Did Marlon Brando Urinate Onstage to Upstage Another Actor?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Marlon Brando urinated onstage to upstage another actor.

Reader Robert S. wrote in to ask me to find the truth behind a famous theater anecdote. He wasn’t even positive WHO the story was about, just that it involved an actress threatening to upstage another actress without even being ON stage (she manages to pull it off by using tape to adhere a glass to a table so it looks to the audience like it is going to fall over at any moment – she then leaves the stage for the other actress, who now no one is paying attention to because they’re all looking at the glass, hence being upstaged without being onstage). I was able to narrow the story down to the great Tallulah Bankhead, who had the story told about her a number of times, to the point of it even making it into Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes. However, it is so vague that I can’t confirm or debunk it actually happened. I’ve certainly never seen anything concrete either way. However, while researching THAT tale of upstaging another actor, I came across a case of Tallulah being upstaged by the young Marlon Brando (seen here together…


) that was so hilarious that I figured I just had to share it with you all…
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Did Edwin Booth Really Save Robert Todd Lincoln’s Life a Year Before Booth’s Brother Assassinated Lincoln’s Father?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Edwin Booth saved Robert Todd Lincoln from being hit by a train.

People often write about the American Civil War as being a war of “brother against brother.” In the case of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, that was very accurate (well, except for the fact that neither served in the war, but you get my meaning). Both Booths were accomplished theater actors, but Edwin was a Unionist and John was a secessionist. Edwin even voted for Lincoln, a fact that really gnawed at his brother, who insisted to his brother than Lincoln was going to try to become the King of America.

Edwin Booth in 1879.

In any event, an interesting legend involving the older Booth brother has become very popular over the years, which is that Edwin actually saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, a year before Booth’s brother assassinated the President.

Is that true?
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Was A Long Day’s Journey Into Night Released Two Decades Before Eugene O’Neill Intended it to be Released?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: A Long Day’s Journey Into Night was released over twenty years earlier than Eugene O’Neill expressly stated that it should.

For a man who already had written a number of classic plays, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is likely Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece.

The playwright finished the play in 1942, eleven years before his death.

For whatever reason, O’Neill decided that he did not want the play to be published until twenty-five years after he died. This might be because of the autobiographical parts of the play, but honestly I don’t know for certain what O’Neill’s motivations were. He had the manuscript of the play kept in the document vault of his publisher, Random House. O’Neill even had a contract written up that stated that the play not be published until twenty-five years after his death.

That’s not what happened.
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How Did Learning to Speak English Lead to Eugene Ionesco Writing His First Play?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Eugene Ionesco was inspired to write his first play at the age of 40 while learning English.

Eugene Ionesco was one of the more acclaimed playwrights of the “Theatre of the Absurd” movement of the mid-20th Century (along with Samuel Beckett).

Ionesco did not begin his career as a playwright, though. Originally, his works were poetry and literary criticism. He did not write his first play until he was in his 40s. The origin of that first play is fascinating.
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Did a Play About Daniel Boone Invent the Fiction That he Wore Coonskin Caps?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: The idea that Daniel Boone wore coonskin caps came from an 1822 theater production about Boone.

Actor Fess Parker portrayed both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in popular television series (the latter was a mini-series), with both characters wearing coonskin caps.

Crockett came first and made coonskin caps big business in the United States and the United Kingdom, with it becoming practically a staple of young boys, but Boone continued the trend with the hit 1960s TV series.

Here is Parker as Boone…

(click on the image of Boone to enlarge)

The problem was that while Crockett definitely did, in fact, wear a coonskin cap (at least a times), Boone hated them. He wore felted beaver hats. He felt that coonskin caps for “uncivilized.”

And the weird thing is, we really don’t know exactly how we got from “Boone hated coonskin caps” to “Boone wore coonskin caps all the time,” which was part of the Daniel Boone myth well before Fess Parker started to play him on television.
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Was Tennessee Williams’ First Published Work in the Pages of Weird Tales?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Tennessee Williams’ first published standalone work was a story in the pulp magazine, Weird Tales!

Tennessee Williams is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th Century (and one of the most celebrated American playwrights without qualification).

Between 1944 and 1960, he wrote some of the most famous plays in the history of American Theater…

And his first professional standalone work?

It appeared in the pages of Weird Tales magazine!
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Was the Word Robot First Coined in a Early 20th Century Czech Play?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Karel Čapek coined the word “robot” in a play.

