Transcript:

Speaker I had worked with Margaret Webster in The Seagull. Which I had with the Lunts where she was acting in it, so I knew her in that way and I forget how she knew my husband was over at my husband at that time and she approached us both. And we were both terribly excited, and I remember Paul Robeson coming to our house in Ossining and we were terribly excited and that's kind of a vague memory. That's all I remember in the beginning. I mean, you knew about him and before that. Oh, the whole world knew about Paul Robeson in 1942. Quite different than now where we have to re-educate them.

Speaker So I thought. Uh.

Speaker I want to know, OK, do you know what may interest you when you say, did I what did I know about him? My mother was we came from Germany when I was a child. My mother was a singer and she sang oratorio and Handel operas and leader. And she became fascinated by American spirituals so that Paul was a household world, a word in my home for singing when I was very young. So that's the first I knew about him.

Speaker What was what was did you hear about any reaction when it was announced that a black man was going to play Othello in the beginning?

Speaker There was that again. To me, it was weird that anybody would think anything, but I don't remember a lot of talk until we arrived in Cambridge. And we're going to play and suddenly. The word went around that this was going to be a major event because for the first time, a black man and a white woman in Shakespeare, that was the Tororo about it.

Speaker And what happened was the rehearsal period, like what was Rosens relationship with Margaret Westerway?

Speaker Well, that I'm not sure that I would have remembered this, except that it progressed. And then he talked about it when I got to know him better. He was not crazy about her, which is no secret. She did something that I found afterwards to be a terrible kind of chauvinism. The notion was that he was so gifted and such an intuitive talent that you don't tell him what to do or you will interfere with the intuitive progress of process, which of course, drove him mad because he wanted terribly. He knew he didn't know a lot about acting and he wanted to learn and to do it well as well as he possibly could. And I remember he asked Joffre a lot of questions and he asked me a lot of questions. I was a kid. I was 23, but what was I going to tell him? But he was, like most genius people, unbelievably curious and was dying to absorb something he wasn't familiar with. And in that way, she didn't. Webster didn't help him at all, except externally, kind of for out of shape and form. But the real craft of acting, she was of no help at all.

Speaker How about you and how was your relationship during rehearsal?

Speaker It had been fine up to a point and no, I guess it was fine in the beginning. It was not good the second year when suddenly my husband died and my husband decided we should have equal billing or have star billing above the title. Those things don't matter to me at all. Really not. And she wasn't to be billed above the title. And it was a tremendous crisis with the Theater Guild. And Paul insisted that we have this billing that was kind of one of those ugly things that are not meaningful.

Speaker Well, but he did stand up and did not didn't stand up.

Speaker He was the ringleader. He was cheering for us. Yeah, we got along wonderfully. What was your reaction to the Cambridge and the Princeton trial, by the way, in about five years ago, saw Elliot Norton again, who was the most prominent critic in Boston, and he was there and he still remember he talked about that evening a lot and still said that he will never forget it as long as he lived, that it was a historic moment and that people were standing up screaming and yelling and it made a big to do in the papers. What is strange to me, I was I was a kid. I really don't remember it very well, except that it was all very exciting and very wonderful. But I don't remember details or had no knowledge of the impact this had there or what that it would have later on.

Speaker Did you get a sense what did Paul say to you about that initial reaction? Did he say anything to you? I don't remember. OK, I'm sorry. All right. Um.

Speaker Could you could you be more specific about Webster's attempts to remove you from the. I mean, that movie about the whole incident with Paul being the ringleader? Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Speaker I can't think what else to say. That that's all I remember, just that there was a big contract dispute about going on the road and the billing and that I think Webster has this even in her book Long Letters, about how outraged she was that we dared ask for this kind of building and we think we were and so forth. And that son of a gun, Paul, and what was he pulling there? And I think she just was miffed because she wasn't included. She was playing Amelia, by the way. She didn't only direct it, she was playing Amelia.

Speaker And as for the film, I need to have you say that it was Paul who initiated the.

Speaker I can't remember, but it may have been Paul who suggests it may very well have been Paul, who suggested that we get equal billing with him or it was Paul Robeson, Joseph Walter Hagen in.

