As the 1952 La Jolla season
drew to a close, Mel Ferrer presented a play that was extremely dear to
him - a brand new play by a brand new playwright called "Strike a
Match." Ferrer served as both director and producer, and in his usual
energetic style, talked several Hollywood stars into participating in
the ensemble work, including Pat O'Brien, Eva Gabor and Tom Brown along
with relative newcomer Richard Egan. The play debuted on August 20 with
plans in place for a Fall tour and a hoped for Broadway run if its
reception was positive.
Robert Smith, who wrote the play, had been busy in
Hollywood as a screenwriter after beginning his career as a publicity
agent, journalist and advertising executive. Although he'd written
several screenplays for major stars (including Joan Crawford, Burt
Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott), this was his first work for the
legitimate stage. The play was set completely in a New York bar ("any"
bar) and alternated between two time spans - the cold Winter of the
present day and a warmer Summer afternoon told in flashback when love
was still young and promising. O'Brien played Ernie - the cantankerous
bartender - while Gabor and Egan played estranged lovers, at odds over
his squandered talent and his inability to deal with failure.
The play was a resounding success in La Jolla with
The Hollywood Reporter writing that the "direction by Mel Ferrer is
flawless," and Variety " reporting that "acting is uniformly excellent
throughout... Much of the credit must go to Ferrer's direction.... ".
The San Diego Tribune said "Producer Mel Ferrer has found the right cast
and directs the players with a fine sense of proportion," while The San
Diego Union adds "There seem to be few flaws in Mel Ferrer's direction."
Although Ferrer didn't realize it at the time, 1952
would prove to be his final active year with The La Jolla Playhouse. In
retrospect, "Strike a Match" was a perfect and ultimately satisfying farewell.
Behind the scenes:
Director Mel Ferrer, actor Pat O'Brien, playwright Robert Smith,
actors Richard Egan and Eva Gabor|