Cornelia Otis Skinner on making an impression abroad

Cornelia Otis Skinner was an actor like her father, Otis Skinner. She was author of her own one-woman dramas and 15 books. She wrote ``Our Hearts Were Young and Gay''(1942) with Emily Kimbrough about their trip to Europe as '20s college students. Here, after a Moli`ere play, they visit the Com'edie Fran,caise actor who had been Skinner's teacher. ``Come along,'' I said. ``We're going backstage.''

I led the way. I had been there before and with elaborate assurance I pushed open a door behind the right hand boxes. Tremulous, Emily followed. The only ``backstage'' she knew were the glimpses she had had on the occasions when Father played in Buffalo or Philadelphia and we both had gone behind to see him. That was a very different ``backstage,'' and she was unprepared for the palatial splendor of the Fran,cais, the paneled walls, the thick Aubusson carpets, the portraits by Largilli`ere, Nattier and Ingres. For a moment she stared, then said, ``We're in the wrong place.'' She explained later, she thought we had stumbled upon a set for the evening show. Then, a glass case containing a few exhibits in the way of prompt-books, autographs, and the dainty slipper of Rachel, made her realize she was in the green-room of the National Theatre of France. At the Fran-,cais, after all, there was no question of a run of several weeks, then on to the next town. Once admitted, an actor played here until retirement. And this lovely, dignified room was the main salon of his professional home where he received his friends and admirers.

Monsieur Dehelly came up, all blond wig, lace ruffs, patches, and other Louis XIV accessories, looking as if he might have stepped out of one of the cases. Not having met for several months, he and I greeted one another with many rapturous flourishes and Comment ,ca VA's!! Then I remembered Emily and her desire not only to meet the distinguished actor, but to make an impression on him. I turned, and with a sweeping gesture, said, ``Monsieur, puis-je vous pr'esenter mon amie, Mademoiselle Kimbrough?''

Monsieur bowed with courtly charm and his yellow curls brushed across her hand as he kissed it.

``Mademoiselle,'' he said, in a low rich voice. And Emily in a throaty vibrant voice solemnly echoed back, ``Mademoiselle!''

Emily explained to me later that this was the ultimate peak, -- the beautiful room, the Moli`ere manuscript, the famous portrait of Rachel, and then this actor himself all done up in the very period, brushing his golden curls over her hand. At the moment, however, she did not explain anything to me, or to M. Dehelly. And she never spoke again. There was no need, after all. She had made her impression. Reprinted by permission of Dodd, Mead & Co, Inc., from ``Our Hearts Were Young and Gay'' by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough.

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