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Ruth Draper discusses theater

BROADCAST: Oct. 6, 1957 | DURATION: 00:34:48


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Norm Pellegrini [background music] And now it gives us great pleasure and although that's shopworn phrase great pleasure and we really mean it because it's always good to have more of Studs Terkel on WFMT from our point of view and we're sure from yours too. Here is the first program of the Studs Terkel "Wax Museum" and instead of us giving you a rundown out of it here's Studs.

Studs Terkel Thank you, Norm, and it's certainly a pleasant brisk morning to initiate the series. As for this program, there'll be no boundaries to our music: folk songs, jazz, some operatic arias, a Schubert lead on occasion, a piece of chamber music, perhaps and so too with the conversation of our guests; all fields of the lively arts we hope to cover. This morning one of the highlights will be a conversation with Ruth Draper her very last visit to Chicago. It was taped at the time. And we'll offer too a sidewalk or perhaps a bar room version of one of the operas that the Lyric Company will present the season beginning on Friday and this would be sort of a public service if you will Opera a la Runyon. To begin the first "Wax Museum" we were debating, that is I was debating with myself, who's the artist who would be a good artist to start the ball rolling. Then we thought of Chevalier, Chevalier at 70 perhaps more than he represents the spirit that what we call the gay Parisian spirit, the joie de vivre this man has. Ever since America first knew him. It was in the movie "Innocents of Paris" some 26 27 years ago when he sang about Valentina, the man who once knew this very beautiful girl. Some years later, he's promenading along the boulevard and sees this pudgy, elderly, bedraggled lady and suddenly at the shock of recognition hits him. It's Valentina but being the gallant he does the best he can, and though Valentina may have changed with the times with the calendar not Chevalier has witness a [Gigi?]. Let's wander a bit from France and a memory and nostalgia to Brazil. Heitor Villa-Lobos is certainly one of the most remarkable of contemporary composers. He's done in Brazil what Bela Bartok and Kodaly did in Hungary. Composer in his own right, a man of fertile imagination and brilliance. At the same time, a wanderer in his own land. Lobos, for a long time, did a great deal of field work in the hinterlands of Brazil and he listened and captured the music of the South American Indians and of many of the Brazilian natives in the villages and many of his compositions are a composite of his own works his classical background. While he's a self-taught man and of the folk music of Brazil. Jennie Tourel, I think is just right to sing this particular one of these serestas, the serenades, of Villa-Lobos because she's sort of international. She was born of Russian parentage in Paris, educated in Switzerland, and she sings this in Portuguese. This is the "Cancao Do Carreiro." It's the song of the ox cart driver. "Na na na na na" is the cry from afar comes the ox cart driver with a sentimental song on his lips. How sweetly the songs echo through the brush along the sea shore, go the lyrics in a rough sort of way, Along the sea shore the waves seem to cry weeping sadly to the afternoon as it dies away, and the sea like a handkerchief wipes the tear like foam from the shore. Tourel, a song of the ox cart drivers, one of the 12 serenades of the Brazilian height of Villa-Lobos. What's remarkable about this, he wrote it, he composed the serenades during the 8 years sojourn in Paris back in '25 '26 at the time this came into being. And yet his memory was so keen so sharp of his native land it was there the flavor retained. About ten years after this 1936, '37 there was a movie in Hollywood it was an adaptation of "The Heiress," the Henry James novel "Washington Square," adapted by the Goetzes into a play "The Heiress" with Wendy Hiller remember and Basil Rathbone, Ralph Richardson they alternated. The movie with Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift contained on the sound track a song ostensibly written by two pop writers Ray Livingston, Ray Evans, and Jay Livingston. "My Love Loves Me" Fran Warren sings it. Now they strayed a bit from the fact when they said they composed it, these two men. They did write modern