Cast & Crew
In 1848, young Edwin Booth desperately searches for his father, famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, who is late for a performance. Ned finds Booth in a nearby saloon and drags the drunken actor to the theater, where Booth yells at the restive audience that he will give them the "damnedest King Lear they ever saw." After the performance, Ned struggles to keep Booth in their room, for Booth has an attack of his "madness" and tries to escape to go drinking. Soon, Ned and his father return home to Maryland, where they are greeted by Ned's older sister Asia and younger brother John Wilkes. After Booth regains his strength, he encourages John's acting, while the shy Ned longs for the attention lavished on his brother by Asia and Booth. Ned continues to tour with Booth, memorizing his repertory and attempting to keep him sober. In 1857, after Ned has grown to manhood and become one of the company's actors, he travels with Booth to San Francisco, where financier Dave Prescott has built a theater for the great actor. During their performance of Richard III , however, the ailing Booth cannot remember his lines, and afterward, tells Prescott that he is retiring. Booth gives his prop crown to Ned, and soon after, a nervous Prescott presents Ned at a rough mining camp. The miners are infuriated when they learn that Ned is the Booth they have paid to see, not his father, but after roaring that he will present "the damnedest Richard they have ever seen," Ned captivates the crowd with his performance. Prescott is baffled by Ned's disappearance after the show, and in the desert, alone, Ned cries out that he, not John, is his father's true successor. Terrified that he has inherited his father's mental instability as well as his talent, Ned gets drunk, and the next morning, is awakened by Prescott, who informs him that Booth is dead. Following his successful tour, Ned goes east, and at Ford's Theatre, watches John's well-received performance in The Taming of the Shrew . Asia and John assume that Ned will serve as John's manager, but Ned caustically informs John that he needs training and discipline. Stung by John's insulting reply, Ned declares that he paid with his childhood for the opportunity to become the next great Booth, and storms out. Ned then begins another tour, and in New Orleans, Mary Devlin, a member of his company, is forced to retrieve him from a bordello for a rehearsal. Ned is touched by Mary's impassioned reading of scene from Romeo and Juliet , and despite warnings from other actors that the Booths have a "taint" in them, Mary falls deeply in love with Ned. Although he fears that he will break Mary's heart, Ned soon reciprocates her feelings and the couple is married. Buoyed by Mary's devotion, Ned quits drinking and is acclaimed wherever he performs. One day, Ned receives a summons from Asia, who informs him that John, deeply jealous of Ned's success as an actor, has become involved in the Confederate cause. Asia sends Ned to Harper's Ferry, where John is awaiting the hanging of abolitionist John Brown, and there, Ned tries to persuade John to accompany him to London, where Ned is to begin a tour of Hamlet . John bitterly refuses, stating that to destroy greatness is to partake of it, and that he would rather play in the "mortal drama" of the war between the states. Ned and the now-pregnant Mary then travel to London, and on opening night, Mary suffers an attack due to her weak lungs. Ned pleads with her never to leave him, and after comforting him, Mary insists that he continue with his tour, which has been extended due to excellent reviews. One night, Mary gives birth to their daughter and Ned tenderly drapes an American flag over their bed to celebrate. Back in the United States, Asia discovers that John is acting as a courier for Confederate spies, and he laughingly responds to her outrage by stating that he has become the most valuable actor in the south. Mary and Ned eventually return to New York, although due to her illness, Mary is forced to leave for a drier climate. Ned attempts to equal his London success as Hamlet, but without Mary's steadying influence, is soon drinking and missing performances. Prescott writes to Mary, begging her to come home, but when she attempts to leave her bed, she suffers a fatal attack. Devastated by Mary's death, Ned ignores his family and the theater, choosing instead to kneel by her graveside every day. After a year passes, Ned summons Prescott and tells him that he is ready to return to acting and is confident that there is no madness he cannot overcome. Asia's happiness at Ned's recovery is doubled by the ending of the war, which she assumes will ensure John's safety. Asia and Ned are horrified, however, when John assassinates President Abraham Lincoln, and is then hunted down and killed. On 15 June 1865, Ned decides to re-open his Hamlet , despite the huge mob that gathers at the theater to protest against him and all actors. Although Prescott warns Ned that he will be lynched if he goes on, Ned declares that he owes it to his profession not to let John's actions ruin the lives of all actors. Ned takes the stage and sits silently as he is pelted with fruit and insults, until finally, the crowd grows quiet and one man shouts out that Ned has "got guts." Impressed by Ned's courage, the crowd applauds and cheers, while Ned looks up to the box where Mary always sat and remembers her recitation of Juliet's lines: "Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow."
