In reviewing Hermione Gingold’s Broadway debut in 1953, Brooks Atkinson the New York Time critic remarked: Miss Gingold, who is one of idols of London, is a blowsy beauty who looks like a drawing from Punch and gives herself artistic airs that are grotesquely hilarious. And declaring her “the best female impersonator of our time,” Kenneth Tynan declared she had a voice that “is a delectable plummy rasp, emerging from her as from a cement mixer.” Her distinctive voice was the result of nodules that sudden appeared on her vocal cords in her early twenties. She had been appearing in Shakespeare and had a good coloratura soprano voice and almost overnight her voice changed. As she once described it on one of the numerous talk shows: One morning it was Mozart and the next ‘Old Man River.
Her razor sharp comic timing and wry wit was the result of two decades of revue work in London’s West End back in the days when that sadly almost extinct form was at its peak. During the Second World War she was a great favourite with the American troops on leave and was to become a popular guest on TV talk shows after she moved to the United States.
I was fortune at see her in the original production of A Little Night Music where her performance as Mme Armfeldt rightly became the stuff of Broadway legend. It was a reminder that she wasn’t just a talk show guest, not just a “celebrity” but a exceptional actress. How I would have loved to have seen her in those days of revue when she dared us and John Gielgud to figure out Which Witch or told us all about the preparations when The Borgia Are Having Orgy.
And here’s Hermione Gingold to introduce herself – much as she did at the Café de Paris:
If I didn’t know that this song came before her rise to stardom I’d think this little ditty was about my favourite Australian prima donnas.
She and Hermione Baddley (Mrs Naugatuck on Maude)had appeared in revues together and starred in a production of Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels in 1949-50. Coward was not pleased with the production but it was a box office hit that ran for almost a year though it is rumoured that by the end of the year the two Hermiones were barely speaking. It should be noted that in her next revue Miss Gingold did a number entitled: I Do Miss Hermione Badly.
Though Coward’s play would be tame by today’s standards – it was about two married women who were contemplating adultry – it did raise a goodly number of eyebrows and was the cause of many indignant letters to the Times. However Miss Gingold also received a letter from a “friend”. With no address at which to aim a reply, she responded with a letter that was reprinted in her 1952 book, My Own Unaided Work.
On this day in 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turin convicted of murder, were the last people to be executed in Canada.