lyrics to an old melody, which you'll probably recognize the song nonetheless is beautiful. It goes this, you'll undoubtedly recognize the melody, "Plaisir d'Amour." "The Joys of Love," which was written long long before Evans and Livingston during the -- I was off on the year by the film I think was about 1941. The play was 1939, 1940; movie, '41, '42. It's the spot where the heiress herself, this is an insertion, in the movie of sitting down at the piano and playing and the fortune hunter never returns, but let's play the original. Now no one is really hurt outside of history itself by these two pop composers saying they wrote the song in its entirety. Course according to Dyer-Bennet, it was attributed to an 18th century composer, Martini. He says it really was not an Italian, but a German named Schwarzendorf. So, the spirit of Schwarzendorf may turn a bit as he heard these two men boast of having written this, but let's play the original as Dyer-Bennet sings it, his translation of "The Joys of Love." It's one of those composed art songs that has the staying quality of so often attributed to folk songs. In trying to pick a jazz record out for the first "Wax Museum," I came across one of my favorites an old Blue Note, it's a 78 that has a slight scratch but I hope you won't mind it, of Sydney Bechet and his soprano saxophone. He's the only jazz man who really has elevated this particular instrument, it's rarely heard in jazz as an accepted one in the field. Bechet could be the mayor of Paris these days, he's the most popular of American jazz musicians in Paris lived there for a number of years though. He seems he's returning to America and perhaps may play at Jazz, Ltd. in Chicago where he once had quite a sojourn for about 3 or 4 years. This particular recording is "Summertime," Gershwin's "Summertime," as played by Bechet; Teddy Bunn, guitarist, we haven't heard from in a long time, opens it with a few blues chords. In "Summertime," Bechet's mind travels quite a bit. He come -- he came from a Creole family in New Orleans in the early days of the century when it was quite a city, culturally, the opera was flourishing. He -- his parents took him to the French opera house there and he saw a good number of operas, and among them "Trovatore" because you'll recognize the strains of the "Miserere" in "Summertime" as well as the "Elegie" here too. Massenet's "Elegie" a few strings that is woven around the Gershwin melody here then Bechet, Bechet, soaring free and far, a jazz artist improvising. And since the theme of "Il Trovatore" was in there with the "Miserere" why not let's do a sidewalk version of the opera the Lyric Company will offer "Trovatore" I believe three times this coming season. And since there've been complaints about some of the libretti of operas being stodgy and somewhat musty, this is a 20th century version as offered by a friend of Damon Runyon's, Long Shot Sylvester, a horse player who happens to be a friend of opera too and when he is told that Giuseppe Verdi composed "Il Trovatore," what do we mean Verdi I know the guy his name was Joe Green. The -- the opera itself was one of the hardiest of all of the perennials one of those dark Spanish tragedies, no punches pulled, but let Long Shot Sylvester tell the story in his particular patois. He says in the hills of Aragon lives Azucena, she's a gypsy and a low contralto, and she bears a heavy beef against the noble house of di Luna. You see, years ago the miserable Count di Luna, he's a wrongo, runs a witch hunt and he burns Azucena's mother at the stake and her only crime was reading tea leaves and reading palms at a half a bucket throw on a North Avenue rug shop that had no rugs. And what did she do? She didn't do nothing wrong. She simply says invest your money and sell utilities. The year happened to be in 1927, that was all. And so she's burned at the stake, but Azucena, she retaliates she hires a couple of syndicate boys and she pulls a snatch one of the counts baby sons, he had 2, and she raises him as his own and he answers to the name of Manrico, but everybody calls him Il Trovatore, the troubadour. He's a true tenor and he can charm a bird off a tree and also the dolls. He's continuously besieged by teenage girls and dowagers alike for his autograph and [they're] most valuable, one Manrico gets you five Gregory Pecks. And so what comes to pass that though his brother, the present Count di Luna, inherits