Speaker I don't mean that we had a line together with him, but that it was above the title. That was the big uproar and that he suggested it and Joe Ferraro would have loved that. So it became a fight with the Theater Guild and with her and with possibly not touring and then but everything worked out and we went. And she did not play on the road, Margaret Webster, so that she was not humiliated them by being below the title only big directed by how did they get along with the other cast members? Extraordinarily well. Everybody adored him. Everybody, you know, theater people are different than most people. They are very there's very little sense of rank or there's camaraderie. There's friendship in a nice company, which we were we had a wonderful time with a real family feeling.

Speaker The question, you're one of the really good.

Speaker Actor as an actor, teachers, I mean, you really know that. How in retrospect now, how would you, if you can, how would you rate Paul as an actor?

Speaker I have when he started and I have this is.

Speaker From seeing him on film, from remembering what he did in the play, he was not a very good actor. He was in certain films like I don't remember the name, but exactly something. The Valley, you what you saw that this was a phenomenally, potentially wonderful actor, if handled. Right. I hated the whole production of Emperor Jones. I think it's shabby. I think it's shocking. So when people love that I'm not in that camp, I think it does a disservice in the play he what he had. That overused word and misused word charisma. I've known three people in my life who had it, and one was Roosevelt. One was Kennedy and one was Robeson, who had a presence and a human.

Speaker I can only say vibration that was so overpowering that when he stepped on stage, I mean, you could only gasp just the presence. He had it if he walked through just walk through Madison Square Garden, 22000 people stood up and started screaming, went bonkers and or Sinatra. If we want to say, what is that? That radiates something that is not in the norm at all. It's just extraordinary.

Speaker And he had that as Othello. He was, of course, brilliant. He had wonderful speech. He had a magnificent voice. He had great intelligence. So that I would say as the performance, these were all in his favor, his lack of talent didn't excuse me, not talent. His lack of skill did not seem to bother anybody. But I think there was a lack of skill.

Speaker Um.

Speaker What was I could have been I could have helped him now. What I know about teaching, I suddenly thought, oh, I could have been just I just could have turned him into the genius actor.

Speaker I beg your pardon? I know I could have.

Speaker I know I could work with. I know you both. We talked about, you know, the play in a relationship. So what was his perception of Othello and what was your perception of this man in terms of the play out of it? And did it change as it went on?

Speaker No, I don't remember. I know we talked. I know we we did what Margaret Webster did very well, which which was to discuss text, to discuss not so much iambic pentameter or rhythm as the dynamics of a scene that we discussed was and she was not a very good she was not a good director.

Speaker And so that the treatment of the play was an ordinary academic approach to Shakespeare and just other elements came into it that fired the production in spite of her.

Speaker And as I say at that time, which many people don't know the very presence of or the very existence of a black man on stage with a white woman whom he kissed, fondled, held, slapped, strangled and so forth, was in itself a theater event or a social event.

Speaker Let me put it that way.

Speaker And I think that's what.

Speaker Made people run to see to do you think that art in the level of artistic expression and in the production equaled the social impact of that theme?

Speaker No, I don't. I don't although what I was amazed me people did believe it.

Speaker I remember once a taxi driver, I drove to the theater and he said, are you going to see that show? I said, no, I'm in it. And then he got interested. Then he said, I saw it. He said, Who rewrote it? I said, nobody rewrote it. It's Shakespeare. He said it couldn't have been. I understood it. And I think that was the great value. There was something in. The human elements of the actors that made it immediate and made it believable.

Speaker And certainly before when when, uh, what was his name?

Speaker I can't think of his name, a famous actor who had played in recently. Oh, what was his name? We don't know. Had recently had played it in a in all over America and were in blackface. Or Walter Houston had played it not too long before that in white in blackface. And suddenly a genuine black man in that role made the play have a meaning that it couldn't have had when someone is going around with coal on their face.

Speaker The.

Speaker Do you know there was a when I see this at that time. I keep saying that social time.

Speaker I could not go to Saidi's with Paul across the street from the Shubert Theatre. I mean, I could go, but he couldn't go. The first time we went, we were going to a party together and I said, I'll meet you there later. And he said, Paul and I go on ahead and we walk down Shubert Alley, then we walk down 47th Street. And he broke for me and started walking the middle of the street. I said, What are you doing out there? And finally we got a cab. And I said, Why did you do that? He said, I didn't want to embarrass you to walk next to you. Now, that's what it was like in those days. I once I came down the elevator with him in Boston in a hotel because Joe Frazier and he and I were sharing sweets together so he wouldn't be in a hotel all by himself, in some crummy hotel by himself.

