By Robert Heide
After graduating from Irvington High School in New Jersey I attended a boy’s prep-school in West Orange to make up some points in order to go to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where I went to the School of Speech, enrolling there in the theater department run by Alvina Krause who had studied the method with the great master Constantine Stanislavski. Later, after acting in plays there including Tea and Sympathy where a mature woman attempts to save a student from his homosexual guilt and drudgery, Romeo and Juliet and a G. B. Shaw play wherein I was able to articulate “what price salvation now Snobby Price?”, and hanging out on weekends in gay bars on Chicago’s legendary near north side, I followed my obsession with theater by coming back East to study with the famous and brilliant Group Theater actress and teacher Stella Adler. When I first met Stella she looked at me and said, “To be so young and in so much pain must be a terrible thing.” At the time I did not know or understand what she was talking about; but Stella took me under her wing. After two years of intense study the great teacher who had also studied with Stanislavski himself, helped enroll me as an apprentice/actor at the American Shakespeare Festival and Academy in Stratford, Connecticut. It was the summer of 1956 and I was excited to meet celebrated actors there like Katherine Hepburn and Fritz Weaver whom I also got to know later in New York City where I came to live (and still do) in Greenwich Village.
I hung out with the counter culture bohemia led by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and other ‘official’ members of what was called the ‘Beat Generation.’ I was also a friend of Andy Warhol and worked on movies with him at the Factory uptown. I began writing and directing my plays for the Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street like Moon and The Bed and Why Tuesday Never Has a Blue Monday for Ellen Stewart’s La Mama Theatre in the East Village.
It was in Stella Adler’s class on the upper West Side of Manhattan that I first met Peter Bogdanovich who died in January this year at 82 and had also been a student of Stella. Both Peter and I were selected by Adler to be apprentices at Stratford, produced and directed that summer by John Houseman and we got to know each other as well as famed actors like John Emery, Mildred Dunnock, Kent Smith, Jacqueline Brooks, Nina Foch, and Jonathan Frid. Apprentices included Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the son of Geraldine Fitzgerald, Hollywood bound ‘blonde God’ Robert Morris and the old actor Whitford Kane who had played the gravedigger in Barrymore’s Hamlet. In King John that summer I was hoisted up with Kane and together we were deposited in the rafters. It was scary, and later that year, in December, Whitford Kane died and just a very few years after the summer of ‘56 the actor Robert Morris, on the verge of stardom, suddenly died in Hollywood. There are other stories. At Stratford I shared a cottage on Long Island Sound with Stanley Bell whose family lineage purportedly extended back eighteen generations to the Globe Theater at the time of Shakespeare. We were visited by Gladys Cooper, the famed British actress who stayed at the cottage for a time. One of the apprentices, Ted Otis, heir to the Otis Elevator Company found out she was there, and to draw attention to himself drove around and around the house, revving up the motor of his MG. Gladys kept saying, “Who is that boy skulking around our house?” Also, before the summer was over, apprentice Clarence Burbage (aka Peter Burbage) declared himself to be Peter Burbage Bell and a relative of Stanley Bell and moved in forcing me to get a room next door in a larger house where Nina Foch was staying, which was fun anyway since she regaled me endlessly about her Hollywood experiences. In 1958 Stanley Bell was appearing in Much Ado About Nothing with Katherine Hepburn in Washington DC and walked out in the middle of a scene. Three days later he leapt out of an eighth floor window at the Hotel Touraine in Boston, landing on the marquee and dying instantly. After a very slow restoration, which began in 2012, the Stratford Shakespeare Theater burned to the ground in 2019 to the dismay of many in the theater community. Two teenagers were charged with arson.
Peter Bogdanovich who had lived in Manhattan for a while at 130 West 78th Street once was giving a film lecture at the New School which I attended. He talked about his prize winning Hollywood movies like The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What’s Up Doc? He referred to his ‘duds’ and the ups and downs of a career and his difficult relationships with actresses like Cybil Shepard, Barbara Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Stratten and her sister Louise Stratten whom he had married. Afterwards we chatted about our younger days at the Adler studio and our apprenticeships at Stratford where he had proved to be a very serious actor hoping to make it in the theater. We both really appreciated the music of the twenties and thirties which he had used so creatively in Paper Moon. Using that music again in 200l Peter made a movie that was set in the 1920s silent film era honoring Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin, entitled The Cat’s Meow. Bogdanovich, in making a film about Orson Welles, proved himself an adroit historian again as well as an accomplished filmmaker. Hearing that the legendary director Welles had become homeless, he invited him to live with him in his Hollywood mansion.
Robert Heide’s collected plays are published in Robert Heide 25 Plays (fastbookspress.com) and is available from the publisher Michael Smith and at Amazon. His play The Bed, made into a film by Andy Warhol in 1965 is featured in the Catalogue Raisonne of the Films of Andy Warhol Volume II 1963-1965 published in December of 2021 by the Whitney Museum available at the Whitney Museum book and gift shop and online. Read also Promise Unfulfilled, a biography of actor Robert Morris by Vernon Gravely.