Today, April 17, is actress Olivia Hussey’s birthday. Normally I wouldn’t take note of such an anniversary, but I was sitting on the porch, looking at an iPhone app called On this Day… and noticed Ms. Hussey’s name. Whenever I hear her name I am reminded of an experience I had at Mills College back in the 1970s. (Aha! An Oakland connection for this story!)
I was performing in Romeo and Juliet at Mills. It was an abridged production, combining some of the scenes from the play and a few scenes danced as a ballet. Howard Malpas, the chair of the Mills drama department (no longer in existence, sadly), came up with the idea as a way of getting around the fact that Mills had no male students to fill out a full production of the play. He asked me to play /dance the role of Romeo and there were a couple of women who shared the role of Juliet — one acted the scenes, another danced the ballet sequences. One of Howard’s ideas was to invite a friend of his from England to direct the scenes and to act the role of the Chorus. His friend was Leonard Whiting, the actor who had played Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film of Shakespeare’s play.
We had an al fresco dinner one night during the run of the show. A couple of bottles of wine and lighthearted conversation led to Leonard sharing some of his memories of Ms. Hussey and their work together. I can’t watch that film anymore without thinking about that dinner. I also can’t pass Mills and not be reminded of happy hours spent on campus there. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was a regular participant in their productions. In the early 1990s I made my last appearance in a production of Christmas Carol. It was one of my happiest theatre experiences ever: I played Bob Cratchit and my older son, Justin, played Tiny Tim. I’ll share that story in detail sometime during December.