The Diary of Anne Frank’s premiere on the Cort Theatre in autumn of 1955 was a typical Broadway opening. Till it wasn’t.
The play had simply accomplished an out-of-town tryout on the Walnut Road Theatre in Philadelphia, and the critiques had been good.
“It was a giant deal; it went very effectively,” Eva Rubinstein, who performed the function of Margot Frank, instructed me of the Philadelphia run. “They made some minor adjustments, however not quite a bit, and the identical forged got here to New York.”
Even so, the forged was nervous.
The Cort Theatre had been darkish for 4 months, after the closing of Once Upon a Tailor, an old-world Jewish folktale by Yiddish theater veteran Baruch Lumet, father of Sidney Lumet, who on the time was simply getting his begin as a TV director. Tailor had been deemed “laboriously quaint” by the New York Every day Information and lasted lower than per week.
Walter Kerr, critic for the Herald Tribune, can be within the opening-night viewers for The Diary of Anne Frank. Brooks Atkinson can be reviewing for The New York Instances. Susan Strasberg can be making her Broadway debut within the title function, and considered one of her finest mates, Marilyn Monroe, can be watching.
In her memoir, Bittersweet, Strasberg wrote that her “abdomen was taking part in unusual methods” that night time. Once I interviewed Rubinstein final fall, she instructed me: “It was very, very emotional as a result of all people acquired extraordinarily concerned within the precise details of the factor.”
Rubinstein, the internationally famend photographer, who began out as an actress and ballet dancer, was one of many dozens of individuals I spoke to for Playing Anne Frank, a podcast collection about how The Diary of Anne Frank grew to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and an Oscar-winning film. Once I began work on the podcast, I’d lately completed the ultimate edits of Cyclorama, a novel about how a highschool manufacturing of Anne Frank modified the lives of its younger actors, and I wished to learn the way the unique present had impacted its forged and crew.
“It by no means felt like simply a plain outdated play,” Rubinstein instructed me. “It actually felt like a duty.”
In The Actual Nick and Nora, a biography of the present’s writers, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, their nephew David L. Goodrich wrote that Anne’s father, Otto Frank, despatched a be aware expressing regrets for not feeling as much as attending the opening.
“You’ll all notice that for me this play is part of my life, and the concept my spouse and kids in addition to I shall be offered on the stage is painful,” learn the be aware, which was posted on a bulletin board backstage. “I hope most ardently that the play will, by way of you, attain as many individuals and awaken in them a way of duty to humanity.”
When the curtain got here up on the Frank household’s secret annex on Oct. 5, 1955, it represented the fruits of a three-year course of to convey Anne Frank’s story to the stage.
There had been a contentious inventive and authorized battle between the present’s producer, Kermit Bloomgarden, and the author Meyer Levin, who was changed by Goodrich and Hackett. Plus innumerable back-and-forths between the writers, producers, director and Otto Frank, who was a considerate and type however fairly demanding literary critic.
“I’m feeling very desolate to need to inform you that I’ve quite a bit to object,” Frank wrote of considered one of Goodrich and Hackett’s drafts. I discovered Frank’s very detailed responses to the evolving script in Kermit Bloomgarden’s papers, that are housed on the Wisconsin Historic Society.
There was additionally an extended seek for the precise director. At one level, Bloomgarden was contemplating Fred Zinnemann, who had by no means directed a Broadway play however was beloved in Hollywood for Excessive Midday and From Right here to Eternity. The producer chosen Garson Kanin, the veteran movie and theater author and director, who’d collaborated along with his spouse, Ruth Gordon, on quite a few screenplays together with Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike.
Kanin turned out to be a shrewd alternative. He was “tireless,” Frances Goodrich wrote in her diary, which I additionally present in Kermit Bloomgarden’s archives, and had a “meticulous consideration to element.” When the inventive workforce visited Anne Frank’s room within the secret annex, Kanin seen that, on Anne’s wall, she had pasted an image of Ginger Rogers from Tom, Dick and Harry, a movie he had directed.
And, after all, lots of of telegrams and letters had been exchanged on the query of casting. Amongst these into account to play Anne Frank and Peter Van Daan have been Natalie Wooden and Dennis Hopper. “We expect this boy is a superb discover, an ace within the gap,” Frances Goodrich wrote of Hopper in a letter to Bloomgarden. In the end, the roles went to Susan Strasberg and Dan Levin.
However now it was opening night time. Over the course of about two hours, the forged of 10 individuals and one cat (Mouschi) carried out the story of how the Frank and Van Daan households managed to outlive greater than two years of hiding with the assistance of heroic mates and neighbors. And the way, inevitably, the Nazis found their hiding place.
“That final scene while you hear them developing the steps, it was terrible,” Rubinstein instructed me. “Your coronary heart was pounding in order that it was arduous to faux it wasn’t actual.”
The curtain got here down, then again up. And so did the lights. The forged confronted the viewers, after which one thing occurred that was not like the tip of every other Broadway opening: Nothing.
There was no applause, no shouts of “Bravo.” Simply silence.
“It was so profound — the sound — that the actors have been nervous, you already know, they have been pondering ‘what’s incorrect?’” recalled Hale Lamont-Havers, who performed Miep Gies, who helped cover the Franks, within the unique Broadway forged. “And it was simply the viewers was so laid low with what that they had seen and what that they had misplaced — the lack of the kid and her household.”
Arnold Margolin, the present’s assistant stage supervisor — who later took over the function of Peter Van Daan — shared the same reminiscence after we spoke.
“You understand, the entire challenge of the Holocaust, that was very recent, and naturally the beginning of Israel was additionally very recent, and so it felt very rapid,” he instructed me. “It was a uncommon night time when the curtain got here down that there wasn’t simply silence.”
Eva Rubinstein stated: “They weren’t even certain they wished to applaud you.”
After a number of surprised, quiet moments, the applause did come. Not simply from the viewers, however from critics. The present would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for finest play.
“A radiant play — as vibrant and shining as a banner,” Kerr wrote within the Herald Tribune.
“A stunning, tender drama,” Atkinson stated in The Instances. “Out of the reality of a human being has come a fragile, rueful, shifting drama.”
(Considerably oddly, Mark Barron of The Related Press described Susan Strasberg as “the sexiest actress of this season.”)
The following day, Oct. 6, Frances Goodrich wrote about opening night time in her personal diary.
“It was well worth the tears, the months we labored, the miles we traveled,” she stated. “We solely want that Anne may have identified.”
Hear extra about how the unique Broadway manufacturing of The Diary of Anne Frank, and the Oscar-winning movie model, formed the lives of those that made it on our podcast, Playing Anne Frank.