“Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

John Barrymore? Walter Sichel? William Powell Frith? Anonymous Scene-Shifter? Johnston Forbes-Robertson? Arthur Machen? Cedric Hardwicke? Errol Flynn?

Dear Quote Investigator: The theater world has long been known for complex tempestuous relationships between cast members on and off the stage. One comical tale concerns the ambiguous relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia presented in William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy.

An inquisitive theatergoer asked a well-known stage manager, “Did Hamlet have an affair with Ophelia?” The manager quickly responded, “In my company, always”.

Would you please explore the history of this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 “The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections” by Walter Sichel appeared. The author relayed a story he heard from the painter William Powell Frith who died in 1909. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At one time he delighted to go behind the scenes of the theatre and chat with the scene-shifters. One of them appeared very intelligent, and Mr. Frith asked him if he had ever himself been a player. He had, in the provinces. Had he ever acted Shakespeare? Of course he had, he had played in ‘Amlick, he had, indeed, acted the chief part.

“Very interesting,” said Mr. Frith, “please tell me what is your conception of Hamlet’s relation to Ophelia. Did he, so to speak, love her not wisely but too well?“I don’t know, sir, if ‘Amlick did, but I did,” was the unblushing answer.

The key line was delivered by an anonymous thespian who also worked as a member of a stage crew. This family of anecdotes is highly variable in expression; thus, the origin is difficult to trace.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Did Hamlet Have an Affair with Ophelia?” “In My Theater Company, Invariably”

Notes:

  1. 1923, The Sands of Time: Recollections and Reflections by Walter Sichel, Chapter 8: Editorship—and After, Quote Page 238, Hutchinson and Company, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View)

You Are My Fifth Favorite Actor. The First Four Are the Marx Brothers

George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Cedric Hardwicke? Blanche Patch? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a Hollywood legend, a famous intellectual or statesman once praised a prominent actor with a left-handed compliment. Here are two versions:

  • You are my fifth favorite actor. The first four are the Marx Brothers.
  • You are my fourth favorite actor. The first three are the Marx Brothers.

The famous person was supposedly George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill. The actor was the English star of the stage and screen Cedric Hardwicke. Would you please explore this entertaining tale?

Quote Investigator: Five Marx brothers were involved in the entertainment business; they employed the following stage names: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, and Gummo. The first four appeared in several movies together, but only the first three achieved stardom.

The earliest strong match for the anecdote located by QI appeared in the Hollywood gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1946. The quotation emerged via a dialog. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Sir Cedric Hardwicke, now, co-starring with Katharine Cornell in “Antigone,” starred in some of Shaw’s plays in London. Shaw once told him: “Cedric, you are my fourth favorite actor.” Hardwicke asked: “G. B. S., who are the other three?” And Shaw replied: “The Marx Bros.”

This version referred to three Marx Brothers instead of four. Lyons indicated that he heard the anecdote from Hardwicke, and QI conjectures that Hardwicke constructed this humorous story by altering a comment made by Shaw. This conjecture is based on the 1951 citation given immediately below and the April 17, 1959 citation given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Are My Fifth Favorite Actor. The First Four Are the Marx Brothers

Notes:

  1. 1946 March 14, The Dayton Daily News, The Lyons Den: Pauley Turns Ickes Photo To the Wall by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)