13 Chesterfield Hill
November 2, 1951
Thanks so much for your cable last night. We’ve been at such a pitch of excitement, we don’t know if we’re coming or going, and at last the first night is over! I’ll try to cover all in this letter but it won’t be easy.
Wib is a huge success in this part, I have never heard him sing so beautifully as he is doing in this role. The audience loved him. Wib sounds like Tibbetts in his best days. He’s made his recordings for Columbia and we’re shipping you a set right away. Don’t worry, I’ll get Columbia to pack them right so they’re not broken.
Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and Noel Coward all came back together afterwards to see Wib, were really sincere in they’re praise. Noel Coward and Olivier went on and on about his beautiful performance. Wib had the cream of the audience in his room! At the party afterwards, many of the cast members told us that none of these people wouldn’t have bothered unless they really meant it. Dick Rodgers told me that he thinks this is Wib’s big moment, that he his wonderful in the show, feeling it’s the beginning of a new career for him. I like Olivier very much. A simple, sweet man.
Mary Martin is really playing the role of star to the hilt. She has been wonderful to Wib, but brother her curtain speech last night was the corniest thing I’ve ever heard….. “At last I’m back at Drury Lane, etc, etc. And holding back the tears VISIBLY, acting like the great star of the century. God! What an idea of herself she’s got! She thinks she’s Duse! She is very good in her part, personality plus. This grand manner she’s got. She wants to run it all. The director had a terrible time with her. She had hysterics two nights before opening because the director (Joshua Logan, who is wonderful) wanted to change two or three little pieces of her business. She cried and sobbed in her dressing room, carried on like a nut in front of Rodgers and Hammerstein, two guys who are the salt of the earth. Poor Wib! He’s had fifty different people directing him. He would stand on the stage with Martin and Josh Logan, Logan would tell him one thing to do and then she would whisper to Wib “No, do this..” Honestly, have you ever heard of anything so unprofessional? I took Logan aside and he told RandH. I think they settled her goose down.
The audience was wonderful, boisterous ovations for everyone. They’re sold out until May and everyone (including the critics) thinks it will run three years at least. Wib’s contract is such is that he must stay at least a year AFTER Mary leaves.
The Drury Lane Theatre is wonderful, probably the most famous theatre in the world. There have been plays produced here since the 1600’s, including Shakespeare’s. It’s amazing! The acoustics’ are the best I’ve ever heard.
The situation here is not to good, I’m sorry to say I think England’s days as the power she once was, are over. We’re on the rationing set-up but it isn’t as bad as some would make you think. We eat meat about once a week, the rest of the time it’s chicken or fish which isn’t rationed. Sometimes we can only get four eggs for the week and that’s for all three of us (and Mrs. Thomas). Lately, I was able to get some guinea hen’s eggs which seems to like anyway. They’re not rationed but cost 9 pence a piece! Michael is the one I’m always concerned about. I’ve sent for a supply of Gerber’s over a month ago but hasn’t arrived yet (any day now).The availability of fruits here is almost nil. We can get fresh oranges but they are very expensive, but poor people just can’t afford them. The strained fruits; peaches etc for babies you can’t get at all. Apples, plums and prunes are about it. You can’t get strained meats for babies either. I’ve sent for them as well. They tell us you can ship steaks by air. They pack them in dry ice and will arrive in two days. It’s expensive, I think we should do it once and awhile. It’s be awful nice to see a nice sirloin for Wib and a filet mignon for me! Ah! Guess we’re just those spoiled Americans!
Michael has been much better since his sick spell at the Connaught. He still gets me up at night for a bottle a couple of times a night. It’s his teething that’s bothering him, the milk I think comforts him. He’s going to be tall and strong. At nine months old I picked him up and carried him across the room and he picked up the typewriter case(minus the typewriter) by the handle and carried it along to the next room. The little dickens is very strong! He lifts and pushes things all day long. He’s really cute. Speaking of typewriter cases, he’s definitely got a case on his mother, too!
Gee, I’ll be smart for a change and stop here, then maybe I’ll get to mail it instead of letting it sit in the typewriter for a week. Write soon and so will I. Lots of Love, Suzy
Opening night-my father writes on the back of this photo: ‘WE-London-1951 to 1953’
“South Pacific” Drury Lane Theatre, as the French Planter- “DeBecque”. “The first three people to enter my dressing room on opening night were Noel Coward, Vivian Leigh and her husband Sir Laurence Olivier—who told me he loved my conception of my part!! A very high compliment from the worlds leading actor!”
Hollywood (28) California, Friday, November 2, 1951
‘So. Pacific’ London Smash; Mary Martin, Evans Wow ‘Em
London, November. 1.—“South Pacific,” practically an assured hit in advance, bowled over tonight’s premiere audience at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as one of the biggest smashes in years.
