Submitted by CosmosCotillion
The director takes Marion Lorne gently by the arm to her chair at the end of a scene or goes to get her when it is time for her to appear in front of the camera again. The program is ABC's Bewitched, in which she plays the slightly addled Aunt Clara. The director, one of several who do Bewitched, is Paul Davis, bearded widower of the late Alice Pearce, who created the role of the nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz, on the same program.
The gallantry of Mr. Davis in guiding Miss Lorne to and from her chair is not attributed to the fact that she is not as young as she used to be, although this is indubitably true. (How true, she would be the last to admit---in fact, she is still angry with a journalist who published her age in a magazine article more than 10 years ago. And ~we're~ not going to give away her secret!) But Paul Davis, like everyone else connected with Bewitched, treats Marion Lorne with the respect due one of the "grandes dames" of the theater.
It may come as a surprise to American television viewers, who know her only as Aunt Clara or remember her as Mr. Peepers' Mrs. Gurney or as a stooge on the old Garry Moore Show, but Marion Lorne was the reigning star of London for many years, in her own theater, the Whitehall. There she appeared in hit after hit, all written especially for her by her late husband, Walter Hackett. "People won't believe it when I tell them about the Whitehall," she has said. But it is all true---during those days she never had a play run less than 125 nights.
The familiar face---younger, of course, but with that vaguely puzzled look---stares out of portraits in yellowed programs of forgotten plays: "The Gay Adventure", "Espionage", "Hyde Park Corner", and many, many more. All with Miss Lorne's name importantly above the title. And the press notices: "Miss Lorne's performance is a sheer delight throughout"..."There is no actress on the stage today who can be compared to her"---the reviews were always like that. And there were many of them.
She was never a beauty. She says, "In my long, long career, I have played everything, but comedy has always been my favorite." Most of the characters her husband created for her seem to have been in the Aunt Clara-Mrs. Gurney mold. She says, with characteristic understatement, "People seem to like this vague, silly woman." Yet, when Alfred Hitchcock, who directed her in one of her rare motion picture appearances, "Strangers on a Train", was asked to what American actress Miss Lorne might have been compared during her London days---Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Katharine Cornell---he said, "All of them put together---and more. She was more than an actress in England; she was an institution."
She was indeed---for 30 years. But strangely enough, she was born in the United States, in a Pennsylvania mining town, West Pittston, near Wilkes-Barre. "My parents were Scotch and English, though," she says. "They just didn't get back in time." It would be quite a while before Marion got back, too---years in which she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, played stock in Hartford, Conn., and finally made it to Broadway, where she was an instant hit. She once said, "I've been in a complete and absolute panic ever since. I've always wanted to retire, but I never quite made it."
She did try to retire after the sudden death of her husband, when they returned to the United States in 1942. But then she was offered the part of the potty old lady in the road company of "Harvey", and she's been working ever since. As far as Bill Asher, producer of Bewitched is concerned, that is the way it's going to be. He says, "I try to arrange it so we always have a script for her to do. She's a big, big part of our show." Asher's wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the program, adds, "The contribution she makes to the show is incredible. When the character of Aunt Clara came into being, she was the only one we even thought of." Director Paul Davis says simply, "I love her."
It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the professional Miss Lorne with the Aunt Clara-Mrs. Gurney image. As someone close to the TV show says, "She's really with it. You're surprised because you think she's going to be Aunt Clara." She may muff a line occasionally during rehearsal, but usually when the scene is shot she is letter-perfect, although she admits that she finds the motion picture technique with its short "takes" confusing.
This may be partly because she is still fiercely loyal to the theater. "Nothing has ever come up to it," she says. "It's the real thing." At home---which is an apartment hotel in Manhattan---she goes to the theater often ("I like dramas best. Dramatic people like to see comedy, and comedians like drama"), and most of her friends are theatrical people ("After all, that's my life"). In the world of the theater, she is also a person of strong opinions ("Barbra Streisand is an acquired taste, and apparently I haven't acquired it yet"). But, of course, it is not the theater---the years in London, either unknown or forgotten on this side of the Atlantic---but television which has brought her fame here. She says, "Even today, people stop me on Fifth Avenue and say, 'You ~are~ Mrs. Gurney, aren't you?'"
Despite all the years and all the fame, she still has one unfulfilled ambition. She says, "My favorite TV programs are Westerns, and I have never been in one."
So, Western producers, if you have a part for a very funny and very delightful lady...