Celebrities: Tales of Times Square

Richard Burton had replaced Anthony Hopkins in “Equus” on Broadway. On February 20, 1976, they met at the theater.

People waited in the soft glow outside the Plymouth Theater on West 45th Street. About twenty after six, Tony Hopkins, his wife Jenny and a friend of theirs came down the sidewalk in the murky darkness from Eighth Avenue. He went into the theater, virtually unnoticed. He looked at me, but made no sign of recognition. He looked serious and I thought later, I did not see him smile all evening. More like he was making a long trek after the war in a Tolstoy novel. I was happy for him that he was going to meet Burton and could imagine he would be wondering how it would go with the old lion of the theater, and at the same time, Tony had an aggressive reaching-out quality and could assert his own personality and identity.

Barricades lined a path to the stage door. Richard Burton came out and the TV news people turned on their lights, sudden brilliance in the winter darkness along the street. The small crowd surged toward him. The TV people stayed and so did the police, so the crowd did, too. I decided to get out of the way and stood behind the crowd against the theater wall. Burton signed autographs and went back inside.

Almost an hour later, Elizabeth Taylor’s limousine drove up. The chauffeur jumped out and announced to the police that he was “bringing her in in a minute.” He opened the back door and four or five policemen gathered around her and swept her toward the stage door. The barricades were pushed aside by their rush and the crowd fell back, pressing me and several others against the wall. We were off our feet for a few seconds. People yelled, “Help,” and “Back up” and me, “Hey, watch it.”

Once she was inside, the crowd broke up quickly. Tony came out the stage door. He walked past me without a word. I walked away, tired of celebrities. Next thing he was standing beside a limousine. He reached toward me, taking my hand, with a look as if he were holding onto a lifeline.

He said he would be at the theater again tomorrow at 5:30.

I nodded and stepped back, wondering if he was going to get into that limousine. He’d said that was the life he didn’t want.

I couldn’t look. I was thinking, please don’t get into that limousine. I wanted to say to him, run free. Run as fast as you can.

And I did not look. I walked through Times Square mixing with the late-night weirdos and freaks and savored my freedom. Did he envy me that? At the same time, he was making use of his freedom, good use, more productive than I was I had to admit, to invent his own destiny.

The Diary of a Mad New Yorker – Broadway 1975

“Equus” was on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater on West 45th Street, starring Peter Firth and Anthony Hopkins, Frances Sternhagen and Marian Seldes

Broadway 1974

March 29 (circa the 29th)

Anthony Hopkins bowed with the others, one foot on end, and turned and bowed to the stage-seat audience. He seemed embarrassed or mad as he went off-stage, from the angle of his head with his hair flopping over his forehead. After the applause ended, I went in the stage entrance. There was another young woman there waiting for another of the actors and a security guard wearing a Scottish-clan type hat. He asked who we were waiting for. After a while, the woman sat down on the bench and I leaned against the wall with one shoulder against the radiator. The man said that you could always tell a Shubert theater because they turned the heat off before noon even on the coldest days.

Hopkins came downstairs alone, pulling on his coat, took the step from the landing heavily and too fast.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi.”

He turned by the door to sign an autograph for a man who had come in, and faced me. He signed his name silently; he looked pale, almost grey, and his clothes were disheveled, but not good-naturedly and charmingly as usual. He had on tan slacks, a yellow shirt and a brown knit tie that was spread suggestively over his shirt, and a coat and winter coat. The public display of unhappiness was mesmerizing and I stared at him unabashedly, which annoyed him more.

He did not want to talk and ran off, and I followed him past the Booth Theatre and through Shubert Alley, he on one side near the theaters, cutting through a crowd outside the Shubert Theatre, and I on the other side.

On Monday, I read the Tony Awards nominations. He was not nominated for best actor for his role in “Equus.” I think he knew last Saturday. [He should have been nominated.]

May 31

I waited outside the theater. I was wearing my black velvet jacket and blue bells. I met him just inside the stage entrance. He came up to me as I stood by the door so fast that I was startled, but there was no place to step back. His eyes were light grey-blue, so was his voice, but forceful, when he said hello. He wore a blue denim jean suit and a pink shirt. There was a little bit of shaving cream or cold cream at one corner of his mouth and by the opposite ear.

I followed him outside. A woman had photos of herself taken standing with him and some young woman joked that they would meet him at Sardi’s. He came toward me and put out his arm to sweep me along with him as he went down the street.

“I have nothing to say to you today. I’m just hanging around.”

He smiled at me, indicating that it was all right. Two other people, a young man and woman started walking and talking with him and by the Booth Theatre, he stopped momentarily to talk to someone else and we three went ahead slowly.