Mary Martin, repeating the Nellie Forbush role she originated in the Broadway production made a terrific personal impact, receiving a tremendous ovation and being compelled to repeat some of her numbers after the final curtain.
In a charming and moving curtain speech she thanked the audience and expressed gratitude to “Those Wonderful Guys,” Rodgers and Hammerstein, both present.
Wilbur Evans, in the part of Emil de Becque, created on Broadway by Ezio Pinza, also scored with fine voice and excellent stage presence, making an admirable partner for Miss Martin.
In general, the vigorous number like “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” and “Honey Bun” went over better than the ballads, although “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair”, with Miss Martin taking a shower on stage, and then clicking with “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” also got enthusiastic response.
Josh Logan’s staging of the show, particularly the arranging for no encores, gave an added pace never before seen by London audiences, who are used to holding up a performance with repeated choruses.
This ecstatic opening, with the Drury Lane Theatre sold out six months with $460, 000 advance, obviously assures “Pacific” as one of the major hits in West End history and means the Rodgers-Hammerstein occupancy of this celebrated theatre, already extending over five years with “Oklahoma!” and “Carousal,” will be continued indefinitely.
Rodgers, whose wife is recovering from an operation in a NY hospital, is returning home immediately, but Hammerstein and Logan are remaining a few weeks. Incidentally, Jinx Falkenberg planed over for the opening to record dressing room interviews with Miss Martin, Evans, Rodgers, Hammerstein and Logan for use on the “Tex and Jinx” program.
New York Times November 2, 1951
MARY MARTIN WINS CHEERS IN BRITAIN
Londoners Spend ‘Enchanted Evening’ Watching her
‘Wash That Man Out of My Hair’
Special to The New York Times
London, Nov. 1—For Mary Martin this was “Some Enchanted Evening” and a triumphal one as well. The distinguished audience, glittering with diamonds and swathed in mink, that gathered at the Drury Lane Theatre to see the long awaited opening of seemed determined to “Never Let Her Go.”
The cheers and applause that brought her back to the stage time after time after the last curtain had fallen must have sounded sweet in her ears and gone far toward drowning out the memory of her part in Noel Coward’s unsuccessful “Pacific 1860,” her last London production.
In a curtain speech Miss Martin thanked those “wonderful guys,” Rodgers and Hammerstein and others connected with the play and it’s London production for “making my dream come true.”
Wilbur Evans, in the part created by Ezio Pinza in the New York production was warmly received by an audience that repeatedly stopped the show with it’s applause and shouted approval.
Robust Songs Are Successful
Muriel Smith as Bloody Mary and Betta St. John as her daughter, Liat, won the hearts of the audience with their graceful pantomime and the finger dance accompanying “Happy Talk.”
On the whole, the more robust songs, such as “Nothing Like a Dame,” and “Honey Bun,” aroused the greatest enthusiasm, although Miss Martin’s wet-haired cavorting about the stage after “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” evoked applause that delayed the proceedings for several minutes.
With my father-London's Hyde Park
The “South Pacific” company avoided some of the pitfalls that has overtaken other productions of American musicals here. Despite the volume of applause that greeted the conclusion of each number, there were no encores. London audiences are prone to interrupt before the last bar of a song is sung and thereby slow down the split second timing from pathos to comedy that is such an essential part of the new type of American comedy.
On the whole the audience seemed less responsive to the lyrical and sentimental numbers, like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Younger Than Springtime.” But since everything is relative it should be reported that the decibels recorded for these were for these were slightly higher than enthusiastic London audiences are wont to accord well-sung originals songs in British productions.
From Wib to Susanna's dad...
13 Chesterfield Hill
December 7, 1951
We were so glad to hear from you—your letter arrived this morning. Thanks for the wire on Suzy’s birthday. I gave her a charm bracelet and the whole gang had dinner, we had *23 candles to make her feel younger. We have dinner everyday at 4pm so that I can be nearly empty when we start—curtain goes up at 7pm every night—off Sunday. We’re thru by 10pm, not bad! We’ve settled in for a long run—to sold out houses. Mary is basically Ok—her husband, The Manager is the guy with the star complex for he spends every moment creating a star aura! We know well how to handle a such a man—so don’t worry!
