on a Show,
Note to Penns
You might want to skip this part.
was devastated, Prince is saying back in his office. I assume that
Im just not hearing him right. Ive just asked him a question
about Mask & Wig, which he had not joined because Jews were pretty
much relegated to the chorus back then. But Prince isnt interested
in revisiting that old story, which hes told before to the Gazette,
among other publications; so hes telling me about his experience
applying to Penn in 1943. The information that he got turned down is just
not registering, so I ask if hes referring to Mask & Wig.
he ejaculates. Penn! Penn turned me down! Oh
so my mother said, Were going down to Philadelphia on the
train, and youre going into the admissions office. And I said,
Oh, God. I was very shy. Terrified. And she said,
No, were doing it.
I went down to Penn with her, and I walked into the admissions officeno
appointment or anythingand I asked to see the admissions director.
And I said, This is where I want to go. I dont want to go
anywhere else. I had good reasons; it was a great school; its
a great city; there was a lot of theater coming in and out of that town
on the way to New York. And it was near New York. Everything worked for
anyway, I talked to this man. I must have been incredibly shy, and he
said, Well, Im looking at your record, and the reason you
have not been accepted is you want to be a liberal-arts English major,
and your English marks arent high enough.
I said, But Ive just won the graduate English prize at school,
which is the top award you can give for English, and my teacher happens
to be one of the principals of the school, and he doesnt believe
in giving anything over Bs. And he said, Really? And
I said, Yes. And he said, Oh, my. And he said,
Go on home. And I went to my mother, who was waiting, sitting
in front of Ben Franklins statue, and I said, Theyre
taking me. And she said, How do you know? And I said,
I know. And I was taken and I started.
War II was still turning young men into soldiers, and Prince, who describes
himself as a wimpy, frightened 16-year-old, felt like a child
compared to all the guys in uniform. But he soon found a home with the
Penn Players, winning the Best Male Performance Award in 1945 for his
portrayal of the Reverend Collins in Pride and Prejudice, under
the direction of Kaki Marshall, known in those days as Catherine Santa
gave me a great role, and I got the award for best actor, he recalls.
Over-actor, I think it probably was. But Ill tell youthey
never gave me another part. Because the next year, everybody came back
from the war, and they got back all the actors that they really admired,
so I was reduced to not acting. I hated acting.
was later quoted as saying that was when he realized that acting was not
going to be his career, says Marshall with a laugh. I thought
he made a very good decision at that point.
I knew it wasnt my metier, Prince says. No one ever
shook so much; no one was ever so terrified. Insofar as a director has
to know something about acting, I know how to indicate, if its necessary,
what I want. But dont copy me, because it would be poisonously ill-advised.
real metier was directing, and in 1947 he won the J. Howard Reber Award
for directing a Penn Players production. (He wrote the play in question,
though he cant remember the name of it.) Curiously, he was not interested
back then in musicals, which he found trivial and camp.
like character, he says. You know, my idea of theater is that
Russian stuff that Meyerhold did and Piscators German stuff, and
I loved the whole tradition of Asian theater. Soask me how many
times Ive seen A Long Days Journey Into Night. Or go
to the moviesCitizen Kane. Those are the high-water marks
in my audience attendance. So even though I thought the songs were fun
and so on, it didnt interest me.
Penn, he points out, the pre-eminent theatrical attraction was the
Mask & Wig show and guys putting on drag, which left him cold.
I never got it! I dont get it now! I guess Im not a
cheery enough guy to think, Oh, isnt it funnyguys in
dresses. You knowtheyre not trying to be drag queens;
theyre trying to be funny. And theyre trying to make a lot
of people laugh. But it closed off any opportunity I might have had to
get involved with musical theater at Penn. I wasnt really interested.
did get interested inand helped foundWXPN, serving a stint
as station manager. It was an amazingly useful experience,
he says, especially when he began adapting plays for radio. He even wrote
a soap opera, called Stella Fort Worth: A Woman of 65 for Whom Romance
Is Never Over.
did it on the air five nights a week, he recalls. Which means
I had to write the script15 minutes, it wastake it in, rehearse
it, and provide it for two seasons.
idea of extra-curricular entertainment was to haunt
the old library.
would go in idly and leaf through the file cards and send for things,
he told a small crowd of theater fans at Van Pelt Library in 1993. You
know: a playwrights history; the history of a period of the theater;
the history of an acting family; the history of the Walnut Street Theaterwhich
is as rich a one as you can get; and so on. Id sit there with whatever
I got from the library and just leaf through it, and indulge my hunger
for that historyand my dream of having a place in it someday.
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