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I have made three unsuccessful efforts to telephone you - two of these on
successive Sundays. I think you must have disappeared altogether in the
Murk. I forget for what date you got your tickets to Othello3. In the meantime
Yehudi4 made a second desperate
effort and succeeded. He played a concert in Washington5, got the midnight train, found that his
stateroom had been commandeered for an ambassador, sat up all night, and got
in here at about 10 o'clock in the morning. He had a nap, and marshalled Edith6 and me to the theater
that evening. He had already seen
the play twice, but he was determined that we should see it.
¶You see, it was at his mother7's apartment that I first met
Paul Robeson8. Yehudi was a boy of
fourteen then and the family spent every winter in a big apartment in the
Ansonia Hotel. Marutha (Yehudi's mother) invited Robeson and Olin Downes9 and me for dinner one evening.
She had just come back from Switzerland10, where Mrs.
Robeson11 was living (because Paul's son12 was in school there). She wanted to give him
tidings of his wife. On my way across the park I was wondering whether I
might feel a bit "Southern" in such mixed company. But the moment one meets
Robeson, one loses everything except the flash that always comes when one
first meets a truly great personality. His manners are perfect, because he
is so natural - he
or what effect he will make. In
"domestic" conversation he has the most beautiful speaking voice I can
remember. In Othello he has very little
opportunity to use this intimate voice, but you do get it when he lands in
Cyprus13 and greets Desdemona - a
very short scene but one of the most beautiful in the play.
Of course, I knew Robeson's impersonation14 was a very fine one. Before this war it made a
great sensation all over Europe15.
His reading of the part was ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ about what I felt sure it
would be. But for me, the real surprise and thrill of the evening was
Uta Hägen16. Although so young, she
is a celebrated Scandinavian actress, and I expected a little of
that thick accent. But she speaks
the most beautiful
English, and her interpretation was a revelation. I had
never seen the stage play before .,
though I have heard Verdi17's opera18 many times and I have heard good vocalists sing the part,
were always distinctly mature, if not matronly. And when this lovely young
thing came in, terrified before
the Doge, my heart took a double beat. The fact is she is not lovely at all
- a rather plain, peaked, starved little thing, like Markova19. But her beautiful conception of the part is so
strong that it shines through her, like a candle through a horn globe. And
she grows lovelier with every act,
until the last terrible one. When, after the arrival of the deputation from
Venice20, Othello strikes her,
she does the most beautiful fall I have ever seen on the stage. And it isn't
a trick fall, either. I am sure that she must have taken lessons from some
of the Russian ballet people, because she acts
body. It is no mixture of
"gestures" and "elocution". I would have gone to the theater again to see
her before this, if I didn't have my right hand21 in its little aluminum brace22
again. It has been strapped
up ever since New Year's. It is a hard punishment to bear, and inhibits me in almost everything. I haven't
done anything wicked, except that I was having a good fling at work about