Anyone for whom the fame of a theater actor is measured by a guest spot on "Glee" might be interested to know that during the 1940s, the timeframe ofThe Grand Manner, the benchmark was a little different: an appearance on the cover of Time magazine.
According to Anne Cattaneo, LCT's dramaturg and the co-executive editor of the Lincoln Center Theater Review, Katharine Cornell - a central character inThe Grand Manner - was on the cover of Time three times. "She is a great example of how, in the 1930s and 1940s, the most famous actors in America could be stage actors. That's unthinkable now."
One of the articles in the Lincoln Center Review edition tied to The Grand Manner will explore the question of fame for stage celebrities like Cornell. "It seemed like a natural topic to go into," said Cattaneo, reaching for another example of the phenomenon. She pointed out that when Ethel Barrymore celebrated her 70th birthday, in 1949, there were telegrams from the President and from top baseball players - "from a variety of people who would be unlikely for a stage actor today."
For the Grand Manner edition of the Review -- which will also include an article on television's early attempt to bring high culture to the masses and an interview with Grand Manner's Cornell interpreter, Kate Burton - dealing with issues like fame in the 1940s is expected.
Using the first-person plural to include not only herself but the Review's founder and current co-executive editor, playwright John Guare, and others on the masthead, Cattaneo said: "We put subjects explored by plays in a larger context. We want to be an ideal companion for the theatergoer, by providing more than just basic information about a production."
The philosophy of the Review, which is published three times a year, is that theater should be part of the social and intellectual debates of our time. "ForThe Coast of Utopia, for example," Cattaneo said, "we had an article by Margaret Atwood about utopia, because her novel 'The Handmaid's Tale' is one of the best explorations of dystopia in recent fiction. For our edition on Chekhov's Ivanov, we had an article by Cynthia Ozick about anti-Semitism, because that's been a perennial topic of discussion among people interested in that play."
"Our edition dealing with The Grand Manner," said Cattaneo, "doesn't take on topics quite that heavy." Cornell, for the most part, isn't known for appearing in issue-heavy dramas. In fact, today she isn't known by people for much at all. Why? "There's virtually nothing of her on tape or film," Cattaneo replies. "She's in the movie 'Stage Door Canteen,' made during the war. And that's about it. The Grand Manner should help give her new life."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.