Reminiscences of Teresa Wright
New York, June 1959
On her Early Career
Q: Did you ever go to dramatic school?
No, I never did. After I started in the high school plays, through
one of the teachers in school I was able to get a working scholarship into
summer theatre. Two teachers I had, one a public speaking teacher and one
a dramatic teacher, were both instrumental in my following the theatre
seriously. They not only encouraged me personally, but one of them, the
public speaking teacher, got me this scholarship at the Wharf Theatre which
was really a start professionally, because there I met professional people.
That was as near as I came to studying -- that year as a student there.
. . .
Most of the stock plays that were done were of pretty poor caliber,
at least then. It seems to me stock has grown up a lot since those days,
which is a good thing. People expect more from the plays that they see.
I played with professionals that year. I was quite small and looked
a lot younger than my age, so I was always playing twelve-year-olds, stooping
to look the part, which, I claim, is the reason why I have a slight stoop
I met that year the professional who really got me my start in the
theatre, Doro Merendi, a character actress. The fall following my first
summer there as an apprentice, the play "Our Town" opened in
New York, and I went backstage to see Doro. She was dressing with Martha
Scott. Martha was about to leave the show, and they were looking for an
understudy for her, to play the part -- no, I guess at that time they were
just looking for an understudy. Martha suggested me to Doro, and Doro said,
"Well, she's just in high school still." But she remembered it,
and the following year I went back to the Wharf Theatre again, and the
following fall when I came back to New York, by that time Martha had left
the show. Dorothy McGuire was playing
it, and they were then looking for an understudy for Dorothy.
That was a long period of time, about four months in New York, waiting
to read for Jed Harris -- quite an unpredictable man. They never knew when
he was going to be at the theatre. I had read for the stage manager, and
he had chosen me to read for Jed Harris. I think Jed Harris directed it --
he may also have produced it. I'm pretty sure he did.
Anyway, after four months of being called back and forth -- I shared
a furnished room with a girl way up on the West Side -- finally during a
storm -- almost a hurricane, I believe of 1938 -- I finally made it back
home and had a terrible cold and was about to get in bed, when they finally
called me quite late and said, "Mr. Harris is going to be here by
11 o'clock tonight."
By that time, I almost didn't care, as much as I needed a job and
wanted a job, but I just couldn't believe it anymore. I started down there.
I think somehow before I got there maybe I stirred up a little enthusiasm,
because I did call my father, and told him. I went down to read and was
told I had the job. That was the beginning. So really it had its start
at the Wharf Theatre.
. . .
Q: Did you have subsequent readings with Jed
No. I read that one time. I was prepared to read two scenes, and
I read one. I was terrified, of him and of the whole process of reading
for him. I remember going out into the hallway and bursting into tears
of -- I suppose, relief as much as anything. There was a dear man there,
a dresser for Mr. Craven, and he gave me some words of sympathy or cheer.
I was told to wait there. I was waiting to go back in and read. But then
they came out and told me I had the job.
. . .
Q: Did that job lead to others in rapid succession?
Well, we went out on the road with it -- me as an understudy -- and
then the following spring, it led to a job, because all the understudies
were employed by Mr. Eddie Dowling to play the part on the road with him.
So we went back to New Haven, Boston, Rhode Island. Also that in turn led
to another engagement playing it with Walter Hampton in Maplewood, which
was kind of a triumph for me, because it was the first year after I graduated --
the following spring. I was playing in my hometown at the Maplewood Theatre,
which was quite active then. Then it also lead to another summer of work
in stock, in New Hampshire. Possibly -- I'm sure -- the reviews and some
word of mouth or something led to my being thought of for a chance to read
for "Life With Father." That was my professional start in New
York. It was a sweet play.
© 1959 Columbia University and the Oral History Research Office