Yank Weekly: The Battett - Return on Rotation - 1945-04-27
But the audience on Broadway doesn't whistle at Cornell's kisses the way the GIs did in Europe.
Katharine Cornell, the lady who ranks with Helen Hayes and Lynn Fontanne as one of the three best actresses in the American theater, recently brought her revived hit play, “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” home on rotation after six months in Italy, France and Holland. Instead of sending the people in the cast to redistribution stations for 30-day fur-loughs and reassigning them to permanent parties in the States, she pushed them right into an empty theater on Broadway to put on the same show every night for civilian audiences. I imagine that the members of the cast are already writing letters back to Gls they knew in Italy and France and Holland, warning them not to get sucked in by this rotation deal because it’s just a lot of chicken.
One of the gnomes with T-4 stripes who thinks up things for us boys on this magazine to write about decided that it would be a good idea for somebody to go and see the Broadway version of “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” and to tell how it compared with the performances before GI audiences in Europe.
If I do say so myself, they couldn’t have found a better man for the job. I not only saw “The Barretts” in Europe; I practically followed it all the way from Rome to Paris last fall and winter. Or maybe the show was following me, I don’t know which. Anyway, it seemed as though every time Miss Cornell drove into a new town—Florence, Leghorn, Marseilles, Versailles—she would trip over me when she was getting out of her jeep. It got so that people were stopping me at various times to shake my hand, mistaking me for a prominent member of the east—Miss Cornell’s cocker spaniel Flush.
This is all very interesting stuff I am telling you, but we better start comparing “The Barretts of Broadway” with “The Barretts of Italy and the ETO” before that T-4 gets sore and uses his influence to have me shipped to a machine-records detachment somewhere in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is still a prohibition state.
Well, the show itself is exactly the same on Broadway as it was overseas. Miss Cornell, as Elizabeth Barrett, the girl poet, still hates the taste of porter which her father tries to make her drink for her health. I could understand why she hated that rotgut in Florence and Marseilles. But I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard her still refusing to drink in New York. I felt like standing right up in the theater and telling her that this stuff wasn’t Eyetie tioned he had met Aherne once before at Camp Wheeler in Georgia.
“Ah, yes, I remember that day at Camp Wheeler,” Aherne said. “I went out on the range with you fellows there. And I remember one of your colonels telling me, ‘We are making it very hard for these men but when they get overseas they’ll look back and thank us for it.’ And you are thanking him for it now, aren’t you?”
The little dough, who had come out of a rough sector of the 85th Division’s line that morning and was going back into it again that night, just glanced up at Aherne once and said nothing.
But, although the show is the same on Broadway, the audience is a lot different from the ones that watched “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” in Italy, France and Holland.
The first time Aherne and Barrett—I mean, Cornell—put their arms around each other and go into a kiss, nobody in the theater whistles.
When the doctor in the first act tells Miss Cornell that she can’t spend another winter in a gloomy place like London and that she should go to a pleasant sunny place like Italy, nobody in the Broadway audience cracks a smile. Every time the doctor spoke this line before the GIs in Naples, Rome, Florence and Leghorn, it took all the available MPs in the neighborhood a half hour to restore order in the theater.
Nobody in the Broadway audience laughs when Miss Cornell tells her maid not to bother packing many bags because they’ll be able to buy whatever they need in Paris. This always brought the house down in France.
I guess the people in New York have no sense of humor.