• Sylvie Drake

    This Harrison Berry piece is a fascinating read, especially in its detailed account of the emerging differences in the male and female performances. But there is one oversight in the piece that needs mentioning.

    In riffing though the number of women who have played that title role in Hamlet, he overlooked one of the greats: Eva Le Gallienne. True, she only did it for a brief run in 1937, safely ensconced in a summer stock destination at The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA, opposite a very young Uta Hagen’s Ophelia (see pp. 245-247 in Helen Sheehy’s biography of LeG). While the overall production was described as uneven, LeG and Hagen were good enough for Lee Shubert to offer to present the production for a limited Broadway run and then send it on a national tour.

    It was one of the extremely rare occasions when Le Gallienne’s gumption failed her and she turned him down. Perhaps wisely. Sheehy quotes LeG as saying “For the first time in my life I felt vulnerable…” She goes on to state that Le Gallienne “didn’t want to face the publicity and press attention that would engulf a female Hamlet, or the comparisons with John Gielgud and Leslie Howard who had played Hamlet in New York the year before…” and had received mixed reviews. The biographer gives more reasons why Le Gallienne demurred, but adds that she “would always be ashamed of her cowardice in doing so.”

    Thank goodness times have changed.