Interview with Emlyn Williams
BROADCAST: Oct. 29, 1981 | DURATION: 00:50:48
Discussing the one man show as Charles Dickens at North Light Repertory Theatre with the actor Emlyn Williams.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel One of my favorite people in the theater, I was about to say performer, but he's far more than that, an excellent actor of course, playwright, we think of two magnificent plays, certainly "Corn is Green", and then the very exciting and mysterious and horrifying in a best theatrical sense, "Night Must Fall". He's a memoirist, "George" and "Emlyn", two of the volumes, a novelist, "Headlong", and of course--
Studs Terkel Emlyn Williams is my guest. Who's appearing, doing something that should be seen and heard by everybody who loves theater and literature. He does Charles Dickens as probably many of you probably know. And he did, and does on occasion, too, the works--not works, he becomes Dylan Thomas, but at the moment now in Chicago he's doing Charles Dickens, and he is Charles Dickens during those couple of hours at the Northlight Theatre and will be there through November 8th every night but Monday and matinées on Wednesday. And, so, he is my guest this morning. And in a moment Emlyn Williams after this message.
Emlyn Williams "On Easter Monday afternoon, 1927, at two-thirty, I, age 21, stood in the dark wings of the Savoy Theatre, London. It was the 250th performance of the comedy success 'And So to Bed,' and my first ever on the professional stage. I only had six lines, but my name was firmly in the program: Emlyn Williams. I decided to drop my more mundane first name as child and adolescent, George. But for my six lines, I'd had little or no rehearsal. I felt my hands tremble as they adjusted my wig. Suppose the lights dazzled me and I fell over. The music finished, applause, and the curtain rose. I felt panic; stamped it out and sauntered on, as a London apprentice who was one in real life as well. As I scented the whiff of heat from footlights and from the crowd beyond, I felt, too, a flash of an inner eye which by remote control watched from the back of the pit. I saw a round-faced boy not tall but sturdy without, I hoped, being squat in knee britches tight across trim jockstrap and in stockings over calves adequately curved. Good blue eyes, full mouth, nose not bad. I knocked at the door and spoke my first line. In my room I'd studied it over and over again, aiming at standard English. 'Is a Mistress Pepys within?' I now heard myself shouting each syllable separately, and the new apprentice obviously hailed not from London, but from North Wales. A West End audience was being treated to a comic Welshman: 'Is Mistress Pepys within?' Whatever happened to that Oxford undergraduate whatever? I got the other five lines out just as Welsh, stumbled back into the wings, and the play went on without me. Dawdling upstairs, wig in hand, I was as tired as if I just played 'King Lear.' But 15 minutes later, sitting in the sun in the little park next to the Thames, I felt a rush of well-being, for this was the beginning of life. Later in the year, was I not going to New York with the same play? I extracted from my trouser pocket a pound and a couple of shillings, just enough to last me 'til my first salary on Friday. Three pounds a week. I looked down at the money in my palm with a concentrated look I remembered on my mother's face. My family. Sitting there feeling far away from them, I thought of 314-A High Street, Connah's Quay, Flintshire, of the little kitchen, clean as a pin, though not a new pin--nothing new about that tired, four-room house with its backyard, one tap and outside lav in the shadow of the railway embankment. I saw my two brothers seated at the table which was neatly newspapered to save the cloth. Joe, three years younger than me and already a breadwinner at my father's steelworks, while even Tom at 14 earned a few shillings delivering papers. Mam standing cutting bread and butter, Dad in his armchair near the fire in shirtsleeves. They were both in their late 50s, and his drinking problem, which had darkened our childhood, was almost a thing of the past. She, smaller than ever"-
Emlyn Williams I can now take my hands away from my ears, because I've been putting my hands in my ears so as not to listen to myself, because I am one of those people who can get very self-conscious when they hear their own voice or see themselves, you know, on the screen or anything.
Studs Terkel I
Studs Terkel I was thinking, Mr. Williams, there it began, the year, the, your debut as an actor and as you had that small salary, the fee that you had for it, suddenly you think of the past and where you came from, you said your Oxford accent forgotten, and this of course leads to "The Corn is Green", doesn't it? In a way? "The Corn is Green", that you wrote being based upon your own experience to some
Emlyn Williams Yes, well, it was more my teacher that I wrote it about, really, because you see I was never a miner myself. The boy in the play is illiterate at the age of 15, and I had a very poor upbringing financially and it was very humble, but it wasn't as illiterate as that.
