Monday, March 9, 2009

Update - "Twentieth Century"

Today a brief update on our post from January (see here) about “Twentieth Century” (1934) and the train called “The 20th Century Limited”, and our lovable ne’r do well, John Barrymore.

Author John Kobler writes in his biography of John Barrymore, Damned in Paradise - The Life of John Barrymore (Athenaeum, NY 1977) of the eastbound trip on The 20th Century Limited Barrymore took for the re-opening of "Hamlet" on Broadway, around 1924, I think. Barrymore, of course was noted for his portrayal of Hamlet, but evidently never so cocky that he neglected to rehearse.

In a scene that might be straight out of “Twentieth Century”, author Kolber writes, “Ensconced in his stateroom aboard the eastbound Twentieth Century, John sent for two Pullman porters, old friends from previous trips. Handing one of them a book, he explained, ‘Now, this is really the skull of Yorick and you are the grave digger.’ And to the other, ‘You are Polonius.’ Fed his cues in this fashion, he rehearsed himself all the way across the continent.”

Actually, that would have been halfway across the continent, only from Chicago to New York, but the story proves both John Barrymore’s whimsical approach to his art, and the indispensability of the noble Pullman porter.


John Hayes said...

Fun story-- more evidence to me (who abhors flying) why trains are the best mode of transport.

Ed Howard said...

Great story. The more I hear about Barrymore, the more I realize how brilliantly Hawks played off of the actor's real persona in Twentieth Century. Such a great movie.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

You're right, Ed, there was evidently a submlime method to Hawks' madness on that film.

John, I agree that trains are best mode of transport, my favorite. The car attendant on the sleeper I took couldn't do enough for me. I did not try his patience by asking him to read lines from Hamlet with me, but I might try that next time just to see if he or she would.

As much as I am grateful for the attention of flight attendants, I wouldn't dare order one to be the grave digger and pretend the coffee pot in her hand is Yorick's skull. I just don't think I could do it.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff - I love the thought of Barrymore rehearsing aboard the train like that. I definitely want to read that biography. Judy

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Judy, thanks for stopping by. Barrymore was a complicated person and not all the episodes of his life were as lighthearted as this one, but biographies of him and his equally famous siblings tell us a lot about the life of an actor in the early "twentieth century".

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