Speaker And we got on the elevator and below us, somebody got on.

Speaker A woman got on, took one look at the two of us. I had my arm through his and she hopped up and spit me in the face. And I mean, I was so stunned, I didn't even get mad. Neither did he, because it was also fast and so weird that we arrived. And I said, what the hell happened? Now, that was. Almost to be expected in the 40s, and when young people say haven't times at times haven't improved, I said they're crazy. It's changed a lot, not as much as it should and not as much as it will. But it has changed enormously since the forty forties. Were you aware of that of racism before you? No, not at all. I never thought about it again. I think coming from Europe, this and being raised in a university town with by a professor and this was all totally alien to me. Any of this is rage as these angers, these problems that were became daily and confrontational daily. While as long as I was in that show for two years or three, was it from 42 to 45? That was a. An eye opener for me.

Speaker Wow. Uh, in relation to that, could you. What about the national said talk about.

Speaker Yes, the national tour was to me, I would love to if I ever had the time to write my remembrances of that tour, because we did do good things. We are through, Paul. We did good things. We broke the precedent of playing to segregated audiences. We refused. And it was in our equity contracts. That was a first. And by segregated houses, I mean in the north, we never played south of St. Louis and. Confronted in Indianapolis, in Minneapolis, in Buffalo, in Sacramento and Seattle was segregated, houses were the norm and which I had not known, although I had toured, I had not been aware of that and. We broke all those prisoners. There's never been segregation since we played in Detroit, for example, a month after the 2004 race riots, which were about the worst in the history of America among the worst. And if that if tension arose, terrible tension in the audience arose. We always thought it was because what we were doing on stage always found out afterwards it had nothing to do with that. It had to do with the fact that, for example, in Detroit, in the best seats in the auditorium, the most expensive seats, people from Grosse Pointe and all the auto manufacturers and all the multi rich were sitting in seats next to very elegantly dressed black people. They shot them so much that they went crazy and just froze in the audience. And what happened on stage did not ever seem to alarm anyone as much as what happened in the audience.

Speaker And, uh, you got to tell me that story about the luggage.

Speaker Oh, that's a good one. Yes. When we were in some of our hotel. Oh, I'll tell you. I'll get to that one for sure. In wherever there were Statler Hotels, we were allowed to stay in them and they were rather good hotels that were not necessarily the best, but they were decent hotels. And we were able to share suites in this in these hotels. And in Boston, Joe Frazier knew the manager and they'd been to Princeton together. So the manager invited us or came up to our room for lunch and Joe said, hey, what is this?

Speaker We can't go into any of your restaurants. What is that about? He said, no, that's just the way it is. So Joe said, what would happen if we did? And this man said, absolutely.

Speaker Normally as though he were telling you about how they do the laundry. He said, oh, it's easy. Said you'd go in, you'd ask for a table. We'd say there aren't any, although you'd say, but the restaurant is empty. And then if you made a big fuss, we would let you in and we would put you by the kitchen and then we would let you wait a half an hour for a menu. And then if you got really mad, we'd give you a menu and then you'd wait a half an hour for your first course and we'd make sure it would be cold and overcooked and and eventually you would leave. And this was said as normally as that. And I just continued to have gooseflesh and start screaming and yelling. And that, of course, is all changed now. Then we get to when we got to Sacramento, we were very tired. We'd been delayed in the town before and came the three of us arrived late and came to our hotel and we pulled up in the taxi. I said, you know, this looks like a brothel. He said, I think it is. And it was. And we went in and went up a very strange cage like elevator sat in the one room was not yet ready and the other room was ready. So the three of us sat waiting in one room, exhausted on the edge of the bed, just waiting and waiting till they cleared the drunken ladies out of this other room. Funny, it was already the bellboy comes in very proper, young man, and look at the three of us and got very embarrassed and very proper and said, Oh, pardon me, how would you like me to segregate the luggage? And Paul looked back at, Oh, son of a bitch. Now they're doing it to the luggage. Oh, we had a lot of interesting experiences like that.

