Interview with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy
BROADCAST: Jun. 1, 1979 | DURATION: 00:58:35
Interviewing Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
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Studs Terkel Attitudes. Oh, yeah. Oh, we're on! And with my two guests, two very delightful and gifted guests, too, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, two -- the distinguished couples of the American theater. You know, they're here now at the Blackstone Theatre, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Gin Game", which is more than just about a little card game. I guess it's about more than old age, too. Perhaps of course they'll talk about that, perhaps it deals with the aspect of life and power and I suppose interest in the very nature of being living and vital. And that's at the Blackstone Theatre, and of course you know the track record of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, you name it. Shaw, Chekhov -- Shaw, Chekhov, Shakespeare of course. Beckett, Albee, and they've been in -- [various, been triumphal?] but more of that, we'll have a little talk I hope with Mr. Cronyn and Miss Tandy about a forthcoming project of theirs, too. So in a moment my two guests after this message. [pause in recording]
Don Tait Chicago Symphony principal violist Milton Preves directs the Gold Coast Chamber Orchestra in its final subscription concert Sunday in the Gold Room at the Pick-Congress Hotel. The program features Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante", Kochel 364 with soloists David Preves and Alice Preves, plus the "Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky" by Anton Arensky and Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings". Starting time is seven-thirty p.m. Sunday in the Gold Room of the Pick-Congress Hotel, 500 South Michigan. For information, call the Gold Coast Chamber Orchestra at 3-3-7-0-1-5-0. Studs?
Studs Terkel I was thinking sitting here with my two guests, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and "The Gin Game". And of course watching two -- there was the obvious comment, watching two gifted professionals at work who know each other so well, but more than that it's, if I say to you it's about attitudes toward old age, our society. What would you say, Hume? Mr. Cronyn?
Hume Cronyn Yes, it is about that, Studs, but I think almost indirectly. It's interesting when Coburn started to write the play, he was not writing about old people. His protagonists, the two characters we play, Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin, were I think in their 40s. To sharpen the drama of their situation, and I'll go on about the situation in a moment, he decided to bring them down to a point where they had a sort of last chance. He made them elderly. Not only elderly, but alone. People in a retirement home who had no resources really at all, no family, no children who they could call on, they are both had children, but their children have really abandoned them, or they had abandoned their children. But the essential drama which is really very rarely discussed in relationship to the play as the author saw it was the struggle that people have with their own characteristics; the inflexibility of their prejudices, the inheritance of their bringing up, the influence of their parents and schooling. And he said in effect what's funny and also sad is that people find it so difficult to change. Those people who are rigid, as these two characters are, and really incapable of change eventually crash on the rocks of what they are. That's what catches up with them, and they make the same mistake with variations over and over and over again. Then when he was writing this, he said, "I'm, now I'm going to bring them down to a point where they don't have any more options. They're not going to live a great deal longer. And they've got another chance with one another." So these two strangers meet and unfortunately they don't ever manage to make the change. Now that -- I'm making it all sound rather profound.
Studs Terkel The very prejudices, as you describe, as Hume did so clearly and eloquently, of course that's what it's about. The deep, deep down, the very prejudices are comical. The things you -- the absurdity! It's almost Beckett in a way, there's a touch
Hume Cronyn He's 40, Coburn, yeah, the author. This is not only his first play, but his only play, and he wins the Pulitzer Prize. I mean, this kind of success story in the theater is so rare and so anti-typical that it it's dangerously seductive to young writers who think they can, you know, I once had, I think it was Kay Brown, a marvelous
Studs Terkel Agent.
Hume Cronyn Agent, literary agent in the theater who said, "On average, a playwright writes nine or ten plays before he gets one that is not necessarily successful, but proficient." And here is a boy who starts in his very first time out, Bingo! And it's written deep from his gut, it's very instinctual. I just want to make one point about what Jessie said, you know when the play opened in New York, where it round for 15 months, and here we now are in the 35th week of a national tour. We've been playing it now for just over two years, which is just about as long as either one of us have ever given to any play in our careers. The play is too easily and too inaccurately described as "Oh, it's about two old people in an old person's home."
Hume Cronyn Well, they say two old people in an old people's home. And you know when people hear that, a great many of them turn off. They say right away, "Oh, look, I've got problems enough, I don't want to -- that'll catch up with me eventually. I don't want to live it vicariously now." And as a result of that problem and as a result I think too of rather inept advertising on our part when we opened, the New York business, while successful, was certainly not spectacular. Now we've gone out on tour and this relatively simple little play, well at the end of next week
Hume Cronyn Will have grossed on the tour alone close to three million, four hundred thousand dollars, and has done an average business of close to a hundred thousand dollars a week. That probably, those figures don't perhaps mean an awful lot to a public, but the appetite for the play across the country and see we've gone now from one coast to the other and back again, has been absolutely extraordinary.
