Prince of Players (1955)

102 or 105 mins | Biography | January 1955

Director:

Philip Dunne

Writer:

Moss Hart

Producer:

Philip Dunne

Cinematographer:

Charles G. Clarke

Editor:

Dorothy Spencer

Production Designers:

Lyle Wheeler, Mark-Lee Kirk

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

Following the opening credits, a written statement reads: “A hundred years ago, the plays of William Shakespeare reached their height of popularity on the American stage. Actors traveled in Shakespearean repertory from the palatial theatres of the East to the brawling mining camps of the West. Stars were made by their ability in the well-known and well-loved roles: Hamlet, King Lear, Richard and Othello. This is the true story of a famous theatrical family of that era—a family which made history on stage and off.”
       The film is based on the lives of Edwin Booth (1833—1893), his brother, John Wilkes Booth (1839—1865) and their father, Junius Brutus Booth (1796—1852), one of the foremost acting families in the United States. Following in his father’s footsteps, Edwin, called "Ned," became renowned for his subtle approach to acting and his use of the full text of Shakespeare’s plays. Edwin was married to Mary Devlin from 1860 until her death in 1863. Edwin’s highly successful tour of England was followed by a record-setting, 100-night run of Hamlet in New York in 1864, although he was forced to retire from acting for a year after John Wilkes assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Edwin married another actress, Mary McVicker, and continued acting until 1891. The film's title comes from a line in the poem "Sargent's Portrait of Edwin Booth at 'The Players'," written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
       According to a 28 Jan 1953 HR news item, when Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights to Eleanor Ruggles’ best-selling novel about the Booth family, Sol C. Siegel was set to produce the project, and was hoping to cast either Laurence Olivier or Marlon ... More Less

