On August 21, 1941, a young Irish actress named Geraldine Fitzgerald took to the Lobero stage to star in the world premiere of an English murder mystery called Lottie Dundass.
A year earlier, Fitzgerald had been nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in Wuthering Heights opposite Laurence Olivier, and Lottie Dundass was her highly publicized return to the theater.
Geraldine Fitzgerald was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1913, and made her Broadway debut at the age of 25, starring with Orson Welles in the play Heartbreak House. Hollywood producer Hal Wallis saw her performance and signed her to a contract with Warner Brothers Studio, where she soon appeared in a number of acclaimed films, typically cast as the sensitive and devoted friend of the film’s female lead.
Lottie Dundass was the second offering in producer David O. Selznick’s 1941 Lobero summer season. And just like the first play – Anna Christie starring Ingrid Bergman – the opening night premiere drew a large contingent of Hollywood celebrities, including Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Olivia de Havilland, Delores Del Rio and Raymond Massey.
Lottie Dundass was a fascinating portrait of a psychologically flawed, neurotic heroine.
The San Francisco Chronicle described the plotline – “Lottie Dundass is a mad girl with a flaming temperament; consumed with ambition, she impulsively brushes aside every obstacle in her path, and murders the understudy who turns up on the night which Lottie has set aside for her triumphant stage debut.”
The play received mixed reviews, with most critics saying it swung too wildly between tragedy and comedy and needed rewriting before it was ready for Broadway. But Geraldine Fitzgerald’s acting was solidly praised.
Newspapers raved about Fitzgerald’s performance –
“Her feverish, white-faced Lottie, with her uncontrollable rages, her white-hot intensity, her anguished foreknowledge of the fate in store for her, was an extraordinary study in character.” San Francisco Chronicle
“She virtually took the audience by storm in the final fevered act of the stage piece. There were cheers and stampings of feet to betoken her success and if for no other reason than her presence, the latest production of the Selznick company promises to be a hit during its brief stay here.” Los Angeles Times
While we wait in the wings for things to return to normal, we hope you enjoy a peek into the Lobero archives.
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