DAMASK CHEEK, THE [Comedy/Family/Period/Romance] A/D: John van Druten and Lloyd Morris; S/C: Raymond Sovey; P: Dwight Deere Wiman; T: Playhouse; 10/22/42 (93)
Coauthor John van Druten, hoping to write a comedy for British actress Flora Robson, hitherto identified in this country principally as the star of such serious dramas as Ladies in Retirement*, was inspired to write this piece when he was struck one day by the atmosphere of the Hotel Ansonia on uptown Broadway. Something about its nostalgic and glamorous atmosphere of turn-of-the-century New York moved him as he investigated its lobbies. He called to mind a colorful aunt of his who had lived in New York then and had visited him in England from time to time during his childhood. Not having come to America until 1926, he relied on critic, cultural historian, and English professor Lloyd Morris to provide him with the appropriate background to make his play authentic. The play was written largely by correspondence, with Morris in New York and van Druten in California, followed by Robson's approval of the finished script. The play, a "pleasant-tempered excursion into polite comedy" ( Brooks Atkinson [ NYT]), was not quite a hit on Broadway, but it was admired well enough to make Burns Mantle's list of the ten best of the year. Its title comes from a line in Twelfth Night*.
It is set in 1909 in the East Sixties living room of a wealthy and snobbish dowager, Mrs. Randall ( Margaret Douglass), whose thirty-year-old son Jimmy ( Myron McCormick) is secretly loved by Mrs. Randall's niece, a wealthy English spinster named Rhoda Meldrum ( Robson), in New York to visit her aunt. Jimmy and Rhoda were brought up practically as brother and sister, so he ignores his second cousin's potential as a mate and even deprecates her virtues. His mother would like for Jimmy and Rhoda to become a pair, so she throws a dance in Rhoda's honor. Jimmy, though, uses it as an opportunity to announce his engagement to the beautiful young actress Calla Longstreth ( Celeste Holm), of whom Mrs. Randall thinks very little. The starchy upper-class characters are shocked when the slightly soused Rhoda, in the course of the proceedings, leaves the party for a Central Park ride with Jimmy's womanizing friend Neil ( Zachary Scott). Jimmy starts to realize that maybe Rhoda, not Calla, is the girl for him. Things look even brighter for Rhoda when Calla reveals to her that she is not so much in love with Jimmy as with the life of security he represents. The contents of Rhoda's pocketbook assuage Calla's fears, and all ends happily with Rhoda and Jimmy united. A secondary love interest is portrayed between Jimmy's young sister ( Joan Tetzel) and Neil.
Entertaining as it was, the work was deemed lightweight and inconsequential. Burton Rascoe ( NYWT), who loved its expert balance of humor and poignancy, opined, "The play is not great or significant in the stuffier sense; it is simply an enchanting study of human relationships, wherein the complications arise over the difference between inner emotions and the outward display of attitudes."
Robson gave a sparkling performance, but her role was considered not as