Inquiring reader: I featured this post on Jane Austen Today on November 3, but I loved the history of the back story so much that I wanted to publish the post here also. For another nearly forgotten Pride and Prejudice performance, click on Celia Johnson: The Forgotten Elizabeth Bennet.
Seen on the blogosphere is this quote from Theater Mania about the 1958-1959 season:
“One of the season’s short-lived shows was First Impressions, a musical version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, in which Polly Bergen took over the lead role of Elizabeth Bennett three weeks before opening. “I replaced Gisele MacKenzie and had to learn the score very fast,” she told me. “Farley Granger [who played Mr. Darcy] and Hermione Gingold [who played Mrs. Bennett] were not singers, so I carried the vocal load of the show. It was a vicious dog-eat-dog atmosphere.”
The action took place in the early 19th Century, causing one critic to snipe that “Polly Bergen is about as period as Mickey Mantle.” She had the critique framed and hung above her desk. “I learn more from bad reviews than good ones. Everything was rushed; the last thing I gave any thought to was that it took place in 1813! It was a horrific experience, and I thought that was what Broadway was. But it’s really the medium I love.”
Polly Bergen. First Impressions. NYC (Photo: Polly Bergen, Stuart Hodes)
At the first full cast rehearsal, when Polly Bergen came in I recognized her perfume.
“Aah, Vent Vert!”
She stopped. “How come you know?”
“It’s my favorite. I bought some in Paris.”
I’d bought a bottle in Paris but had first sniffed it on Air France which had a full bottle in every john. I decided not to share that detail with Bergen.
The next day when Bergen arrived she approached, leaned close, and said, “Okay, what’s this?”
I had no idea. “Chanel Number 5.”
I took another sniff. “I got it! Pissoir d’amour.”
She gave me a faint smile. “You’re quite an expert.”— Stuart Hodes
One may purchase the cast album on Amazon.com today for around a whopping $90. The following is an Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Polly Bergen in 1958.