Studs Terkel See, obviously there's more. Well of course the fact that you too, it so happens that Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy have [made?] excellent artists and of course the byplay is a factor. However, they say if it was just that, old people and loneliness, it wouldn't -- as though they sense something -- you were going to say something,
Studs Terkel Could we just extend Hume's approach to it, and which obviously -- you and he, they're two people. You of a certain kind of woman, he a certain kind of man, and they happen to be old, as you said originally they were -- they could have been 40, and they're playing a GAME! A game, a card game, something banal, or good, a gin game. But through that game come their character, their life, and a small thing he's losing and you winning, but something else comes out, and so we think this guy, "Oh, God, he's so -- he, he just makes little things so important. He must win," whereas we know something about her, don't we, a certain rigidity, a certain righteousness? And of course both self-deceiving.
Jessica Tandy Absolutely. Absolutely. It's so sad, you see it through the play. The audience is always wiser than either one of those characters. They can understand us better than we can understand ourselves. And as time goes on, I keep finding more and more in that play the sadness of so many times that something is said that would make a relationship, and for instance, he says he's sorry. Now, she can't accept that, she can't just say what is something nice about it. She has immediately to explain to him how bad he was and lecture him. She can't let it go, and it breaks my heart every night. If only she'd said something different.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Hume Cronyn Sure.
Studs Terkel But that's something else, because -- but there's something that Jessica just said about she could not accept that word. Nelson Algren, the novelist, in certain of his novels touches something as well as anybody. It's this couple, these two people, and you know they need to get together to understand, but that one word, the stu-- there's an obstinacy, a perversity. This is about perversity, too, of course.
Hume Cronyn Right.
Jessica Tandy No, it's kind of farfetched, but you know we've gone through a whole period of time when we are told, you know, let your anger out, express it. Go say it. Say exactly what you feel. And I sometimes question that, that maybe it isn't good to just insist on "I want my feelings to be completely aired and understood and so forth." Maybe just let it go, let it
Hume Cronyn I mean, I mean in our private lifetime and all through our marriage, I mean I have been one who I think has said -- I'm going to make myself sound a little bit self-righteous and virtuous in this, but I'll quickly explain that this is not the case. But I've always said, whatever the problem is, whatever you know is your -- you've got to get it out on the table, you've got to talk about it. You've got to -- it must be allowed to fester. You can't hide. And Jess very often says without denying that I think, but she says, "But sometimes things do go away. Don't -- it isn't necessary to go over it and over it, it is not necessary always to paw through your own emotional entrails.
Hume Cronyn Well, it can be messy sometimes. You'll only -- I'm using four-dollar words this morning -- exacerbated, you know. And I've -- I used to, it used to make me violent because there would be a problem, we'd know there was a problem. And Jess would prefer sometimes to say, "Let it cool. Time will take care of it." Whereas mine was "We gotta talk about it, we gotta thrash this out, we gotta have" -- it's a rare gift, really. It's only in the later years of our marriage that I've begun to realize that the lady has one hell of a point. I mean, it isn't always a solution to, to examine, to open up, to -- sometimes things will heal themselves. They don't have to
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking, we're in this twilight zone now, this no man's land, of the actor's life, the actor and the actress in this case Cronyn and Tandy, and their own feelings and these two roles. And there is kind of a
Hume Cronyn But every play, every performance, every play. What else have you got to draw on? I mean, this is why when I talk to students and young actors and so on. Oh boy, this is so general, but I mean if you say to somebody, some youngster, and we're no longer youngsters, if we say
Hume Cronyn If we say, you know, "Live life fully," you know, embrace all the experiences, even that which makes you very unhappy today, if you're going to go into some artistic field may have enormous riches in terms of your understanding at some future date, but if you play a large range of parts, which we've been lucky enough to do, when it comes to the new author, the new insight, the new philosophy, what have you got to draw on? Only that little narrow band of experience. And so you've got a sort of bank account of the things that you've gone through and experienced and you can't change yourself physically to suit roles, or your -- you can change the illusion, but even that's very limited. I mean I -- there's damn all I can do about playing a man six foot four, or weighing 210 pounds which may be very significant, but I can change or draw on those elements which are perhaps not major in my personality, but which are very strong.