Emlyn Williams Oh, yes. Miss Cook, her real name was, and she came from Yorkshire. And I wrote it, really, about her, and of course the boy in the play is prepared for Oxford by her, where she prepared me for Oxford, and I got a scholarship to Oxford, and that's the only likeness really, and the boy in the play if you remember leaves behind a little memento of himself in the way of the baby in the village, which I don't think is autobiographical.
Studs Terkel I was thinking of yourself, though, and what you've done in theater since that moment you broke in, that walk on in "And So to Bed", and not simply the actor and in theatre and in films. But the writer, that what we heard is volume two of your memoirs.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Emlyn Williams Yes, my first novel, which I did last year, which is now out in England and then, of course, people say, "You've written a novel?" As if I would suddenly decided to become a ballet dancer at my advanced age. And I've written you see, I've always been a writer since the age of ten, really, at school and then I wrote novels when I was at school. Really didn't ever finish them.
Emlyn Williams Yes, well, there was no acting to be done except, of course, recitations, as we used to call it because in Wales, you see, in the heart of Wales, there was no such thing as drama then. No dramatic societies or anything which there are now, they're very conscious of drama, but there was nothing like that.
Studs Terkel But when we think of Wales, I mean, do I romanticize because they had, it's in "Corn is Green", too, Wales and miners, I'm thinking of, and a hunger for beauty and knowledge that you find in the songs, of course, and the choral societies.
Emlyn Williams Oh, yes, there's a great hunger for learning, too, because when I was a child I remember hearing of miners used to come from the mines in the morning and go to a sort of informal school run by a minister and learning Greek, ancient Greek for about an hour or two in the early morning.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Studs Terkel Well, before we come to Dickens, you and Charles Dickens, and I was about to say your readings of Dickens, it's your being Dickens. The novel, "Headlong", itself. This has been very well-received. [Memory?] This is a fantasy
Emlyn Williams Yes, well, you see, I was--always wanted to write a novel, but as soon as I got an idea for a novel, it turned into a play overnight. Immediately that was scenery and people coming on and off, and that was the end of the novel. But with this one, it couldn't have been a nov--couldn't have been a play, it had to be a novel because the canvas is so wide, and I got the idea from a conversation we had in the war. As long ago as that. When there was two bombs, I think, fell on Buckingham Palace, and of course it was kept very, very quiet, actually, because it was--nobody knew where they were. I don't know whether they were at Windsor or wherever, nobody was hurt, but no one knew about it because that was in London and that was the Blitz and somebody said, "Wouldn't it be awful if they'd been in the palace when it happened?" And then somebody said, "And what about if the little girls had been in the palace and what would have happened then if they'd been or been killed? Who would have become--what would have happened?" And then we dropped the idea because it was so--and then I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be extraordinary if they were all together somewhere and they were all killed and they had to find somebody who was distantly related who became King?" And I thought, "Wouldn't it be extraordinary if he turned out to be a chorus boy at Drury Lane Theatre who happened to be somehow related to the royal family?" And everyone dropped the idea because it was so macabre during the war, you know, to think of the thing, and I suddenly thought of it about two or three years ago and thought, well, suppose one used that and made it not the war at all, and I invented the thing that in 1935 at the great celebrations for the jubilee of King George the Fifth and Queen Mary that they all gathered together at Windsor Great Park, the whole family to celebrate, and a grandstand and to mark the maiden voyage of a new airship which was the pride of the empire, and with a new oil and everything it was going to be at the time and this thing starts off with the whole family watching, great jubilation, and the thing explodes over the grandstand and they're all killed, all of them, right down to the little baby princes. And they don't know whether they would be a republic, they don't want that, so they delve into the archives of Buckingham Palace and they find that the Duke of Clarence, who was the son of Edward the Seventh, and the heir to the throne had had an affair with a Quaker girl and there'd been a son, secret, and the son has grown up in Cornwall--
Emlyn Williams This is a novel. Son that grows up in Cornwall, and he has a son who runs away and goes on the stage, and he goes to Drury Lane Theatre and he's in "Glamorous Night", which is a real show in 1935, and he is the grandson, legitimate, see he married, that's my story. And I believe it, but I want you to believe it.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Studs Terkel Excellent. "Headlong". And so we come to another string in your bow, your Charles Dickens, the reading. Before that, when you acted, and you do act, of course, you've been in so many plays and films, you were Danny in your play--