the estate, Manrico has all the fun. Course neither knows the other is his relative and vice versa. And that's the background as the curtain rises. Cherchez la femme, you ask, okay. Her name is Leonora, and she is society all the way down the line, she's always mentioned by [Athlon Duchet?], and recently she had a coming out party in her ancestral home at Lake Forest [unintelligible] and of course she has so many swains of such good families. Young Count di Luna, for example, every time he sees her his heart goes pitter-patter [swish noise] and he says, "Be my wife, Leonora, I'll give you a penthouse and a Porsche, that is a sports car that is, a coupon redeemable at Bonwit Teller's and a chapeau I grabbed off at a Best Ben bargain sale. I'll also throw in 5 High Five records of railroad sounds, if you'll only say yeah," but Leonora she says nah because she runs into Manrico and her heart goes pitter-patter [swish noise] and the two swains read the two brothers though they don't know it. They fight a duel and there's no decision and rumor had that the International Boxing Association plans a rematch at the Chicago Stadium. But Azucena in the meantime is captured by the Count's men and the troubadour rushes to her rescue and he too was nabbed, and that night as he's scheduled to be knocked off, Leonora tiptoes into the prison yard to chat with her beloved. In a background we heard a chorus of 50 beautiful voices, 50, and they're chanting the "Miserere" and as the wretched damsel cries out, "Oh Manrico they can't do this to you." The boy replies in bell-like tenor, "They can. Come around tomorrow to see the bonfire, but remember kiddo I'm daft about you, fare thee well, Leonora, fare thee well." From Act 4 then, the "Miserere" with Zinka Milanov as Leonora and Jussi Bjorling, Manrico. Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, one of the operas "Il Trovatore" that will be offered by the Lyric. A Friday during the Friday "Wax Museum," our friend, Long Shot Sylvester, will offer his version of "Falstaff" that will be the opening opera, you understand he does this as a public service. A parenthetical question here, and a comment too. This is the first program of the "Wax Museum" and if you have any comments to make pro or con we'd appreciate your dropping a card WFMT and suggestions are welcome too. We will play any sort of music that we feel is within the elements of the taste of the "Wax Museum," so shoot. Remember "Finian's Rainbow," still one of my favorite musicals, perhaps number one on my list. David Wayne was Og, the leprechaun, that was the role that did it for Wayne. After that he did Pulver, the raffish ensign in "Mister Roberts." But remember the leprechaun who fell in love with a mortal girl, Sharon, that was Ella Logan played the role, but it was unrequited and while it wasn't Sharon then it was Susan the Silent. This is the leprechaun much like Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro" who's hit with an emotion you can't quite figure out, and so he sings it out, David Wayne, and "When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near." This is the twist of lyrics by one of the best lyricists Yip Harburg hear then, David Wayne as Og, "Finian's Rainbow." It was last year that Ruth Draper died and it was the year before that she visited Chicago and we were fortunate in interviewing her and saved the conversation. You'll hear it now. Remember that it was done two years ago, references are made to the Harris Theater where she last played offered her one woman show and my own comment to make now is that Ruth Draper was certainly one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. She was about 70 at the time of this interview. [pause in recording] Library, a very cozy comfortable one of the Fortnightly Club here on East Bellevue, and it's a rare privilege for me to be seated opposite an artist I've admired for so long. I was a kid. You see a lot of movies and then one day my older brother took me to the theater. I forget the name of the theater but never forget the name of the artist. It was an evening with Ruth Draper. Ms. Ruth Draper. One of the most gentle and yet profound artists of the American theater. Ms. Draper, a question always comes up in terms of the portrait's that you etched so graphically on the stage. Are these based upon your own observations in life are these based upon actual human beings whom you've met?

