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Geraldine Fitzgerald--the actress best known for her screen performance in Wuthering Heights--impersonated Bette Davis and told stories about Orson Welles as she brought to life the personalities behind Hollywood's Golden Era, in a discussion at Agassiz Theater yesterday.
As part of the "Learning from Performers" series sponsored by the campus Office for the Arts, Fitzgerald spoke about her life as both an actress and a director, and offered a few anecdotes which drew a warm response from the audience.
"I've been fortunate in my life because I've got to meet interesting and fascinating people," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald, who worked with Bette Davis on one film, said she remembers being told, "Watch out for Bette Davis. You'll get nowhere with Bette Davis on stage...She'll turn you so your back's to the camera."
As a result, Fitzgerald said, she would "mount" herself behind a piece of furniture on the set, so that Davis could not move her. But Fitzgerald said she soon "figured out the rumor was totally unfounded."
According to Fitzgerald, Davis told her "That explains it. At first I thought you were insane because you kept wedging yourself in between pieces of furniture."
Fitzgerald also discussed how she came from Ireland and broke into the world of American acting.
Born at the beginning of World War I, Fitzgerald said she was strongly influenced by her tumultuous childhood.
"We suffered very much from the tension of our parents," she said. "The lifelong impression was fear and tension."
At her first theater job--still in Ireland--Fitzgerald began to hear about the young Welles.
"I was always hearing about someone called Orson Welles. He was 16 years old but was six foot four," Fitzgerald said. "He had great success because he had such a beautiful voice... Everyone was intrigued because Orson Welles at age 16 knew every dirty trick of scene stealing."
After acting in English Q-films, which she described as "way below B-films" in which she always "played the same part--sort of a sappy girl sometimes called Susan and sometimes called Patricia," Fitzgerald came to New York.
There, she said, "One day I got a call to say that Orson Welles, star of the town at that time, heard I was there and wanted to audition me for Heartbreak House."
During a question-and-answer session, Fitzgerald offered aspiring actors some advice: "When the moment comes that you can get in [a company,] you should grab it."
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