Saturday, April 29, 2006

When Knighthood Was in Flower

Los Angeles theatergoers are transfixed by the new production of “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” Paul Kester’s adaptation of Charles Major’s 1898 novel, forming a mile-long line to buy tickets at Morosco’s Burbank Theater at Main and 6th St.

One reason was the return of Blanche Hall, a longtime member of the Burbank’s stock company, after a stint on the New York stage.

Hall was a veteran of Oliver Morosco’s stock company, which maintained a grueling schedule of a new production about every two weeks of now-forgotten plays like “Our Boarding House,” “The Little Church Around the Corner” and “The Imperial Highway” along with the Shakespearean standard “The Merchant of Venice” and Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”

Such demanding schedules prompted actor Richard Mansfield to observe in 1905 during a stop at the Van Nuys Hotel: “The stock actor is a white slave. He toils without rest and without artistic reward. He is unjust to himself and to his public. His work is training, it is true, but the training is bitter—bitter!”

Actor William Desmond recalled one opening-night disaster at the Burbank in which Hall forgot her lines during the Act III, Scene 2 “casket scene” in “The Merchant of Venice.”

Desmond finally adlibbed: “Fair Portia, has naught to say?”

To which she replied: “Naught.”

Desmond said he laughed so hard that they had to draw the curtain.

Hall retired after 85 weeks for a trip to New York, where she received glowing notices in the newspapers. On opening night of her return to Los Angeles in “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” she received loads of flowers and made a short speech after six curtain calls.

In 1910, during a tour of Oakland, she was stricken with appendicitis and rushed home to Los Angeles for treatment. Later that year, she had a successful Eastern tour with her niece Evelyn Hall, who performed under the stage name Dolly Varden.

Hall remained a fixture of the stage in the ensuing years and by 1915 was performing at the Little Theater at Figueroa and Pico, along with actor Tyrone Power Sr.

Blanche Hall Morrison died Sept. 9, 1931, survived by a sister, brother and niece. She had been married for 10 years to actor Louis A. Morrison, who abandoned her to go on the road. The last time she heard from him was when he returned her watch with the words “this is the last link.”

As for the Burbank Theater, it was turned into a burlesque house before being demolished in 1974.

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