Speaker How did he take all this?

Speaker Unbelievably well. He kept his cool when the entire company would be in an outrage about something. He was calming us down when we couldn't when we were almost canceled in Indianapolis because that was the head of the clan there, because there was they said there was no hotel where he could get in. And the Theater Guild said, we'll cancel it. And Paul said, no, if the town is that bad, I'll stay with friends. They should see the play and. Finally, they did. This is an interesting story, if it's too long, you'll cut it right. If we arrived through a series of misadventures in Detroit, in Indianapolis, coming from Pittsburgh, where, again, we'd been delayed with something we were doing there and we're going to fly and we got to the airport and the woman says it was wartime and said there are only two tickets there, not three. And finally, we argued, should we go? Should we? And then she said, are you Paul Robeson? And he said, yes. He said, can I have your autograph? And he said, yes, he signed it. She said, Now you got three tickets. So we get but that plane, we had to change planes in Dayton, Ohio, and that turned out to be where the real trouble was. There were only two seats. So we're in Dayton. We have to get to Indianapolis and there are only two tickets. And Joe said Outearned Paul go. And Paul said, I'm not going to arrive in that town with a white woman. No way. You take her and I'll get a bus or something. We fight. We are there. Anyhow, Joe and I set off were greeted by his friends who then thought it was we had done something that we had left Paul all alone. And I had to explain all that. Then finally, he took a bus. We picked him up four o'clock in the morning and went to this hotel where they said they had us. And I think it was the best hotel in town. We asked for our kids and Joe and I get eight or something and Paul gets two or something and we part ways and go upstairs, were upstairs two minutes and Paul was pounding on the door and he's got the keys. There is no such room. So Joe says, come on, he went out, they disappeared. And I mean, meanwhile, that they've both been killed and I don't know what to do. They went the man when Joe made a big stink, the man looked at the he said, oh, yes, no, there is. That is they went through Landry's restaurants, everything to an annex where they had obviously been some kind of election campaign. There was a coat rack and a cot and a bureau. And that was it said, I'm not staying here. I'm going back to my friends. So Porchlight, five o'clock in the morning now. He went back to his friends.

Speaker The next day he came in.

Speaker John, I said we're going to move out, so we moved in with his friends, he took our key. So every day he came in, went through the hotel, went upstairs to his room on the eighth floor, took a shower, left again and went out and we broke the president. So that was another little goody of annoyances and aggravation and misery that you had to go through. So that was a good one.

Speaker I asked you this a lot, but I said, you know, when you were doing all this, did you have a sense of the significance of what you were doing historically or were you just meeting a crisis day by day?

Speaker I had a feeling that I was learning something every day, that it was important what we were doing. But the end result I didn't really see until 10 years later. As I saw that what we had done had influenced things, that things were changing, that we could go to a restaurant together, that we could have a kind of normalcy in our relationship that wasn't hadn't been possible.

Speaker I don't want to leave you said that Paul reacted well to all these trials, all of them, he kept that.

Speaker Well, I mean, once in a while he got mad like that night and he was just so exhausted and now he couldn't go to bed. But it was more from that then set, then getting outraged. We were outraged.

Speaker He stayed cool that he ever put in play, play different roles for all that he played different roles for different people.

Speaker Did he know how he knew how to play? He knew how to charm the pants off. Everyone, everyone. From being a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with the most distinguished speech to being a football player, to being a POW bum, he played all those parts very well socially.

Speaker Absolutely.

Speaker So that anybody really know him or that he just sort of played to the crowd that he was.

Speaker Everybody who met him felt they not only knew him, but that he was their best friend for life.

Speaker If he came in to a social evening and he had the feeling one person was like this about him, he would be in on that one person before he left. That man was his disciple.

Speaker Yeah, oh, I'll tell you, a wonderful one I had these were I think this still exists to some extent. I had a housekeeper in in Ossining who was black. It was during the war was terribly hard to get somebody to live in. And I had a child and was in the country and was working. And I had to have somebody to stay in the house. And I got this woman called Francis. I'll never forget her. I don't know her last name. And she was very open and this and oh, she just loved being there. And I want a home.

Speaker I want a home.

