One of Broadway's Busiest Opening Nights

One of Broadway's Busiest Opening Nights LOOKING BACKWARD -- October 1996

The news that Lincoln Center Theater and director Gerald Gutierrez are contemplating a new production of Noel Coward's one-act plays, collectively titled Tonight at 8:30, brings to mind the bizarre happenings at the original opening night of this entertainment at the National Theatre (now the Nederlander) in 1936.

LOOKING BACKWARD -- October 1996

The news that Lincoln Center Theater and director Gerald Gutierrez are contemplating a new production of Noel Coward's one-act plays, collectively titled Tonight at 8:30, brings to mind the bizarre happenings at the original opening night of this entertainment at the National Theatre (now the Nederlander) in 1936. In that glamorous era women wore costly jewels and furs to first nights, and there was always a detective on hand for security purposes. During the first intermission a luxurious chinchilla coat was stolen. That was only the beginning. The flamboyant playboy and writer Lucius Beebe borrowed an expensive diamond pin from Van Cleef & Arpels to wear to the opening, and that, too, disappeared. Onstage, the show's stars-- Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence -- wondered what was causing all the brouhaha in the audience.

By the evening's end the diligent detective had rounded up both the coat thief and the jewel robber, but the latter presented an international problem. The wife of a British diplomat, as a practical joke, had pilfered Beebe's bijou and quickly returned it. No charges were pressed.

Backstage Coward was informed of the shenanigans. "Bloody fools," he reportedly scoffed.

-- By Louis Botto