It was and I was apartment hunting, so I arranged to meet the broker at a brownstone just off Washington Square. The apartment was four steep flights up, and the walls of the final landing were a rough stucco, with an odd-shaped niche high in the wall for a candle or a skull, just outside a rounded, rough-hewn door with elaborate ornamental hinges. The apartment in question consisted of the full, narrow top floor, and I was smitten. The theatrical plasterwork continued throughout, and there was a bay window with a window seat, flanked by portholes of thick, leaded Mediterranean-blue stained glass, all overlooking the leafy corner of Washington Square Park where fanatics play chess. There was a micro-kitchen, one tiny closet, and a cramped, nineteen-seventies-vintage Pepto-Bismol-pink tiled bathroom, but none of this mattered, thanks to a vaulted skylight, a fireplace, assorted archways, and a hidden, winding staircase.
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It was and I was apartment hunting, so I arranged to meet the broker at a brownstone just off Washington Square.
The apartment was four steep flights up, and the walls of the final landing were a rough stucco, with an odd-shaped niche high in the wall for a candle or a skull, just outside a rounded, rough-hewn door with elaborate ornamental hinges. The apartment in question consisted of the full, narrow top floor, and I was smitten. The theatrical plasterwork continued throughout, and there was a bay window with a window seat, flanked by portholes of thick, leaded Mediterranean-blue stained glass, all overlooking the leafy corner of Washington Square Park where fanatics play chess.
There was a micro-kitchen, one tiny closet, and a cramped, nineteen-seventies-vintage Pepto-Bismol-pink tiled bathroom, but none of this mattered, thanks to a vaulted skylight, a fireplace, assorted archways, and a hidden, winding staircase.
The stairs led to the roof, where I found a large deck. The broker was chatty, and she mentioned that the apartment had once been the home of John Barrymore. That night, I called my agent, Helen Merrill, a German woman whose accent had only deepened with her decades in New York.
Helen recalled the apartment, if not the son-in-law, in fond detail, and the karma became overwhelming. The next day, I met with Winston Kulok, the affable owner of the town house, who with his family occupied the first two floors, and the lease on the Barrymore place was mine.
As I settled in, I researched my new home. Barrymore had taken up residence in , just before he began performing his legendary Hamlet uptown. He had installed all the false beams, monastery-inspired ironwork, and stained glass, which made his lair resemble a stage set for an Agatha Christie whodunnit in summer stock. The rooftop had been his masterpiece, and had at one time included a garden, with cedar trees, a slate walkway, and a reflecting pool. Tons of soil had to be hoisted up by pulley, and eventually caused a collapse into the rooms below.
Barrymore was born into an illustrious family of American performers, which included his sister Ethel and his brother Lionel, and John had been nicknamed the Great Profile for his beauty and acclaimed as a classical actor of extraordinary personal magnetism and range. Someone or something had led me to these quarters and would not be denied. I soon realized that the material would make a better play than a novel, as it took place primarily in a single location and was overrun with theatrical types.
Following a successful out-of-town workshop in Saratoga, a group of producers decided to bring the play to Broadway. Our great challenge was in casting the role of John Barrymore—ghost, thespian, and lecher. From Fanny Brice to Ray Charles, the impersonator must reignite the legend. Onstage, Nicol was notorious. Nicol accepted the role, and an introductory lunch at a midtown restaurant was arranged between our Barrymore, the producing team, the director, and me. Like any decent star, Nicol arrived last.
He was a tall, shambling man, with a bald pate bookended by buttresses of reddish curls. His basso voice was gorgeously Shakespearean. He beguiled everyone with tales of beautiful women, show business, and air travel. He was an incipient tyrant, an Amin or an Evita, caught at an early stage, where charm was of the essence in crafting a grateful, adoring cult.
Clearly, here was Barrymore. I chose to believe it, despite a quick backward glance at the table, which held a brandy snifter, a wine bottle, and a beer mug, all of which had been recently emptied into Nicol. The early rehearsal period was, as early rehearsal periods often are, a promising Eden.
Nicol embraced every company member, and everyone seemed happy with the play. Celeste provided delectable anecdotes. All of this subterfuge had made Loretta an even more devout Catholic, and during the filming, whenever anyone used profanity, she had the person drop a nickel into a cuss box, with the proceeds shipped to Vatican-related charities.
One afternoon, Ethel Merman visited the set and was told of the cuss box. Go fuck yourself. Each number was devoted to a militant, obscene hatred of his ex-wife and assorted female members of her family. After each ditty excoriating another ungrateful bitch, Nicol would turn to me eagerly for an opinion. We hired a psychic, a frazzled woman with a matching perm who, I suspected, owned more than one cat and far more than one scented candle.
In my apartment, everyone gathered around a massive oak library table. I served reasonably priced wine, microwave popcorn, and Pepperidge Farm Milanos. The meter was running, so I encouraged the psychic to aim for a direct hit on Barrymore. We all clasped hands, and she shut her eyes, clanged her finger cymbals, and began a rhythmic moaning that was either a trance state or a belated Kaddish for my grandmother.
She directed us to concentrate our spiritual energy on the door that opened on the stairs to the rooftop.
We all sat up straighter and glared even more aggressively at the door. Still nothing. The door moved a fraction of an inch. I continued to rewrite the play, but with each passing week Nicol grew more paranoid. His complaint was essentially that he was being asked to appear onstage with other people.
