OCTOBER 21, 1946
HYDE PARK, Sunday—Friday night I saw the first play that I have been to for months, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jose Ferrer is a good Cyrano de Bergerac, and the whole cast supports him well. I think the staging done by Melchor G. Ferrer is charming; and while Brian Hooker's version of Rostand's play can never have for me quite the charm of the French words, still it is a remarkably good translation.
I had rather dreaded going because, in my student days, I had seen Coquelin do the part in Paris. It made an unforgettable impression upon me, and when I have heard of other people doing the part I have always refrained from going. My guests that night were anxious to see this revival of Cyrano, however, and I am not sorry that I went.
Curious how seeing again a play of this kind will take you back to what has always seemed to me the very greatest days of the theatre. I was telling some of my children not long ago that I could remember Duse in La Dame aux Camelias! One of my greatest thrills as a youngster was being taken backstage to meet her after the play. I was so young, the play probably had little meaning for me; but the impact of her charm and personality has never faded.
I can remember Sarah Bernhardt when she was at her height in Paris. I can remember Mounet–Sully in Oedipus Rex when he was going blind and the whole audience at the Comedie Francaise rose to cheer him at the end of his performance. I was in the top gallery, which seemed to make more noise than any other part of the theater, and I had never seen an audience demonstrate so enthusiastically.
Perhaps it is the rosy glasses of youth that make you feel sometimes that those were the greatest days of the theatre, and that we have few actors today who can stand on an equal basis with those earlier performers. Katharine Cornell is the greatest of the American actresses I know today—at least, I have been more deeply stirred by her than by any of the others. We have many competent, charming, gifted men and women on the stage, and I owe many of them a deep debt of gratitude for the hours of interest and pleasure which they have given me. But possibly they, too, if they were old enough, would agree that the names I have mentioned will stand out in theatrical history.
The great movie actors and actresses never seem to me to have the same opportunity for expression that the actors and actresses in a real play have. The director comes between you and the personality of those who appear on the screen. No matter how able he is, he can never produce the effect achieved by the actor who is actually living a part and putting it across the footlights to you in the audience. My own criterion of success has always been the ability to make the audience live the play while the curtain is up.