GENERAL ARTICLES

Angel on Broadway

Judith Evelyn used to wow 'em in Moose Jaw as the Butterfly Queen — Now she gets top billing in New York

ROSS PARMENTER June 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Angel on Broadway

Judith Evelyn used to wow 'em in Moose Jaw as the Butterfly Queen — Now she gets top billing in New York

ROSS PARMENTER June 1 1942

Angel on Broadway

Judith Evelyn used to wow 'em in Moose Jaw as the Butterfly Queen — Now she gets top billing in New York

ROSS PARMENTER

A YOUNG woman brought up in Canada has been the theatrical toast of New York during the current season. Her name is Judith Evelyn and the play in which she has made such a resounding success is the hit melodrama, “Angel Street.” Her story is more than the story of an actress who became famous overnight. It was not just a lucky break that she was picked for the role of the tormented wife. Unknown as she was, she actually had a large share in getting the play to Broadway—and then almost didn’t get the part.

Miss Evelyn is not what Broadway would call a raving beauty. She has a crop of nondescript fair hair, a prozninent, pointed nose, and hazel eyes that are both deep-set and yet heavy lidded. Her high cheek-boned, rather square face suggests a tightly drawn mask that can be either young or old, plain or lovely, happy or sad, depending on how she wants it to look.

She is an American citizen, for her parents were Americans and she was born in a small town in South Dakota. But she was taken to Moose Jaw when she was only a year old and, as she grew up, had no consciousness of being anything but Canadian. Even as an adult she used to fill out visitor’s permits to enter the States, until one day a guard made her aware of her citizenship by asking where she was born.

It was in Moose Jaw that she made her theatrical debut. She appeared as the Queen of the Butterflies in a children’s show organized by a visiting lady producer. The experience was not enough to make her stage-struck. At eleven she moved to Winnipeg and, though she can remember successively wanting to take lessons in elocution, dancing and singing, and appearing as a vamp in a high school play, she had no thought of being an actress when she entered the University of Manitoba in 1927.

The student play of her first year gave her ideas. After screwing up her courage, she read for a part the next year and Ralph Martin Erwin, the director, assigned her to the lead in Philip Barry’s “You and I.” The next summer she had a far more intensive taste of theatrical life. Mr. Erwin also directed shows for Canadian Chautauquas and she toured in one of his companies. She signed up as a business manager, but when one of the actresses broke an ankle she found herself acting in “The Patsy.”

In the fall of 1929 she met the director who has taught her more than anyone else in the theatre, Nancy Pyper. Mrs. Pyper was the director of the University’s production that year. It was Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” and Miss Evelyn had the female lead. After another summer touring with Chautauqua — twelve weeks of one-night stands in “Skidding”—she returned to the University and appeared in Mrs. Pyper’s productions of “R.U.R.” and “Pygmalion.”

She received her Master of Arts degree in 1932

with a thesis on “Gerhart Hauptmann and the Realistic Drama” and was thinking of working for a Ph.D. when she was offered a part in a touring company similar to the Chautauqua troup. She took it and during the next ten months went back and forth across Canada four times in “A Pair of Sixes.”

An aunt living in California then suggested that if she really wanted to be an actress it would be a good thing to come out to the coast. She went and appeared in “Cavalcade,” “As You Like It,” “Richard III,” “King John” and “A Woman of No Importance” at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was here that she met her second most influential director, Jerome Coray. Mrs. Pyper had filled her with the conviction that an actor must believe intensely in the character being portrayed. Mr. Coray taught her the commercial theatre.

When Miss Evelyn was visiting Toronto in the Fall of 1935, she found that Mrs. Pyper had just been appointed the first woman director of Hart House Theatre. She decided she could not get any better experience than working under her former director so she stayed and appeared in “Once in a Lifetime,” “Judgment Day” and “The Power of Darkness.” She earned her keep as

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Angel on Broadway

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secretary of the theatre. She was in one of the companies that went to Ottawa for the finals of the Dominion Drama Festival the spring of 1936. Her performance won her the festival’s first prize for the finest performance by a woman.

In Toronto she became engaged to Andrew Allan, a radio announcer. He went to England to try his luck. She followed him in March, 1937. The sledding was hard, but they found radio work. They began to feel they were making some foothold. But with the deepening crisis of the summer of 1939, she was warned as an American to leave England. The ship they sailed on was the Athenia.

They survived the terrible ordeal.

Murder Thriller

BACK in Canada Miss Evelyn got more radio work in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. In the spring of 1940 she returned to California and through Mr. Coray obtained the part of the Woman of Samaria in the Pilgrimage Play in Hollywood.

After that a group of players from the show decided they wanted to do a play. Miss Evelyn remembered one which she had seen televised in London, a play called “Gaslight,” by Patrick Hamilton. It was suitable for it had a single set and required only five people. Under the leadership of Mr. Coray they prepared it

and retitled it “Angel Street,” a Victorian thriller about a homicidal maniac who tries to murder his wife for her money. They spent the next six months looking for a backer.

In February, 1941, they learned that Gilmor Brown was planning to present the play at the Pasadena Playbox. They asked if they could act in it and agreed to do it for nothing to get the chance to be seen. The house manager of the Hollywood Playhouse was there the final night. Within a week he had them all signed

up as professionals and the production moved to his theatre. It ran for six and a half weeks.

Miss Evelyn heard later that Shephard Traube had bought the rights to the play and was going to produce it in New York with Vincent Price and his wife, Edith Barrett. Naturally it almost broke her heart to see another actress chosen for her part. She asked if she could understudy, but even that request wasn’t granted.

The day before the Prices were to leave for New York, Miss Barrett became ill. Mr. Price used his influence to have Miss Evelyn go in her place. She did. The play opened in December and the next morning she awoke to find herself famous.

Since then her life has been largely a round of interviews and photographs, with old friends she has known from all over the place turning up to congratulate her. She has learned to greet fellow workers in the theatrical vineyard with the conventional “Hello, Dickey, how are you, dear.”

But she has not changed much from her Toronto days. She talks about acting with intelligence and enthusiasm. People who remember her as a lonely little girl in Winnipeg who “shot up” at thirteen would still recognize her. And she would still recognize them.