Haila Stoddard


Haila Stoddard

Haila Stoddard (1913- )

Brief Biography

Haila Stoddard is known for her work as an actor, producer, writer and director. Born in Great Falls, Montana, Stoddard moved to Los Angeles, California where she obtained a degree from the University of Southern California. In 1934 Stoddard made her first stage appearance at the Belasco, Los Angeles, in the play "Merrily We Roll Along". During her career as an actress Stoddard appeared in a number of plays, movies, and television series including sixteen years as Pauline Rysdale in "The Secret Storm" (1954-1970). Stoddard’s career took her across the United States and spanned genres (including comedy, drama, revue, and romance).

Stoddard also worked as a producer, both independently and with her production company, Bonard Productions Incorporated, which Stoddard created with Helen Bonfils in 1960. In addition to adapting plays such as "Come Play with Me" and "Men, Women, and Less Alarming Creatures", Stoddard also wrote plays such as "A Round With Ring" (1969) and "Zellerman, Arthur" (1979).

In 1938 Stoddard married Jack Kirkland with whom she had two children. The couple divorced in 1947 and in the following year Stoddard married Harold Bromley with whom she had one child. After divorcing Bromley in 1954, Stoddard married Whitfield Connor in 1956 with whom she remained married for thirty-two years until his death in 1988.

Career

For three decades a perennial star on New York stages and television, Haila Stoddard was the first to bring the work of James Thurber and Harold Pinter to Broadway. New York Times Drama Critic Brooks Atkinson called her 1960 adaptation of “A Thurber Carnival,” “the freshest and funniest show of the year.” Her concept called for three upstage turntables for instant scene changes, and a jazz quartet moving across the sketches on a downstage conveyor belt.

Stoddard produced the Tony Award winning musical, her first production on Broadway, with Colorado heiress Helen Bonfils and Michael Davis. She had befriended Bonfils while appearing during the summer of 1953 as leading lady at Denver’s Elitch Theater where Miss Bonfils, the owner and publisher of The Denver Post, played character parts in the summer stock company. When Thurber granted Stoddard theatrical rights, Bonfils said “Honey, if you’ve got the rights, you’ve got the money!”

Her original cast included Tom Ewell, Alice Ghostly, Paul Ford, Peggy Cass, John McGiver, and the Don Elliott Jazz Quartet, and was directed by Burgess Meredith. A later production, at the Central City Opera House, featured Thurber himself, then blind, as narrator.

Combining her name with Bonfils as Bonard Productions, and associating with her New York theatrical attorney Donald Seawell, she brought to Broadway productions of Noel Coward’s “Sail Away (1962), “The Affair” by C.P. Snow (1962), her own adaptation of Thurber’s “The Beast In Me” (1963), and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “The Hollow Crown” (1963), which went on to tour American colleges for four months in the spring of 1964. For “Sail Away” she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Producer of a Musical. In association with Kathleen and Justin Sturm she presented “That Hat!,” her adaptation of “An Italian Straw Hat,” in 1964.

With the flamboyant but conservative Bonfils, Stoddard often skirted the outrageous antics of her creative colleagues. Bonfils had made clear her objections to the life-style of the gay and effete showman Coward, and she encouraged Stoddard to confront Coward in his suite at the Ritz during the lavishly praised Boston run-in of “Sail Away.” “This may be fine for Boston, but it just won’t do for New York!” she said.

When confronted, Stoddard recalled, an irked Sir Noel exploded: “Oh, Haila, I know as well as anybody that this show stinks and needs a lot of work, and you know I can rewrite the whole thing overnight. You just tell that bleached blonde associate of yours that I have a tassel, and I know how to use it!”

In 1962, while interviewing choreographer John Butler, Stoddard asked about a drawing in his powder room by Butler’s little known friend, Andy Warhol, a window dresser at Tiffany. She asked Warhol to design costumes for Thurber’s “The Beast in Me.” “Nobody knew him,” she said. “We had to get him a membership in the design union. Then they came to the opening night reception in far-out attire. Warhol arrived in that preposterous wig of his. Helen was not broad-minded about odd looking people. ‘Who was that, and how did they get in here?’ Helen asked. There was no explaining. I pretended I didn’t know them, and just would wait for the reviews before explaining.”

