The O'Neill Festival screened "The Iceman Cometh," a 1960 Play of the Week directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Jason Robards Jr. and a very young Robert Redford.
The film depicts the accounts surrounding the 60th birth day party of saloonkeeper Harry Hope, an Irish ward heeler, and the down and out characters who inhabit his Last Chance Saloon. They correspond to O'Neill's friends in his younger years, and the play is highly political. They are waiting for Theodore Hickman(Hickey) to arrive; Larry Slade and Don Parrit are dropouts from the anarchist movement.
Ted Mann, Producer, Circle in the Square
and Avrim Ludwig of "Inside the Actors' Studio"
Photo credit: Patricia Jameson-Sammartano
Ted Mann, who produced the 1956 Circle in the Square presentation of "Iceman", told of the play not succeeding on Broadway and of being summoned, with director Jose Quintero, by Mrs. O'Neill to talk about putting on the play at Circle in the Square, which had been a former nightclub with the windows painted over(to avoid the Prohibition revenue agents) The actors entering looked like ghosts.
Howard da Silva had originally been cast as Hickey, but left due to other commitments. According to a search of both Internet Movie and Broadway Databoards, he never did an O'Neill play; talk about missed opportunities. Jason Robards insisted on auditioning for the role, even though he had already been cast in the play. He read the 4th act monologue, and Mann said, "It was his role; nobody could touch Jason." Mann also recounted how he and Quintero called Robards' 12th Street home after the audition and asked for Hickey, just to let Robards know he had the role.
We were treated to a first-person account of theater history; Robards became associated with male roles in O'Neill plays, just as Jose Quintero became the "O'Neill Director." Mann produced both of them. Redford, who was an unknown actor cast by Sidney Lumet in the movie, went on to become Bob Woodward in "All the Presidents' Men," in which Robards appeard as Washington Post Managing Editor Ben Bradlee.
Returning to "Iceman," the denizens of the Last Chance all have hopes of one sort or another, and "these pipe dreams or aspirations are what kept them alive," according to Mann. He sees that as the essence of the play. He said that the current Broadway hit, "The Seafarer" also is acted much the way "Iceman" was, very naturalistically, and said of Robards, "Jason was needier onstage."
Mann has recently publlished his memoir, "Journeys In the Night."
And of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" which Mann also produced in 1956, he said that Mrs. O'Neill approached them and said no changes were to be made to the script and she would have to approve the cast. Eugene O'Neill had left instructions in his will that this play not be published until 25 years after his death(1953); by 1956, his sons Shane and Eugene Jr. had both committed suicide, and his daughter Oona was disinherited because she had married Charlie Chaplin. "The children were all dead to O'Neill," said Mann.
Production details on the original "Long Days Journey:" the cost of production was under $200,000 in 1956, and dentist friends of Mann's put up $250 a share for the play. Better than pulling teeth.
Culture Editor, WGT