Following the opening credits, a written statement reads: “A hundred years ago, the plays of William Shakespeare reached their height of popularity on the American stage. Actors traveled in Shakespearean repertory from the palatial theatres of the East to the brawling mining camps of the West. Stars were made by their ability in the well-known and well-loved roles: Hamlet, King Lear, Richard and Othello. This is the true story of a famous theatrical family of that era—a family which made history on stage and off.”
       The film is based on the lives of Edwin Booth (1833—1893), his brother, John Wilkes Booth (1839—1865) and their father, Junius Brutus Booth (1796—1852), one of the foremost acting families in the United States. Following in his father’s footsteps, Edwin, called "Ned," became renowned for his subtle approach to acting and his use of the full text of Shakespeare’s plays. Edwin was married to Mary Devlin from 1860 until her death in 1863. Edwin’s highly successful tour of England was followed by a record-setting, 100-night run of Hamlet in New York in 1864, although he was forced to retire from acting for a year after John Wilkes assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Edwin married another actress, Mary McVicker, and continued acting until 1891. The film's title comes from a line in the poem "Sargent's Portrait of Edwin Booth at 'The Players'," written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
       According to a 28 Jan 1953 HR news item, when Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights to Eleanor Ruggles’ best-selling novel about the Booth family, Sol C. Siegel was set to produce the project, and was hoping to cast either Laurence Olivier or Marlon Brando as “Edwin.” In Jun 1954, Philip Dunne was set to produce the picture, which marked his debut as a director. According to HR news items and studio publicity, Dunne was aided in the staging of the Shakespearean scenes by noted stage actress Eva Le Gallienne, who made her screen debut in Prince of Players . [Le Gallienne made only two other feature film appearances, in addition to appearing in several television productions.] Although a 26 Jul 1954 HR news item stated that Otto Lang would be shooting background scenes in England, France and Morocco for the picture, it is unlikely that any of this footage was used in the released film. Studio publicity reported that some location footage was shot at Lone Pine, CA, and that exact replicas of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the Booth home in Maryland were recreated for the production.
       A 17 Aug 1954 HR news item announced that Sheila Ryan was being tested for a role, but she does not appear in the completed picture. Other HR news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the finished film has not been confirmed: Frank Fowler, Nick Frank, Howard Hoffman, John Dodsworth, Ruth Clifford, Rube Schaffer, Yvonne Pattie, Jim Hayward and Louise Robinson. In a 14 Apr 1955 ad in HR , Dunne thanked a number of the film’s cast and crew, including Grace Hicks and Al Hix, whose exact contribution to the picture has not been determined.
       In a Jan 1955 HR news item, Dunne stated that “stereophonic sound was used as an integral part” of the film’s production, with a “number of scenes having sound effects especially for theatres having surround horns.” Prince of Players received excellent reviews, both for the acting and for Dunne’s staging of the scenes in CinemaScope. The Var review called the picture “one of the handsomest and most perfectly composed CinemaScope productions to date.” In praising Burton’s performance, the MPHPD reviewer asserted: “Perhaps for the first time in his film career, Burton is able to show himself to be the actor of range, power and intensity that he is.” Burton went on to establish himself as one of the twentieth century's most highly regarded interpreters of the role of "Hamlet." After having previously played the role in 1953 in England, Burton agreed to play Hamlet on Broadway in 1964, in a production directed by Sir John Gielgud. Their modern dress, scaled down interpretation was the longest-running production of Hamlet in Broadway history, and Burton was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Dramatic Actor. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Jan 1955.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jan 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
5 Jan 55
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jun 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1954
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 1954
p. 6, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 1954
p. 4, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1954
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1955
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1955
pp. 5-7.
Life
24 Jan 1955.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
16 Apr 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Jan 55
p. 273.
New York Times
18 Jul 1954.
---
New York Times
12 Jan 55
p. 24.
Newsweek
24 Jan 1955
---
Time
7 Feb 1955.
---
Variety
5 Jan 55
p. 58.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
William Walker
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Props
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Hair styling
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Spec consultant on Shakespearean scenes
Scr supv
Research dir
Casting dir
Key grip
Painter
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Prince of Players: Edwin Booth by Eleanor Ruggles (New York, 1953).
DETAILS
Release Date:
January 1955
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 January 1955
Production Date:
mid August--late September 1954
addl seq mid October 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
11 January 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4529
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
lenses by Bausch & Lomb
Duration(in mins):
102 or 105
Length(in feet):
9,172
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17227
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1848, young Edwin Booth desperately searches for his father, famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, who is late for a performance. Ned finds Booth in a nearby saloon and drags the drunken actor to the theater, where Booth yells at the restive audience that he will give them the “damnedest King Lear they ever saw.” After the performance, Ned struggles to keep Booth in their room, for Booth has an attack of his “madness” and tries to escape to go drinking. Soon, Ned and his father return home to Maryland, where they are greeted by Ned’s older sister Asia and younger brother John Wilkes. After Booth regains his strength, he encourages John’s acting, while the shy Ned longs for the attention lavished on his brother by Asia and Booth. Ned continues to tour with Booth, memorizing his repertory and attempting to keep him sober. In 1857, after Ned has grown to manhood and become one of the company’s actors, he travels with Booth to San Francisco, where financier Dave Prescott has built a theater for the great actor. During their performance of Richard III , however, the ailing Booth cannot remember his lines, and afterward, tells Prescott that he is retiring. Booth gives his prop crown to Ned, and soon after, a nervous Prescott presents Ned at a rough mining camp. The miners are infuriated when they learn that Ned is the Booth they have paid to see, not his father, but after roaring that he will present “the damnedest Richard they have ever seen,” Ned captivates the crowd with his performance. Prescott is baffled by Ned’s disappearance after the show, and in the ... +