Eva Le Gallienne
Charles G. Clarke
Paul S. Fox
Eva Le Gallienne
Harry M. Leonard
Walter M. Scott
Prince of Players
The script reflected Hart's love of the theater, reveling in the nature of old-time acting styles and laden with such evocative sequences as Richard II being performed at a western mining camp before an unruly mob. Excerpts from Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear and others are also woven into the film. Producer-director Philip Dunne later said the idea was for the excerpts to function almost like musical numbers.
This was Dunne's first movie as director. He'd had a long, distinguished career as a writer at Fox, with such credits as Suez (1938), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and Anne of the Indies (1951). He'd also produced a few films, and Darryl Zanuck initially assigned him Prince of Players as a producing project. Dunne met with Moss Hart several times to discuss rewrites, but as Dunne later recounted, after each meeting Hart left it to Dunne to do the actual writing. Looking for a director, Dunne rejected every suggestion made by Zanuck until the studio head, exasperated, finally said, "All right, since you know so much about directing, you direct the damn thing." And Dunne did just that.
According to a Life magazine interview, Richard Burton prepared for the role of Edwin Booth by standing in the Pacific surf and shouting Shakespearean verse to American blues music. The standing, he said, "strengthened [his] footwork," while the shouting to blues tunes "sharpened the wit and strengthened the throat. You sound like nothing at all. Then you go in the studio and deafen the sound men."
Also in the cast: Raymond Massey as the elder Junius Booth, John Derek as John Wilkes Booth (whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln is portrayed on screen), and Maggie McNamara as Edwin's wife, Mary. McNamara was at this time riding high: she had just appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) after being Oscar-nominated for her previous (and first) film, The Moon is Blue (1953). But her career fizzled tragically after Prince of Players. She got divorced, was besieged by mental illness, and was cast in just one more feature, The Cardinal (1963), and a few television shows. She plunged into clinical depression and by the time of her suicide in 1978, she was working as a typist.
Reviews were mixed, with The New York Times praising the "vivid clarity and historical accuracy" of the Lincoln assassination sequence and applauding Burton and Massey's performances. Variety deemed it "a very fine production" and made special note of the CinemaScope photography: "one of the handsomest and most perfectly composed CinemaScope productions to date... [Makes] full and intelligent use of the wide 'Scope screen. It is Hollywood using its cameras to very best advantage." The Hollywood Reporter observed that the film showed "how perfect CinemaScope can be as a dramatic medium for the director who knows how to get intimacy out of it."
But Prince of Players was a box-office bomb, "the first production in CinemaScope to lose money," Dunne ruefully noted. Dunne and Zanuck attributed the failure to the fact that Burton was not yet a screen star, though Burton himself attributed it to the script, which he called "a disgrace."
One indisputable high point, however, was the strong score by Bernard Herrmann, whom Dunne selected on the basis of Herrmann's work on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir eight years earlier. According to Herrmann biographer Steven Smith, "the two men spent a week discussing the score's placement in the film, agreeing...that the film's recreations of Edwin Booth's Shakespearean performances would not have music."
By Jeremy Arnold
Philip Dunne, Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics
Steven C. Smith, A Heart At Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann
Michael Munn, Richard Burton
Melvyn Bragg, Richard Burton
Prince of Players
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Jack Kruschen (1922-2002)
He may have not been a household name, yet his career consisted of over seventy-five films, spanned over six decades, and displayed a strong versatility in playing either dramatic or comic roles with equal effectiveness. He was the definitive, "I can't quite remember the name, but I remember the face" character player who enlivened many films with his robust frame, cherubic face and infectious smile. His name was Jack Kruschen, a superb performer who died on April 2, 2002 at the age of 80, leaving behind a strong body of work that was impressive as any character actor of his generation.
