Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hugh Laurie's distant relative, refused

[Arthur Wing Pinero to George Alexander]

[Pinero's response to the invitation to contribute the reopening play at The St. James Theatre, 1899]

Frankly, dear Alec,
I don't think that you and I go well together in harness; or, rather, I do not feel happy in running tandem with you, myself as wheeler to your lead. I know you take a pride in being an autocrat in your theatre; it is a natural pride in a position you have worthily won for yourself. But I have also won--or have chosen to usurp--a similarly autocratic position in all that relates to my work. I hope I do not use my power unfairly or overbearingly, but I do exercise it--and any other condition of things is intolerable to me. In my association with you on the stage I have always felt that you have resented my authority. In the case of our last joint venture the circumstances which led up to it were of so unhappy a character that I resolved to abrogate this authority--to reduce it, at any rate, to a shadow. But, at the same time, I did not relish my position and determined--even before I started upon a campaign which I foresaw could not be otherwise than full of discomfort and constraint--that I would not again occupy it. To put the case shortly, there is no room for two autocrats in one small kingdom; and in every detail, however slight, afforded me--I take to myself the right of dictation and veto.

In face of this explanation, my dear Alec, (longer than I intended it to be) I trust you will forgive me for declining your offer, and will believe that this prompt candour on my part is exhibited in a spirit of fairness to yourself as well as from a desire to explain my own attitude.

[Arthur Wing Pinero]

-from The Rise and Fall of the Matinee Idol: Past Deities of Stage and Screen, Their Roles, Their Magic, and Their Worshippers / edited by Anthony Curtis (New York: St. Martins Press, 1974.) p. 28.

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