Karel Čapek was one of the notable writers in Czechoslovakia during the 20th Century, and he was especially noteworthy when it comes to science fiction, as while he likely would not be technically termed a “science fiction writer,” he surely had a science fiction-tinge to his work, which is especially notable for a guy whose most notable plays all came during the 1920s.

Čapek was a harsh critic of Nazi Germany, and devoted much of his work in the 1930s to criticizing the Nazis. He refused to leave the country when it became pretty clear that the Nazis were coming, and he died of double pneumonia in December 1938, just as the Nazis were annexing part of his homeland.

Perhaps his most famous play was called R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which is about, well, robots.

And it is from this play that the term “robot” (an artificial, manufactured human-like being) is derived.

So over the years, you would see stuff like (from this site):

He coined the frequently used international word robot, which first appeared in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1920.

and

Etymological note: Robota is a Czech cognate of the German word arbeit (“work”), from the Indo-European root *orbh-. It is usually translated as “serf” or “forced labor” and was the name used for the so-called “labor rent” which existed in Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1848. From this word K. Čapek created the word robot = a working or serving machine.

The etymological roots pointed above are spot on, but what’s INcorrect is that it was not Karel Čapek who coined the term Continue reading “Was the Word Robot First Coined in a Early 20th Century Czech Play?”

Did Bob Cummings Pretend to be British to Get a Broadway Role?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Bob Cummings pretended to be from England to get a role on Broadway.

Bob Cummings was a popular actor with a career that stretched a number of decades, from the stage to the screen to television.

He’s probably best known for his critically acclaimed (and popular) sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show, that ran from 1955-1959, where he plays a womanizing photographer.

The show launched the career of Ann B. Davis, as she won two Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for her work on the program (years before she was Alice on The Brady Bunch).

Cummings had a successful film career during the 1940s, with King’s Row….

and Saboteur probably being his two most notable roles…

(he was most popular as a comedic actor, but his dramatic films have seemed to stand the test of time a bit better – he also had a co-starring role in the classic drama Dial M for Murder).

An experienced and talented pilot, Cummings tried to fit that background into many of the roles he took (including his character on The Bob Cummings Show)…

But what’s at issue here is how Cummings got his start in show business period.

You see, when Cummings was a young man in the early 1930s, he was not having a very good go at getting a job as an actor in New York on the theater circuit. Then, as it remains true now, I suppose, British actors were the “hot” ticket on Broadway, so Cummings devised a rather devious plan.
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Did Shakespeare Leave Stratford-on-Avon Because He Was Arrested for Poaching Deer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: William Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon in the mid 1580s because he was arrested for poaching deer.

For centuries now, there has been one part of Shakespeare’s life that just doesn’t seem to be accounted for.

He was married at age 18 to the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in 1582. They had three children, born in 1583 and 1585.

The next time anyone has definitive information about Shakespeare is when he popped up on the London theater scene in 1592.

Every story that has come about to explain what happened in those seven years originated years after Shakespeare’s death, but one particular popular one involved deer poaching.

As the story goes, and this was offered up by four separate biographies of Shakespeare in the 1700s, Shakespeare, who had a grudge against Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, which was right across the river to Stratford. Shakespeare mocked Lucy in two separate plays.

So the legend is that Shakespeare was caught deer poaching on Lucy’s deer park at Charlecote and left Stratford for London to avoid punishment (an alternate to this legend includes Shakespeare being caught and whipped and then sent from Stratford).
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Did the Pulitzer Prize Committee Choose to Award No Prize Rather Than Award Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: The Pulitzer Prize Committee chose to award no Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1963 rather than to give it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the more remarkable works of drama in the 20th Century.

The play was first staged in 1962.

The story takes place at the home of George and Martha, a history professor at a college and his wife, the daughter of the president of the college. They have taken a new professor and his mousy wife out to dinner and are now back at George and Martha’s place for more drinks. The night continues as George and Martha slowly descend into a tirade of increasingly violent behavior towards each other.

Albee wished to take a darn look at the “standard” American couple and show the darkness hidden behind a typical white heterosexual couple in the early 60s.

The play opened to widespread acclaim.

It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play.

However much acclaim it attracted, though, it attracted the same amount of controversy. The play contained copious amounts of profanity and sexual references. In 1962-63, that was still quite shocking.

It was SO shocking that it resulted in a similarly shocking result when the 1963 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.
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