Once upon a time there was a little girl with three wishes:
1) She would grow in loveliness…She became renown for her physical beauty and beloved for her beauty within.
2) She would become an actress…She conquered the stage all the way to Broadway and became an integral part of the Gold Age of Television. She was acclaimed as one of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest with multi awards including an Oscar.
3) She wanted to be a princess…She married her charming prince and together they ruled in their tiny Principality by the sea.
For twenty two years Princess Grace of Monaco, nee Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, devoted herself to her husband, her three children, and her charity work; but she still had a hidden desire to return, if only for a brief time, to the life she left behind. She considered an invitation by Alfred Hitchcock to star in another movie, but decided against it. She did however find a niche in poetry readings, and combined them with raising money for charity.
She returned to her homeland in the production of BIRDS, BEASTS AND FLOWERS, with Richard Pasco, a lead actor in the Royal Shakespeare Company. The proceeds went for the World Wildlife Foundation. There was six stops on the tour, five in major cities in the East, and one at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, thanks to the magical promotion art of Dennis Babcock, creator of the Theater Live Series at the Guthrie.
I and the other two hands got at the theater at one P.M.. It was an easy set up, an ornate chair for the Princess and a less decorative chair for Richard Pasco, and a table within reach of both of them. The furniture, selected by Jack Donough, resident designer, was brought over from the warehouse in the morning. We placed it in the best location on the thrust stage. Bruce, the Guthrie coordinator for the show, gave me the lighting plot, a plot for a proscenium stage, which I would have to translate into the lighting for the thrust. Basically, I had everything already. I just had to put BA gel in the white lights and hang one special for a reading Pasco wanted to do on the SR top step. I was just about to go up-top when a booming basso profundo voice stopped me.
‘I am Harrison, the impresario of this production.’ It came from a very large distinguished looking gentleman coming down the center aisle. Although I had never know anyone who called himself an impresario, this man certainly looked the part, and his voice spoke with authority.
Bruce met him as he stepped up on the stage. ‘Mr. Harrison,’ Bruce said sticking out his hand,’ I am Bruce…’
‘Harrison, just Harrison,’ the man corrected Bruce. ‘And you will have to speak up. I hurt the hearing in my right ear in the War, and right now, the hearing in the left is suffering from the plane flight.’
Bruce explained that the lighting plot that was sent had to be revised for the thrust state, a concept that bothered Harrison, who wasn’t familiar with a ‘thrust’ stage; but he condensed to hold off criticism until we could prove that the lights would work.
I went up-top and began to gel the necessary lamps. I had to climb up and down in each of the coves as well as hang out over the center cove. It took time. I heard Harrison ask how soon it would be done. Bruce hollered up and I told him soon. I was almost finished with the gel when Bruce asked again, and again I said soon.
Richard Pasco was standing in his special place and I was in the process of hanging the instrument when Bruce hollered at me again. This time he wanted to see the special I had for Pasco, who was reciting a reading from Genesis, “And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,”he said with his best Shakespearian delivery.
And again, Bruce hollered up to ask if I was done with the lights yet.
And I hollered down at Bruce, ‘Yeah, God said let there be light, but He gave the electrician enough time to hang the instrument.’
Pasco looked up and laughed. ‘Good catch, Don.’ and he gave me a thumbs up.
‘Hey! What’s going on?’ I saw that Harrison was moving the chair for the princess far upstage. ‘Bruce, Joe, somebody, stop him.’ Nobody did. I got to the stage as quick as I could and tried to explain to Harrison that he was screwing the set up.
Harrison just looked at me. ‘I apologize if I offended your union by moving the chair…’
‘Union, smunion,’ I yelled in his face, ‘You’re on a thrust stage and moving that chair upstage like that means about only about one fifth of the audience will be able to the princess in the chair.’ Harrison gave me a ‘humph’, and I realized that even if he could hear in both of his ears, he wouldn’t listen. He was saying how the people on the sides wouldn’t be able to see the face of the princess unless the chair was moved where he put it and that was where it would stay.
There were several shop-hands and Jack the designer sitting in the center front row and I had heard a few snickers and even a ‘Princess Margaret’ remark. I turned downstage and asked Jack to help me out. Maybe he’d listen to the designer. Jack shook his head and waved off my request. Then the shop-hands wise-cracking stopped. The stiff back of Harrison sagged and his chin was touching his chest.