With Helen Bonfils and Mike Davis, Stoddard produced her co-adaptation, with dancer-actress Tamara Geva, of Marcel Achard’s “Voulez vous jouer avec moi?” as “Come Play with Me” starring Tom Poston and Lilian Montevecci in 1960, and with Mark Wright and Leonard S. Field premiered Harold Pinter on Broadway in 1967 with “The Birthday Party.” She later offered Off-Broadway productions of Coward’s “Private Lives” (1968), co-producing with Mark Wright and Duane Wilder; Lanford Wilson’s “Lemon Sky” (1970) and “The Gingham Dog” (1971), and “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac” a musical by Nancy Cryer and Gretchen Ford (1970) which won three Obie awards. With Neal Du Brock she produced “The Survival of St. Joan (1971); and, with Arnold H. Levy, “Lady Audley’s Secret” (1972) and “Love,” based on the play by Murray Schisgal, starring Nathan Lane (1984 Outer Critics Circle Award).

Pursuing her interest in young playwrights, she produced off-Broadway productions of “Glass House” (1981), Casey Kurtii’s “Catholic School Girls” (1982 Drama Desk Award), “Sweet Prince” (1982), “Marvelous Gray” (1982), and John Olive’s “Clara’s Play” (1983).

Bonard also presented the RSC productions of “King Lear” and “Comedy of Errors” to open the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center in May, 1964, and her London productions of “A Thurber Carnival” (1962) and “Sail Away” (1963) played the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End.

Her dramatic adaptations of Thurber material include “Life on a Limb,” and “Men, Women, and Less Alarming Creatures,” produced with “The Last Flower” on Boston WGBH-TV public television in 1965. In “A Round with Ring” she adapted Ring Lardner works which she directed in New York for the ANTA matinee series. She also directed the national touring production of “Lunatics and Lovers,” and she wrote original scripts entitled “Abandoned Child” and “Bird on the Wing,” and co-wrote “Dahling – A Tallulah Bankhead Musical” with composer-lyricist Jack Lawrence.

Her career as a producer followed a long run of “stand by” actress assignments, waiting in the wings should misfortune befall Bea Lillie, Greer Garson, Betty Field, Rosalind Russell, Uta Hagen, Mercedes McCambridge, or Jessica Tandy.

As Rosalind Russell’s Stand-By, she never played the part of “Auntie Mame” on Broadway in 1956. Russell, when feeling infirm, would request that Stoddard sit in the wings where she could see her: “So long as I can see you,” she said, “I will never let you get on that stage.” Russell never relinquished, and once played with a 105 fever. Stoddard got her chance when Russell’s replacement, Greer Garson, was indisposed after her first performance in the demanding part.

She replaced Elaine Stritch as the matinee Martha for in the original 1962 Broadway production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” playing the part each Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, and standing by in her dressing room each evening until the curtain rose for the second act with Uta Hagen safely in command on stage.

When Hagen left the Broadway production to open the show in London, Stoddard performed the role of Martha an unprecedented eight times a week until Mercedes McCambridge was ready to replace Hagen for the evening performances. She played with separate casts, opposite different actors. “After that stint, there was nothing more I could do on stage as an actress, so I turned to my greater fondness for writing, adapting, and producing.” Meanwhile, she continued to stand by for Jessica Tandy in Edward Albee plays produced on Broadway by Duane Wilder and Clinton Barr.

On Television Stoddard played the malevolent Aunt Pauline from 1953 to 1971 on CBS-TV’s “The Secret Storm.” In the early days of live dramatic television during the 1950s Miss Stoddard appeared in over 100 teleplays in principal roles on CBS’s “Playhouse 90,” “Studio One,” “The Web,” “The United States Steel Hour,” “Hallmark Hall of Fame” and “ The Prudential Family Playhouse;” and on NBC’s “Goodyear Playhouse,” “Kraft Theatre,” “The Philco Television Playhouse,” “The Armstrong Circle Theatre” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.” On radio she played the Little Sister with Orson Welles on “Big Sister” on CBS. In 1937-39 she simultaneously played “Stella Dallas” and three other day-time radio serials, then called “washboard weepers,” while appearing on stage in three different plays. Her radio co-stars included Agnes Morehead, Garson Kanin, and Clark Andrews.

Haila Stoddard was born en transit on November 14, 1913 in the rail road station at Great Falls, Montana, and discarded into the trash as hopelessly pre-mature. She was rescued by a Norwegian nurse named Haila Hahn who said “Doctor, it’s alive!” and removed the one- pound-eight-ounce infant to a shoe box. “My mother could fit her wedding ring all the way to my shoulder,” Stoddard recalled.

After her first eight years in Salt Lake City, she moved to Los Angeles where she graduated from L.A. High in 1930, married, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Southern California in 1934 with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech, while appearing in leading roles with the National Collegiate Players

Stoddard’s first professional stage appearance was in San Francisco as a walk-on/under-study in the 1934 California production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” succeeding to the ingenue’s leading role for opening night in Los Angeles. “You gotta use your wits,” Miss Stoddard would say; she would also frequently quote a line from Thurber: “A fool and her legs are soon parted.”