Hume Cronyn I can't really do that. And I've always wanted to take a crack at "Lear", for instance. Now actually, the best "Lear" I ever saw was in a Russian film, and it was a man about my size. And it was not, you know, the passage in the storm, "Blow winds and crack your cheeks," was not given with a magnificent voice that that really countered the elements. It was said almost -- well, not quietly, but it didn't require what traditionally we've come to believe is an essential that to play Lear you must have Orson Welles' equipment.
Jessica Tandy Well, on the stage it's different, darling, because you have to compete with the noise of the storm so that you have to have a vocal dexterity and power in order to overcome it, whereas in a film
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Hume Cronyn Yes.
Studs Terkel It's
Hume Cronyn It's the -- the only reason we're going is for the adventure. I mean, it's, it's not a commercial operation at all. And at the end of a very, very long tour I can't honestly tell you that I look forward to embracing the Russian climate in December, which is what I'm going to be doing. But I, I wouldn't miss the chance of appearing before those audiences, even though I think it's going to be terrifying for us, because we've now played so long with audiences here. And we know, I mean the audience plays such a big part of a play. We just sort of tickle them along to a point where they take over and carry so much of it. When we've lost that, and we will in Russia, where people will be trying to follow a translation as they watch the action, it's going to be an entirely different and perhaps quite frightening reception. I mean, the laughter in this play is extraordinary. If you eliminate a large portion of that reaction, and I think that's what'll happen in the Soviet Union
Studs Terkel You
Studs Terkel You know, since you raise that, this is very interesting. "The Hostage", Brendan Behan's "The Hostage", okay. So here it's you Irish and funny and Joan Littlewoods' direction, then I saw a French theatre, the NTP in Paris do it, and it became Chekhovian. It became something entirely different. The laughter was gone, was a kind of wistful play. Magnificent cast, but something was strange. It wasn't Behan, it was more Chekhov than Behan. So this is what you're intimating, something of that sort.
Hume Cronyn Exactly
Hume Cronyn Germany.
Studs Terkel Underlying theme that Hume and you Jessica were talking about, the nature of obstinacy of people and their frailties and prejudices and perversities, it's universal. And it's quite possible that that universality of that theme might just be completely understood by them.
Jessica Tandy Yes,
Studs Terkel You're thinking about your life in the theater, both you are so rich in every way in the classics, contemporary theater, and at times avant-garde theater. I know there's a project now that both of you are interested in, the "Foxfire" books, the magnificent works of Eliot Wigginton and his young students, and I thought it might -- you might get a kick out of hearing Elliot's voice. Well, first perhaps a word about what led you to this, Hume and Jessica, to the "Foxfire" books.
Hume Cronyn Well, it's a -- I don't want it to become too long-winded. The circumstances that led to it were very strange. Jess and I were doing a program called "The Many Faces of Love", which we toured across the country on three different occasions doing one-night stands with a great many appearances in universities, schools, for clubs and so on. It was an anthology and we pillaged English letters all the way from Shakespeare and Chekhov through the gamut down to Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, and some contemporary poets like Judith Viorst and so on. And putting that
Jessica Tandy Brothers.
Hume Cronyn Yes. And it is very deceptive putting together a program like that, because you can't just pick your favorites and touch one to the other. The program's got to have a shape. It's got to have a sort of dramatic build. You can do one or two serious pieces and then you've got to lighten it and do something comedic, and then you go to verse, and then you go to prose, and then you go to something that we actually act out. We didn't just stand behind a couple of podiums. And it was difficult to do. And in putting it together, which is exactly like putting together -- what do you call those puzzles, Jess? Jigsaw. Jigsaw puzzle. When you're -- in putting it together, I hate puzzles, that's why I can't -- life's full enough of them without my having to make them up. And when putting it together, I -- someone has spoken to me about some I think they're -- I don't know whether I'm -- whether it's 18th century or 17th century, some letters called "The Pastern letters". Does that ring a bell with you, Studs? Well, they were letters between a husband and wife. He was a rector of a parish in England somewhere, and anyway I couldn't trace them down, and I thought I know who, I know someone who'll know just where to put their finger on them, and that was a writer named Susan Cooper who lives in Boston, who won the Newberry Medal last year.
