I Will Be Cleopatra: An Actress's Journey

I Will Be Cleopatra: An Actress's Journey

by Zoe Caldwell

Hardcover(1 ED)

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Echoing such classics as Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings and Moss Hart's Act One, I Will Be Cleopatra is a riveting account of a determined, yet modest woman who became one of the leading classical actors of our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393042269
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/17/2001
Edition description: 1 ED
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Zoe Caldwell has won four Tony Awards for her roles in Slapstick Tragedy, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Medea, and Master Class.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I Am Born,
Who Am I?

I knew at a very early age that my job would be to stand in front of people, keeping them awake and in their seats, by telling other people's stories and using other people's words. I knew this because it was the only thing I could do. I sang, but not well enough, I danced, but not well enough, and because of my small motor skills disability, needlepoint and math were out of the question. So, keeping audiences awake and in their seats seemed the only way to go.

    I was born on September 14, 1933, in Melbourne, Australia, which meant I was a Depression baby and Mum and Dad were on the dole—much to my father's shame. He had lost a successful plumbing business, but, as he used to say, in a depression you have to deal in things people need to survive and a leaky faucet could wait. He had become a bouncer at Percy Silk's Ballroom, not because he looked like a bouncer but because he had a way of saying "I think you've just worn out your welcome here, son" that seemed to strike fear into the hearts of hooligans and send them on their way, especially because he was always clad in black tie and a dinner jacket. Meanwhile, Mum, in her evening dress, took men onto the ballroom floor to dance the fox-trot, the Pride of Erin, and the Valeta waltz, for sixpence a set. Then she got pregnant. By Dad. They' already had a twelve-year-old son, Bert, who worked before and after school, two jobs, delivering milk and newspapers. The money pooled was barely enough to feed three mouths. The promise of a fourth was not whatthe doctor ordered.

    Mum's friends told her that she had no choice but to use the coat hanger, but Mum thought it might be fun to have me around, whoever I was, so she put her coat on the hanger and I was born. And a good thing too, because I seemed to bring them luck. Dad got a new job as a plumber and gas fitter at the Box Hill gasworks, the Depression began to recede, and Dad's Aunty Tilda, in Bolton, Lancashire, died and left him five hundred pounds.

    Given her bequest, we left our terrace house in Moir Street, Glenferrie, and moved to a house in suburban Balwyn that was not attached to anybody. Five hundred pounds bought a lot in 1940. Dad bought a secondhand square maroon Willys and learned to drive, Mum got a carpet sweeper and carpets, Bert a secondhand bike and a screened-in sleepout, and I got my first bedroom. I was seven then and had been sleeping in a child's wooden crib in my parents' room. Of course, they slept in their marital bed and did the things done in a marital bed, while I felt how lucky they were to have a permanent sleep-over. All their lives, long after I had grown accustomed to sleeping in my own room, they slept in that bed and held on to each other.

    But there was also in Moir Street a front room called, naturally, the "front room." It was tiny and had a few pieces of ugly furniture and our best linoleum. It was dusted once a week and the door was kept closed. Why that couldn't have been Bert's room, I'll never understand. Bert slept in a closet off the kitchen, which was meant to house our dishes and linen, but as we had so little of either, it seemed a waste of space and they made it into a tiny bedroom. Dad built shelves for books and Bert put hooks everywhere for clothes; there was a wooden box by his camp cot with a tiny lamp, and Mum made dark cotton curtains for some privacy. Bert, being twelve years older than me, never seemed like a sibling but more like a young dashing uncle.

    So this was our family.

Chapter Two

Moir Street

My first memories are not of Balwyn, but of Moir Street. Our number was fifteen, but all the buildings were identical, adjoining terrace houses with iron railings and strange iron-lace-patterned fringe where the corrugated iron roof stopped. The iron had come from Europe as ballast in ships that then returned crammed with the hides of merino sheep from the outback. Because there seemed no practical use for all that fancy iron, it was used to decorate the houses. I'm glad it was, because without that strange decoration those little houses in Moir Street would have died of ugliness.

    The front gate, I remember, opened to a patch of asphalt, three feet by six feet, then up two steps to the front door. Open the door and down a thin dark passage with the tiny front room on the right and Mum and Dad's small bedroom on the same side. The hall ended at the large kitchen with a one-fire black iron stove, which was always kept alight, even in summer. The lavatory, or "outhouse," was down at the bottom of the narrow garden where Dad grew gladiolas, dahlias, and vegetables. He also built a large cage where he kept his collection of vibrant colored and white cockatoos. These were a source of great pride, and no zoo ever had better-cared-for cockatoos. And then there were the dogs. If I had siblings, they were the dogs—mutts, strays, and endless puppies that, because of an overabundance, Dad would at times have to put into a potato sack and drown.

    On Friday nights we all had a bath, one at a time, in a large tin tub in the kitchen, with water from the two black kettles on the stove. If you didn't get scalded, you definitely got clean. You see, we didn't need a bathroom, which was just as well because we didn't have one. The kitchen, with its large, well-scrubbed wooden table, was the hub of the house, as it is in my house today.

    Attached to the back of the house and open to the garden was the washhouse, where the wash was boiled every Monday morning in a big copper cauldron. First, Mum and I, wearing pinnys, or aprons, scrubbed the dirty clothes and bed linen with brown Velvet soap on the...


Excerpted from I Will Be Cleopatra by Zoe Caldwell. Copyright © 2001 by Zoe Caldwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Part I1933-1957
1.I Am Born, Who Am I?13
2.Moir Street17
8.The Union Theatre Rep51
9.The Tour57
10.The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust66
11.The Wisdom of Elsie74
Part II1958-1965
12.Journey from Down Under81
15.The Great Season112
17.Stratford, Ontario138
18.Back to Fowler's149
Part III1965-1967
19.My Broadway Debut181
20.I Will Be Cleopatra195

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