Up The Years From Bloomsbury

George Arliss

Little, Brown & Co. /ISBN 3595000059200 (1928)

George Arliss was a popular star of early 20th-century theatre.

Born in Bloomsbury, England during the rign of Queen Victoria, he found his path to success on the
Broadway stage in plays like The Devil (1908) and Disraeli (1912), only two of his many
hit shows that would tour the country for years. (Disraeli would even be made into a silent film in 1923.)

By the time he sat down to write his autobiography, he was in his 60s (he'd live another twenty years and I only
wish he'd thought to write a sequel), married the girl of his dreams whom he'd met performing at a stock company
that doubled as a school for up-and-coming performers, and gone from ernest-young-man-man-carrying-a-sword-in-the-
back-row to being one of the leading actors of his day. You are spellbound at every step on the way because he
tells you the story as if you were in his home and were hearing him reminisce over a warm fire on a cold night.

To hear his story is also to hear the story of the American stage as he found it around 1900 to about 1930.
The people he met and worked with along the way were all part of our theatrical history, and the process
(as he tells it) of actually planning a production or trying to "get into character" have probably been
essentially the same since the days of Greek drama. One of the most touching parts of the book is his heart-
breaking description of watching older performers try deperately to appear youthful as they "make the rounds" -
looking for parts in a new show and competing against ever-younger actors.

The part I liked the best? When I realized that his dedication, "To the girl with the nice arms" was meant for
the rather aloof and serious young lady at the stock company that doubled as a theatrical school. The one who
seemed to watch him rather critically but told others he seemed quite talented. When running into the empty
theatre from a raging thunderstorm at the same time one afternoon, he tried to help her with her soaking-wet coat
and scarf. Seeing her laughing with her hair stuck all over her face, he did the only rational thing he could do...
he fell to his knees and begged her to be his for all eternity.


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