Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fredric March on Broadway

The March-In-March Blogathon is a celebration of the life and career of the actor Fredric March, hosted by the website Sittin' on a Backyard Fence. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

Fredric March is remembered today by film historians as one of the few multiple Oscar -winning actors, capturing Best Actor twice for both the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and for Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as starring in such renowned classics as Design For Living, Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, A Star is Born, Death of a Salesman and Inherit the Wind. He was also a notable stage actor, with a career on Broadway that ran concurrently with his Hollywood career, and which led to great successes as well.

March first appeared on Broadway in the mid-20s after working as an extra in films shot in New York. In 1926 he starred in a comedy called The Devil in the Cheese (with Bela Lugosi, among others). By the decade's end, he signed with Paramount Pictures and began making movies full-time, receiving his first of his five Oscar nominations for 1930's The Royal Family of Broadway and winning the Oscar for Jekyll two years later.


In 1927, March married actress Florence Eldridge, who performed with him on film and television as well as on stage. In 1938, March returned to Broadway with Eldridge in a comedy called Yr. Obedient Husband, which was a huge bomb. They publicly apologized for it after it opened, taking out pages in the New York papers and running a cartoon of a trapeze artist missing his partner and saying "Oops! Sorry!"


In 1942, however, March and Eldridge would hit it big on Broadway with Thornton Wilder's The Skin of our Teeth, with Tallulah Bankhead, and directed by Elia Kazan. An unusual family comedy, it embodies different time periods simultaneously and contains a number of Biblical and ancient Greek references. The play would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.


In 1946, March made Best Years and would go on to win his second Best Actor Oscar for it, and later that same year he and Eldridge starred in Ruth Gordon's Years Ago. Gordon, a legendary writer/actress known for acting in such films as Harold and Maude and Rosemary's Baby and writing films like Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike (with her husband Garson Kanin), wrote Years Ago as an autobiographical account of her teenage years, when she first pursued a stage career. March played her father (Eldridge played her mother), and he would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Actor in the Tonys' inaugural year of 1947. In 1953 Gordon would adapt her play into the film The Actress, with Spencer Tracy in the March role.


In the 1950s, March continued alternating between the stage and film, plus he began appearing in television productions, including a 1954 anthology series called The Best of Broadway, in which he revived his role in The Royal Family of Broadway. In 1957 March and Eldridge starred in perhaps their biggest stage play, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the tumultuous Tyrone family, which mirrored O'Neill's own. 

March and Eldridge played James and Mary Tyrone in the Broadway debut (the world premiere was in Stockholm), which also included Jason Robards Jr. March won his second Tony Award for his role, and the play won Best Play. In 1962, Sidney Lumet would direct a film version with Katharine Hepburn. March would later call Journey his favorite stage play.


March would make one last Broadway play after Journey, Paddy Chayefsky's Gideon in 1961, about the Biblical judge, starring Douglas Campbell in the title role and March as an angel. March's film career continued, including roles in Seven Days in May and The Iceman Cometh, before dying in 1975. A complete list of his Broadway roles can be found here.

6 comments:

  1. I had no idea March appeared on Broadway so often. He certainly was a versatile actor!

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    1. I didn't know either. This was quite a discovery for me as well.

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  2. Wow! I´ve learned a lot of cool things with your review. Nice that March played on Broadway so much with his wife. I´ll never view Long Day´s Journey into Night again without putting March in the lead.
    Greetings!
    Le

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  3. I am so glad that you have outlined his illustrious stage career in your post. There are so many people who do not know about his theatre career! I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and see one of his performances.

    Thank you so much for participating!

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    1. Thanks for having me. I'll admit to not knowing a great deal about him prior to writing this, but one thing I discovered that stood out for me was how well-respected March was by other actors. Apparently William Holden saw him as an inspiration, as did Brando, among others.

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  4. An amazing early Fredric March film few have seen is Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), directed by Dorothy Arzner. It made a big impression on me when I saw a new 35mm print years ago as part of an Arzner retrospective.

    Here's a review: http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=9308

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