An earlier post about Kirk Douglas elicited a comment/reminiscence about the kind of tangible power of sheer personality the actor had when encountered in person by one of us mere, non-screen legend mortals. It reminded me that I too had experienced that same dynamic, years ago, when I saw Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in a two-man play at the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco.
The play was called "The Boys In Autumn", about an imagined reunion of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn some fifty years after their legendary adventures together. Suffice to say the play itself was a dark and ultimately disappointing misfire, but the presence on stage of the two iconic actors, now both in their 70s, was an incredible experience, especially in the relatively intimate (650 seats) Marines Memorial.
The lights went up to reveal a cabin on the left, and a path leading offstage coming from the right. It appears to be somewhere in the south - the bayou perhaps, with the sound of cicadas and birds in the background. Otherwise the stage is empty. And then Kirk Douglas walks onstage, and holy crap the wave of energy that emanated from him was palpable and undeniable. The audience exploded in a cascade of enthusiastic applause and cheers, a response that went on for easily two minutes, not kidding. Kirk Douglas stood there, in character as Tom Sawyer, looking round the set as if it was familiar but he hadn't seen it in years. He was smiling - in character - but I'll be damned if he wasn't also genuinely bowled over by the swirl of positive energy and adulation bouncing back at him from us in the audience. Eventually we settled down and let the play begin, with Douglas monologging about his memories of the place and some of what had transpired in the intervening years - actually much of what he said at this point is pretty fuzzy - I was getting theist of it but mostly I was still just marveling at the display of energy and movie star wattage we were all experiencing. Douglas goes on alone for about ten minutes or so, and then just inside the screen door of the cabin, Burt Lancaster appears, warily watching Douglas but not yet speaking.
Again, you could feel the energy of the man, just standing there. Again, the applause and cheers, for an equal amount of time, as I recall, to what we greeted Douglas with. And he was just standing there!
It was an astonishing experience, and in spite of the play itself being unsatisfying and unnecessarily lurid, we the audience stood on our feet and cheered and clapped for a good long time as the actors took their curtain calls, arms around each other's shoulders, seeming to bask in the audience's appreciation of being in such close proximity to big Hollywood stars and genuine forces of nature.