Broadway First Nights (1942)

Broadway First Nights

by Mark Barron

New York, Mar. 7 — The war, just as it has caused a million other customs to be sorely disrupted, has almost completely halted the annual parade westward of British stars to appear on the Broadway stage.
Gertrude Lawrence in Lady in the Dark and the 70-year-old C. Aubrey Smith in Spring Again are the only leading English players whose names are now flashing in the Rialto lights.

Idols Remain at Home

Such familiar matinée idols as Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Richard Bird and Leslie Howard are remaining in England this season either to give performances for soldiers of as actual members of the army and navy.
A letter which has just arrived from Howard tells excitingly of his experiences in filming the new picture, The Invaders, in the studios outside London while the bombing was proceeding furiously.
The experience undoubtedly is dimming in his memory the bitter disappointment he had in 1936 when his production of Hamlet was a failure on Broadway.
His chagrin was great, for a success in the role of the Melancholy Dane was the one great ambition of his life.
In his letter from London, Howard says production proceeds with little delay despite the Nazi bombing. When they were filming The Invaders he went to his home a few hundred yards away from the studio for a few hours sleep–and then:
“I was awakened by the sound of an aeroplane. I jumped to the window and saw what I took to be a British bomber flying right over the studios.
“I was about to return to bed when, to my amazement, I heard a big caliber bomb descending. I was just in time to see it explode over the roof of the studio and scatter hundreds of small balls of fire.
“I slipped on a pair of trousers and coat and rushed over. The fire fighters and the studio Air Raid Precautions men were already at work extinguishing the incendiaries. Even in the few minutes it had taken me to get to the studio, the incendiaries had got hold of the administrative block (including my dressing room and the whole wardrobe for The Invaders) and this was blazing furiously… It spread quickly. The chief fireman decided to send to a nearby village for help…

More Bombs Fall

“Another German plane came roaring down. He had evidently dropped his bombs on London proper for he began machine-gun the studio. He peppered the place for five or ten minutes. All the fire fighters bundled into the first aid room, and then a third Jerry put in an appearance.
“He commenced to dive and in a second we heard the shriek of a descending bomb, then another, then a fourth. The fire-fighters fell flat, but the stick missed us.
“Jerry turned and we could hear him roaring back. This time he unloaded five, and then the fifth landed right on top of the studio.
“Everyone fell flat and waited for the explosion. It never came. After what seemed like an eternity, somebody sat up and exclaimed, ‘Well, we’re all right, fellows. That was a delayed action.’
“It was, in fact, a time bomb, but nobody felt like going to deal with it. Another cyclist went off to ring up the army, and the fire brigade returned to wrestle with the blaze.
“They got it under control a couple of hours after dawn had broken. The bomb dispersal men arrived and, dismantling the bomb, carried it away in a lorry.
“Fortunately, the next day was a Sunday. There was no shooting on the picture. All through the night the one idea uppermost in everybody’s mind was that the studio would be unfit for any work for several weeks.

Only Two Hours Lost

“But the remarkable thing is that we got everything repaired to resume the work at 10 o’clock on Monday, only two hours lost on our schedule because of the bombs.”
This isn’t the first time that Howard has kept up his performances despite the disturbance of war. When he made his stage début in London in 1918 the performance was broken up by an air raid.
As the war was starting in 1914 Howard was reluctantly being trained by his father to be a banking clerk, a job which he disliked. To escape, he joined the army and then was invalided to a hospital in 1918.
That was when he began to write and draw and act. He still is threatening constantly to quit being an actor and devote his entire time to writing.
(Buffalo Courier-Express, March 8, 1942)