MEMORIES OF RICHARD BASEHART
In this section I hope to collect memories, stories and anecdotes about
Following is an account of an actor who had the good fortune to have a role in the 1979 production of MacBeth at Hedgerow Theatre with Richard Basehart. It is a very touching account.
Dignity, grace, humor, humility, and immense talent---these are some of the qualities that define greatness and Richard possessed them all in abundance. I had the good fortune to work with and get to know him in the spring of 1979 when he made his triumphant return to the Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Hedgerow was the place where his acting career took off after he left Zanesville, Ohio, in the mid-30's. During his tenure there, he played a wonderful variety of roles while studying with the late Jasper Deeter. From Hedgerow, Richard was on to Broadway. Dolores Tanner was with the Hedgerow company during this period, and she and Richard must have kept in touch over the years because she was instrumental in his homecoming. In 1978, while serving as one the major forces at Hedgerow, she convinced him to come back to play the title role in "Macbeth" in a spring, 1979 production.
I learned about Richard's planned homecoming from an audition notice appearing in the Wilmington, Delaware, newspaper in October or November, 1978. At that time, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was all I knew of his career. Nevertheless, I was excited about the prospect of auditioning for a role in the production of "Macbeth" with Richard Basehart. I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm. The theatre was packed with men of all ages and sizes when I made my way to the first audition. The women's roles were precast with company members, but the male roles were all open except, of course, for Macbeth. There were three or four callbacks until the casting was finally set shortly after the first of the year. I was fortunate enough to be selected to play Banquo, Macbeth's fellow war hero and later, the man who must be eliminated in order for the prophesies of the witches to come true. Throughout the long audition process and most of the rehearsal schedule, Richard was no where to be seen. I learned later that just before he arrived at Hedgerow, he was in North Carolina, doing his stint as the Russian ambassador in "Being There" with Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvin Douglas.
I'll never forget the day Richard arrived at the theatre to meet the cast and have his first rehearsal. He came directly from the airport, and must have been exhausted. Nevertheless, he was gracious and charming. When I was introduced to him by name and role, he warmly shook my hand and gave my beard and hair a studied look. I was wearing my hair in a Caesar style, and when he saw it, he adjusted his hair into a similar style and gave me a wink and a smile. It was as if he were deferring to me! I knew at that moment that we would have a special relationship, and we did. That first rehearsal was also unforgettable. We had been rehearsing for months with various company members reading Macbeth's lines, and the play was pretty much blocked and set. When Richard and I first stepped on stage to meet the weird sisters, he took my breath away! He was not only line perfect, but he had a fully developed, nuanced character already in place. His first line, "So fair and foul a day I have not seen" was infused with those two contrasting elements in such a way as to make the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Richard was staying at the Thomas Reed House in northern Delaware, and since I was the only cast member from Delaware, we always travelled together, in separate cars, from the theatre at the end each evening's rehearsal or performance. We would stop at the local Hilton Hotel, just over the state line, and have a drink before Richard would go home to his apartment. He would share with me stories about his relationships with Fellini, Gregory Peck, Jasper Deeter, and others. One night he was recognized by another patron, who asked him if I was his son. We had a good laugh about that. Age-wise I very well could have been-- Richard was 64 at the time and I was 34--but he made me feel more like a brother. Another time when we were together, he was asked for his advice about acting. He immediately gave Hamlet's advice to the players: "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue...." That was Richard's way. To have expounded on acting in his own words, as if he were some kind of guru, would have been out of character for him. He instead deferred again, this time to the playwright he knew so well.
There is so much more that I could relate about Richard, but the most telling things that I remember about him were his unfailing good humor, grace, and talent. At no time did he show any displeasure or anger, even when one restaurant customer commented, "I thought you were dead." What a thoughtless comment, but one which Richard handled with his usual good humor. As for talent, the memory of his resonant voice filling every corner of Hedgerow Theatre still thrills me today. His performance was magnificent, and continues as the standard to which I hold other performers, including myself. Without knowing it, he was my mentor, and I will forever be grateful for having known him.
|biography | credits | articles | interviews | pictures | sound bytes | film clips | memories | off camera | site map | thanks! | home | email us|