He took to calling me at 3 A. Of course I could play both parts easily, but Andrew is intended to be what, twenty-six years old? Our preview performances began. The set, by Tony Straiges, was a grander approximation of my apartment, resembling the great hall of some fantasy castle, with tapestries, a large oil portrait of Nicol as Barrymore, and, on a wooden stand, an enormous parchment-covered globe that, in the early moments of Act II, opened to reveal a wet bar.
Nicol was sensational. In a luxuriant wig and sculpted black tunic and tights, he was utterly persuasive as a dashing, brutally comic Barrymore.
He commanded the stage, and seemed to be having the time of his life. It was too good to last. After the first few shows, Nicol embarked on a self-destructive binge.
He repeatedly propositioned the stage manager, and when she resisted his groping advances he called the management and demanded that she be fired. The cast posed for a raft of promotional photographs, and Nicol tried to block the release of any pictures in which he appeared with another actor. During scenes in which the script called for him to hover, as a ghost, and eavesdrop on the action, he would leave the stage.
He gradually and deliberately alienated almost everyone, until the production became a war zone. One night, I stopped by his dressing room to make a final attempt to repair our relationship. When I entered, he took a wobbly swing at me, aimed at my head and connecting with my shoulder.
I was more surprised than hurt; it was like being assaulted by a sleeping bag. Further revisions to the script became impossible. During the opening-night performance, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, I sat crouched on the carpeted steps at the rear of the balcony. Like any opening-night crowd, the audience was appreciative and vocal. As I watched, I thought, My play is opening tonight on Broadway. This was a glorious and yet conventional dream, and that was the problem.
The cast party was at Tavern on the Green. It was like attending the coronation of a sadistic, self-proclaimed emperor, with toasts encouraged by armed guards. I longed for Nicol to be a caddish yet magnetic rogue and to win everyone back. Owing to drink and bitterness and rage, he needed to be loathed by friends and adored by strangers. The reviews were mixed. Nicol was accused of genius, slumming, and everything in between. Reports of his bad behavior had been rampant, so his notices were like bulletins from the front, hoping to make sense of a battle still in progress.
Now that we had opened, the fun truly began. Andrew is ambivalent and wary. They sell whole-wheat brownies and little bags of nuts and raisins. Hamlet will change you, Andrew, make no mistake. What are you to be—artist, or lunchbox? Have you heard anything?
Is he really hurt? Is he O. During the swordplay scene, Nicol, it seemed, had actually struck his co-star. Evan, quite wisely, had left the stage, the performance, and, ultimately, the production. His understudy had finished the show that night. Jerzy Kosinski! Evan Handler wanted to bring Nicol and the production up on charges.
A meeting was called, and the producers and I tried to determine a course of action. Should we fire Nicol? We realized that he had been brilliantly, maliciously sly: because of all the publicity, he now was the show, and no other star in his right mind would step into his role. The situation was impossible. At an earlier meeting, two of our producers, the gentlest and most well-intentioned men, became so frustrated that a fistfight broke out. The brawl ended within seconds, with instant apologies all around.
Nicol was in clover. He was livid, and took to haranguing the nominating committee from the stage. I attended the closing-night performance, and afterward I went backstage.
I Hate Hamlet' Co-Star Walks Out
Evan Handler, a co-star of "I Hate Hamlet," left the stage near the end of the first act Thursday night, gave his notice, and walked out of the Walter Kerr Theater. Handler's unplanned departure came after a dueling scene with Nicol Williamson, the play's star, who apparently ignored the choreography and struck Mr. Handler on the back with the flat part of his sword. Andrew Mutnick, Mr. Handler's understudy, finished the performance. The unrehearsed exit came after weeks of erratic behavior by Mr. Williamson that has disrupted the "Hamlet" company both on stage and off.
I Hate Hamlet is a comedy-drama written in by Paul Rudnick. Set in John Barrymore 's old apartment in New York City — at the time, the author's real-life home — the play follows successful television actor Andrew Rally as he struggles with taking on the dream role of Hamlet , dealing with a girlfriend who is keeping a firm grip on her chastity, and playing host to the ghost of John Barrymore, who, clothed as Hamlet, has come back to earth for the sole purpose of convincing Rally to play the part. Barrymore proves to be very convincing challenging Andrew to a sword fight in the middle of the New York loft , and Andrew decides to play Hamlet. But when a Hollywood friend shows up offering Andrew a new role in a television pilot, with a potentially large salary and fame, Andrew is forced to choose between Shakespeare , whom his girlfriend loves, or television, where he is loved by millions. Published by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. The cast of the show includes three women and three men. Nicol Williamson , who played the role of John Barrymore in the initial Broadway production, was notoriously mercurial, and gradually alienated most of his fellow cast and crewmembers.
I Hate Hamlet
The Story: Andrew Rally seems to have it all: celebrity and acclaim from his starring role in a hit television series; a rich, beautiful girlfriend; a glamorous, devoted agent; the perfect New York apartment; and the chance to play Hamlet in Central Park. There are, however, a couple of glitches in paradise. Andrew's series has been canceled; his girlfriend is clinging to her virginity with unyielding conviction; and he has no desire to play Hamlet. When Andrew's agent visits him, she reminisces about her brief romance with John Barrymore many years ago, in Andrew's apartment. This prompts a seance to summon his ghost. From the moment Barrymore returns, dressed in high Shakespearean garb, Andrew's life is no longer his own.
I Hit Hamlet
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