Rejoining us, I walked beside him. They asked about a letter and he said he wasn’t sure, then reached into his coat pocket, “Oh, I’ve been carrying this around all day.”

The young couple left us. He asked me to have a drink with him.

I said no. “I can’t drink.”

He said that he was going to have a Coke.

“Oh? Can I have a Coke too?”

“Yes. I’m meeting some people. I don’t know what they’re up to.”

“I’ll just have one drink and leave,” I said, thinking he was meeting business people.

“No –”

At the curb of 44th Street, I said, “Maybe they won’t let me in.” I looked down at my blue bells, pull-over shirt and sneakers. “I got my sneakers on.”

“Now you’re just being paranoid.” He stood, looking over and down at me, putting his weight on his right foot.

Outside Sardi’s he mentioned the girls again. I still didn’t know who he was talking about, and then he said he didn’t know if they were going to show up but they’d said they were meeting him at Sardi’s. I suddenly realized who he meant.

“Oh, do you think they’ll show up,” I asked, as we walked into them. I didn’t know we were already in front of Sardi’s door. He rushed forward and gathered them in and we went inside.

He told Sardi he was going upstairs to have a drink.

“Just one?” said Sardi.

He turned as he started up the stairs and put up one finger. The five of us followed, with me last in line.

“Oh, I see,” said Sardi (or whoever he was).

I glanced back to see everyone in the restaurant looking up at us. Upstairs we went past the bar and he looked for places in a small area on the other side, but there weren’t enough. After hesitating, he went into the dining area and we sat at a table in the back.

I sat next to him. They ordered drinks, he ordered a Tab and I a Coke. When the drinks came, I stared at mine. He poured it for me. One of the women, sitting on his left, was talking about “Equus” and psychology. I couldn’t hear him well, but at one point, he said, “Oh, but he does help the boy.”

They discussed Nazi concentration camps and “QBVII.” He said he’d told his agent he didn’t want to do “QBVII” – Dr. Kelno, his part, was hateful. They had tried to make him a more sympathetic character.

They mentioned “War and Peace” and their favorite scenes. One woman told us how many times she saw it. But the book is unreadable, she said.

“I’ve read it five times,” he said.

He had another Tab and asked what I wanted. “I’ll have what you’re having.”

He said that he wanted to stop smoking, but that one could always find an excuse for everything. He lit up a cigarette after just finishing one and everyone commented.

“I have an excuse,” he said.

I asked one of the women if she was going to finish her drink and she said no, so I took it. “If he’s not going to have any control,” I said, “then neither will I.” Later, when we left, my legs shook and I had to hold onto the bannister.

Then he talked about “absolute truth,” a subject which clearly defeated us all.

I heard two of the people giggling self-consciously. I realized we would have to leave soon.

When he got up, he kissed several of them rather abruptly. I hung by my chair, having some trouble standing up. The woman next to me knocked her chair over and I helped pick it up. Just before they got up, they thanked him, said they hoped they hadn’t imposed on him. He said it was nice to have an audience. The most talkative woman said his talking to them was a “mitzvah” – a nice thing, a good deed.

June 18

I stood by the Tonight 8 P.M. sign just inside the door. Most of the people were gone when he came down.

“Just a minute. I have to make a phone call. I have to confirm an appointment.”

With one foot on the step where I’d been sitting, he talked to someone. “Hello, this is Tony Hopkins.”

I stopped listening to imitate him, putting my opposite foot on the same step. I felt like a mirror reflection.

One of the horses asked him something about the phone [or the phone call?] and Hopkins boxed at his shoulder.

I followed him outside. While he signed autographs, I turned in circles, and waited in front of the lobby. A few minutes later, he came by with a middle-aged woman who was wearing an overcoat in the 86 degree heat. I thought he would put out his arm to bring me in, but his gesture was minimal. I walked along, just a little behind him, wondering what to do. He glanced at me while he talked to the woman.

She thought the show last Thursday night was “uneven,” that it started out rough and never came together. What did he think?

Yes, yes, you’re right, he said. I remember it seemed to be out of rhythm. It was “jarred.” I realized that a few minutes into the play and “it’s my responsibility to establish the rhythm” of the play. I think we got it together by the end.

She went on when he stopped, “It started off slow” and didn’t seem to get going or come together.

“Oh?” he responded. “Did you think so? I didn’t think so.” Thursday, he asked himself, last Thursday? Oh, I know what it was. I had a blood test that day and didn’t feel well.

“It was much better today,” she said.

“Thank you.”

He dusted some talcum powder off one of his pants’ legs. “It wasn’t as bad as that woman said,” he muttered when he straightened up again.

Good night, New York!