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La Jolla Playhouse / Strike a Match

Mel Ferrer
photo used in brochures for the show

The director with two of his stars
Eva Gabor and Pat O'Brien

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

Strike a Match on tour
Strike a Match Photos
The La Jolla Playhouse

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