Studs Terkel "Night Must Fall", you were Caligula in the remarkable production of "I, Claudius" that was never seen. See, we know of "I, Claudius" from the BBC, the Masterpiece Theater productions. In fact, it's--
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Studs Terkel And
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Emlyn Williams Well, it was, there was something wrong with the script. I don't, I wasn't the star of the picture, I had a very good part, but I wasn't the star. And I hadn't written it. So I was not in on that side. I just learned my part and played it. But there must have been something wrong, Laughton was very unhappy with it, he was very unhappy with Sternberg. They didn't--
Studs Terkel Oh,
Emlyn Williams He was the director, and they didn't--I think he was meant for Marlene Dietrich, but he wasn't meant for Charles Laughton, and it was like fire and ice. You know, they didn't get on, and Charles was a very sensitive and extraordinary actor, extremely sensitive like a child or a very sensitive dog or something, you know, he would cringe if he wasn't happy, and they just didn't get on. And then Merle Oberon had an accident in the middle of the picture. She had her car accident and she was in hospital. It was a real accident, I mean, she was quite bruised, badly bruised. But I think they
Emlyn Williams And they decided to shelve it. And of course the bits of it that are shown in this TV thing, "The Epic That Never Was", I'm in most of the scenes because Laughton was unhappy in his part and he was constantly saying, "I must have more time," so they concentrated on me. So that's why I'm in such a lot of it.
Studs Terkel I was wondering, when you were in the roles, you had a way, and with a gentle, gently, gentle-spoken, and yet the menace as you were Danny or Caligula, for that matter, it was almost your--it was your territory, a certain kind of villain, a deceptively gentle, villainous figure.
Studs Terkel And of course you were marvelous as a--again we think of smaller roles and but memorable to me. You were in "Major Barbara", the film of that, you were funny and also a heroic sort of hero in "The Citadel". But now we come to you as Dickens, this--Charles Dickens. He himself was a reader, and his--he toured doing what you do.
Emlyn Williams Well, he was hardly a reader, because he was an actor and he acted all the parts and everything as I do of course. I get around that stage. The young lady came out to see me the other night and you know, I hope I don't overact, but I certainly don't underact during the performance, and she said, "Mr. Williams, do you like this better than acting?"
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Emlyn Williams But of course I don't. People say, "You must know everything about him, all his mannerisms and everything he was to get into the whole thing," and I haven't really because I read his reviews, of course, when I first did it, and I got very confused because they contradicted each other, like a lot of reviews do, as you know.
Studs Terkel Would you on that--you don't imitate. You don't, because you said something during a previous conversation concerning your one-man performance acting of Dylan Thomas, "Boy Grows Up". You never met Dylan Thomas. And there was no imitation. It was your interpretation. And so it is with Dickens.
Emlyn Williams I got the idea of course from him because, these people have asked me, say "Well, how did you get the idea?" And I got it from reading a biography of him and reading about these extraordinary performances and I was asked to be in a show on a Sunday night for ten minutes to do something and I thought, "What can I do? I've never been on the stage alone before in my life." And I thought, "Well, I'll come on as a stunt, really, dressed as him and pretend I'm him and adapt a scene from Bleak House, which was a marvelous murder scene, and adapted it and came on and it went, it was something unusual, and it went well enough for me to think, "Well, I'll sit down for a year and go right through everything he wrote and try and put an evening together." Only because I was lucky enough to find that there was so much variety in his--that's the one thing you've got to have. And that was it, that's how it happened.
Studs Terkel Isn't it? A certain kind of figure, whether he is like Micawber or he is like someone else. Uriah Heep. There's a guy in town I don't like, and he just lickspittles all the time to authority, Chicago's own Uriah Heep.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Studs Terkel See? Uriah--'cause--there--so--suppose we hear you. This is part of you, you did some recordings some time ago of Dickens as well as of Dylan Thomas for Argo, and suppose you set the scene from "Our Mutual Friend", moving in society, the sequence, and it's Mr. Veneering and then his guests the Podsnaps, you set the scene and then we'll hear you read it off from on the recording.
