|Humbert Allen Astredo and Elizabeth Taylor.|
When I got my first “grown up” job as a newspaper writer, my editor cautioned me against this mindset. Journalism is a small field: While honesty is essential, being an asshole is not. The people you worked with yesterday might be the people you’re working with — or for — tomorrow.
I can’t say I’ve always obeyed the letter of this advice, but I certainly cherish its spirit. I was thinking about those words while browsing through memorabilia for a Broadway production of THE LITTLE FOXES. The Lillian Hellman play was first performed in 1939, but was revived in 1981 as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a solid cast from top to bottom, one that included Maureen Stapleton, Anthony Zerbe, Dennis Christopher and our own Humbert Allen Astredo. Even though Taylor was already an established movie star, the play was touted as her Broadway debut.
Astredo played a Chicago million named “William Marshall,” a role performed in the 1941 motion picture adaption by Russell Hicks. I only mention this because Hicks appeared in SCARLET STREET a few years later opposite Joan Bennett. And Bennett played Taylor’s mother in FATHER OF THE BRIDE and its lesser-known sequel, FATHER’S LITTLE DIVIDEND. Meanwhile, Zerbe appeared with Jonathan Frid in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1966, and so on. If journalism is a small world, then the world of working actors must be even smaller.
The 1981 production stemmed from a chance encounter Taylor had with producer Zev Bufman in the audience of a Washington, D.C., play. During the intermission, he asked her why she’d never been on Broadway.
“Because I’ve never been asked,” she answered.
It’s likely that Bufman stocked the supporting cast with professional stage actors in anticipation of diva-like behavior from the show's star.
“I was looking forward to her, but I did not expect a certain degree of professionalism from her — not theater professionalism, anyway,” Dennis Christopher told the Chicago Tribune in 2013. “I was wrong. She was shockingly open to every suggestion, never pulled rank, never ran off in a fit, was perfectly willing to run lines, sit on the floor to mark and highlight the script."
The production played eight previews, opening May 7, 1981, at the Martin Beck Theatre for 123 performances.
You can listen to Astredo speak about his acting career in this episode of our podcast.