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London, 1948 I'd been in England close to three years, and the ups and downs of a struggling actor's career had begun to take their toll. I was nowhere near defeat, but I had started to wonder whether all this would lead to any more than just the taste of world theatre. Perhaps the training at RADA and on the British stage was no more than preparation for an inevitable return to Palestine-now Israel-and to the Cameri, which-nominally at least-was holding my place open should the prodigal son decide to expiate his earlier sins and return. The year 1949 found me in London at the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage, performing in George Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It with You. My role was the madly eccentric Russian ballet master Kolenkov, whose most memorable line in the play was his reply to a question regarding his student's talent for dancing: "Confidentially, she stinks'" Michael Redgrave saw the performance, came backstage afterwards, and congratulated me on giving "a very funny and refreshing performance ." Unbeknownst to me, he was having dinner with Sir Laurence Olivier the following night and apparently my name came up. Olivier was in the process of casting Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire at the time, and soon I was called-summoned, I guess-to the theatre to meet with the great man. TM Kimlness ifstrangers • 57 Streetcar was my first chance to perform in the West End-and in a work that had won a Pulitzer Prize the year before its author was hailed as the major American playwright of his time. The part of Blanche, moreover, would be played by Vivien Leigh. It was indeed an experience. At the interview I was ushered into a room that looked as though the furnishings had been supplied from various stage sets. You took an elevator upstairs to offices above the theatre. I was ushered in by someone, but at the interview itself it was just Sir Laurence and me. I tried to hide my nervousness, and can remember little about the great man himself or what precisely transpired . He conducted the interview, had me read some lines for him, realized that accents were no problem for me, and seemed to like me. Otherwise 1 suppose he simply trusted Redgrave's assessment of me. He cast me initially in the small role of one of the poker players in the regular game at Stanley Kowalski's apartment. He also gave me the understudy plum of the year: both Stanley and Mitch. If I had to play either one, the general understudy would cover my regular role. Covering both leading roles created a sort of schizophrenia; the two men are so different from each other, yet part of the same milieu. Somehow , Stanley was the easier of the two to get a handle on; he is more physical, rough, irate, driven from within rather than moved by those around him. Mitch-vulnerable, touched by men, women, things, and poetry-is rough only on the outside. He is fascinated by Blanche's Southern fragility, intrigued by her weakness, and is, at first, gullible. Frankly, I could not wait to play either of them. This, then, was the beginning of the "big time." With Sir Laurence directing, it could hardly be any bigger. The experience was both unnerving and exhilarating, for the atmosphere at the top of Mount Olympus was rarefied and allowed for only shallow breathing. Despite its being an American play, the basic elements of this production were British, of course; but there were other participants who hailed from elsewhere. The producer, Irene Mayer Selznick, was an American, daughter of one movie mogul and wife of another. She, too, was formidable. While not a threatening presence, she had been around powerful men all her life and exuded power herself, in the natural way of power that is acquired by osmosis. The two original male leads, both of whom I understudied, were neither English nor American . Bonar Colleano, playing Stanley, was Australian, and Bernard Braden, playing Mitch, Canadian. Stella was played by Renee Asherson , a well-known British actress. Vivien Leigh was at her most beautiful , a fragile kind of porcelain beauty one feared could shatter at any moment. That quality of hers was ideal for the part of Blanche. There 58 • THEO are few actresses who could have uttered the last line of the play with more heartbreaking poignancy...


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