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La Jolla Playhouse / The Voice of the Turtle

Diana Lynn and Mel Ferrer

The 1951 La Jolla season was a particularly busy one for Mel Ferrer - perhaps because it was the first summer where he ran the company without Gregory Peck's daily input and thought he should be more visible.

Besides his overall producing chores (which he managed while simultaneously acting in the movie Scaramouche) he performed in two plays and also directed this one - "The Voice of the Turtle," a gentle romantic comedy by John Van Druten that ran for four years on Broadway during the war with Margaret Sullavan in the lead. He cast his favorite La Jolla actress - Diana Lynn -  opposite himself and talked good friend Vivian Vance into coming down to La Jolla to play the scene stealing other woman role done on Broadway by Audrey Christie.

The story is very simple and sweet and takes place during World War II. A soldier (Ferrer) has a weekend pass in NYC and is stood up by his glamorous date (Vance), so her ditzy best friend who's an aspiring actress (Lynn), agrees to go out with him. When he can't find a place to stay for the weekend she puts him up, allowing him to sleep on the couch. She's been burnt recently and definitely isn't in the market for romance, but the inevitable sometimes happens. 

The popular play was made into a movie in 1948 starring Eleanor Parker, Ronald Reagan and Eve Arden, but with a change of title - "One For the Books" - and an expansion of some of the minor roles. Ferrer chose to stay with the original Van Druten title and script. This play was chosen to take on tour after the La Jolla season closed, and both Ferrer and Diana Lynn stayed with the touring production, but Eve Arden took over for Vivian Vance.

Hollywood stars frequently made the two-hour trek down to La Jolla to see whatever was playing, and one of the most famous La Jolla stories concerns this play. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz drove down to attend one night, and they were both so impressed with Vivan Vance's performance as the acerbic, all-knowing best friend that they decided to ask her to do the role of Ethel Mertz in their new television show - "I Love Lucy." Lucy's only reservation was that she seemed a little too pretty and rather too glamorous.

The La Jolla Playhouse

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