Horror! Hollywood! Halloween 1952

31 10 2017

On October 31, 1952, four Hollywood actors dressed in fine suits and a beautiful dress stood on a bare stage with only four microphones stands and stools. The actors had scripts and only rose to read their parts. The reading seemed simple and unembellished, but the actors’ voices made it feel like they were in Hell, observing Don Juan and the Devil. On that cool, windy Halloween night, a group known as “The First Drama Quartette” performed Don Juan in Hell by George Bernard Shaw. The cast included four people: Charles Boyer as Don Juan, Vincent Price as the Devil, Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the Statue, and Agnes Moorehead as Donna Anna. The play was directed by Charles Laughton and produced by Paul Gregory.

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Vincent Price as “The Devil.” Vincent autographed the photo and it reads, “With all my best thanks, ever Vincent Price”, 1952. (A006667)

Don Juan in Hell is actually part of a four-act drama called, Man and Superman, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1903. Shaw wrote the play in response to people wanting a Don Juan-themed play. When the play was first performed in 1905, the third act was omitted. The play wasn’t performed entirely until 1915. The third act, Don Juan in Hell, is usually removed because it is a play amongst itself. The act is quite long and is completely different from the rest of Man and Superman since it is a nonrealistic dream episode consisting of Don Juan having a philosophical debate with the Devil.

 

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Agnes Moorehead as “Donna Anna”, 1952. (A006668)

Even though Halloween seemed to be the perfect time to perform this reading, it wasn’t the first time the reading was performed on campus. On March 1, 1951, Don Juan in Hell performed but with one difference. Instead of Vincent Price playing the role of the Devil, it was Charles Laughton. It is unknown why Laughton stepped down from playing the Devil, but he continued to be director of the play. At the 1951 event, 3,500 people came out to the Auditorium to witness the performance. According to the State News, Laughton said the bare stage with only the functional equipment was the best possible setting for this reading. Hardwicke, a long-time friend of George Bernard Shaw said, “I believe he would have liked it this way” in reference to the staging of the play.

 

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Charles Boyer as “Don Juan”, 1952. (A006669)

The programs and wonderful publicity photos of the cast are part of a small collection located in the Archives, the Barbara Van Baalen Papers, UA 17.246. In this collection are dozens of publicity photos, some signed by the performer him or herself. Van Baalen was secretary to Stanley Crowe, Dean of Students at Michigan State College. Crowe was also the Director of the Summer School and Director of the Lecture-Concert Series, which brought national acts to MSC for performances. Because of her association with Crowe, Van Baalen was able to get autographs from many of the performers. Included in this collection are programs related to the Lecture-Concert Series, souvenir programs, campus related documents, and musical related magazines. The photo of Charles Laughton is from the 1954 Wolverine yearbook, when Laughton and Gregory once again visited campus to offer a chance to see a pre-Broadway opening of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial staring Henry Fonda, John Hodiak, and Lloyd Nolan.

 

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Sir Cedric Hardwicke as “The Statue”, 1952. (A006670)

Looking back, it now almost seems serendipitous for those actors to be performing a play that takes place in Hell on Halloween night. While already famous, the actors played or would later appear in horror films or play a role that is associated with characters of Halloween. Vincent Price appeared in the House of Wax, The Fly, adaptation movies of Edgar Allen Poe stories, Edward Scissorhands, and was the voice over for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Charles Boyer appeared in the mystery-thriller Gaslight, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1934. Sir Cedric Hardwicke played Judge Jean Frollo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame and starred in the Ghost of Frankenstein as Ludwig von Frankenstein. Agnes Moorehead appeared in the Bat (alongside with Vincent Price), Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and played Endora, Samantha’s witch mother on Bewitched. Charles Laughton played Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Dr. Moreau in the Island of Lost Souls.

 

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Charles Laughton was the director of “Don Juan in Hell” and originally played “The Devil”, 1954. (People 1743)

While this blog didn’t tell of a ghost story or of a sinister murder that happened on campus some past Halloween’s ago, it does tell how for one Halloween night, the people that portrayed such witches, misunderstood creatures, and evil souls brought those characters to life on campus!

 

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Those who would like to view Barbara Van Baalen papers are welcome to visit the MSU Archives’ Reading Room during our research hours: http://archives.msu.edu/about/contact.php. The inventory for the Van Baalen Papers is available online: http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua17-246.html.

For more Halloween related stories see:

https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/rumor-has-it/

https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/spooky-stories-from-the-msu-archives/

https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/more-spooky-stories-from-the-msu-archives/

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Exhibit/1-6-13/campus-legends-and-myths/

To hear a recording of Don Juan in Hell performed by Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Agnes Moorehead, visit this YouTube channel provided by Orchard Enterprises, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymDBP9LiATo.

Sources

“’Don Juan’ Crackles with Shaw’s Wit,” The State News, November 3, 1952. East Lansing, Michigan.

https://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KLAN/1952/10/31/DailyHistory.html?req_city=East+Lansing&req_state=MI&req_statename=Michigan&reqdb.zip=48824&reqdb.magic=1&reqdb.wmo=99999

Laughton, Charles. #1743, People Photograph Collection. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Lecture Concert Series Programs, 1948-1952, Box 1991, Folder 4, Barbara Van Baalen Papers, UA 17.246, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Michigan State College/University Lecture Concert Series Programs, 1949-1957, F.D., Box 1, Norman Penlington Papers, UA 17.85, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Photographs, Box 1919, Folders 96, 99, and 102, Barbara Van Baalen Papers, UA 17.246, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

“Quartette Stirs Audience by Voice Quality Alone,” The State News, March 2, 1951. East Lansing, Michigan.

Wikipedia. Don Juan in Hell. Man and Superman. Charles Laughton. Agnes Moorehead. Cedric Hardwicke. Charles Boyer. Vincent Price. Paul Gregory.

Wolverine Yearbook, 1954. Pg. 178-179. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist

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