I visited Jessica Tandy (Jessie to husband and friends) and Hume Cronyn in their yellow-carpeted permanent hotel suite here, while they were still interestedly awaiting critical reaction to their premiere performance of "The Gin Game" on cable TV.
This is one of the most acclaimed recent Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway shows. Having premiered by now on most cable systems which offer Showtime, it will probably air in other systems through May. Later it will no doubt be seen on over-the-air Pay-TV systems, and ultimately it may even turn up on PBS and commercial channels. (One public-TV consortium has already announced it as part of their 1982-83 season.)
Miss Tandy is appearing in the Broadway play "Rose" but both of the actors are also currently working on separates movies, then plan five months at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis with a production of a new play co-written by Mr. Cronin -- "Foxfire." They expect to appear in the play in New York after that.
Miss Tandy is thrilled that "The Gin Game" is being shown on cable TV. "The chance to see TV without commercials --that's what we've all been counting on." She is disappointed to hear that as plans are progressing for some cable systems , commercials will probably be as integral a part of cable as they are on network TV today.
Mr. Cronyn muses on the fact that more people will probably see "The Gin Game" in one night on Showtime than did in all their performances on stage, throughout the English-speaking world. "We also did the play in London for about three months -- altogether we've done about 800 performances of 'Gin Game.' This TV version was shot right after we finished the run in London.
The Cronyns revealed to me that the first draft of the play did not concern old people at all. "As a youngster, Coburn spent a lot of time in an orphanage, and I think it left scars on him. So he was writing about his own experiences in an institution. Little by little it evolved into a play about two elderly people."
"We're glad of that," interjects Miss Tandy.
Says Mr. Cronyn: "Both of the characters we play are seriously flawed. They're in desperate need of others but they find themselves incapable of sustaining a relationship."
Certainly there is very little of the play's characters in the real character of the Cronyns, who have been married for 39 years, acting together often during that time.
Both of them are great believers on regional theater, appear often around the country in them, and are happy to see that, perhaps, future TV will bring more regional theater to larger audiences. Do they feel that the New York theater has been so good to them that they must plow back their talents in payment of the debt?
Says Mr. Cronyn: "I wish I could honestly say that. But we must admit that wem gain much more than the regional theaters and rep companies: Our own talents are renewed by the experience."
Then, almost as if he wants to conteract what might be misinterpreted as pomposity, he turns to his wife and remarks: "Thank you for making me wear my long underwear today [it if a lovely spring day, but he has been shooting the film "Rollover" outdoors]. I would have turned into a block of ice up there in Riverdale."
He turns to me: "You see how much I have to b e grateful for?"