In 1848, young Edwin Booth desperately searches for his father, famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, who is late for a performance. Ned finds Booth in a nearby saloon and drags the drunken actor to the theater, where Booth yells at the restive audience that he will give them the “damnedest King Lear they ever saw.” After the performance, Ned struggles to keep Booth in their room, for Booth has an attack of his “madness” and tries to escape to go drinking. Soon, Ned and his father return home to Maryland, where they are greeted by Ned’s older sister Asia and younger brother John Wilkes. After Booth regains his strength, he encourages John’s acting, while the shy Ned longs for the attention lavished on his brother by Asia and Booth. Ned continues to tour with Booth, memorizing his repertory and attempting to keep him sober. In 1857, after Ned has grown to manhood and become one of the company’s actors, he travels with Booth to San Francisco, where financier Dave Prescott has built a theater for the great actor. During their performance of Richard III , however, the ailing Booth cannot remember his lines, and afterward, tells Prescott that he is retiring. Booth gives his prop crown to Ned, and soon after, a nervous Prescott presents Ned at a rough mining camp. The miners are infuriated when they learn that Ned is the Booth they have paid to see, not his father, but after roaring that he will present “the damnedest Richard they have ever seen,” Ned captivates the crowd with his performance. Prescott is baffled by Ned’s disappearance after the show, and in the desert, alone, Ned cries out that he, not John, is his father’s true successor. Terrified that he has inherited his father’s mental instability as well as his talent, Ned gets drunk, and the next morning, is awakened by Prescott, who informs him that Booth is dead. Following his successful tour, Ned goes east, and at Ford’s Theatre, watches John’s well-received performance in The Taming of the Shrew . Asia and John assume that Ned will serve as John’s manager, but Ned caustically informs John that he needs training and discipline. Stung by John’s insulting reply, Ned declares that he paid with his childhood for the opportunity to become the next great Booth, and storms out. Ned then begins another tour, and in New Orleans, Mary Devlin, a member of his company, is forced to retrieve him from a bordello for a rehearsal. Ned is touched by Mary’s impassioned reading of scene from Romeo and Juliet , and despite warnings from other actors that the Booths have a “taint” in them, Mary falls deeply in love with Ned. Although he fears that he will break Mary’s heart, Ned soon reciprocates her feelings and the couple is married. Buoyed by Mary’s devotion, Ned quits drinking and is acclaimed wherever he performs. One day, Ned receives a summons from Asia, who informs him that John, deeply jealous of Ned’s success as an actor, has become involved in the Confederate cause. Asia sends Ned to Harper’s Ferry, where John is awaiting the hanging of abolitionist John Brown, and there, Ned tries to persuade John to accompany him to London, where Ned is to begin a tour of Hamlet . John bitterly refuses, stating that to destroy greatness is to partake of it, and that he would rather play in the “mortal drama” of the war between the states. Ned and the now-pregnant Mary then travel to London, and on opening night, Mary suffers an attack due to her weak lungs. Ned pleads with her never to leave him, and after comforting him, Mary insists that he continue with his tour, which has been extended due to excellent reviews. One night, Mary gives birth to their daughter and Ned tenderly drapes an American flag over their bed to celebrate. Back in the United States, Asia discovers that John is acting as a courier for Confederate spies, and he laughingly responds to her outrage by stating that he has become the most valuable actor in the south. Mary and Ned eventually return to New York, although due to her illness, Mary is forced to leave for a drier climate. Ned attempts to equal his London success as Hamlet, but without Mary’s steadying influence, is soon drinking and missing performances. Prescott writes to Mary, begging her to come home, but when she attempts to leave her bed, she suffers a fatal attack. Devastated by Mary’s death, Ned ignores his family and the theater, choosing instead to kneel by her graveside every day. After a year passes, Ned summons Prescott and tells him that he is ready to return to acting and is confident that there is no madness he cannot overcome. Asia’s happiness at Ned’s recovery is doubled by the ending of the war, which she assumes will ensure John’s safety. Asia and Ned are horrified, however, when John assassinates President Abraham Lincoln, and is then hunted down and killed. On 15 June 1865, Ned decides to re-open his Hamlet , despite the huge mob that gathers at the theater to protest against him and all actors. Although Prescott warns Ned that he will be lynched if he goes on, Ned declares that he owes it to his profession not to let John’s actions ruin the lives of all actors. Ned takes the stage and sits silently as he is pelted with fruit and insults, until finally, the crowd grows quiet and one man shouts out that Ned has “got guts.” Impressed by Ned’s courage, the crowd applauds and cheers, while Ned looks up to the box where Mary always sat and remembers her recitation of Juliet’s lines: “Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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