Kruschen was born on March 20, 1922 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The son of a watchmaker who later set up shop in Hollywood, he was performing in an operetta at Hollywood high school when a talent scout for CBS radio discovered him. Kruschen was soon doing voice characterizations on popular network programs such as Dragnet, The Danny Thomas Show and Sam Spade. With his gift for dialects (he was most adept at playing ethnic types like Greeks, Yiddish or Italians - a skill finely honed in his radio days), Kruschen was a natural for the movies and soon made his film debut with a small role in the Betty Hutton comedy Red, Hot and Blue (1949).
Kruschen's early career is peppered with a variety of roles like a comical gangster in both Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953) and Money from Home (1953) starring Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin; a hard-nosed police detective in Confidence Girl (1952) and Julie (1956), an underrated Doris Day thriller; or doomed victims to alien prey in Sci-fi cult classics: the 1953 version of War of the Worlds (fans remember him as Salvatore, one of the first earthlings to be killed by the invading Martians) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). The roles offered steady work, but not much critical recognition. All that changed when Billy Wilder cast him in the key role as Jack Lemmon's bemused but caring neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss in The Apartment (1960). As the man who observes the steady stream of women in and out of Lemmon's apartment and the one who saves Shirley MacLaine from a drug overdose, Kruschen offered a wonderful performance - viewing his neighbor's proceedings with a jaundiced eye, yet never letting his disdain overtake his humor and humanity. He was justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
From this point on, Kruschen was seldom out of work, appearing in over 40 films (including a terrific dramatic turn in the original Cape Fear (1962) as Dave Grafton, a corrupt southern bigot) and nearly 60 guest roles on television for the next two decades. Kruschen would later find fame toward the end of his career when he was cast as Papa Papadapolis in the hit sitcom Webster (1985-1987) and would show pleasant variations of the "kindly old codger" throughout the remainder of his career - like his final role in the romantic comedy 'Til There Was You (1997). His death in April this year may have gone largely unnoticed by the movie-going public, but for those of us who treasure the art of the character player, Kruschen's passing was a loss that is fortunately compensated by his strong body of work that will be enjoyed for fans of the late show for many years to come.
By Michael T. Toole
SIGNE HASSO, 1910-2002
Actress Signe Hasso died June 7th at the age of 91. She was best-known for starring in A Double Life (1947) but played numerous Europeans in films during the 1940s. Hasso was born on August 15, 1910 in Stockholm, Sweden and began acting on stage at the age of 13. Ten years later made her first film appearance as Signe Larsson. She was married in 1936 and adopted the last name of her husband, cinematographer and later director Harry Hasso. After a dozen Swedish films, Hasso moved to Hollywood in 1940 where her first screen appearance was an uncredited role in Journey for Margaret (1942). A brief stint at RKO didn't lead to any more promising film parts so Hasso concentrated on her stage career in New York City. Eventually, her film career became more active, thanks to a quick succession of roles, most notably in Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944), Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946) and Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945). However it was her portrayal of Ronald Colman's wife in the Oscar-favorite A Double Life that solidified her fame. But as Hasso continued to act on the stage and TV, her film work began to taper off. She appeared in high-profile thrillers like Crisis (1950), several made-for-TV movies, a few European productions and even the cult murder mystery, Bert Gordon's Picture Mommy Dead (1966). In 1972, the king of Sweden decorated Hasso for her work. Her final appearance was in a 2001 documentary about Greta Garbo.
