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Between the Lines

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When Elisabeth Bergner, the Jewish girl from Vienna who is considered one of the greatest actresses in the world, was asked upon her arrival in New York last week whether she prefers to play in the movies rather than on the stage, she replied quite seriously:

“I prefer the movies because there is no first night for the artist there.”

Those who know Elisabeth Bergner also know how much she dislikes to appear in a premiere. She is never her best on the stage on an opening night. She gets into her role only after acclimatizing herself sufficiently with the surroundings of the stage, only after she has played for several evenings.


Critics of the New York press who saw Miss Bergner in “Escape Me Never” on the opening night this week were rather puzzled as to why she has gained such international fame. Admitting she is a very good actress, they nevertheless did not see reason for the extraordinary excitement which her name provokes in the theatrical world.

They have changed their minds now, after seeing Miss Bergner again in the same performance, but a few evenings later. The charm and grace with which Miss Bergner acts leaves no doubt as to the great talent of this Jewish artist.


An analysis of Miss Bergner’s acting in “Escape Me Never” appeared yesterday in The Bulletin. All that can be added to this review is, that the American theatre-goer owes a vote of thanks to Nazis Germany for forcing Miss Bergner from the German stage, thus bringing her to the English stage.

Miss Bergner’s is a rare type of talent. She possesses the gift of holding the audience interested even in the small and insignificant moves or expressions she makes on the stage. She appears so convincing that the audience forgets she is acting. The audience is absorbed to the extent that it begins to believe that it witnesses actual life and not merely an amitation.


The nonchalance with which Miss Bergner plays the major part of her role in “Escape Me Never” is also something novel to the American public. Novel and pleasant, though in numerous scenes calling for nonchalance at first one gets the impression that the acting is too studied; that each move is more a matter of thought than of impulse; that Miss Bergner does more posing than playing.

This first impression evaporates, however, after the second act, when Miss Bergner shows herself in stronger and more emotional episodes. It is then that the audience sees how many-sided this little Jewish actress is.

It did Miss Bergner more harm than good, that exaggerated publicity which preceded her coming here, comparing her to Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. The audience enters the theatre with a prejudiced mind. It expects the impossible from Miss Bergner. It feels, in a way, disappointed when it does not find the expected in the first act. The disappointment disappears, however, in the course of the play, and changes to enthusiasm by the time the play reaches its end.

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