Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers

Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers

Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers

Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers


The fault of this book lies in the fact that it was not written sooner. As an actor, and later as a director, I have had many difficult bouts with the problem of foreign dialect. I must further report, for the sake of accuracy, that I lost almost every one.

As a student actor at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was once assigned the part of Chris Christopherson in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. The first of my worries in this connection was, of course, the acquisition of a Swedish accent. I searched for a convenient Swede to act as my model. I found him working as a hamburger stand counterman. For weeks I drew him out and listened, using every possible device to make him talk. The fact that he was a shy man made my task somewhat difficult. Still, I listened, and listened, and lived on hamburgers. During this time, rehearsals were in progress but I played my part straight, explaining to the director that I preferred to do so until I had mastered the dialect, in order that the part itself would not be affected. He agreed. At the first dress rehearsal, however, I proudly produced my authentic Swedish accent.

"Fine," said the director, "but why the lisp?"

"What lisp?" I asked, realizing suddenly that my model had provided me with more than I had desired. It was too late to change. And so, a bewildered audience saw, some nights later, a rather discouraged, lisping Chris Christopherson.

Years after, I directed Charles Laughton in an Italian characterization. Mr. Laughton is a great actor and, in addition, the hardest working human being I have ever known. He plunged into preparation for his role by reading Italian aloud, eating Italian food, listening to Italian music, studying Italian painting, and thinking, I suppose, Italian thoughts. Finally, on the day of the first rehearsal, Mr. Laughton spoke his opening line. He stopped. We looked at each other. I was shocked, he defiant. Then I said, "Mr. Laughton, I am certain that in all the world there is no Italian who talks like that."

Mr. Laughton seemed suddenly weary. Then he said, ever so plaintively, "There must be!"

The point I am trying to make is that neither the model system nor the vague inspirational system is practical. What is needed is either the gift of ear or the scientific approach which the authors of this volume have provided.

In this day of coalition with all the peoples of the earth who fight in the common cause, the use of foreign dialect in our literary expression -- stage, books, radio, screen -- becomes a delicate and an important . . .

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