Emlyn Williams Well, it's a picture of Victorian snobbery, really, which is universal. That's why the people understand it immediately in Japan or anywhere because, America and South Africa, everywhere, you know, they know snobbery.
Emlyn Williams Yes,
Emlyn Williams "Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were brand-new people in a brand-new house in a brand-new quarter of London. Their furniture was new. Their pictures were new. Their plate was new. Their friends were spick-and-span new. They were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with having a brand-new baby. And if they had invested in a great-grandfather, he would have arrived in a packing case without a scratch and French polished to the crown of his head. From the new fire escape to the grand pianoforte with the new action, all was in a state of high varnish. Of Mr. and Mrs. Veneering themselves, one might say that the surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky. The Veneerings boasted one particular friend who was such a frequent guest that he might perhaps be better described in the Veneering house as an innocent piece of dinner furniture by the name of Mr. Twemlow. This article went on easy casters and was kept when not in use in bachelor apartments in Duke Street St. James'. Twemlow, being first cousin to Lord Sneaksworth, Twemlow might be said to represent in the Veneering establishment a dining table. The Veneerings, arranging a dinner, habitually started with Twemlow and then put leaves in him, in other words, added guests to him. Sometimes the table consisted of Twemlow and half a dozen leaves, sometimes of Twemlow and a dozen leaves. On occasion, Tremlow was pulled out to his full extent of twenty leaves. Twemlow found that an evening at the Veneerings was apt to be confusing owing to the newness of their friends. Well, anything might happen next. For example, they gave a banquet. Mrs. Veneering welcomes her sweet Twemlow in his neat little stockings of a bygone age, his cheeks drawn in as if some years ago he'd made a great effort to retire into himself and it got so far and not any further. Mrs. Veneering insists that 'So old a friend as Twemlow must please look at baby. Oh.' Mr. Veneering then mixes his [unintelligible] Twemlow known to his old two friends, Boots and Brewer, and clearly has no idea which is which. The door opens; a melancholy retainer. 'Mr. and Mrs. Podsnap.' 'My dear,' says Mr. to Mrs. Veneering, 'The--um--The Podsnaps.' A man appears, a large man, a too, too smiling man with a fatal freshness upon him, who glances round the room with a look which tells plainly that he has never in his life set eyes on his present host, and then darts over to Twemlow and says, 'Oh, I'm so glad to know you. Charming house you have here.' Twemlow skips back with a shock, as if impelled to leap over a sofa, but the large man closes with him and proves too strong. 'Let me, let me have the pleasure of presenting Mrs. Podsnap to her host.' In the meantime, Mrs. Podsnap has added considerably to the confusion by looking towards little Twemlow with a plaintive countenance and remarking to her hostess, Mrs. Veneering, that baby is already very like him. 'Dinner is on the table.' Thus speaks the melancholy retainer, as if to say, 'Ye unhappy children of men, come down and be poisoned.'"
Studs Terkel And so we set the scene. And, so, the bigger snob enters the house. And now we have the exchange of the phony amenities, you know, and there's poor Twemlow, he's there, too, isn't he? Part of the furniture.
Emlyn Williams Yes, yes. I do [a thriller?], which is very little known, a very horrifying piece. And I do a black comedy one, which nobody knows at all. Some people think I've invented it myself, it's so little known. It's a bedtime story for a good child, I call it, and it's very horrifying. Cannibalism comes into it. Children love it,
Emlyn Williams Yes, at school. "A Tale of Two Cities". Of course, I, he's taught in schools, it's much too early for children, because he wrote for grownups. He didn't write for children. His only really bad book is "A Child's History of England", which he wrote for his children, but he wrote all that satire about the Podsnaps and everything is much too grown-up for children to take
Studs Terkel I was thinking his great-granddaughter, Monica Dickens, whom you met, was in town written her own memoirs. She says her great-grandfather was probably the best-known figure in the world at the time. That is, the name Dickens. Not [aside the?] translations because people the world over recognized someone, you know, the opposite number, someone like that character. Suppose we take a pau--we're talking to Emlyn Williams who's appearing now as Charles Dickens, and I said earlier reading, no, acting, of course, and as you can gather, just during that very brief excerpt from "Our Mutual Friend", moving in society, a study of Podsnappery, even the word Podsnappery is used now and then.