Hume Cronyn "Best Children's Book," yeah, and she'd been twice runner-up for the Carnegie, and she's an extraordinary lady and very gifted. So I called Susan, and I said, "Do you know where I can find the pastern?" She "Yes, I'll find them for you. What are you looking for?" I said, "I'm looking for four minutes for Jessie. People, we need a piece about four or five minutes which is rich in character and comedy and hopefully also" -- gosh, we keep coming back to Chekhov all the time. "Rich and comedic overtones, but essentially there's something serious, too. It's quite an order, you know, just. Well, she sent me the Pastern letters, all of which she'd had photocopied in the library, and she sent me one speech from a book called "Foxfire", edited by [Ed? sic] Wigginton, and it was an old lady in her 80s and she was busy trimming a hog's head and she was talking to the students who'd come to interview her, those youngsters from the Rabun Gap school, about her life, and it was marvelous material, and we couldn't use it within the context of this. I couldn't -- we couldn't fit it in, it just stood out like a sore thumb. It was -- we were off in another, another field somewhere, but it was that one speech that made me go and read the books and then having finally we made a television show of "The Many Faces of Love", which was shown here in Chicago sometime last Christmas, PBS channel 13. Or Channel 13 in New York, I don't know what the channel is here.
Hume Cronyn Eleven. Anyway. And we'd done that, we just had that. So I said, "We're going to do another one." And I called Susan and said, "How would you like to do one just on the 'Foxfire' if I can get the material for the two of us?" And that's what we started on, to do a platform piece, excerpts from "Foxfire" for Jess and me, and we got well into it and we found we simply weren't serving the material. We could not encompass the richness of that material with just a platform piece [for the joy?] so we had to be much more brave and attempt to write a play. And that's what we've done, and it will be produced for the first time in the summer of 1980, that's a year from this summer in Stratford, Ontario in Canada.
Hume Cronyn Yes.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Studs Terkel Eliot Wiggin-- we'll, no, we'll take a slight pause now, and then we'll hear Eliot Wigginton, the young teacher from the mountains who was in town about a year ago, and Eliot was talking about school and children
Studs Terkel Well, I met Eliot, and how the school, how children learn from the community, not from professional teachers. There's a great Brazilian teacher named Paulo Freire, and Paulo Freire is the key to Eliot and to this book, that may be a key. Paulo feels, Freire feels life and school from life, whether it be politics or the community, the education must begin, be part of, that is not the book alone, with the other aspect, and [someone away?]. In a moment we'll come to this, to the forthcoming co-- Cronyn, Tandy
Don Tait You're listening to Studs Terkel on WFMT AM and FM in Chicago. Big pictures come in small packages, and you can find out how at a special free demonstration of the Bronica system tomorrow at Standard Photo Supplies' main location. The Bronica system offers the superior image quality available only in a larger-format camera. The system uses 120 film with a negative nearly three times larger in area than the conventional 35 millimeter. Yet, the Bronica cameras are not appreciably larger than most 35 millimeter models. Technical representatives from Bronica will be on hand at Standard Photo tomorrow to demonstrate all the advantages of the Bronica system and to answer all of your questions. They will show you why they call Bronica the ideal medium format photography system. Hours for the free demonstration are 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow at Standard Photo Supply, 43 East Chicago Avenue, just a block west of the Water Tower. For information, phone 4-4-0-4-9-2-0. Tom Taylor returns to Chicago as Woody Guthrie for a limited engagement at Travelight Theater. Tom Taylor's portrayal of Woody Guthrie broke box office records at Travelight last summer, and Studs Terkel said "Tom Naylor [sic - Taylor] captures the spirit of Woody Guthrie as no one has before." Show times are Wednesday through Sunday with two performances on Saturday at Travelight Theater in the Theater Building, 1225 West Belmont. For ticket information phone 2-8-1-6-0-6-0. Back to Studs and his guests.
Studs Terkel And back to Hume Cronyn Jessica Tandy and this challenge. By the way, off while off microphone, Hume and Jessica was just talking about this incredible challenge "Foxfire" will be as a theater piece, as a play. Of course, well -- let's hear Eliot Wigginton, and I asked him, "How'd this come to be? Who are you? Who are you?" And this is what he says. Who are you? Let's start with that.
Eliot Wigginton Well, I was, I was raised in that area. I was born in the mountains in West Virginia, and I was raised in Georgia, and I spent a lot of time as a as a young -- a young boy in with my father in the same county where I now teach, and after I got that piece of paper from college that said I was allowed to be a schoolteacher now, I tried to figure out where I was going to take it and use it, and the way I figured out where I was going was to just ask myself where it was in my life I'd been the happiest, and every, every time I asked myself that question, that little tiny town in the middle of the mountains of Georgia came popping back, and so I went down there and asked them if they had a job, and they did and gave it to me, so I started teaching 9th and 10th grade English in a little 230-pupil high school there, and that's where I still am.