For most of the argument, Princess Grace had been standing unseen in the darkness upstage right and now she stepped into the light. I heard a soft voice and started to turn upstage..
‘Let me talk to him, Don,’ said the Princess, and she placed her hand on my shoulder.‘Mister Harrison,’ she said, ‘I would like to the chair where it was. On a thrust stage that is where it belongs. Richard is a veteran of the thrust stage and he and I discussed our thrust blocking as soon as we got the diagram of the stage.’
‘Oh, yes, yes, your Highness,’ Harrison said, as he did a slight bow. ‘I agree.’
He reached for the chair but I beat him to it. ‘Thank you, Pretty Lady,’ I said. I lifted the chair and whispered to Harrison it was a union move. I put it where it belonged and told Bruce I was going in the booth and would show the lighting. Both actors shouted their approval on the lights, followed by Harrison echoing his approval.
First chance Bruce had he told me that Harrison said I must address the Princess as Your Highness, not Pretty Lady. ‘Well, she was a pretty lady way before she was a highness,’ I told him, ‘And besides she and I are on a first name basis. Didn’t you hear her call me “Don”?
The show was excellent. Pasco’s readings were of beasts, such as “Tyger, Tyger”, strongly voiced, as he strode around the thrust stage. And Princess Grace read of gentle animals like dogs and old horses. Her voice was not bombastic like Pasco’s, but spoken with a softness that still projected well in the fine acoustics of the theater. The two alternated, one reading, one sitting, except for the recitation of “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Pasco voiced the owl and the princess the pussycat. The smiles on their faces showed they enjoyed their duet.
In the review of the production the critic of the New York Times said it best when talking about the return of Grace Kelly to the stage: “She looks regal, a picture postcard princess. She clearly upstaged her own performance”
I would have liked someday to have seen Pasco acting in a Shakespeare play. And I would have liked someday to have seen Grace Kelly act in any play. But like everyone in the theater that evening, I felt fortunate to have seen that one performance. And some of the audience, those who contributed greatly to the Fund, got to attend a VIP Meet and Greet in the upstairs Green Room/Dram Shop.
I was up in the coves when Pasco stepped on stage and thanked us. I was on stage about to put out the ghost light when Princess Grace came on stage to thank us.
And she came over to me and gave me a special ‘thank you, Don’. And she kissed me on the cheek and walked off. ‘Come back soon, Pretty Lady.’ She waved.
It was with great sadness when I first washed that cheek where Her Highness, Princess Grace Ranier of Monaco, nee Grace Kelly, kissed me.
She briefly came back into my life a couple years later. We were about to do a performance of HAMLET and I was sitting at the reception desk reading the paper. One of the actors, we called him Ham to his face, The Ham behind his back, went up to the stage-door man and requested that he dial the Hotel Sofitel for him. Princess Grace was in town for a board meeting of MGM, and Ham wanted to say hello. We all were surprised when Ham actually connected with her. He was a movie actor, one step above an extra, most of his roles were only a few sentences; and somewhere they had worked together and became friends. Ham talked in a very loud voice so everyone around could hear he was actually talking to Princess Grace. His hamming it up did not stop when he was off stage.
He told her he was in the cast of HAMLET at the Guthrie and how it was too bad she didn’t have time to attend a performance. He told her how disappointed he was not to have been able of attending Caroline’s wedding, but saw clips of it on TV, and commented that she was so beautiful as mother of the bride. A lot of small talk and finally he had to say goodbye, but only after extracting a promise from her that she would be sure and see a play at the Guthrie next time she came in town. He held up the phone while the people around applauded.
‘Sure, your Highness,’ he said,’I will come to the theater early tomorrow to tell Don Schoenbaum that you send your love…Oh, not Don Schoenbaum! Don, the stage electrician?’ He hollered to me with a look of surprise, ‘Don, Princess Grace sends her love.’
‘Hey, tell Pretty Lady, thanks and right back at her.’
He did in my exact words and from then on, he treated me differently. He treated me as an equal and not merely another stagehand.
The Pretty Lady never made good her promised to come back to the Guthrie because shortly afterwards she was driving in her beautiful hills of the tiny principality by the sea when she suffered a stroke and…
Jimmy Steward gave a eulogy at her funeral and concluded with: “I really love Grace Kelly. Not because she was an actress, or a princess, or a friend; but because she was about the finest lady I ever met’
The little girl had three wishes and they all came true.
R.I.P. Pretty Lady
P.S.Did I mention she kissed me on the cheek?