Our director, John Osborne, was demanding with his actors, and he generally stayed in an upbeat mood with us, but he could be a real terror to deal with if he thought someone wasn’t being straight with him.
Our initial casting problem occurred at the first rehearsal, which took place at John’s house, where I met his charming wife, whose name, alas, I can’t recall after all these years. Anyway, the actor that John had chosen to play Miss Addy, the 50-something agent of the Janus writing team, had come to realize that she just wouldn’t have the time to devote to the rehearsals and performances of the play, so she asked to be relieved of her duties. Happily this was early enough in the rehearsal period that there was no problem, and John presumably went to his second choice.
Unhappily, his second choice, while a lovely and sweet person, just wasn’t right for the part. Mary Ann Schlegel was a little bit older than I was (the age thing was not a problem with her as Miss Addy’s age was neither mentioned nor implied in the text of the play), and she worked hard to master the role, but Miss Addy was a small part that absolutely required a larger than life personality to do her justice. It was the kind of role that with the right actor in the part could end up stealing the show. John worked hard with her, and Mary Ann in turn worked hard as well, but she just couldn’t pull off the larger than life aspect of the part, but because it was clear that she was working hard and diligently learning her lines, John was extremely patient with her. In the end, she did a fine job, but Miss Addy could have used a little scene chewing, and Mary Ann just wasn’t a chewer.
Then there was the actor whom I’ll call Mr. Harper #1. Mr. Harper was the other small but vital role; he was an Internal Revenue Agent who provides the additional plot complications in Act II. Mr. Harper #1 was a middle-aged veteran of LCTI, balding and a right jolly old soul. He was a veritable encyclopedia of LCTI lore and had opinions on everything, which he didn’t mind sharing. And he couldn’t or wouldn’t learn his lines. It was halfway through the rehearsal period, and he still needed to use his script constantly. What’s more, he was totally blasé about it. He claimed that this was normal and he’d know his lines by opening night.
It’s possible that John might have put up with Mr. Harper #1 if he had been a bit contrite about his failure to learn his lines, I don’t know. But his was a small part, he was only in two relatively brief scenes, and by this time the rest of us were well on our way to mastering our much larger parts. Finally John couldn’t take it any more: he fired Mr. Harper #1.
This required, I believe, making a case before the board, which he did. I’m not sure how he selected #1’s replacement because I’m almost certain that Chet Rittle had not been at the auditions, but at our next rehearsal there he was. Chet was another veteran of LCTI, and he turned out to be a splendid addition to the cast and a quick study. That he was an accountant in real life may or may not have helped him bring verisimilitude to the role of an IRS agent.
Meanwhile, back at my high school I was adjusting to real life. As excited as I was to be in the play, there was a natural tendency on my part to want to talk about it. The first time I did so, however, Mary Lou Bliss cut me down to size. “I guess this is all we’re gonna be hearing about from now on until we’re all sick to death of it,” she sighed.
I realized she had a point, so I vowed to never mention the most exciting thing that had happened to me since, oh, ever, to any of my classmates until tickets went on sale. My thinking was that if I had tickets in hand, that would give me a reasonable excuse to bring it up.
Alas, Mary Jane Beam was in charge of tickets. She was also in the process of getting married, and her wedding planning apparently took precedence because tickets for the production weren’t available until after my graduation. Which meant that not only didn’t I have ready access to my classmates to attempt to sell them tickets, but because of my vow of silence, only a very few of them even knew I was in the play.
This is probably as good a place as any to mention a little bit about the play itself. Despite the fact that I thought LCTI shouldn’t produce it because its modern attitude to sex might conflict with local mores, I grew to love the play more and more as we worked on it.
Janus was the only play of Carolyn Green to be produced on Broadway; it opened on November 24, 1955, and ran for 251 performances, making back its investment and a modest profit. Its original cast featured Margaret Sullavan as Jessica, Claude Dauphin as Denny, Mary Finney as Miss Addy, Robert Preston as Gil, and Robert Emhardt as Mr. Harper.
This was Robert Preston in his pre-Music Man days, so he was only a moderate star at this point, and I’m sure you’ll recognize character actor Robert Emhardt from the photo. Both Margaret Sullavan and Claude Dauphin had enjoyed some success in motion pictures, and they were probably the marquee names in the production.
I would love to be able to see that production, but that was long before Broadway began recording its productions for posterity and placing them in the library at Lincoln Center, which didn’t exist yet.