Eliot Wigginton Right. You know, that's the oldest story in the book, you know, the first-year teacher that comes down there convinced that they have all the answers, convinced that they're going to be, they're going to bring enlightenment to ignorant kids, and a couple of weeks later the kids have taught them differently, and all the things that happened to beginning teachers happened to me, I guess. The kids demonstrated the fact that they couldn't care less about what I was trying to get into their heads and couldn't care less about the assignments I was giving them by these displays of frustration and boredom and, and when that happens as a teacher I guess you have a couple of choices. One of them is to quit and go do something else. I've got a lot of friends that started out teaching that are now working in shirt factories or working in banks or clothing stores or whatever. What I did was just sat down and said, "Okay, you guys know this isn't working and I know it isn't working, what are we going to do together to make it through the rest of this year, because we're not going to make it this way." You know, we're all going to be crazy by the time June rolls around, and out of that whole series of discussions came this idea of, of maybe learning writing and English skills and grammar through actually publishing a little magazine instead of through assignments in the textbook. And so we began a little magazine called "Foxfire" in which students went out into the community and talked to their own parents and their own grandparents about the kinds of things they used to do when they were totally self-sufficient human beings, before the
Jessica Tandy Fascinating.
Hume Cronyn Directly to the audience? Your audience. I've just asked Studs if when this is we finished talking to one another, if I can have a tape of this so I could send it to Eliot, and I'm going to make a little speech to Eliot now, which is that, you know, what we're attempting from the mass of material that he and his students put together is something that's terribly difficult. I'm frightened of certain aspects of it. I'm frightened that what I eventually sent down to him, he's already seen one very preliminary draft which was hopeless, and 100 pages over length, but will either make them feel you know, what are we doing with these two Yankees, who don't really know our culture from having lived in it, and how insensitive this moment is and how wrong that is and nobody ever talked that way and so on. Well, we'll get that corrected. I mean, with his help we'll get that corrected. But the -- to try and to synthesis is the word I'm -- to try to derive from all this material the synthesis of the conflict that's implied by those books, this is an area which for many years has been in a state of change, and the change carries certain aspects that are tragic, because the old way of life which was established by the mountain families and which was initiated by the great-grandparents of many of those youngsters is inevitably changing, passing, going, and the feeling about land, the feeling about the Earth and its riches and what it gives, the feeling of family -- closeness of family, and the importance of neighborhood and neighbors and the combination of self-reliance and mutual dependence on the people who are over on the next ridge, or down in the hollow or wherever, you know, has gone. The -- or is changing. The land has now taken on a different aspect. It's no longer what it -- what it provides to put on the table or to take to the market. It's what are the views? Where do we where do we build the summer places so that the rich escaping the mugginess and heat of a Florida summer can come up and enjoy as tourists, you know. And so in move the developers and the people who enjoy the land, but don't use it, and little by little cultural values and attitudes change. Television comes in, came in long ago. That has an enormous impact on the young. They see a world way beyond the Blue Ridge. And they, they find a lot of it inviting. And so they go off and do other things, but now fortunately some of them come back to rediscover their roots and the life that they found in what they've found outside is a very important element that's missing, and they come back to rediscover something that is essential of the spirit. You take over,
Studs Terkel You know, I'm just saying I know Hume Cronyn thinking out loud, that's just to Eliot Wigginton who conceived of "Foxfire", that is what you say is terribly exciting. I mean, I think of it now. I know it's going to be difficult, I know it's [been an incredible jour--?], but what an exciting approach you're using here in addition to -- that is, as a way of making "Foxfire" theatrical. We know it's beautiful reading out loud. We know that, and the insights of people, I can just see Jessica Tandy as one of those marvelous midwives, you know, but the fact that the world outside is altering it, and there is much part of the outside world and television influences and the computer age as anybody else, and others the developers are coming in, but discovering before the others die. They're, in a sense they're historians. The young are the historians.
Hume Cronyn Right.
Hume Cronyn Right. You know, and while this is Appalachia, this is not peculiar to just this, this pocket of America. I mean, this is across the nation in community after community after community, where the original energy and effort of the population was bound to the land, and they were essentially farmers or in farm-related activities. And as the whole nature of farming has changed, as all the machinery came in, as the scientific method took over, as the small farms became uneconomic, at the life changed, the values changed, the families dispersed, and there's something about it which is very touching and very important to us, because God what was that song in the musical about the free-floating crap game?
