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Walter Hampden

Walter Hampden

Cedric Hardwicke, who played Hampden's chief advisor in The Vagabond King (1956), played his evil brother Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).

Brian Hooker's translation of Cyrano de Bergerac was prepared for Hampden. The next major English language translation was by Anthony Burgess, and was prepared for Christopher Plummer who, like Hampden, had previously played Hamlet. This translation has Cyrano make a reference to Hamlet, his list of insults to his own nose climaxing with "and finally, with tragic cries and sighs, in language finely wrought and deeply felt, 'Oh, that this too, too solid now would melt.'" This translation has since been performed by Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, and Kevin Kline, all of whom have also played Hamlet. Subsequent cinematic Cyrano Gérard Depardieu also appeared in Branagh's film Hamlet (1996).

A revered figure of the American theater, Hampden was president of the Players' Club for 27 years.

After the 1923 production of "Cyrano de Bergerac", Hampden brought his Cyrano back to Broadway four more times - in 1926, 1928, 1932 and 1936, though not always with the same actors playing the same roles.

From 1922, when John Barrymore staged his first Hamlet, until 1975, when Sam Waterston assayed the role, Barrymore and Hampden were the only American actors to play Hamlet on Broadway. Hampden played the role three times on the Great White Way: in 1918, 1925 and 1929. Stephen Lang, who played the Dane in 1992, is the only other American in more than three-quarters of a century to star in "Hamlet" on Broadway. In that time, Hamlet was dominated by British performers, particularly Maurice Evans, an English immigrant who became an American citizen, who was the only other man since World War One to play Hamlet three times on the Broadway stage. The other British subjects to play the role on Broadway in that period were Sir John Gielgud (considered by many to be THE Hamlet of the 20th century), Leslie Howard, Sir Donald Wolfit, future Canadian Stratford Festival founder John Neville, Richard Burton, Nicol Williamson (considered by some to be the definitive portrayal of the late 1960s) and



Had 2 children - Mabel and Paul

Hampden owned and operated Hampden's Theatre on Broadway at 62nd St. after he bought the Colonial, a 20-year-old theater that had been used for vaudeville for practically its entire life span. Hampden and his company opened his theater on October 10, 1925 with "Hamlet." (It was the second time he had tackled the role; Ethel Barrymore, sister of his Shakespearian rival John Barrymore, the great American Hamlet of the 20th century, was his Ophelia.) Hampden staged 16 plays, in total, at the theater, including his great success "Cyrano de Bergerac," before closing the theater in March 1930 as The Great Depression began its oppression of the New York theater during the Thirties. In 1931, the Hampden became a movie house, the RKO Colonial Theatre. After returning to the Broadway fold as a legitimate house in 1974 (the Harkness Theatre), it was razed in 1977.

He coached Ronald Colman in the scenes from "Othello" that Colman played in A Double Life (1947).

He was the most famous "Cyrano de Bergerac" of his time, playing the role onstage from 1923 to 1936, when he permanently retired from playing it, except at a benefit performance in which he performed the final scene, and in which José Ferrer, the most famous 1940s-'50s Cyrano, also did a scene from the play. The classic Brian Hooker translation of the play, which has been used by every English and American Cyrano until recently, was made especially for Hampden. Active on stage from the early 1900s, he did not make his sound film debut until 1939. Hampden never played a leading role in films, as he nearly always did on stage and as he once did on television, but he headed the supporting cast in such films as the The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and The Vagabond King (1956)--his last, and posthumously released, film. As a sort of "in-joke", it is Hampden who appears as the long-winded elderly stage actor who gives Anne Baxter her award statuette in the first scene of All About Eve (1950).

In 1949, made his TV debut at the age of 69 - as Macbeth!

The New Colonial Theatre, in New York, was re-named Hampden's Theatre in 1925, in his honor. It kept the name until 1931.


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