Jun 9, 2023

Louise Hirschfeld Shares a Barry Humphries/Dame Edna Story

"dame edna"

At the opening night celebration party for his Broadway debut as Dame Edna, Barry Humphries approached our table at Sardis restaurant. He introduced himself and showed Al a copy of a new CD of the modern composer, Karol Rathaus, with a Hirschfeld portrait on the cover! The German emigree had written the score for Broken Blossoms (1936), a film which starred Dolly Haas before she came to America and was Humphries’ favorite composer. He asked Al to autograph the CD. It was the beginning of a special friendship. The remarkable comedian was a closeted intellectual. He was proud of performing Shakespeare with Zoe Caldwell in the Australian provinces. I began to invite him to our home.

Excerpt from Louise Hirschfeld’s Journals - June 1, 2001

A night of comedy for Al. I arranged a dinner party which included Estelle and Carl Reiner, here from Beverly Hills to see a production of their best friend, Mel Brooks' smash hit musical The Producers. Betsy and Walter Cronkite were free before setting off for their home and yacht at Martha’s Vineyard. I tried to invite Andy Rooney, his old Stars and Stripes writing buddy, but Andy had to have back surgery. Lastly and the biggest comic catch of all was Barry Humphries, who is touring America as Dame Edna, and in town for The Tony Awards. My "secret guests”, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi, could not make it due to night shooting of his latest film.

The night was fabulous… wonderful stories… Carl and his first acting assignment on tour with Shakespeare in Georgia; the dread of "forgetting lines" and how actors mumble and mime their way through a set; praying for their text to return as their fellow actors throw imaginary knives at them. Carl imitated someone on stage who had a stroke and with contorted facial expressions, demanded he repeat the same words. So he did...stammering, twisted and a la Richard II, he delivered some lines of Shakespeare. The table was in pure hysteria. Barry related the story of having his four caps on his front teeth fall out into the orchestra pit, and the mad scramble of musicians and audience who wanted to find them as souvenirs. Again… uncontrollable laughter. Al was bright red from laughing so much.

Estelle is so shy...she was enjoying herself. The Reiners’ friend, Miriam Rosen, said about six words all night, but laughed a lot. Walter showed an amazing knowledge of the British musical theatre. He was stationed there during the war and saw all the great entertainers and comedians. I gave a tour of Al's studio for the folks who could walk... they loved it. Lizzie Spender Humphries, a gorgeous blond six-foot beauty, is the daughter of poet Stephen Spender and has studied and acted (a little) in the theatre. She travels with Barry but is returning to Britain to continue her writing career. It was the most congenial evening with a photoshoot before their departure.