Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bogie's Hartford Debut

New England theatergoers used to have the reputation of “sitting on their hands” or being reserved in their expression of appreciation for a performance.

In the case of “The Petrified Forest” which made its world premiere in Hartford in December 1934, the polite review in the New York Times gave no real indication of the impact the play would have on audiences, such that it lead to the eventual movie stardom of Humphrey Bogart.

“Leslie Howard delighted an audience that filled Parson’s Theatre here tonight at the world premiere of Robert E. Sherwood’s latest play ‘The Petrified Forest’,” began the review of December 21st, “Ably supported by a well-balanced cast of nineteen that included Peggy Conklin, Blanche Sweet, Humphrey Bogart, and Charles Dow Clark.”

In the biography “Bogart” by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax (William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1977), the tryout performance in Hartford is recalled a bit more dramatically, “…the company became aware of how compelling Bogart was as Mantee. Audiences literally gasped when he entered with his two days’ growth of beard and prison pallor, his shuffling gait and menacing mannerisms.”

The play opened on Broadway a couple of weeks later in January 1935. A New England audience seemed to have shucked at least some of its reserve on at least this occasion and picked a winner.

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