"There's a baseball Hall of Fame, isn't there?" Maureen Stapleton asked uncertainly as she scanned the familiar faces around her. "And there's a horse Hall of Fame in Saratoga, No?"
So why not a theater Hall of Fame? Right?
Well, for the past five years, the answer to that question has been easy -- no money. But Sunday evening at New York's Uris Theater, the Theater Hall of Fame made a comeback of sorts.
With the help of a $6,000 grant from Max Factor and the emceeing skills of producer Joseph Papp and Arlene Francis, 48 theater legends took up permanent residency on Broadway. Every last one of them was a smash.
"Finally I feel a permanent ownership in at least one part of this town," director Joshua Logan said, and laughed, referring to his name, six inches long in gold letters on a white circular wall off the main area of the theater. There he and the other inductees joined 84 peers who had been installed before the Hall fell on hard times.
"I think they wanted to decorate the walls somehow," joked Papp before the ceremony began. Later, however, he remarked that the Hall was especially welcome for those theater greats "who just haven't received the usual kind of recognition, but deserve it."
The Hall, one onlooker observed, simply makes concrete what everyone at the Uris knew anyway -- that certain names in the theater "will always be golden." And a look at the names confirmed the observation: Lillian Gish, Lotte Lenya, Laurence Olivier, Harold Arlen, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and on it goes.
On the mezzanine, the honorees and the acceptors for those who couldn't appear caught up on old times. Lotte Lenya and Cheryl Crawford chatted with Stapleton as Celeste Holm listened in. Ray Bolger stretched his legs for the photographers. Playwright Robert Anderson looked deep in discussion with Mrs. Zero Mostel.
Once the presentations got rolling it was one delight after another.
Bolger re-created his scarecrow as he descended the stairs more by knee than by foot. Designer Boris Aronin minced no words -- "Whatever it is, I want it." Harold Clurman quoted a favorite Russian director -- "I appreciate and deserve your respect."
Papp and Francis -- who performed her duties with a fur wrapped around her neck despite the hot lights -- paced matters quickly despite a few flubs. Papp's reference to "Sir" Laurence Olivier brought forth a chorus of "Lord" from the audience.
"Is this a religious revival?" Papp asked.
Francis fared no better introducing Tennessee Williams.
"If ever a man didn't need an introduction," she began, "It is Tennyson -- I mean Tennessee -- Williams."
But it didn't matter. It was an evening for winners.