Ruth Draper No. No. Except, I suppose it's an unconscious observation but I never imitate anybody. And I never put anybody that I see into a sketch they're all fabricated characters they're all invented people, but I naturally I suppose are based on observation.

Studs Terkel Or part

Ruth Draper And I can't say that they're based on conscious observation I never as I say put anyone into a sketch that I have seen. There are only 2 or 3 sketches which are based on actual facts and stories either that I've heard or in two cases, I think, people that I have seen that's a sketch in County Kerry, where the incident impressed me very much and no I didn't in any sense imitate the woman, she's typical of a great many Irish peasants. And then the sketch called "Three Generations in the Court of Domestic Relations" was based on an incident that I saw in a domestic relations court. I changed the story, but it was a picture of three women: a grandmother, mother, and a daughter. And I made up the story and invented the types but it was suggested to me by a real incident.

Studs Terkel Well let's stick with that one for a moment, "Three Generations in the Court of Domestic Relations" that so many people have seen you do so movingly. You do something there that I guess the mystery to everyone this is the mystery of an artist is your sudden transformation you're first the old grandmother, and then you're the hard working mother, and suddenly you become this vibrant young girl, 19 or 20. What's the trick? I mean how do you suddenly become -- do you think is it a question of

Ruth Draper -- Well it's, I just become the person that I'm depicting naturally. I, instead of leaving the stage, I do it all before the audience and that's where the transformation seems to be so quick so immediate because instead of leaving the stage to adjust the shawl I just drop the shawl from my head to my shoulders, and then for the young girl I fling it off just before the audience, and I think it's the speed of the transformation that impresses them.

Studs Terkel I think it's more than the speed of the transformation the pulling off of a show you become, it seems to us who watch you, that you become this other person you suddenly become this young girl

Ruth Draper Well that is the essence of acting that's what an actor or actress must do, become the person, or else they can't put over the character.

Studs Terkel None of your portraits, none of your portraits could be the is it the Duchess giving the lawn party remember the title lady who gives a lawn party she's very gentle.

Ruth Draper Oh yes, yes.

Studs Terkel Or, or it's the Irish peasant woman or the "Three Generations" or the Continental actress. None of them, though they point out frailties and foibles [unintelligible], are ever etched into acid, they're all so tender. Do you seek this?

Ruth Draper No, I think that everybody is rather ridiculous and everybody is rather pitiful and I think I show both sides of the -- the humorous qualities in people, the ridiculous qualities, and the serious, and the human qualities. I don't know I just -- my people are just made up of all parts the way everybody is I think.

Studs Terkel Well there's one element that you have there that you haven't mentioned what that is there's this element of tenderness you have that there all times and this great need for these days it seems and

Ruth Draper Well I don't particularly think about it, I just -- and the people that I depict I feel that the people that I depict and that everybody is composed of many different qualities.

Studs Terkel Where do you get the energy and

Ruth Draper -- The what?

Studs Terkel The energy it's a whole evening of the [fair?].

Ruth Draper That's [very?] I'm just very fortunate and so far having had very good health and great vitality, which I think is the most important gift that any artist can have, you must have vitality to convey it across the footlights.

Studs Terkel Well I think that's one of a number of attributes that comes through so powerfully your vitality that's there.

Ruth Draper Well I think without it a person cannot succeed.

Studs Terkel And the other evening we spoke over the phone you mentioned something about -- we talked of folk music and you mentioned something about some vignettes that you have dealing with that.

Ruth Draper Well you told me that you worked a good deal in that -- on that subject the folk songs and I once made a group of folk songs, which are really just imitation folk songs because at the time I made them I had never visited the countries of the people that I imitate. And I just make up this language and I made up the melodies and as I find great difficulty in hearing the words of, any song, well as they're sung. I didn't think it made very much difference whether anybody understood what I was saying or not. So I made this group of songs. I don't pretend to sing, I have no voice, but unfortunately, the audience very often thinks that I am trying to sing, and so they they don't realize that the thing is all meant to be humorous and they take it seriously, which rather spoils the effect that I want to create.

Studs Terkel Would you care to take a whack at one?

Ruth Draper Yes I wouldn't mind at all. They amuse me very much and they always amuse artists, they always amuse musicians, and singers themselves, this satire on singing folk songs. I find that lullabies, in almost every country, have the same quality; they sing to the baby, and then they speak of the father, perhaps off on the hill minding the sheep, and that the baby is safe in the arms of the mother and there's always a repetitious quality in the lilt of the song. So I made a little lullaby I call it a Slovak lullaby not knowing in the least what Slovak language sounds like, but imagining that it might be a certain mixture of Slavic sounds and Latin sounds. So I call this a Slovak

Studs Terkel Well you've got me believing that.

