Tonight the Great White Way got a new star, her name is Gene Marshall! The opening night of the "new" production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" was a smash hit and will have a long run on Broadway. Miss Marshall's performance as Gwendolen was the hit of the evening. This reporter had the pleasure to spend the entire day following Miss Marshall from breakfast to her post production party following opening night.
I met Gene (she was so kind to let me call her by her first name!) at her hotel for a light breakfast. She met me at the door in a gorgeous pegnoir in the most delicate shade of light blue with sequins scatterd like stars across the voluminous skirt of the puff sleeved robe. I mentioned to her that I thought they were stars, and that she would soon join them as one herself, she chuckled in a most delightful way. When I asked her how she liked being on the stage versus the silver screen, she commented on how nice it would be to perform directly for her fans and get their appreciative applause directly instead of reading about it in the fan magazines. She said the preview audiences had been very warm and seem to have enjoyed the production. Gene also commented that playing the character of Gwendolen was easy for her. As a girl from a small town, Cos Cob, her inocence plays well on the stage. Being in New York City is quite different from the other coast, but she's closer to her family and they visit her quite often. I cut this part of the interview short because Gene had to get ready to go to the theater for final costume fittings and prepare for the opening. I thanked her and said I would see her again at the theater.
That afternoon we arrived at about the same time. I only had to wait a few minutes for the fans to get their autographs outside the stage door. Gene was dressed in a sacque dress of light wool in a pale shade of grey, it being September in New York! The scoop neck dress was gathered lightly at the waist with a tie belt and had a coordinating coat and hat. The coat was a lovely steel blue (almost matching her sparkling eyes) with trim that matched her dress. Her hat also matched beautifully. The coat was interesting, in that there were layered sleeves, better to keep her warm in the fall weather. She was kind enought to let me go back stage with her and see the set and costumes before the production started.
Her costume designer, Marsha Olson, (this doesn't mean our Marsha is old enough to have costumed Gene in 1948, just that she is that talented!) was there to do final fittings. All I can say is that Marsha is so talented that there was not a single seam that needed changing. The costumes fit perfectly. I just couldn't wait to see them on stage this evening. After handing Miss Marshall, oops...Gene, her opening night rose (and getting a peck on the cheek!) I bid my adieu and said "Break a leg" as I left, hoping that would never happen, but theater people are a bit strange at times.
That evening the crowd was wild with anticipation. The couldn't believe that their Gene Marshall was really appearing in New York on Broadway. Talking to a few of her fans was quite the experience. They were quite beside themselves with joy. I just happend to talk to a few of her friends from Cos Cob that came down to NYC for the opening night. Gene had autographed each program that was to be handed out that night. What a treat! I got mine personalized after the performance, but more about that later.
The curtain went up at precisely 8PM to a hushed full house. When Gene first appeared as Gwendolen the crowd went wild with applause. It lasted a full three minutes before Gene quieted them with her hand, afterall the show must go on. She came on stage in a very lovely walking costume that was a light shade of green trimmed in black. The skirt and the bell-like sleeves had pleated chiffon at the bottom and the fitted jacket had black trim on the sleeves and collar edges. The costume couldn't have been better for the young star, a mere quarter of a century old. The scene was where Gwendolen (Gene Marshall) and Lady Bracknell visit Algernon for afternoon tea.
The play continued and every costume was as creative and beautifully made as the first. The director made an interesting change in the setting when in Act II the usual country scene was played as a lake cottage and Gene entered in a cute turn of the century "bathing" costume. The white outfit with navy trim would have been the right length for a dress on the street today, but I guess in Gwendolen's time it would have been a bit bawdy to appear on the street dressed in such an outfit. One could hear a quite a few laughs eminating from the audience on her appearance. Even her black high topped boots were right in fashion for the period. Miss Olson caught every detail of the times including the navy tights that complimented the costume.
The last costume from the play I will comment on is the lovely formal gown Gene wore in Act III. I sat there and lightly hummed to myself "In her beautiful Alice Blue Gown", and it really was! The hushed audience was so stunned at her beauty that you could hear the rustle of the silk skirt as she walked. The princess line gown had leg-o-mutton like sleeves and ribbon trim flowing down the front of the dress almost to the floor. The blue of the gown would have put the sky to shame and made Gene's eyes sparkle even more, if that is possible.
The play ended to uproarious applause and a standing ovation that lasted an eternity. Gene and company were brought back on stage 5 times for additional bows. If this is any indication of the play's run time on Broadway, Gene's next movie may not be out for at least another year. So if you want to see Miss Marshall you'll have to visit New York and see her live on Broadway!
The highlight of the evening was when Gene asked me to accompany her to the party that evening. I made sure I had my tuxedo on for the opening in hopes that I would be attending the party later, NEVER expecting to have the star on my arm!
I went to Central Park and hired a horse drawn carriage to carry the new Princess of Broadway to the party that evening. It didn't take Gene long to change from Gwendolen back to Gene. When she exited the stage door she took my breath away. Her floor length princess line gown was made of the most beautiful blue silk I had ever seen. It being September it was sapphire in color (my birthstone, what a coincidence!) with chiffon inserts at the hem and a matching scarf tossed over her shoulder. Her elbow lenght gloves matched the color of the dress. (Pattern C) I told my "Cinderella" that her coach awaited and she took my arm and we rode off to the party. The Pennsylvania Hotel (Pennsylvania 6500) was hosting the party a few short blocks from the theater district. We entered the ballroom to thunderous applause and I let Gene take her bows. She graced me with a couple of dances that evening and graciously personalized my program. "To Carl my prince for the evening" "Earnestly Yours, Gene".
Needless to say I was on cloud nine that evening, and will have that program framed for my living room wall.
If you get to New York City in the next year or so, be sure to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" starring Gene Marshall. You won't be disappointed. What a day!
Reporting from New York City (via cloud nine) Carl Wichman