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The New YorkerEleonora Duse, the turn-of-the-century Italian actress who inspired Stanislavsky’s Method, told her company that to play Ibsen’s characters they had to know unhappiness, and, if necessary, they should go looking for it. In Eleonora Duse: A Biography, Helen Sheehy makes it clear that Duse followed her own advice. Duse was a genius at creating misery for herself; her disastrous affair with the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio must have fed her onstage characterizations of Hedda and Marguerite, just as it gave d’Annunzio material for his novel “Il Fuoco.”
As the premier husband-and-wife acting team of the middle of the twentieth century, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne—the subject of Margot Peters’s Design For Living—projected sizzling chemistry onstage. Offstage, their marriage was probably sexless—Alfred was rumored to have been gay—and their domestic arrangements gravitated toward chaste ménages à trois, often with their friend Noël Coward. Did their sexuality, repressed at home, emerge more conspicuously in their performance? One critic wrote that “The Guardsman,” a comedy about a couple who lead each other in sex games, was the true story of the Lunts’ marriage: “They lived to act for each other.”
Bela Lugosi was a sensation as Dracula on Broadway, and the film version made him Hollywood’s leading horror star. But, as Arthur Lennig tells us in The Immortal Count, Lugosi wanted romantic roles and was frustrated that his accent and European mannerisms limited him to playing the heavy. Only in life could he play Don Juan: he married five times and died in 1956 beneath a large nude portrait of Clara Bow, a souvenir of their affair.