24 July 2018

It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all

I only know British actress Hermione Gingold from Vincente Minnelli's musical Gigi (1958) in which she portrayed Gigi's grandmother Madame Alvarez. (Her duet I remember it well with Maurice Chevalier is legendary.) Before coming to the US in the early 1950s, however, Gingold had done mostly stage work in England. Her stage work included several successful revues with Hermione Baddeley (from the 1930s until the 1950s) with whom she had formed a stage partnership.

Apart from the revues, Gingold and Baddeley also worked together on Noël Coward's play Fallen Angels, its original production dating back to 1925. In 1949, the play was revived in London with the two Hermiones playing the jilted wives who were contemplating adultery. Coward himself was appalled by the production and said: "I have never yet in my long experience seen a more vulgar, silly, unfunny, disgraceful performance." Despite Coward's criticism and bad reviews, the play proved a big financial success, running for a total of nine months. 

Noël Coward wasn't the only one who couldn't appreciate the Gingold/Baddeley version of his play. In April 1950, Hermione Gingold received a letter from a member of the audience (wishing to remain anonymous) who was also disgusted by the play and especially Gingold's performance. Known for her sharp-tongued wit, Gingold replied by letter which was later published in her 1952 book My Own Unaided Work.  

Via: Letters of Note
Original source: My Own Unaided Work (1952) by Hermione Gingold

The two Hermiones
April, 1950 
Dear Madam, 
Unless something is done at once about your disgusting exhibition in the filthy play you appear in every night, I and several of my friends will do something very unpleasant about it. 
What you and your co-partner Hermione Baddeley do nightly in public is a slur on English womanhood. "Fallen Angels" is disgusting as a play, but your performance in it makes it loathsome. How the powers that be could permit such an exhibition is past the understanding of a God-fearing woman who supports the present Government--and thanks God for them. 
I give you fair warning to leave the play, or it will be the worse for you. Our wrath will strike at you in your home, or maybe during a performance at the theatre. 
A. Friend 
Ambassadors TheatreW.C.2.
April 14th
Dear Friend,
How clever and capricious you are, cloaking yourself in anonymity, and I must confess I cannot for the life of me guess which of my many friends you can be. You have sent my head spinning and my imagination whirling. Could you be found among my dear friends, intimate friends, close friends, childhood friends, pen friends, family friends, friends of a friend, friends in distress, friends who are closer than a brother, friends in need, or school friends? Your letter quite clearly shows that you are not illiterate, and therefore we can rule out my school friends. Your masterly command of the language banishes the thought that you could be found among my friends from overseas. Your witty criticism of my performance makes me think that I might find you among my nearest and dearest “bosom friends,” that is if you did not choose to address me as “Dear Madam”--a clever move this, and one that reduces my last thought to mere stupidity and you to a casual acquaintance, and yet I must banish the thought “casual acquaintance.” for how many people are there in London today who realise that my “co-partner,” as you wittily dub her, is none other than Hermione Baddeley, and by the way, she wants me to thank you for the facsimile letter you sent her, and say that she is getting on in years and feeble, and is not able to attend to her correspondence as she would wish, and so she cannot answer your letter personally. 
An awful thought has dawned. It is all a joke, and you aren’t really my friend at all. I must try to dismiss this thought. It depresses me. To lose a friend like you in a few words, oh no. 
So, dear anonymous friend, if this should chance to meet your eye, please keep your promise and come round one night--yes, and bring your friends, too, for I know intuitively that your friends will be my friends. 
Cordially yours,  
Hermione Gingold 
P.S. If you wish to strike at me with your wrath in my home, I am always in between ten-thirty and twelve in the morning, excluding Tuesday, which is a bad day, as a lot of tiresome tradespeople call for the same reason. You will easily recognize my apartment, for, apart from the number “85” marked in plain figures on the door, over the knocker there is a notice, "strike twice and wait, bell out of order.”


  1. Ms. Gingold's response is brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing this bon mot.

    PS: You simply must see The Music Man, and Bell Book and Candle for more of Hermione on screen. Also, if you get to see a two part Ironside set in Quebec, she is absolutely delightfully overwhelming.

    1. Thanks for the tips! I will try and check them out:)