26 March 2016

I wish I may go broke wiring you

In January 1938, Vincent Price was asked by Orson Welles to join the Mercury Theatrean independent theatre company founded by Welles and producer John Houseman. Price was thrilled to join Welles and signed a contract for five plays. At first, Price and Welles worked well together and also seemed to have a lot in common. They were both in their twenties, ambitious, had Midwestern origins, were both art lovers, and their fathers were even old college friends who once did magic shows together. But after a while, Price grew dissatisfied with Welles and his undisciplined and erratic behaviour. (Welles didn't show up for rehearsals, or he decided not to do a show at all and then not bother to tell the actors.)

In the summer of 1938, Price left the company and soon made his film debut in the screwball comedy Service de Luxe. He would never work with Welles again and later said of him: "I'm sorry I never got to know Orson Welles better, but he became a legend before his time. He could have been one of the greatest theatrical and cinema directors, but he had to act. Whether he acted or directed, a play was his show and finally, for that reason and for the fact that he ignored contracts and gave no one else any credit, the Mercury fell apart." [source]

During his days with the Mercury Theatre, Price did two plays for Welles, i.e. Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday and George Bernhard Shaw's Heartbreak House. The Shoemaker's Holiday was quite successful and ran for 69 performances with Price in a critically acclaimed role; Heartbreak House received good reviews too and ran for six weeks. 

Below you'll find a few telegrams Welles sent to Price in connection with the plays. With the first telegram dated 19 November 1937, Welles and his associate John "Jack" Houseman were trying to persuade Price to accept the role of Master Hammon in their upcoming play The Shoemaker's Holiday (at the time Price was still playing in The Lady Has a Heart on Broadway). The second telegram is undated and was sent to Price on the opening night of one of the two plays (I'm not sure which). And the last telegram is a short personal message from Welles to Price sent on 29 April 1938, just before the opening of their second play Heartbreak House.


Vincent Price
Longacre Theatre

Have you conferred with that scabrous management of yours stop
We think you are crazy if you don't play Hammon and so do you

Orson and Jack Mercury.



Vincent Price
Mercury Thea[tre]

I wish I could wire as well as you
I wish I could wire you firmly and fully all the things I mean and can't say
And I wish I may go broke wiring you on Mercury openings



Vincent Price
Mercury Theatre

Please believe everything I told you last night and thank you
All my love


Images of the telegrams courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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