She appeared for 65 weeks in 1935-’36 as the mute Pearl in the national touring company of Jack Kirkland’s “Tobacco Road,” and married him in 1938. She married director-producer Harald Bromley in 1948, and actor-producer Whitfield Connor in 1956. Once asked if she had ever pursued a profession apart from the stage, she answered “Marriage?”

Stoddard arrived on Broadway in 1937, succeeding Peggy Conklin in the title role of “Yes, My Darling Daughter.” She subsequently starred in “A Woman’s a Fool – To Be Clever,” “I Know What I Like” and “Kindred” (1939), “Susannah and the Elders” (1940), “Mr. and Mrs. North” (1941), “The Rivals” (1942), “The Moon Vine” and “Blithe Spirit” (1943), and “Dream Girl” (1945), and “The Voice of the Turtle” (1947). Her co-stars included Clifton Webb, Louis Calhern, Walter Slezak, Peggy Wood, Bobby Clark, Monty Woolly, and Edgar Everett Horton.

During World War II she toured the South Pacific as Lorraine Sheldon in a 1945 USO production of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” with a cast including director Moss Hart, as Sheridan Whiteside, and Tyrone Power, Dina Merrill, Dora Sayers, Paula Trueman, Nedda Harrigan, and Janet Fox.

In cooking, her primary recreation, she claimed herself “expert in any language.” She amalgamated her recipes into a rough-draft cook book entitled “Applause.” For the Broadway opening of her production of a short-lived play called “Dead Pigeon,” she delivered a marinated squab to each dressing room. In the late 1960s she opened Carriage House Comestibles, a popular gourmet restaurant off the Boston Post Road in Westport, Connecticut.

She starred in “Joan of Lorraine,” “The Trial of Mary Dugan,” and “The Voice of the Turtle” (1947}, “Rip Van Winkle” (1947-’48), “Doctor Social,” “Goodbye My Fancy,” and “Her Cardboard Lover” (1949), “Affairs of State (1950), “Springtime for Henry,” (1951), “Twentieth Century,” “Glad Tidings,” and “Biography” (1952), ten summer stock productions at Denver’s Elitch Gardens Theatre and “The Frogs of Spring,” a revival which she co-produced with husband Harald Bromley on Broadway (1953). She took over the leading role on opening night when illness struck Constance Ford in her own Broadway production of “One Eye Closed,” took over for Marian Anderson in “Lunatics and Lovers” in 1954, and directed the national touring production. She played in “Ever Since Paradise” (1957), “Patate” (1958), and “Dark Corners” (1964).

Stoddard and Jack Kirkland were original share-holders in the creation of the Bucks County Playhouse in 1938; she appeared there in a total of sixteen productions from 1939 to 1958, including “The Philadelphia Story,” “Petticoat Fever,” “Our Betters,” “Skylark,” “The Play’s the Thing,” “Golden Boy,” “Mr. and Mrs. North,” and “Biography.” During five seasons, she was the Playhouse’s leading lady to leading men Walter Slezak and Louis Calhern. She produced her husband’s plays “The Clover Ring” and “Georgia Boy” in Boston, and “The Secret Room” on Broadway, all in 1945.

Following the death of Helen Bonfils in 1972, she incorporated with The Elitch Theatre Company, which produced 25 summer seasons in “America’s Oldest Summer Theatre” in Denver, Colorado between 1962 and 1987. She simultaneously associated with Lucille Lortel to produce summer seasons at the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut, was on the Board of Directors of New Dramatists in New York City, and a Founding Member of the Westport (CT) Theatre Artists Workshop.

“Everybody always gave me the chance. I always worked. I was never without work. I had one job (acting), or two jobs (stage and television acting), or three jobs (also producing while acting on stage and on television). My mantra: the trick is to survive.”

References

The [http://webtext.library.yale.edu/xml2html/beinecke.stoddardhaila.con.html Haila Stoddard Playscript Collection] is held at the [http://www.library.yale.edu/beinecke Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library] at Yale University.

"Index to Women of the World from Ancient to Modern Times: Biographies and Portraits". By Norma Olin Ireland. Westwood, MA: F.W. Faxon Co., 1970.

"Notable Women in the American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary". Edited by Alice M. Robinson, Vera Mowry Roberts, and Milly S. Barranger. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

"Who Was Who in the Theatre, 1912-1976: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Directors, Playwrights, and Producers of the English-speaking Theatre". Detroit: Gale Research Co., c1978.


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