Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Miracle Of 51st Street

One of my heroes, Alan Jay Lerner, tells a characteristic story about the idiosyncratic Katharine Hepburn. In late 1969, the Hollywood star Hepburn was already a living legend, holding four Oscars. Only then did she make her Broadway debut in Coco, a musical Alan had written with André Previn. The show was playing at the Mark Hellinger Theater on 51st Street. Across the street was a construction site, and on matinee days the noise was horrendous. One day Kate went to the site. With that unique voice of hers which could be heard for four blocks, she shouted up to the workers to come down. When they realized it was Katharine Hepburn, they dropped everything and assembled around her. "Now look here," she said. "You're ruining my play every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. In the middle of the first act I have to sing a very tender song called Coco. Now you all know damn well that I can't sing. But whatever sound I produce is drowned by the racket you lot are making. That song goes on at 3:20. If you can't do anything else, for God's sake at 3:20 have the decency and shut up for just five minutes." From that moment on, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at 3:20, 51st Street became the quietest thouroughfare in the city of New York.


  1. Very charming. And very pragmatic!

    This promptitude reminds me Maria Callas. Once the orchestra failed an entry, and with a slight raising of her hand and attentive waiting... she corrected the situation, as if she had total control over the orchestra.

    But this story is beautiful either for another reason. It shows how easily problems can be solved by an agreement on a concrete, specific problem, instead of applying a common rule. I understand the importance of norms, especially in the EU, but sometimes especially the EU could perhaps learn something from this story.

  2. Noise and theatre. The lion king is being performed in a tent just in the center of hamburgs harbour. When i saw this musical for the 2.time the djungle was located in between hundreds of noisy ships and vessels. That was harbours birthday. Imagine how it was in former times without microports and PA.