Speaker And we had a couple of rules and I said, what's the matter with you? And she said, you're too nice to me. I said, well, what's the matter with that? She said, that's trashy, I don't like that.

Speaker Then I said one night, hey, Frances, wait here, Paul, Robeson's coming for dinner. She went bonkers. She went in her bedroom, slammed the door. I didn't know why Joe came home. I said, I don't know what the hell's the matter with her, but she's not cooking dinner. And I said, I've started because I told her Paul was coming. So he goes and she says, we [Unrecognized] don't wait on each other, you know, and slam the door shut. Now, Paul came, I cooked, I served him, we ate, we had a wonderful time and I told him the story. And he just laughed. Two weeks later, we're going to Cambridge, we're on the train now, she had to come with me to stay with the child. She's on the train with the baby. And Paul and Joe and I are up four seats ahead of her. And he kept looking at her. We get to New Haven. We had to change trains during the war. He gets up, he says, May I carry your bags? You pick and choose their pick, picked up his bags, took her out, waited till she got out of the train and put her into the next train and got her settled from then on, she's.

Speaker Gone, just gone. I know the real oh and had a way of.

Speaker Relating to each person, why one of the reasons for the charisma, if there were 50 people in this room and he decided to talk to you. You wouldn't know there was anybody I mean, you you had the feeling only you were important to him and it was powerful.

Speaker Uh, now, uh.

Speaker Well, let me, uh, as you mentioned in the book, so I feel comfortable in asking you about it. Um, uh, the relationship he had with Rosa, you know, off the stage, uh, how did that begin?

Speaker Um, I'm not going to tell you how it began. Well, that's for sure. No, it started rather early in the run in New York. It was absolutely instigated by him. It startled me so that it, uh, shattered my world. And I went hook, line and sinker. And we had a three year relationship, which was, um. Obsessive, that's the only problem for my part. That's the only way I can describe it, and it was my world.

Speaker And, uh, what else do you want to know, given how did that play off the play?

Speaker It had to have influenced that. I mean, it had to have influenced it because we were so smitten that that had to have had an impact on the roles. Probably made it much better.

Speaker As a matter of fact, I think he had to do with every Desdemona you ever played with because he had a standing affair with Peggy Ashcroft, who was his first Desdemona with.

Speaker What was her name started with the way your land was, and she wasn't she, you know, she wasn't she wasn't enough. I mean, Desdemona to Mary, you are myself. I don't know who else he played with, but I talk about a lot o a lot.

Speaker I had the feeling that she was the most meaningful person to him personally up to the time he met me without a question. He used to say in the beginning, oh you remind me of you. But no, he did speak of her a lot better.

Speaker But again you can tell me from I'm on line. But when you found out that there were others that how did you react to that?

Speaker It didn't bother me at all that they had preceded me. I did not know there were others. There was one person in particular who I found out he was still having an affair with. And I said, that's it. I don't forget it.

Speaker And he left her and a matter of fact moved out and her husband moved in with us. So and then I'm sure there were others. But if I got a whiff of it, I went bonkers because I'm very monogamous. As a matter of fact, it was the relationship with Joe was very, very difficult for me because I accepted that he had a lot of girls, but I never occurred. I thought, that's the way men are. I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty two, whatever. I thought, that's the way it is. But. After with Paul, I did not accept it. I said it's either it's either me or forget it because it's too important and.

Speaker How did your react?

Speaker Well, Paul always felt he knew he always afterwards acted very much. Oh, my God, no.

Speaker Couldn't have been.

Speaker I mean, he would be thrilled. Are you going to be are you going to be on then? I can go out was always he left us alone together all the time while he skedaddled all over town. So, uh.

Speaker These are complicated things I don't quite I don't really understand them yet and no, no, it's a matter of fact, once I met my real husband, as I call him Herbert, and that was it for 44 years and never occurred to me to look anywhere else or him, I don't think.

Speaker As we get tough with this kind of.

Speaker Changes, anything can know, um, um, there was, uh, there was, uh, so I mean, you're saying that I just get this straight.

Speaker You you did you think the journal and I kept saying, no, he doesn't.

Speaker And he's conveniently not touching me, not leaving me and not leaving me alone, letting him stay with me. He had his own place on the top floor of our house. We had a four story brownstone and.