Hume Cronyn "Guys and Dolls"! Well, I keep thinking about that. I mean, so many of the kids now get involved in a free-floating crap game. They're constantly on the move. There is no home place. There is an -- not another marvelous book out which we haven't drawn on, but which we found very stimulating by a man named Harry Crews.
Hume Cronyn Yeah, I can't remember the title of it, but there's one -- it's only a paragraph in one of his books talking about what children meant to the Appalachian homesteader. I don't know the -- they were called in that, it's not a phrase that's applicable down there, but that's what they were, and what the land meant. They had nothing else. It was the land and the family, the family and the land, and they were interdependent. You didn't have one without the other.
Studs Terkel You know, in Chicago there are many Appalachian families, many poor Southern whites in Chicago, and they like Southern Blacks have one thing in common: home is not where they are. Home is where they were. Home is where they came from. And something Hume said that I think Eliot, Eliot, this is for Eliot Wigginton too and the audience will like very much, is the people who come who enjoy the land and don't use the land. And that's one of the key I think to the book as well as I should -- I imagine to the play, too.
Jessica Tandy One of the most exciting things to me is, I know Hume was very, he's explained what he is doing wonderfully. But one of the most exciting things to me is that it has -- those values have not gone, because those children who went out and made those, did those interviews, they obviously were impressed by what they heard. And the basic human elements there are still in those kids. It, nothing has changed. Yes, a lot has changed. But basically the human spirit is still enriched by what they heard. We saw a movie last night which was
Jessica Tandy Nobody's seen it yet. It's a new movie that Fox is putting out called "Breaking Out", [sic - "Breaking Away"] and it's a wonderful positive expression of the interdependence of the young and the old, and you felt
Studs Terkel Really?
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Studs Terkel Here there's something you said about young and old. The problem never has been the very young or the very old. See, the very young and the very old, you know, have this tremendous empathy, always did.
Jessica Tandy Yes!
Studs Terkel I think, I think this is deals with the -- meeting old women, old people. Let's hear this. Just as we're talking, I'm looking through, this is Volume 2 of "Foxfire", and here's a chapter called, it's funny, "Birth and Death", it's midwives and granny women. Is a granny woman a midwife, too?
Eliot Wigginton Well, it's not so much that they learn how to deliver a baby per se, but it's that they get through those granny women some appreciation for the tremendous concern for life that those women displayed when they'd walk for miles to help a lady give birth to a child, they walked for miles through snow and rain and all that before there were doctors and before there were hospitals, and you know, and those kids begin to begin to get through that experience I think some appreciation for the for the tremendous compassion for life that these, these ladies had and begin to say, you know, life is important, it has dignity. You know, it's, it's worth doing all you can do to save it. And the same with burials, they discover with what dignity people were buried before there were funeral parlors. And the fact that the people that had died were waked, and all the community gathered around. People in the -- did you know for example in the sun Appalachian region when someone died, one of the members of the community made the casket. The neighbors gathered at the church to dig the grave. The members of the community came to the home, brought food, sat up with the people who were grieving, and stayed with them and the body until it was buried, and all of them together helped to lower it into the ground. And each, all the neighbors, all the members of the community put shovelfuls of dirt in, and all helped cover the coffin back. It's a total closed community almost celebration of a life that was good and was full, and is acknowledged by the people in the community as having had worth, and all of them together put that body to rest. And you know, you know, my kids hear those people tell stories like that, and they say, "Nothing like that happens any more, they bring" -- you know, someone dies, they bring a backhoe in, and the backhoe digs the grave and they cover the dirt with, with the canvas, and the family come -- you know, the family visits the body briefly in a funeral home and then they lay the body into the ground and everybody goes away. And then a couple of men come in and the backhoe comes in and covers it back up again and everybody goes home, and it's -- you know when they say, that's, you know, that's not
Eliot Wigginton You know, and from hearing people talk about these, it's not so much that they learn specifically about history or past so much as it is they learn about the tremendous compassion that human beings once had for one another. That's
Hume Cronyn In the dramatization that if I had to use one word about the attraction of "Foxfire" to me when I first read it, and it has something to do with my reaction to so much of today's theatre, and by today's theatre I mean the last 20 years. There is such emphasis on what is affirmative despite the rigors of that life. And boy, it was rigorous. There was a fundamental belief of faith, of friendship, a rejoicing, a humor that seems to me to have gone more and more rare. I mean, am I wrong about that, Studs? I don't know. I mean, but I mean these people for all the vicissitudes of their livelihood were enormously affirmative people. I mean, they, they hugged life. I mean, and they rejoiced in everything from, you know, the apple blossoms through even to death. Celebration.