Sorry you’ve not been well and feeling depressed. Here is some news that might cheer you. Suzy had a cable yesterday from our manager—asking if she’d be interested in coming back to Hollywood to make a picture with Tony Martin at R.K.O.—tentative starting date Jan 2—It would mean I’d be here alone for 3 or 4 months—but Suzy would make a lot of money—get lots of things she needs and perahps you could help her find some income property in Los Angeles—like an apartment complex—say six to eight—that would provide a place for us to return to—you could manage it and have your own apartment—no more work at Packard-Bell. How does that sound? Then we’ll buy a house for the family. As soon as we hear the details (RKO) we’ll let you know. I have so much tax to pay here I don’t think I’ll end up with much of anything to show for hard work! We have arranged to send some money to New York so we can get our bills paid up! Believe me this government watches American artist’s tax returns like wolves. We are sending you the Columbia records I made here with Martin—they should be along soon. Let me know when you get them and if they are all whole. I had Columbia pack and ship them. Overall, things aren’t too bad here in London—we do eat rather well considering. Mrs. Thomas can really cook, can make anything taste good. The only things we never get are sirloin steaks and good Scotch whiskey! Imagine so close to Scotland and no Scotch!
With my nanny, 'Mrs. Thomas' from New Jersey (and SF).
Sorry to hear of poor Cov’s illness and Vicki’s wreck—bad vibrations must be lived thru so we can enjoy the good ones.
No one we meet talks about the new govrnt. This country is really on it’s economic knees and will naturally have to come to America for more Dollars!
Russia is the smart one—they plan to bankrupt the Democracies and win without a war! Maybe the only hope for us is to buy some cheap low tax land, build a log cabin, raise our food and ‘brood’ and to hell with everybody.
Take care of yourself, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write at length before this—but I’m sure you’re the one who understands! We all send love to our Dad and Granddad! WOW! Affectionately, Wib
*Susanna's 27th birthday.
Kathleen’s mental illness begins to rears it’s ugly head: There are many hospitalizations, including the Neuroiatric Institute in Chicago, Kankakee State Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois, Camarillo State Hospital, Norwalk State Hospital both in California. During one period it was Kankakee to Camarillo back to Kankakee and back to Camarillo. Les’s support and love for her was unwavering. He followed Kathleen wherever she went with letters, phone calls, car and bus rides, trying to help his daughter. There are many letters from Haskell to Kathleen, Kathleen to her Dad and other family members (far too many to put here…although a sampling from the archives I have added). Haskell adored Kathleen, hoped and waited for her.
Lester Lamont Larson is on a small pension, lives in a modest apartment in downtown L.A., and is now sixty eight years old.
From Susanna to Vickie...
December 27, 1951
13 Chesterfield Hill
London W,1, England
I have been at my wit’s end since receiving the news about Sister. I just received a Christmas card from Marie Porter telling me in a nonchalant way that Sister is in the hospital and the baby is with Haskell’s boss. She says that Sister is in the Chicago Psychopathic Hospital, is this true!? I’m worried sick. I cabled Haskell asking him to call me, but have yet to hear anything. Between your letter and Marie’s card this is all I know.
Yes, as you say, Kathleen must have the best medical attention. This is such a worry because of all the quacks that are in that business. And the little baby! What a terrible shame for him to be separated from his mother. I wrote Haskell that if I come to the States that I would take care of him until Kathleen gets well. But the baby really should be near his father and his mother. If it’s possible, I think that
would be the best. I hope when Dad gets there, he can arrange this. Please show him this letter. Dad, be sure that the baby is near his father, for everybody’s sake. The home must be maintained. It will probably be several months before Kathleen gets back to her old self. I’m so upset by this news right now I’m not very coherent.
I haven’t heard anymore about the RKO pic except that they were pleased that I was available and as soon as they had a completed script they would send it. Please write soon, lots of love Suzy
PS: I’m pleased you like this boy. He sounds swell. Mother wrote me about him too. Let me know how it goes.
From Vickie to Haskell...
December 29, 1951
Los Angeles, Calif.
Dear Dad, Haskell and Imogene,
It’s so important that you try to absorb everything that I have to say here. Dad, I went out to your apartment today with Dick to get all your mail including Haskell’s letter. After having read Haskell’s eloquent letter, I began to understand Kathleen’s situation better. I believe Haskell understands Kathleen’s difficulties better than anyone, he’s facing this dead on with insight and courage, which sometimes isn’t easy with the one you love. I broke down in the car and believe me if it hadn’t been for Dick I would’ve gone to pieces. He’s a wonderful kid, very much like Kathleen, extremely sensitive, and so easily hurt. Please tell Kathy about him. He’s very much in love with me, I guess I feel the same but I’m afraid to fall in love right now.
Kathleen needs the best treatment available, and believe me a cure will not happen in a week or two. This breakdown probably has been brewing for months if not years. It’s so important that we face this with intelligence and clarity. Eliminating as best we can, the anxiety and emotions around the whole situation. Pacifying or coddling Kathleen for our own short term satisfaction maybe the most detrimental thing we can do in guaranteeing Kathleen’s definitive cure. Believe me, I know how it’s killing you to have to put her in an institution, but Dad it’s the only solution right now. It’s up to you Haskell and the best psychiatrist available to bring Kathleen to this realization in the most delicate way possible. In the meantime, you’ve got to build her up with eggnog and all the nourishing food you can get her to take. The psychiatrist must be the best in Chicago, one who would gain Kathleen’s confidence, reassuring her in a clever way, the idea of going to a hospital would cease to terrorize her. Perhaps I’m wrong but now that you have removed her, taking her back would be a terrible mistake.