Studs Terkel As a descriptive phrase. Emlyn Williams appearing at the Northlight Theatre, that's in Evanston through November 8th and at 2300, you know, Green Bay Road in Evanston and for reservations 8-6-9-7-2-7-8. Not on Mondays, but Wednesday matinees I should say. But we'll resume with more of his thoughts, reflections of Dickens and perhaps more of his interpretations, too, and perhaps even a word or two or three about his Dylan Thomas after this message. So resuming the conversation with Emlyn Williams and Dickens. And it's funny, every--I think he cuts through every stratum of society, doesn't he? I'll tell you this one because you have probably 50 to match. A Cockney waitress in London, it was living in a bleak house really, and with kids running around, worked at a certain club called The Mandrake, and it's a place some time ago in the '50s, and some writers and artists would hang around there, including Dylan Thomas, and she had on the wall a Bruegel, you know, a print, a Bruegel, and she says, "That reminds me, those Bruegel things, I know those people." And then she says, "Like Dickens." She says, "When I look at Dickens or read Dickens," and she's just a working woman, you know, she says, I mean, "That person springs to life. I know that person." And this is what it's about, isn't it? I was thinking about your, doing it now. Any number of times. You always, is always a different nuance now and then?
Emlyn Williams Well, yes, well, I never do it for long enough, you see, to get stale. That's what I'm so lucky because if I were in a play, a successful play, I'd have to be in it for a year, two years, three years, but you see, I never do this or Dylan Thomas or my Saki program which is the other one I do, for more than about three months at a time, and then I don't do it for a year, two years because I've been doing Dylan Thomas in Toronto last month and I haven't done it for, oh, two years? And so it came back absolutely fresh. You have to work at it again, of course, too.
Emlyn Williams Yes. Because when I first did it, of course, that was completely unknown, and I wanted to, I was really stuck because I wanted to finish him off at the age of 17, you see, growing up, and I couldn't find anything. It was all about his early childhood, which was marvelous, but I had to have a last act. And they said, "Well, there's this very dirty carbon copy of something he never finished, which was a novel called "Adventures in the Skin Trade". So I looked at it and I thought "This is hopeless," because it was about a boy called Samuel Beckett, which was an in-joke, you see, Samuel Beckett the playwright, and it was he did this, and he did, it was mad, and I said, "Well, I can't do it anyway because it's in the third person, whereas the whole of my program is in the first." I talk about "I did this," "I was at school," and "I did that," then I thought, "Well, I'll really change it, make it the first person. Make it Dylan himself." Which I did and it worked and of course after about a year later it was published and it's become very well-known and later it was made into a play.
Studs Terkel Could you not recreate, I don't mean that, could you sort of tell about, 'cause this is funny in which this you, or Dylan, is visiting this guy. He's visiting this man whose room is full of furniture.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Emlyn Williams Yes, I'll probably what people say, "dry up" in the middle of it because you've sprung it on me. But he said, we walked into his house, this old boy who was, has an impediment in his speech, and he says, "This is my street," and they go in. We went second floor, first right, every inch of the room was covered with furniture. Great mirrors reflected and made endless the hills of desks, washbasins, chests of drawers, commodes, radio sets, clotheshorses. There was a large double bed, carefully made sheets turned back, standing on top of a dining table. I perched on top of a lady's wardrobe and looked down to see Mr. Allingham, the old boy, sitting comfortably back in a rocking chair on a sofa. "It's a pity we can't cook here. There's plenty of stoves. You've got your suitcase safe. Keep your eye on it, it might get sold. It's on top, you see, and you can only buy what's on top." It goes on
Studs Terkel Bouncing.
Emlyn Williams Yes, the door opened and two people walked in and climbed up the mattresses without a word. The first was a short woman with black hair and a Spanish comb, who'd painted her face as if it were a wall. She put her hands together, took a sudden dive and disappeared. The second was a tall youngish man with a fixed smile from very large teeth like a horse's. His very fair hair was done in tight curls and smelt delicious across the room. He stood on a spring mattress, bouncing up and down. "Oh, come on, Rose. Don't be sulky, I know where you are." He's bouncing up and down.
Studs Terkel And
Emlyn Williams Down
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Emlyn Williams Yes.
Studs Terkel And that, I remember the lines, the situation, the circumstances, also the figure, who become you become many figures, the bouncing up and down. So Dylan, you call that "Boy Grows Up" and Dickens. I didn't realize you did Saki, too.