Studs Terkel I say through even through that very moment or that experience it was the whole community plays a role. And they also physically, they made the coffin, the body. There must -- quick story. There was a preacher in town, a nonsectarian guy [unintelligible] Joe Matthews, and Joe had -- one of about 10 kids and his father lived to be 90 years old, 93, his father died and they wanted Joe to go to Maine and say a few words over the father's coffin. And Joe says, "I want to see him." The night before the burial. He goes to the funeral parlor and he sees his father -- that's not his father. He sees a cosmetized doll, the cosmetic is he's -- he "Just a minute," he says. He says to the funeral director, you know, euphemisms you know. As Jessica Mitford puts it, not the undertaker, funeral directors. He says, "I want a sponge and some hot water and soap and a basin. I said, I want it. I says, give it to me!" And he's, "I took that sponge. I scrubbed, and I wiped all that stuff and suddenly I saw an old, old, old man with all his wrinkles. A face of wrinkles, says, "That's my father, because those wrinkles I put there, my mother put there, my ten brothers and sisters put there, those wrinkles means we lived. And so then I saw my father." So isn't that an
Jessica Tandy Yes,
Hume Cronyn I
Hume Cronyn Yeah.
Studs Terkel But back to "Foxfire", and back to really two gifted performers who obviously is, we're talking about the world. You bring your equipment with you. As you listen to Hume and Jessica, Cronyn and Tandy talk, you know there is more than just two performers. There are two people who know what -- who are aware of a world. That's has to be, isn't it? I mean to
Studs Terkel It was a take-off with Becky Sharp, take-off of "Vanity Fair", and so this was in Brighton, and she's active in the world of politics and everything and fiery. In contrast to her, the other doyenne of the theater, Edith Evans.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Studs Terkel I said, "Well, tell me, does that bother you, your other interests. Since she's" -- [unintelligible] "My Edith, Dame Edith, oh, she's marvelous, see she is a nun wedded to theatre," as she put it. "That's her whole life and she is magnificent. I am someone wholly different. To me the world outside is as terribly important as the world on stage, and so I bring the world outside on it. So when [I do Casta?] in "The Trojan Women", the Vietnam War was going on, so [unintelligible] I was thinking about that.
Jessica Tandy Thorndike.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Hume Cronyn Her husband, and who's seen Dame Edith Evans in things for the last -- can I say it? Fifty years. And we were talking the other night about a play this opened in New York, it's great success and it's a fascinating play called "The Elephant Man", and it's based on a true story about a grotesque who was taken into the London hospital and he was a horrifying sight. And one of the people who took interest in him was Dame Madge Kendal. That'll be a name which is strange to almost everybody in your audience, but she was a very celebrated actress in her time, and I was nattering on about this and that and the other thing, and suddenly Jessie said quietly, "I knew Dame Madge Kendal," I couldn't believe it! She was
Jessica Tandy Well
Jessica Tandy Well, I was told this story about Dame Madge Kendal, somebody's apparently said to her, to Dame Madge, "Did you ever see Lillie Langtry act?" And she said, "Never. No more did you." She had a sharp tongue!
Studs Terkel Now that your careers, your lives in the theater, everything. Of course, we think -- you created Blanche DuBois at the time, I know that. So it's Tennessee Williams, and then you were in "Delicate Balance", of course, you did Beckett. We're not even talking about your Polonius with Burton as Hamlet. Everything -- what -- what aspect of it haven't you touched. A bit of an avant-garde theater,
Studs Terkel You've done a lot of flops, too. Oh, we haven't talked about your role in one of the big aspects in, is community theater, that isn't theater off -- outside Broadway. Of course your role in helping the establishment with Tyrone Guthrie of the Guthrie Theater
Hume Cronyn We did the first play, but that was, that in turn was T. Edward Hambleton and Norris Houghton, and we were just in for this one project. But now the list of so-called regional theaters that we've appeared at is a very long one. I mean, it goes all over the country, and we've tried to -- it's happened more than we are trying, we've got a pattern. We'll do a commercial play, so like "The Gin Game", and then we'll go -- like for instance we're now committed to going back to Stratford, Ontario, the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, that's where we go when we when we finish the Soviet Union. She knows pretty much what she's doing.
