Show Biz Image: Hepburn, Rogers, Kelly
Hollywood presented a cartoon of the upper class during the Depression. World War II was soon to sober us up.

Falstaff Without Prince Hal
The parents of W.C. Fields didn't treat him very well, but he always acted as though Philadelphia didn't treat him well. Philadelphia's main crime was probably that it disliked the Volstead Prohibition of Alcohol Act somewhat less than Fields disliked it.

Friends of Boyd
The last movie palace in Philadelphia is either ready for restoration, or the wrecking ball.

Valentine Tours, Right Here in River City
The First Zoo in America specializes in breeding animals that are hard to breed in captivity. The Women's Committee decided to bring this delicate topic out into the light.

Neglection
Shakespeare invented words freely, but unlike the rest of us, he invented good ones.

Calendar of Local Events
Dates maintained by Dr. Fisher for his readers.

Plays and Players, Haddonfield Version
This year the Haddonfield Plays and Players celebrate their 75th anniversary, with an outstanding production of Anything Goes, by Cole Porter Y'13.

Musical Theatre at the 11th Hour
There are 1200 theatrical companies in Philadelphia, but only one devoted to musicals. Does that say something about the audiences, the unions, or the musicians?

The Last of the Algonquins
Jonathan Schau recently wrote a play for the Franklin Inn about the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table, just before everyone left the New Yorker to try out in Hollywood. Just in case anyone had doubts about the consumption of alcohol, I rose to tell the story of the autopsy of one of the central figures.