Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

Here's a neat little blast from the past: It turns out that M used to be a Thespian. In January of 1962, while attending the University of South Florida, he acted in a college play. It was The Importance of Being Earnest, a three-act farce by Oscar Wilde. According to Wikipedia, "(T)he play's major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways." M says it was a real hoot--both the play and his getting to be a cast member. (He actually had two roles: In Act I he played a young valet in an upscale London flat. In the second and third acts he was a decrepit old butler at a country estate. He says that these two servile parts ended up being a pretty good metaphor for his life.)

The one thing M always regretted about the play was not buying cast pictures when they were available. This bothered him more as the years passed, not just because it got harder to remember the whole experience, but also because one of the players went on to become a person of some notoriety, and it would have been great fun to look at a picture and say, "Wow--I knew old so-and-so way back when!"

Well, M had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago, which set in motion a series of quite fortunate events. He reasoned that if any photos from the production still existed, they were probably buried somewhere in the University's archives. So he e-mailed the current director of USF's School of Theatre & Dance and asked him to please take a look. The director said he'd check around and forwarded M's query to the School's marketing and communications director, who in turn passed it along to a wonderful lady who is the archivist for the College of The Arts. Within a few days this miracle worker had found, scanned, and e-mailed two pictures, one from Act I and the other from Act II, that show all but three members of the cast! She also sent a scan of the play's program (click on pictures to enlarge):

In the Act I picture, as Lane, the young manservant, M is the front-facing dude at house right, being scolded (mildly) by his employer, Algernon Moncrieff (played by James Judy), for not providing any cucumber sandwiches for his guests:


Other characters in this picture (cast member names in parentheses) are, left to right: Lady Bracknell (La Rue Hutter), John Worthing (Jack Belt), and Gwendolyn Fairfax (Mary Hall).

In the Act II photo, as Merriman, the old butler, M serves Gwendolyn (Mary Hall) a cup of tea while the latter engages in heated conversation with her rival, Cecily Cardew (Cathy Edwards):


So . . . have you managed to spot the future celebrity? If you said Mary Hall, give yourself an A+. The girl playing Gwendolyn is now better-known under her modeling and acting name, Lauren Hutton! Shortly after the play's run ended, M dropped out of USF to join the Marines, and soon after that, Mary took off to New York City to reinvent herself for the fashion and entertainment industries. She began by playing the role of a make-believe rabbit in a place called the Manhattan Playboy Club:


(Hmm . . . Truth be told, I think I've chased her a couple of times in my sleep!) Then it was on to big, lucrative  modeling gigs:


And a string of Vogue magazine covers:


And even Newsweek:


Et cetera:


Along the way, of course, she made a slew of movies with actors like James Caan, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, and George Hamilton. It's hard not to be impressed.

"Do you ever wish you had become somebody?" I asked M.

"I did become somebody," he snapped. "Somebody else."

For the sake of amicable relations I quickly shifted gears. "Do you have any special memories of being in the play?"

He smiled, which made me relax a little. "Oh, yes. One in particular. Lauren--Mary--asked me for a ride home from rehearsal one night. Like most of us back then, she was a commuter student. Her house was just about a ten-minute drive from campus, but I remember wishing that it was a lot longer."

"Cool!" I said. "So in addition to being two house servants, you got to be a chauffeur to one of the stars. Of course she's probably had a ton of those since then, don't you think?"

I sensed right away that this was the wrong response, because he turned snappish again: "Dog, do you have to be such a freakin' buzz-kill?"


Linda Weber said...

Love this blog. Buddy is such a good writer. The conversations with M are fun to read.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember that you were in the play, but I didn't remember that Mary Hall was, also. I'm sure you know that she was a Chamberlain High School student. (I never knew her, but have a couple of year books with her picture in them.) I'm pretty sure she was one year ahead of me; possibly two. Now I'm going to click the pictures to see if I can recognize you.

Anonymous said...

I remember M's being in the play but had forgotten the intimate details, such as Mary Hall a/k/a Lauren Hutton. You have to wonder how a young thespian from Tampa managed to make such a name for herself.

Shucks, Buddy, perhaps your boat hasn't up'ed anchor yet.
Love, Grandma

Anonymous said...

Hey Buddy,

Thanks for posting another of M's wonderful "clomps down Memory Lane" - great pictures ! ... always knew he was born to entertain.

Algernon's Kid

Jenny Colorado said...

Tell "M" I'm so happy he found those pictures. Tell him he'd probably be amazed at what else he could find if he joined FaceBook.