Speaker It was perfect. Now they seemed to be very good friends, Joe and Paul, and the powers that he knows knows.

Speaker Communicate with him. I know it's really interesting.

Speaker There was one incident, though, an incident.

Speaker You mean Christmas Eve? Yeah, that wasn't an incident. That was really appalling.

Speaker That was really the end of pulling me, in a way. I mean, it was the situation was created that made it so difficult that that was almost that he had been a concertizing. Sometimes I went with him, sometimes I didn't. And I think he'd been buffalo or someplace. And he came it was Christmas Eve. And he came home and I luckily was ill and had an evening dress on for the occasion. He came from Wisconsin. He looked gorgeous. And we sat we hugged and kissed and then we talked and we had drinks and we talked. And suddenly I said the door blew up and I feel a draft. Anyhow, I looked and there was a scream. I saw something. I said somebody standing there and there was joke with a detective and his lawyer on a raiding my house, hoping to catch us in flagrante delicto.

Speaker So I never forget that because I couldn't believe it. I only came to wish me Merry Christmas, because by that time he didn't know. I mean, after we separated, I told him the whole thing. And so I thought, what is he doing here? And Paul, who immediately knew what it was, oh, stood up. And I remember him just towering over Joe and Joe looking like such a pipsqueak. And Paul said, Oh, Joe, he was it was just like, how could you do this was.

Speaker Terrible, terrible, then Joe left and the lawyer left and the detective left, nobody took any pictures because there was nothing to take those who would have been good pictures to take, how courteous and how polite and how. And then Paul went a little bonkers and suddenly said, oh, they're going to shoot me. And so he called a lot of people. He came and got them. A lot of strange people came to pick him up because he was afraid to go out alone. He thought they're going to try to get him. Which was it? That was really silly. Well, they just seem to have gone off. Yeah, he did.

Speaker He went paranoid.

Speaker And to get out, I remember just endless phone calls, and I was so stunned by that he what what Joe wanted was he threatened me with custody of my daughter, that I would be an unfit mother, which in those days with a blackout every night didn't stand a chance. And he didn't want to pay alimony and he didn't want to, you know, and that's why he did it for the most disgusting reason imaginable. Wasn't even jealousy was just disgusting.

Speaker And he got I mean, he didn't get custody, but he certainly never took a penny of alimony. I wouldn't have anyway.

Speaker So I mean, that and Paul kind of then it was impossible to see him for fear. We didn't know what Joe was going to do next. And then I was totally broke.

Speaker I remember it. He had a hard time. He once gave me two hundred dollars. I think I couldn't I had no money. I didn't have a job and.

Speaker So the last time I saw him was in 49.

Speaker This was forty six or seven Christmas, 46 Christmas, and I saw him again in 49 while I was playing in Chicago. Paul. And.

Speaker We had a wonderful evening together with friends, but it really then he would write and then he was afraid to write and I would write, we'd call, how can we be?

Speaker Then it just got it was that was it. That was like the beginning. That was like. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker Uh, well.

Speaker Oh, I don't want to ask you. That the two things.

Speaker What did he say about your manner that he compared you to her because it was pretty significant in his life, but he just said, do you know what does one say, that she was enchanting and that she had a sense of humor and that she was beautiful and, uh.

Speaker I just came up a lot, but they didn't tell me any stories or anything, if that's OK, because I was thinking about marrying her as a whole.

Speaker As a whole.

Speaker Yeah, no, he told me all that and anything you read.

Speaker He told me that was no secret. So you must tell him to come out and say that.

Speaker Oh yeah. Oh no, no. We were very, very close to the doctor. I got that letter somewhere. I don't know where it's in my heart. Got somewhere from Philadelphia, wrote me once, said, I agree with Paul every twice a week we're in the park together and so forth. And I just thought you might want to know that he talks about you more than anybody else, which moved me.

Speaker So I almost killed me. And that was. Not long before he died, but a year before he died.

Speaker You didn't go to see him and I never did.

Speaker I didn't go to his funeral. I didn't. I just thought it wouldn't make waves in a way that I thought was tasteless. It wasn't going to serve anybody. I mean, they knew we played together and a lot of people knew we loved each other and that was it.