I’m confident that she will recover with the proper treatment. Not only will she recover but she will ultimately be the person she has been striving to be so desperately for so long.
Sure, life is full of disappointments. With all of it’s intricacies, everything can easily become overwhelming to a highly intelligent and sensitive person like Kathleen. She delved and analyzed with no defense to her discoveries. In other words we all have defense mechanisms to prevent us from breaking. Kathleen has no tangible defense, she must be educated to relegate the various problems that confuse and bother all of us.
I started my new job last week and while it’s difficult I like it much better. I have to find my birth certificate, as the work is mainly government contracts, and of course it’s all very hush-hush, as if I could steal anything, ye Gods I scarcely know what I’m doing. The people are very nice and the place is loaded with good looking men (much to Dick’s disdain). There are many music lovers; a very nice tenor, a baritone, aspiring ballerina, etc. Dick takes Connie and I to lunch everyday. We’re probably seeing to much of each other. I think he’s getting a little too serious, he seems to get a hurt so easily., I have to constantly watch what I have to say. I am fond of him, but I can’t see myself getting married for at least a couple of years.The trouble with it all is that he wants to absorb all my time. But I have to admit it’s real nice to have someone’s shoulder to lean on, particularly now. I told him how I felt about all this and of course he pouted with his puppy dog look.
Well I’m signing off, I hope 1952 will bring good mental and physical health to Kathleen. How is the baby? How does she feel being separated from him? I’m enclosing a letter from Suzanne as I think she covers the whole matter very well. Loads of love to all,Vicki
PS: Dad I have something to tell you about Mother, it’s typical.
Susanna Foster Evans 13, Chesterfield Hill.
January 3, 1952
I’m so upset by this thing I can’t sleep or eat, my stomach races all the time.
Your letter sounded so sad, it makes me sick that I can’t be in Chicago. I’ve been racking my brain on some way we could get Sister into a private sanitarium. If only I had some money. Please find out more from Haskell on the apparent exorbitant fees these places require--$800 a month!? There must be ways and means around this, we must find a way. Kathleen must have the best possible treatment. The best doctor is the most important thing. Please check more on the use of shock treatments. Most of the top flight specialists look upon this as outmoded, and in some cases detrimental to the patients recovery. Please be sure that the doctor is the BEST.
I guess this all sounds like “instructions.” But Dad, this is not how I mean it. I have read some on psychiatry and this is what I have gleaned. You are doing the best possible thing you can right now for Kathleen. Please stay on the scene in Chicago and try to keep a close eye on Sister’s treatment. Get the “low-down.” Wib said we can send you $20 a week which can maintain you to some degree. In the meantime I’m sending something on the $100 I owe you.
The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas is one of the finest in America and perhaps in the world. Please look into it, see if it’s possible to get Sister there. I understand these men are a remarkable group who have done much to advance psychiatry. If I could have just one wish for Sister, this is where I would have her go. Talk to Dr. Harry, and don’t let him poo-poo you on it. Write Menninger and find out what we can do.
First Steps-London Town
Along with Haskell, I am optimistic about Sister’s recovery. Believe me, Dad. There’s no doubt about it. I’ll write Dr. Patty in Los Angeles and ask for his advice. He’s a thoughtful man. And may have some ideas. It may be that they have an excellent at Elgin, Try to find out more on this place.
I wish there is something I could say or do to comfort you, feeling so torn and sick the way you do. I feel the same, but I guess there really is nothing else that can really help but to see Sister well and herself again. Please don’t get too depressed. Dad, the thing that’s going to see Sister through is perseverance to make her get well.
I’m supposed to have my tonsils out this month, and believe me, as soon as I can sing I’ll make every effort to make money, send it all to you to care for Sister. It makes me sick that it was all within my grasp, and now that I need it for her, I don’t have it.
Try and keep a stiff upper lip and remember that I’m thinking of you and Kathleen constantly, I’m praying for the best. Try and have FAITH. Dad, THINK very hard and make the right thing come true. If we all think hard enough about HOW to get her well, she will get well. Kathleen is NOT a raving maniac. Lots of love, Suzy
PS: Dad, I just thought: It might be wise to have Kathleen’s cheek examined or x-rayed again. There’s the possibility that there might be some pressure on the brain from that growth. It is non-malignant and could be chipped away if necessary. Also she should have a complete physical examination, there could be other physical reasons for all this, too. Love, Suzy