Cyril Ritchard, "Captain Hook" to millions of televiewers in "Peter Pan," which won him a "Tony Award," died early yesterday morning in Chicago after suffering a heart attack Nov. 25 during a performance of "Side by Side by Sondheim," in which he starred.
For three weeks he had been in a coma. A few days ago he responded to his niece Pamela's voice by pressing her hand. The anxiety of his friends was for his recovery but also for the fact that should he recover he might not be able to perform again, which was his life.
To some, Cyril Ritchard was the malevolently laughing Capt. Hook of "Peter Pan." To some he was the sly Kreton from outer space in Gore Vidal's "Visit From a Small Planet." To some he was one of the TV talk shows' most amusing conversationalists.
To some he was Count Danilo of "The Merry Widow" or the lapsed father of "The Pleasur of His Company." To some he was a director andd four-note-singer of the Metropolitan Opera.To priests he was daily attendent at morning mass wherever he might be, and to all who knew him he grave.
Cyrill Ritchard, ramrod tall clipped of diction impecable of dress, couldn't easily keep his approximate age secret because he had been singing and dancing in public since he left medical school in Australia over 60 years ago. Twenty-thousand people had lined Sydney's Cathedral Square for his marriage to another of their favorite stars, Madge Elliott.
The "Who's Who" dates vary, making him from 75 to 79. With a passel of intimates, he would even admit to "The Big Eight-Oh" in Chicago two weekends ago, though the exact date was Dec. 1 when, actually, he would have been 84.
Mr. Ritchard was working, as he almost always was and wanted to be, when he was stricken. He had had a career in Australia, another in England and third in America, where he'd been everywhere from his Connection home on through "Peets-Bourgh" and "Dey-Trois" to Nob Hill and Bel Air.
When that heart attack came during a matinee, he was starring in a fitting show, "Side by Side by Sondheim," which had been created from the works of American composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim by threater people of England.
After touring last winter by bus for one-night stands in 99 cities in "Naughty Marietta," it was pleasant to settle in at Chicago's Ritz Carlton and spend his evenings with young lesser known players in a smash hit.
That's how Mr. Ritchard went out, as he almost did several years before while playing "Sugar" in California. He had collapsed on stage and costar Larry Kert, who had taken training for such emergencies, gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, saving his life.Six weeks later, after a rest at Coral Brown's and Vincent Price's home, Mr. Ritchard snapped back into action, ertertaining on a Theatre Guild cruise.
"Peter Pan" happened to be the second show that Mr. Ritchard, whose full family name was Trimnel-Ritchard, ever saw.
His father took him to it in his native Sydney when he was eight. After making do as a child with puppets, he graduated, at 15, to the title part of "Macbeth" when he was in school.
"A lot of people influenced me along the way," he told one of his many young friends, actor Ernest Thompson, not long age, "but it's during the formative years, I think, when one is influenced the most. An extraordinary man, a Jesuit, the rector of the school, tried to get me to be a priest. He ruined it by saying I could think of it as the theater."
But his mother, "having seen my Macbeth," tried to push for medicine or the law. "Had I chosen law, I might have stuck with it because there's so much talking to it, but after a year of medicine, I managed to get my parents to approve a shot at theater."
He started in choruses for Tait and Williamson, the huge Australian firm, and after he met blonde, tall, reaches-and-cream. Madge Elliot he persuaded Frank Tait to let them do a specialty number in "Going Up." That made them Australian stars in the years after World War I and the aerly 1920s.
Moving to New York, where he appeared in "Puzzles of 1925," he roomed with Walter Pidgeon and introduced a song called "Her Mother Came, Too," which he would sing 50 years later at the Kennedy Center here. After "Puzzles," the Ritchards headed for London, where they were dubbed "The Dancing Lunts," appearing in revues and musicals.
During World War II, they toured England and the globe. After "The Importance of Being Earnest" in LOndon, John Gielgud persuaded both to come with him to America in "Love for Love." It tried out here at the old Gayety on 9th Street NW. Soon all Washington was repeating Cyril's line as Tattle: "Slit me windpipe."
There were years of shuttling between the three continents - London for "Make Way for Lucia" (just lately rediscovered in E.F. Benson's novels), "Ann Veronica" and "The School Mistress;" the Brattle Threater in Cambridge, Mass., for "The Country Wife" and "The Relapse"; Australia for "Private Lives," and back to New York to star with Katharine Hepburn in Shaw's "The Millionairess."
There was an uncertain spell of short runs and fewer parts. And Madge - "Maddie" or "Madam" as her husband called her - began to fail. It was bone cancer but he never let know about it.
Then things looked up for Mr. Ritchard. He did his first Capt. Hook on stage with Mary Martin, and just at that time the Metropolitan Opera asked him to stage "The Barber of Seville."
"Maddie" was bucked up by the resumption of activity. So that she would be regal at the opera's opening in manager Rudolph Bing's box, Mr. Ritchard spent $20,000 he didn't have on a white sable coat for her. A few months later, "Maddie" died, but they had been proud, happy months, back on top. "Money beautifully spent," said Mr. Rirchard, who could nurse dimes out pass along his clothes to those who stood 6-feet-2.
Mr. Ritchard's less public side was his Catholicism, mass early every morning wherever he was. A friend once tried to get him to add some Tom Lehrer songs to his repertoire, but he was affronted by the friend's lack of religious circumspection. American setting, "The Devils Disciple," and in his casting for the young hero. Mr. Ritchard chose student Ernest Thompson, who has gone on to appear in several plays and star on two night-time TV series.
Mr. Ritchard's other Washington appearances included "Visit to a "Small Planet," "The Pleasure of His Company," "Roar of the Greasepaint - Smell of the Crowd," "Sugar," "No, No, Nanette" and "A Musical Jubilee."
Mr. Ritchard's survivors are his adopted son, David Beame; his brother, Edgar, a London painter and a niece, Pamela Mrs. Martin Brown, of Arlington, Va. But included among millions like them, two little nameless girls whom Ernest Thompson once watched ring the bell and tell an interrupted Mr. Ritchard, "We've come to visit Capt. Hook.'
"He's not here," said Mr. Ritchard, scowling and sending them packing, his privacy intact. As the girls walked down the driveway, Mr. Ritchard watched from the door and then suddenly laughed his deepest, scariest Capt. Hook laugh, and they ran, giggling, whence they had come. Mr. Ritchard giggled, too.
Burial will be beside "Maddie" this week in Ridgefield, Conn., with a memorial service to be held next [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]