Fall is a popular time for fans of Amy Sherman-Palladino's hit series Gilmore Girls. Many can be found throwing on their comfiest Rory-style sweaters, pouring something warm in a huge Lorelai coffee mug, and settling in for an annual re-watch of the story of their favorite friends from Stars Hollow.
Gilmore Girls' celebrated mother-daughter story, starring Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore and Alexis Bledel as Rory Gilmore, turns 23 years old this month. However, it remains timeless for its witty humor, quippy dialogue, heartwarming friendships, and enduring odes to pop-culture – especially for theatre lovers.
As a daughter of a comedian and a dancer, creator Sherman-Palladino clearly has a passion and depth of knowledge for the arts, writing pop-culture references that pay homage to plays, musicals, and famous thespians in almost every episode. From the obvious Barbra Streisand-in-Funny Girl reference when Sookie calls Lorelai "Sadie, Sadie, married lady," to the more ambiguous back-and-forth between Luke and Lorelai about the logistics of getting rid of Rory's old mattress that alludes to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the entire TV series is filled with Easter eggs for any theatre enthusiast.
However, even theatre lovers may not know that actors Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann, who shared the screen as the show's most prominent power couple—Lorelai's parents and Rory's grandparents Emily and Richard Gilmore—connected long before playing the socialites who held regular Friday night dinners at their swanky Hartford home. Bishop and Herrmann began their careers on the Broadway stage around the same time, and they both won Tony Awards in the same year. That's right, Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore were rubbing elbows all the way back in 1976, perhaps even meeting at the annual Tony Awards Nominee Luncheon.
The two New York natives were seasoned stage actors when they received the Tonys that skyrocketed their budding careers. Bishop—who had appeared in featured roles on Broadway throughout the 1960s and 70s in shows like Golden Rainbow, Promises, Promises, Precious Sons, and On The Town— finally got her big break when she won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Feature Role in a Musical for her performance as Sheila in A Chorus Line.
Bishop not only originated the role of Sheila, but inspired it. Like all the characters in A Chorus Line, Sheila is based on her and accounts of her own life. The actor brought all of herself to the show, especially in the profound trio "At the Ballet," in which Sheila and two other dancers express the stability, satisfaction, and beauty that attending the ballet has brought to their lives since they were children, filling the gap for everything they lacked in their dysfunctional home lives. Bishop's portrayal of Sheila was both honest and moving, leaving a lasting impact on public consciousness. It is no wonder, not only that she took home the Tony in 1976, but that bootleg clips of her iconic performance in A Chorus Line are still circulating around social media...not that we've seen them or anything. *wink wink*
That same evening, Herrmann was awarded Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for his role as Frank Gardner in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession. Like Bishop, Herrmann's career was in the midst of taking off, this play being his second show on the Main Stem after his debut in Michael Weller's Moonchildren in 1972.
The content and social commentary within Mrs. Warren's Profession—one of three plays in the series Shaw named Plays Unpleasant (1898) that illustrates his beliefs of the morality of prostitution—caused a stir when it was first performed in New York in 1905, so much so that the performance was interrupted by the police, who arrested the entire cast and crew for what they considered to be a highly inappropriate display. The play clearly made an impression on the public, though, as Mrs. Warren's Profession has been revived on Broadway five times since. Herrmann's performance, too, made an impression, earning him the first and only Tony the play has ever won.
After being awarded for their impactful performances, both Bishop and Herrmann went on to continued successful careers. The actors played featured roles in numerous theatrical productions on famous stages before their lives intercepted again 24 years later, this time on screen as leads in the first episode of Gilmore Girls, where their connection continued for the seven seasons that followed.
Herrmann sadly passed away in 2014, seven years after Gilmore Girls' final episode aired. But Bishop reprised her role as Emily Gilmore once more in the show's 2016 miniseries reboot, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, where she continues to make memories with her daughter and granddaughter, and keeps the legacy of both her beloved on-screen husband and long-time acting companion alive.
Bishop and Herrmann were a match made on Broadway. On a night when they were both serendipitously celebrating the success of their individual careers, there was also a linked connection forming between them that although unknown to anyone at the time—perhaps sparked the beginning of a fated future partnership. Regardless, fans can probably all agree that Gilmore Girls is all the richer for choosing to bring this powerful pair together.