Emlyn Williams Yes, I did it last year and I may be doing it next year again, it's, every--so many people think he's Japanese because nobody knows why he calls him--his real name was H. H. Munro, and he was a marvelous comic writer of short stories. Between--he was a bridge, really, between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.
Studs Terkel You know, when we talked earlier we heard you do just the opening passages of the Veneerings, of the snobs, even the name, we haven't talked about his names. Veneering, as though the word "veneer."
Studs Terkel Shall we hear--oh, then, the stories he does, also the strange tales, as the one about the little circus dwarf run by the promoter Mr. Magsman. "Mr. Chops". Now that appeared in what, in Christmas stories.
Emlyn Williams Which I do. But he never did "A Tale of Two Cities", which I do, because he was, really, more keen on exhibiting himself as an actor, whereas I'm more keen on his descriptive genius, you know, because that to me is what comes to life on the stage which is thrilling for me to present, because you could never do that in a play, of course, or a film. It's his description, a marvelous description of the French Revolution, but he never did that, he was more keen on acting the part.
Studs Terkel That's the thing. In your one-man, one-person performance, here you can do things that actors in a play cannot, aside from doing the many roles, the actual descriptions and, so as you read, even as you describe, and we'll hear you in a moment. The story told by this Cockney promoter, sort of Cockney, Mr. Magsman, about this remarkable circus dwarf. How did that work? When Dickens--do you know anything about the history of it? When Dickens told the story of "Mr. Chops", who is of a Slavic background, this little dwarf, was there, were there figures like that around whom Dickens knew?
Emlyn Williams Oh, I think he was very keen on the circus. Anything to do with the theatre. Anything to do with the grotesque, too, of course, which of course, the circus was full of people like that. He had a great fascination.
Emlyn Williams "Is there anything more exciting in this world of ours than a circus? More extravagantly comic, more outrageously tragic, more tawdry, more rich? Last week I encountered the proprietor of a circus. Not a large circus, who unfolded to me and to a convivial gathering the strange tale of himself and his former partner in the concern. Londoners. The both of them. And here am I to unfold the tale to you. "Mr. Dickens?" says he, "Mr. Dickens? And friends. My name is Magsman, lawfully christened Robert, but called in the business, from infant, Toby. My business? Showman. Magsman's Amusements. That I run all by meself now, but used to run along of a dwarf. That's right. Along of a dwarf. Beautiful tent we had, with a barrel organ performing unceasing, and five oil paintings outside on canvas. Lovely. First of all, there was the picture of the giant in Spanish trunks and a ruff. Oh, the giant itself was only 'alf the 'eight of the tent. So to pull the public in, I used to have him run up with a line and pulley to a pole on the roof so that his head was coeval with the parapets. Then there was the picture of the wild red Indian scalping oh, a member of some foreign nation. Then there was the picture of a child of a British planter being made a meal of by two boa constrictors. Then the picture of the albino lady showing her white hair to the Army and Navy in correct uniform and last, the picture of the dwarf, with George the Fourth in such a state of astonishment at him as His Majesty couldn't with his utmost politeness and stoutness express. Yes, the dwarf was the principal article and he was worth the money. He was wrote up as Major T-P-S-C-H-O-Double F-K-I. Major Tpschoffki of the Imperial Bulgraderian Brigade. The public called him Chopski, and we in the business called him Chops. He was an uncommon small man, he really was. Not as small as he was made out to be, but where is your dwarf as is? A most uncommon small man with the most uncommon large 'ead. And what he had inside that 'ead, nobody ever knowed but his self. He was the kindest little man as ever growed. Spirited but not proud. When he traveled with the spotted baby, although he knowed himself to be a natural dwarf, and knowed the spotted baby's spots to be put upon him artificial, he nursed that baby like a mother. You'll never heard him give an ill name to a giant. He did allow himself to break into strong language respecting the fat lady from Norfolk. But that was an affair of the 'eart. When a man's 'eart has been trifled with and the preference given to a red Injun, a man ain't master of his actions. He was always in love, of course. Every human natural phenomenon is, and he was always in love with a large woman. I never knowed a dwarf as could be got to love a small one, which 'elps to keep them the curiosities they are."