HERMAN COHEN, 1927-2002
One of the key producers of B-movies, Herman Cohen, died June 2nd at the age of 76. Like most producers, his name wasn't generally known outside the industry or the realms of film buffs but most people never forget the titles of his films: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and the not-quite-immortal Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). Cohen was a Detroit native, born August 27, 1927. He entered the film business in the smallest possible way, as a 12-year-old janitor, often accepting passes for his family and friends instead of wages. Cohen served in the Marine Corps (several articles incorrectly say the Army) before becoming a publicist at Columbia Pictures. By 1951 he was working as a producer's assistant on low-budget independent films, mostly for Realart Pictures run by another Detroit native Jack Broder. Soon Cohen was producing his own movies, including Westerns and mysteries, until hitting big with the famous I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Starring a then-unknown Michael Landon (under personal contract to Cohen who later tore it up so Landon could appear in Bonanza), the film was made for $100,000 but in just a few months grossed over $2 million. Cohen didn't hestitate to turn out I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula by Thanksgiving of that same year and before long had made several films that continued to earn money for years to come. (One TCM writer remembers Horrors of the Black Museum turning up in a small Alabama town in the early 70s, over a decade after its initial release. The film is scheduled for a DVD release with a Cohen commentary from VCI Entertainment.) Cohen also made several films in England including The Headless Ghost (1959) and the cult favorite Konga (1961) where Cohen even paid RKO $25,000 for the rights to use the title King Kong in publicity for his own film. Cohen's later movies included a spaghetti Western and Joan Crawford's final acting role Trog (1970). In the 1980s Cohen ran a company, Cobra Media, that distributed some films and licensed material such as Teenage Werewolf to Landon for use in one of his Highway to Heaven episodes.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Following the opening credits, a written statement reads: "A hundred years ago, the plays of William Shakespeare reached their height of popularity on the American stage. Actors traveled in Shakespearean repertory from the palatial theatres of the East to the brawling mining camps of the West. Stars were made by their ability in the well-known and well-loved roles: Hamlet, King Lear, Richard and Othello. This is the true story of a famous theatrical family of that era-a family which made history on stage and off."
The film is based on the lives of Edwin Booth (1833-1893), his brother, John Wilkes Booth (1839-1865) and their father, Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852), one of the foremost acting families in the United States. Following in his father's footsteps, Edwin, called "Ned," became renowned for his subtle approach to acting and his use of the full text of Shakespeare's plays. Edwin was married to Mary Devlin from 1860 until her death in 1863. Edwin's highly successful tour of England was followed by a record-setting, 100-night run of Hamlet in New York in 1864, although he was forced to retire from acting for a year after John Wilkes assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Edwin married another actress, Mary McVicker, and continued acting until 1891. The film's title comes from a line in the poem "Sargent's Portrait of Edwin Booth at 'The Players'," written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
According to a January 28, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, when Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights to Eleanor Ruggles' best-selling novel about the Booth family, Sol C. Siegel was set to produce the project, and was hoping to cast either Laurence Olivier or Marlon Brando as "Edwin." In June 1954, Philip Dunne was set to produce the picture, which marked his debut as a director. According to Hollywood Reporter news items and studio publicity, Dunne was aided in the staging of the Shakespearean scenes by noted stage actress Eva Le Gallienne, who made her screen debut in Prince of Players. [Le Gallienne made only two other feature film appearances, in addition to appearing in several television productions.] Although a July 26, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Otto Lang would be shooting background scenes in England, France and Morocco for the picture, it is unlikely that any of this footage was used in the released film. Studio publicity reported that some location footage was shot at Lone Pine, CA, and that exact replicas of Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the Booth home in Maryland were recreated for the production.
A August 17, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Sheila Ryan was being tested for a role, but she does not appear in the completed picture. Other Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the finished film has not been confirmed: Frank Fowler, Nick Frank, Howard Hoffman, John Dodsworth, Ruth Clifford, Rube Schaffer, Yvonne Pattie, Jim Hayward and Louise Robinson. In a April 14, 1955 ad in Hollywood Reporter, Dunne thanked a number of the film's cast and crew, including Grace Hicks and Al Hix, whose exact contribution to the picture has not been determined.
In a January 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Dunne stated that "stereophonic sound was used as an integral part" of the film's production, with a "number of scenes having sound effects especially for theatres having surround horns." Prince of Players received excellent reviews, both for the acting and for Dunne's staging of the scenes in CinemaScope. The Variety review called the picture "one of the handsomest and most perfectly composed CinemaScope productions to date." In praising Burton's performance, the Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest reviewer asserted: "Perhaps for the first time in his film career, Burton is able to show himself to be the actor of range, power and intensity that he is." Burton went on to establish himself as one of the twentieth century's most highly regarded interpreters of the role of "Hamlet." After having previously played the role in 1953 in England, Burton agreed to play Hamlet on Broadway in 1964, in a production directed by Sir John Gielgud. Their modern dress, scaled down interpretation was the longest-running production of Hamlet in Broadway history, and Burton was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Dramatic Actor.
Released in United States Winter January 1955
Released in United States Winter January 1955