Ruth Draper Then I got to

Studs Terkel That does sound like a Slovak mother. [laughter]

Ruth Draper And I have a Swedish polka, which is been a gay young girl dancing with her boyfriend in the village square. And I imagined I had never heard Swedish, but I had heard Swedish people speak English and I got the lilt of their voices. And then on the signs of delicatessens shops I noticed a great many o's with little marks over them and s v's and s k's and curious u's and o sounds that were marked. So that I imagined the language was like because I'd heard them speak English. Subsequently as I went to Sweden and I think it does sound something like it. [sings in made-up Swedish]

Studs Terkel Right out of Stockholm. [laughter]

Studs Terkel And then I did an Arabian beggar's chant and I've never been to Arabia but I imagined that Arab music, which was the basis of Spanish music, with a curious rhythm and I knew that they made use of quarter notes and eighth notes and effects of sound that would perhaps be dissonance to our ears sometimes because they jump from one key to another. I thought it might sound like this and when I [car honking] went to Morocco later on I found that it did.

Studs Terkel That sounded just like a call from the minaret. Well Ms. Draper, even here just casually fooling around as you're doing you indicate this tremendous imagination that you have you've been to none of the places when you did this just taking off as you did on the cadence, the dialects, and yet as we listen it sounds authentic even though we know you're kidding. [laughter]

Ruth Draper Well I -- we are -- suggestion of a costume on these different countries, and I feel very much like a Slovak mother, and a Swedish girl, and an old Arabian beggar when I do them and sell the message comes over to the audience. It's a very interesting demonstration, my work is, I think, of the need of an audience. The audience must work as far as as well as I do their imagination must be filed and then they supply all that's not there. A very interesting thing was said to me once by a man who knew a great deal about the theater and acting he said the phrase, "You must get it over to the audience." He always thought was wrong. What you must do is to get the audience up onto the stage and into the scene with you, you see, the audience must contribute exactly what the performer contributes in proportion, I mean. They give us much they give their whole imagination, their concentration, their thought, their creative ability, and consequently something happens, I mean it's a -- it's a mixture. Now the tendency in the movie audience and the television audience is just to sit still and receive, they give nothing, but in the theater the audience must give a great deal, and in the ancient theater, in the Oriental theater, and the Greek theater, and in the 17th century theater, in Shakespeare's time, the audience supplied what was not there. I mean when Shakespeare speaks of "How sweet the moonlight sleeps on yonder bank," there's no moonlight and no stage effects of moonlight, and they did it in daylight so it's obvious that the audience had to supply the most tremendous amount of working imagination.

Studs Terkel On TV we'd have a million dollar moon looking right at us.

Ruth Draper Yes. Well all that trend in the theater today in the cinema today of course is to deaden people's imagination and I've been very much interested to find that young people the younger the present generation who have never, many places in the West and in all through the country, who've never seen live acting are terribly interested in what I do they've never seen anything but the screen.

Studs Terkel In other words then, you found

Ruth Draper Because they at last are sharing, they at last are finding that in themselves is the capacity to create and that's what's fun. That's what people enjoy, I think in my work, is feeling and not just a feeling that they are clever that they have made the thing they give me the credit for it, but they're not right in giving me the credit it's it's really something in them. I mean everyone has the capacity to imagine, but they don't know it. I mean they're all potential artists they're all [cars honking] really at heart children and it's what children do with the greatest facility. I always think that what I do is something that as a child I never lost, which is the child's capacity to throw themselves completely into what they pretend to be what they pretend they're doing. Children pretend they're fairies or pirates and Indians and they think you think so too when they perform for you there's no self-consciousness. They think that you'll think they look like a pirate. Well that sounds ridiculous, but there's something very profound in that thought that if you're completely given over to what you're trying to portray [cars honking] you will convince the other people too, and that's what I do.

Studs Terkel Well this definitely is the secret of your art imagination. You said a while

Ruth Draper -- Yes.

Studs Terkel Ago you didn't with the exception of the women's court and the Irish peasant woman all the other portraits are of your own imagination, not of your physical experience.

Ruth Draper Yes, but I suppose there've been [men?] fired undoubtedly by the human scene by people that you meet on the -- pass on the street. I'm not conscious of registering registering expressions or registering moods

Studs Terkel -- But it's there.

Ruth Draper But I suppose I'm impressed by situations and by faces and by remarks that go into my subconscious. And just as a writer writes, I mean you can't say a novelist has seen and known everybody they put in their books maybe some of them do but some of them are pure created people, I think.

