A Rare Gielgud flop
GIELGUD, John. Signed Postcard Photograph of John Gielgud in He Was Born Gay with Typed Letter Signed by Gielgud. [Queen's Theatre]. 1937.
Mounted together, 301 x 470 mm in mount.
Black and white portrait postcard of John Gielgud as Mr Mason in the play He Was Born Gay, inscribed by Gielgud "John Gielgud. Mr Mason. He was Born Gay. June 1937."
A typed letter, dated May 27, 1937, signed by John Gielgud on his headed paper to a Miss Bannerman thanking her for a letter, "I was very pleased to hear that you had seats for the evening and hope that you enjoyed the play last night". With a manuscript postcript in ink "Thank you too for the charming present last night. The play went very well but we have a big bird in some of the press - so cannot tell what will happen."
An interesting combination of items about one of Gielgud's theatrical flops. He Was Born Gay was written by Emlyn Williams, one of Gielgud's early homosexual lovers. The play, directed by Gielgud himself, was not a success. In a later 1948 letter to Terence Rattigan he wrote "I think the fiasco of Born Gay, following my last American visit has haunted me ever since - it was the only time I've really made a spectacular personal failure both as director and actor, and in a much-publicised and disappointing play by a modern author."
His manuscript sentiment in this letter is confirmed in a letter to Lilian Gish on May 29th. "Well our worst fears were justified, and although on the opening night the emotional scenes went very well, the critics were embarressed by them and confused by the play…The general verdict all round seems to be pretty bad. It may go on for a few weeks if the audiences continue numerous, but if the Sunday notices are as bad a s the dailies, I hardly think people will venture".
Things did however pick up for Gielgud later that year. From September 1937 to April 1938 Gielgud was the tenant of the Queen's Theatre, where he presented a season consisting of Richard II, The School for Scandal, Three Sisters, and The Merchant of Venice. His company included Harry Andrews, Peggy Ashcroft, Glen Byam Shaw, George Devine, Michael Redgrave and Harcourt Williams, with Angela Baddeley and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as guests. His own roles were King Richard, Joseph Surface, Vershinin and Shylock. Gielgud's performances drew superlatives from reviewers and colleagues. Agate considered his Richard II, "probably the best piece of Shakespearean acting on the English stage today." Olivier said that Gielgud's Joseph Surface was "the best light comedy performance I've ever seen, or ever shall see".
Signed photographs of Gielgud in acting roles are not uncommon, however we have not seen an example of Gielgud in this role.