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Teresa Wright

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Interview: Excerpt 1

Reminiscences of Teresa Wright

New York, June 1959

On her Early Career

Q: Did you ever go to dramatic school?

No, I never did. After I started in the high school plays, through one of the teachers in school I was able to get a working scholarship into summer theatre. Two teachers I had, one a public speaking teacher and one a dramatic teacher, were both instrumental in my following the theatre seriously. They not only encouraged me personally, but one of them, the public speaking teacher, got me this scholarship at the Wharf Theatre which was really a start professionally, because there I met professional people. That was as near as I came to studying -- that year as a student there.

. . .

Most of the stock plays that were done were of pretty poor caliber, at least then. It seems to me stock has grown up a lot since those days, which is a good thing. People expect more from the plays that they see.

I played with professionals that year. I was quite small and looked a lot younger than my age, so I was always playing twelve-year-olds, stooping to look the part, which, I claim, is the reason why I have a slight stoop now.

I met that year the professional who really got me my start in the theatre, Doro Merendi, a character actress. The fall following my first summer there as an apprentice, the play "Our Town" opened in New York, and I went backstage to see Doro. She was dressing with Martha Scott. Martha was about to leave the show, and they were looking for an understudy for her, to play the part -- no, I guess at that time they were just looking for an understudy. Martha suggested me to Doro, and Doro said, "Well, she's just in high school still." But she remembered it, and the following year I went back to the Wharf Theatre again, and the following fall when I came back to New York, by that time Martha had left the show. Dorothy McGuire was playing it, and they were then looking for an understudy for Dorothy. That was a long period of time, about four months in New York, waiting to read for Jed Harris -- quite an unpredictable man. They never knew when he was going to be at the theatre. I had read for the stage manager, and he had chosen me to read for Jed Harris. I think Jed Harris directed it -- he may also have produced it. I'm pretty sure he did.

Anyway, after four months of being called back and forth -- I shared a furnished room with a girl way up on the West Side -- finally during a storm -- almost a hurricane, I believe of 1938 -- I finally made it back home and had a terrible cold and was about to get in bed, when they finally called me quite late and said, "Mr. Harris is going to be here by 11 o'clock tonight."

By that time, I almost didn't care, as much as I needed a job and wanted a job, but I just couldn't believe it anymore. I started down there. I think somehow before I got there maybe I stirred up a little enthusiasm, because I did call my father, and told him. I went down to read and was told I had the job. That was the beginning. So really it had its start at the Wharf Theatre.

. . .

Q: Did you have subsequent readings with Jed Harris?

No. I read that one time. I was prepared to read two scenes, and I read one. I was terrified, of him and of the whole process of reading for him. I remember going out into the hallway and bursting into tears of -- I suppose, relief as much as anything. There was a dear man there, a dresser for Mr. Craven, and he gave me some words of sympathy or cheer. I was told to wait there. I was waiting to go back in and read. But then they came out and told me I had the job.

. . .

Q: Did that job lead to others in rapid succession?

Well, we went out on the road with it -- me as an understudy -- and then the following spring, it led to a job, because all the understudies were employed by Mr. Eddie Dowling to play the part on the road with him. So we went back to New Haven, Boston, Rhode Island. Also that in turn led to another engagement playing it with Walter Hampton in Maplewood, which was kind of a triumph for me, because it was the first year after I graduated -- the following spring. I was playing in my hometown at the Maplewood Theatre, which was quite active then. Then it also lead to another summer of work in stock, in New Hampshire. Possibly -- I'm sure -- the reviews and some word of mouth or something led to my being thought of for a chance to read for "Life With Father." That was my professional start in New York. It was a sweet play.

© 1959 Columbia University and the Oral History Research Office

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