In a collegial, often heartwarming ceremony that stood in stark contrast to the often corporate sensibility evident in the greater arts community, the Theatre Hall of Fame inducted several leading talents to its ranks on Jan. 31. The 1999 inductees to the Theatre Hall of Fame are director Gordon Davidson, playwright Tom Stoppard, actress and arts supporter Kitty Carlisle Hart, and actors Hal Holbrook, Robert Morse, Jerry Orbach, Frances Sternhagen and Teresa Wright.
The non-profit Theatre Hall of Fame is sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association. The ceremony and dinner program, the 29th such celebration for the organization, drew a noteworthy group of theatre veterans, as well as supporters of theatre. These included former NEA Chair Jane Alexander, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the current chair of the New York State Council on the Arts, Richard Schwartz, as well as New Rochelle City Councilwoman Chris Sellen.
Mistress of ceremonies Irene Worth anchored the event, which was held in the North Rotunda of the Gershwin Theatre.
Among the highlights was when actor Victor Garber accepted the medallion that was presented to playwright Tom Stoppard.
Stoppard sent his regrets, saying that he was "stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic." Before Garber read Stoppard's prepared statement, the actor referenced the challenges he experienced performing Stoppard's play, Arcadia. "At least this time I have a vague idea of what he is talking about," Garber joked. In the statement, Stoppard said he had arrived in the theatre many years ago with his nose pressed up against the glass. "Now, years later," Stoppard said, "I'm astonished to be looking in and see myself on the inside."
Stoppard's remarks typified the camaraderie and conviviality of the evening which often took a personal tack, as when actor Hal Holbrook recalled, at length, the highlights of a lifelong friendship with his acting teacher, the late Edward A. Wright from Ohio's Denison University.
As his acceptance speech drew to a close, Holbrook described how several friends had gathered aboard his yacht five years ago to spread Wright's ashes at sea, and how one friend had thought to bring a white rose for each member of the party to lay on the water, in honor of Wright's memory. Clutching his medallion, Holbrook told his peers, "This is another rose for Ed."
Terry Hodge Taylor, who serves as the event's pro bono executive producer, later told Playbill On-Line that there are plans afoot for a special 30th annual Theatre Hall of Fame ceremony next January. Taylor said that he is working to raise the $10,000 - $15,000 necessary to install a number of glass display cases at the Gershwin which will house valuable memorabilia donated by Theatre Hall of Fame inductees.
"Mrs. George Abbott has already donated his dictaphone, which he used for so many years," Taylor said. "We'll have two or three cases installed by March and the rest by the end of next year, so we'll have a special 30th anniversary in January 2001."
-- By Murdoch McBride