Speaker One of the thing and you know, again, if you don't, it's OK. What was what did he say and what was your perception of his relationship with Islam? I mean.

Speaker He said a lot of mean things, predominantly mean things. No. I didn't like her at all, but I mean, that's understandable. I never felt threatened by her because I never felt I loved her. I felt that she was a very powerful woman. I think she manipulated him. I think he felt manipulated. And. I think she was a brilliant woman, but that's about the nice, as nice as I can be about her.

Speaker Do you think? And do you think that maybe he was especially harsh because you could have been.

Speaker Could have been, although he said that in front of lots of people very often he was never diplomatic about her unless it was a press conference or something. I don't mean that. But in private, you know. Oh, no.

Speaker What did you think when he was going through all his passport stuff, you know, that 50s period when I was going through the same thing, so I just simply knew much worse? I don't mean that it was the same in that sense, but I was being hounded. I was being chased by the FBI. My phones were tapped. I was called twice so that I those were such miserable year, 10 years for me that I just knew that he had it much worse. And it was horrible what was going on for everybody, including him, know what they did, what they did. Well, you know this. But to me, the most terrible thing they did was that they literally that you wouldn't think this was possible in this country, erased them from history for 15 years or 20 years until students who might say who? I mean, this is to me.

Speaker An abomination. They wiped them out.

Speaker Still, he didn't exist, and I think that he's pioneering what he did as a leader in those years was so. Enormous and has gone so unrecognized that it makes me mad.

Speaker You know, it's funny that there's a similarity there were people that he did not contact because he didn't want to.

Speaker To them, so to speak, with his reputation, and you just said there was a certain point, I don't know and that you didn't want to contact because you would have been faceless and would have caused more problems than more problems would cause the kind of attention.

Speaker What is she doing here? You know, she had an affair with him. I mean, you know, that I thought was inappropriate.

Speaker Well, I just commented that it is an equal amount of sensitivity and compassion on both sides, both of you did that, not one hurt? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Speaker Well.

Speaker I pretty much just let you know something, you know, I was just curious because of the period you skipped the whole operation that was so violent at the time when the relationship leaped.

Speaker The press began to pick it up. And New York Confidential, I was very surprised. Nothing much happened after that.

Speaker Well, what the reason it didn't happen, first of all, the confidential thing was the confidential magazine, which came out with a big smear and a big picture of Paul on the cover and then inside pictures of me and Joe and the detective. And it all came as leaked information from that detective who was there that night of the raid. That's where all that story sold. That was the thing with Confidential. They went to these detectives and they bought their material. So that's how it got in. Confidential was the first. And there were others that followed and that was the first. There was anything ever in the press at that time. Immediately, the three quarters of what had said in that magazine was lies told. I mean, there were quotes in there from Harvard. They were there three minutes. You know, they would like they heard two hours of conversation or something. And I called up reporter Abe Fortas and Justice Thurman and were my attorneys during the McCarthy period. And this was in the middle of it, 54, I think, or 53. And I called up and I said, I'm going to show, I'm going to sue. And Paul said, every paper in the United States is waiting for somebody to sue confidential and hoping they will do it, because then it will be you will be in every newspaper. You will it will be a bonfire. And the reason nobody sues and just hopes that will be forgotten, which in essence it was I mean, at last it may be that particular issue and its excitement lasted maybe. I was playing in summer stock, can you imagine, I worked and then I got to go on stage anyway. It lasted a few months and then isolated people remembered. Oh, I read that about you, you know, but if the other way it would have been. National news every single day. That's why nothing you didn't hear anymore about what?

Speaker About during that tour. If you look at say yes, oh, no, no, no, I can look back at it right there. Just a quick thing.

Speaker As you mentioned, when you were playing on Broadway, you know, and after the hate mail, could you talk a lot about that?

Speaker I don't if I mentioned. No, I don't remember. And the hate mail to do. If I did, I don't remember it. I probably did. No, I don't remember it.

Speaker One last question. OK. This is a personal I like you. Very hip spirit. So.

Speaker I can ask you this, think when you guys pull it was the man, it wasn't, you know, the myth, right? I mean, it was really.