Studs Terkel Out of his own imagination, his own intelligence. Coming back to the subject of this two way street; the audience and the performer. You say what you do about -- perhaps that's one of the reasons why people leave an evening with Ruth Draper with something of a residue it sticks with them like -- it's been some time since you were here several months ago but even were you not here several months -- I'm sure I'd have remembered graphically the appearance before that because what you said a moment ago about stimulating the audience's imagination goes and you say you find this among young people today. I mean you do

Ruth Draper Yes, lots of young people come to see me now and come on their own accord not because their parents have sent them, and they talk about it among themselves they bring their friends and I get tremendous lot of young coming to see me when I give public performances.

Studs Terkel So the element of hope is there than that

Ruth Draper Yes, I had a nice group of young people the other day at the Goodman Theater.

Studs Terkel You -- you -- do you always work on new portraits and new vignettes.

Ruth Draper No alas, I haven't made anything new for a good many years, but I have a very large repertoire so I keep repeating my people because the people's -- public seems to like my characters they don't seem to find boring to hear them again.

Studs Terkel And never comes out exactly the same either.

Ruth Draper No never. They never used to be even written. I have tried to write them now but I never liked them as I read them. I put something in every time.

Studs Terkel I mean the element of Change

Ruth Draper Change a little bit.

Studs Terkel The element of improvisation is

Ruth Draper -- Yes.

Studs Terkel Always there. Improvisation, imagination, tenderness. Let's add -- let's put those things together

Ruth Draper But sometimes, sometimes it's very curious sometimes my -- my mind hears a very good remark that I make on the spot -- on the spot, you know, if the audience is very exciting and very lively and very intelligent and responsive, I'm better, and sometimes I'll say something and then I will hear myself say it and say, "My that was good I must remember that," and I never think of it again, never do remember it. And sometimes I'm startled by a good line that I've made for the first time, and then I never remember

Studs Terkel Well this has turned out to be a -- a profound, I think a stimulating talk advice to young artists who might be listening too. This is the art of Ruth Draper.

Ruth Draper Well, a great many people that try to do it but they always are looking for material that's written for them and for them, and I believe in my particular form of acting doing one's own creations is very important. I've never tried to do anybody else's so I don't know

Studs Terkel Well this has always been your own I mean every one of the sketches.

Ruth Draper Oh yes, I've never done anything but my own.

Studs Terkel All of your own. So this is the -- you're the complete artist then it's the writer

Ruth Draper Yes.

Studs Terkel And the performer, producer at the same time.

Ruth Draper Yes.

Studs Terkel Ms. Draper, thank you very much for this stimulating get together.

Ruth Draper Very glad to be able to speak to you. I'm very fond of Chicago I've always found the audiences out here most warm and responsive and faithful. After an absence of many years I came back last year and had awfully nice audiences at the Harris. I'm sorry not to be able to stay longer.

Studs Terkel Well it's no secret, Ms. Draper, but the audience feels that way about you too.

Ruth Draper Thank you.

Studs Terkel Thanks a lot. [pause in recording] Ruth Draper some two years ago that conversation, and we have time perhaps for just a number. Since she did take off on some folk songs and perhaps an authentic one by Germaine Montero, France, yet sings Spanish songs. Her remarkable album, "Folk Songs of Spain," won the award, the Disc award in Paris in 1953. This is "Corrocloclo," about the little hen and the chicks and "I bought them for five duros. I bought it in the morning and in the afternoon it lost its way. My dear neighbors who live around me. Have you seen a hen yesterday? A hen which lost its way in the afternoon." Germaine Montero. [record starts playing briefly] Germaine Montero, and you see now how close Ruth Draper came to -- in her own humorous whimsical way of capturing the spirit of a folk song. This winds up our first "Wax Museum" for this morning. Tomorrow our guest, previous conversation we had with Harry Belafonte, he will discuss some aspects of Negro music in America and we'll have -- it will have his voice too, singing several. In addition to some jazz folk songs, a lead, a Schubert lead, and what have you. That's tomorrow, "Wax Museum," until then we say, take it easy but take it. [music plays]