Studs Terkel I was thinking, and then we hear Mr. Chops. Dickens, of course, he would think of a fat woman, a fat lady with whom Mr. Chops was in love. And she, of course, with the red Indian and unfair of--so in doing this, of course I'm thinking about you and you become--this is a trade question. You become these different people, don't you? At that moment. You're Magsman the entrepreneur of a certain, you know, background, at least Cockney. And then you become Mr. Chops, too, later. Now, how does that work? When--I realize your voice is involved, you know.
Emlyn Williams Well, you have to work at it, you know, to--that's what acting is about, I suppose, and you get used to the switching from one to the other and try and make it as effortless-looking as possible.
Studs Terkel That's what it's all about, really, isn't it? And there's another aspect of your, another one of your talents, your giftedness, as an adapter. I forgot you adapted Ibsen and "The Master Builder".
Emlyn Williams Yes, yes. Through the National Theatre, yes. It's very important in this, particularly with Dickens because you see, it is terribly long on paper and because then they had nothing else but books and they were prepared to read at length and even to on the stage to hear things very prolix, very long. And you have to really, while keeping the richness of the language you have to really fillet it down so that it's, all that's left is marvelous stuff which springs to life on the stage.
Emlyn Williams Well, I read it of course, again when I was doing it, but you have to choose, and you see, you mustn't have anything which is too like something else that you're already doing. That's, and some of that would be too like, oh, I can't remember now. But I would have to discard some marvelous things because they were not sufficiently
Emlyn Williams From her literal translation, just literally what the words meant, and then I would consult with her and say, "When he says 'My dear,' does that mean--exactly how affectionate is that meant to be?" So she could really tell me what it was meant to be, and she'd say, "Oh no, that's sarcastic when he says 'My dear.' So then you know where you are. Really much more than if I knew a certain amount of Norwegian and was doing it on my own. I would never learn it well enough and then I would try and make it speakable in English.
Emlyn Williams And I would find, I would compare it, too, in case I'd missed something, you see. And for instance, one thing I deliberately introduced into the play, there's a scene if I can remember it now, where the mother, who's a bit mad, no, not the mother, the wife of the master builder, she describes how she--Her dolls she kept from being a little girl, and she kept them in a drawer or something. And I've discovered from this translator of mine that it's an old custom in Norway at that time, for girls to keep their dolls as a sort of sentimental thing, which of course made it much more believable, that once you knew that, it didn't make her quite as insane as it would appear to our eyes and ears, Americans or English. So I would introduce that into the dialogue, that it was a custom and that she'd kept her dolls and she says to the old girl, "But did you keep yours?" So that it made it more believable and it was true to Ibsen.
Studs Terkel I think, you know, your horizons are so broad and the different aspects of writing and acting and theater with which you're involved, novelist, memoirist, playwright, actor, and now a one-man performer, too. So what strikes you now? Is there something out there that attracts you now? Something you haven't done as yet.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the roles you've done, too, see, we're switching back and forth because I think of all the dimensions of your talents and your work. In doing Dickens, have you done it in non-English-speaking?
Emlyn Williams Oh, yes, I've done it everywhere except China, and I may even go to China, you never know. I've done it in Japan and Hong Kong and Moscow, Berlin, and because there are always enough people to understand English. There are so many Americans and English people working there. And also, the students, the students of the country, who of course once they study English, they know it better than we do almost. So there's always enough people to come for three or four nights in a city, big city like that.
Studs Terkel Dickensian character, don't they? Someone says, "You're like Micawber, just waiting for things to turn up," you know, or you're like this particular person or Joe the blacksmith or Pip's cousin or--
Studs Terkel But this is it. Dickens' own--you know what would be a good way to end this program? I was thinking, 'cause you also have performance tonight and you've got to get some rest, too, aside from making appearances, to remind the audience again that Emlyn Williams as Charles Dickens, and this is not a reading, I make that clear, it is a performance, as Charles Dickens is at the Northlight Theatre. That's in Evanston, the 2300 Green Bay Road through November 8th, except for Mondays and there are Wednesday matinees and it's 8-6-9-7-2-7-8. And since you do Dylan Thomas on some other evenings, some other time you'll be doing it here, there is a song that Osian Ellis sings. He's the Welsh--
Emlyn Williams Harpist.
Studs Terkel [Penition?].
Emlyn Williams Good.
Emlyn Williams Yes.