Speaker Oh, no, it was the guy. I mean, you can't take the myth away from it. You know, there is something very. I mean, it's like Monica and Clinton, you know, I mean, it's not just the guy is the president. It wasn't just the guy. It was a major persona that's got to influence who he was, really that.

Speaker Oh, God, yes. And he was also just like I.

Speaker With an itchy ear or a stomach ache, sir?

Speaker They have to tell you what he thought. I mean, I'll get my stuff. What what what qualities that you like about you. He told you about. Michael Sam, what did he say?

Speaker I don't know. I don't know what Herbert would. I can't even tell you about my husband. What you know, if you if you think that about yourself, if somebody would ask, what did they say to you? What about you that I don't know.

Speaker Well, I mean, I know that I know who I am. I know people like that. I'm honest that I'm direct, that I'm funny. I hope that I'm unbelievably affectionate, that I am loyal, that I know these things, that those people like that.

Speaker And I know that's true of me. I'm glad they like it.

Speaker Someone as a friend of Rumsfeld said that he was a man with a thousand pockets.

Speaker He had so many things going on in every area, too many. Could you address the he. Oh, no, no, no.

Speaker You see, that's very separate. No, I don't know what you mean. I maybe I misunderstood the question about too many pockets. I felt that many of the things that fascinate like he loved. We used to play chess every night. We played languages. I had a singing coach. He went to my singing coach, he studied German leader. He studied German, which he hadn't studied yet because of me and stuff like that. And all of it he did with a passion and all of it he did not terribly well. The the notion that I don't think he was a great linguist at all. He had a fabulous ear, as do I. He loved to study. But I in my opinion, I have lots of Russian friends. He did not speak Russian fluently. He did none of these things that people say about him, he spoke 54 languages or something, he studied them, he dabbled at them. When I say too many pockets, I think he did this then and each time with such an intensity for an hour and then to another thing, you know, so.

Speaker The one thing you seen so far is political, totally solid and meaningful, and to the end, he when he prepared for a concert or something, he didn't get around. This was not amateur stuff at all. And when he prepared with his accompanist and when he when he got ready for the concert and everything, this was dead serious.

Speaker I think that in that field, that was the closest to being his artistic profession.

Speaker As anything yet, aside from politics, there's usually a lot of his friends you, yeah.

Speaker And racially, none, I think. Oh, no, none.

Speaker As I could talk to you, so I leave. OK, good. Open the windows, glass just and then open the windows. Yeah, I just wondered if he ever talked about his mother's death or his father's death.

Speaker He told me about his mother's death.

Speaker Once. Or maybe more.

Speaker But it was almost like a learned speech, and he claimed, which I'm sure is true, that he had no memory of anything prior to that fire.

Speaker And I think that's not uncommon that a big traumatic experience I have a friend who at seven escaped from Cuba and has no memory of anything until he got here, came out here and said to me, oh, I've never seen the ocean before.

Speaker I said, you were raised in Cuba. They can't remember it. So I think that's probably true. He talked with great admiration about his father.

Speaker By the way, the one time I did see him really outraged, I thought there would be a big problem. We were at Cafe Society, Barney Joseph Uptown, and I forget who was playing that. And we were having a wonderful time.

Speaker And at a table about two tables away, a guy stood up and yelled, Hey, Robson. And Paul said, yes.

Speaker He said, I'm a robot. And to you, we're proud. Your daddy was probably my daddy's slave.

Speaker And he lost it. He stood up, I thought he was going to break something. He stood up, he started and he went over and he said something to him, I don't know what, but he almost manhandled it. It didn't.

Speaker And then he came back to the table and it took about 20 minutes. And then he kind of said hello.

Speaker And what I forget what the man said, it was worse than what I'm telling you.

Speaker It was not he thought it was funny, but it was awful, but it was about he'd been his slave.

Uta Hagen
Interview Date:
1998-06-16
Runtime:
0:50:51
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-8w3804z49z, cpb-aacip-504-3r0pr7n83b
MLA CITATIONS:
"Uta Hagen, Paul Robeson: Here I Stand." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 16 Jun. 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1176
APA CITATIONS:
(1998, June 16). Uta Hagen, Paul Robeson: Here I Stand. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1176
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Uta Hagen, Paul Robeson: Here I Stand." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 16, 1998. Accessed May 20, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1176

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