DescriptionTHE COLLECTION OF PAUL GREGORY AND JANET GAYNOR
WILLIAM M. AUERBACH-LEVY (American, 1889-1964)
The First Quartette of Don Juan in Hell: Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Agnes Moorehead, and Cedric B. Hardwicke, 1950
Marker and water media on illustration board
17-1/2 x 23-1/4 inches (44.5 x 59.1 cm)
Signed at lower center: Levy
Gift from the artist to Paul Gregory in 1950.
This sketch of the four actors in the Gregory-Laughton production of Don Juan in Hell was published in the New York Times in 1950. Following its publication, Levy gave the original drawing to Paul.
Don Juan in Hell was one of the most, if not the most, successful artistic collaborations of Paul Gregory and Charles Laughton. The play, which Gregory produced and Laughton directed, brought to stages all over America (not just Broadway), and eventually to England, the seldom-performed dream sequence drawn from the third act of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. The sequence is a serious dialectical argument between two fiercely intelligent and witty foes: Don Juan (played by handsome Charles Boyer) and the Devil (played by tubby Laughton). The debate was about the true nature of man, and Paul Gregory identifies Don Juan and the Devil as the two sides of brilliant, cantankerous Shaw himself.
Both men chose to bring Shaw's challenging text to the stage because, as Paul put it, "The text offers the most divine, cascading Niagara Falls of words and ideas ever written." The transcendent quality of the finest literature, delivered by the finest voices, is what Laughton and Gregory believed theater to be all about. As they conceived it, cast it and staged it, Don Juan in Hell became a ground-breaking play--the antithesis of all the overblown film and stage productions of the time, with their elaborate sets, costumes and props. As Paul has described it: "We undressed Shaw to focus on the important thing--the word."
Paul's inspiration for the way Don Juan was staged--which is alluded to in Levy's drawing--came from a visual epiphany he had walking in New York City before the idea of Don Juan had even entered his head. He stopped to gaze at four diamonds on display in the window of Tiffany's jewelry store. The diamonds were mounted on miniature bar stools which were painted black and set against a black velvet background. To Paul, the simplicity of this arrangement was excruciatingly beautiful. "Nothing else was needed to highlight their radiance." Consequently, Don Juan was staged with four actors dressed in simple black evening wear, sitting on stools behind music stands which held their scripts, engaging in a lively spirited dialogue. The stage was bare to prevent anything from diminishing the language of the text. "The effect was one of a musical ensemble," Paul explains, "which is why I called the actors 'The First Quartette.' While they may have appeared to be reading from the the scripts propped up on the music stands, that wasn't the case. They knew the whole play by heart, and turned pages and so forth as a way of enlivening the performance. Every movement of the body, every turning of the page was important." Paul and Laughton had brought in microphones to provide a visual reason for situating the actors so that they were facing the audience.
Before embarking on the production of Don Juan in Hell, Paul Gregory flew to England and met with Shaw and found him working in his garden. Even though Man and Superman was already in the public domain (because Shaw had neglected to renew the international copyright), Paul wanted to ask the playwright's permission to stage the play as a courtesy. He also generously paid Shaw five percent royalties of all income from the production, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so.
Very good original condition. Sheet has slipped in mat. Framed to overall size of 25 x 30.5 inches.
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