Jessica Tandy Yes.
Studs Terkel "Foxfire". You know, an obvious question. It's -- here theaters in Europe, I'm talking Western Europe now, [I mean?] Western Europe and Frankfurt has its own theater, community, city. The obvious question, subsidized theater. What, why don't we have civically or nationally or state subsidized, this 'cause the old question, we're on the old merry-go-round again, aren't we?
Hume Cronyn Well, you know, it isn't, it isn't part of our tradition. It isn't part of our culture. I mean, the countries you talk about, regardless of the political changes, have a tradition of theater-going, theater attendance, and of the theater being to the community at least the equivalent of a library or the symphony orchestra. That's not true here. It is becoming more so. But you know, we're living in rather stringent times now, where everybody is talking about cutback, cutback, cutback, and one of the first things to be cut back you can be sure are arts subsidies of all kinds.
Jessica Tandy But actually at very bad times. I mean, for instance during the war in England, the theatre was considered something that had to be. People really needed it. So it isn't a luxury, it's daily bread.
Hume Cronyn Well, because it can't be. When you talk about daily bread, you imply a commodity which most people hopefully can afford. Most people can't afford the theatre today, it's just too damned expensive.
Hume Cronyn No.
Hume Cronyn No, but I mean the theater, this is a terrible old cliche, but you know it's handcraft business in in a machine line world. What's the phrase? Not machine-line, what would you call it, when things come off of
Studs Terkel Assembly
Hume Cronyn Assembly line. And you simply, and the theater is no more subject to -- can no more escape the ravages of inflation than any other business. Our costs go up and up and up and take this little simple play we're doing now, one set, two characters. Two hundred and forty seven thousand dollars to get the curtain up in New York. Go back 27 years. Another simple two-character play which we played in called "The Four-Poster"; curtain up, 37 thousand dollars.
Hume Cronyn And if anybody wants to go, by the way, the best night to go is next Monday because it's the Actors' Fund benefit, and also because they don't generally play on Monday, fewer people have thought to ask for tickets on Monday, so that this next Monday is when the best locations are available. Plug, sorry old
Studs Terkel No, that's good. No, that, I think people would like to see this. Some can't get in. So it's -- you know, Didi says to Gogo, "How quickly time flies when, when enjoying" or some phrase that -- and so how quickly it's gone. But this is by way of saying, here's to "Foxfire", to your further work, but especially to "Foxfire", and Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, two delightful guests and indeed gifted artists. Thank you very much indeed.
Don Tait "'The Pearl Fishers' is one of Chicago Opera Theater's jewels," wrote Robert C. Marsh in "The Chicago Sun-Times". The Chicago Opera Theater, the highly acclaimed company that has brought so many ambitious performances before Chicago audiences, is presenting Bizet's romantic and exotic opera "The Pearl Fishers" in English, and all remaining performances are sold out except the final matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday. It will be in the Athenæum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, and if you'd like ticket information, call the Chicago Opera Theater at 6-6-3-0-5-5-5. Studs?
Studs Terkel Well, Monday, let's see, where's Monday? I forgot -- oh, Tom Taylor, the young performer in town who does Woody Guthrie, it's a one-man interpretation of Woody. He was here before and he uncannily he captures the spirit, the flavor of the '30s, the Joad family in "Grapes of Wrath" and the humor and the perceptiveness and the bite of Woody Guthrie. Monday. Until then, take it easy, but take it.
Don Tait You've been listening to Studs Terkel heard on WFMT each weekday from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00, and heard Thursday evenings at ten-thirty as well. This is WFMT, Chicago's Fine Arts station, at 98.7 on FM, 1450 on AM. Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta "Patience" as recorded by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company will be broadcast tomorrow night at eight. That's part of our continuing Saturday night series of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Ivan Rebroff, called the richest, darkest, lowest, highest bass in the world unquote, appears at the Auditorium Theatre Thursday. Ivan Rebroff presents an evening of song ranging from folk tunes of his native Soviet Union to the more familiar melodies of today. In French, Russian, German, and English, his voice glides over four octaves. Ivan Rebroff sings for the pure joy of it, and you can share the joy at eight p.m. Thursday in the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets are at the Auditorium box office and at all Ticketron outlets. A very good way to make enormous savings when you buy stereo components is to choose last year's models. Each year manufacturers introduce new lines at higher prices with very minor, often cosmetic changes, and the previous and perfectly fine models become closeouts. Musicraft has a