Memoirs of an expat actress
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I had never imagined New York would be like this, hot and full of political schism. Back home, I had dreamt of a mosaic of Metropolitan avenues and hundreds of fashionable people trickling into the Broadway shows to see me, little Miss Andrea Herzog from the Old World.
Mother, who was always so clever at arranging everything, had secured me a part in Betty Hutton’s All-Star International Show, which was scheduled at the Palace Theatre in the autumn. But New York at this stage looked as grim and agitated as the post-war Europe we’d just left behind. At 22, I was desperately looking for a bit of fun. Apart from my acting career, I only dreamt of after-theatre parties, dancing, drinking and dressing-up, that jolly mixture of art and life I was shaped for. As we found it, New York had put on a rather serious mask, that summer of 1953. It made me wonder whether we shouldn’t have opted for London’s West End instead.
Things soon brightened up, though, when I got acquainted with Ben Seaglass, the show’s co-producer. He seemed to be the only hospitable and non-political New Yorker at the time. When we weren’t rehearsing, he took Mother and me to see the sights of New York. Even now, at 79, every time I visit New York, I keep seeing it as I saw it then, a mixture of cold war rage and young lovers’ frenzy. Ben asked Mother for my hand after we had only been out on two dates! We were married when the show stopped on 15 November 1953. And what a wonderful marriage we have had, all 57 years of it! So I’m deeply mourning Ben’s passing away, which took place on 12 January of this year. He’s the reason I’m writing my memoirs, but I’m running ahead of my story, as usual!
“You’re a hot-headed red-head,” Ben used to say, “They don’t sell patience in La Herzog’s size!” Good, old Ben, he endured all my whimsicalities while he was as gentle and easy as a King Charles spaniel himself.
I was still acting when Ben fell ill. We’d just moved to a smaller apartment in New Jersey because Claudia’s kids were too old now to come and stay with grandma and grandpa. We’d found a lovely place in Cape May and we were enjoying a quiet period, the closest we’d ever come to retirement. I wanted to slow down at 75, so only accepted supporting parts and never more than two weeks away from home.
In fact, I abhorred the parts I got, always silly old grannies, like Esther in ‘Sammy’s Friends’ and Phillipa in ‘Winter in Oakland’. No characters anyone will remember me by! So, I was very pleased when Herbert VanZant asked me to play the part of Mary in ‘The Blanket’. It gave me a chance to show I wasn’t gaga yet and could still render a strong character. But when Ben was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July, I immediately stopped working to nurse him. All-in-all his ordeal lasted for almost four years, in-and-out of hospitals, but, thank god, the last months he was home with me. We have even been able to make a last trip to Europe together. My darling knew I couldn’t sit around idly, so he urged me to write these memoirs. He has contributed himself by taping some anecdotes I had forgotten, which makes this book even dearer to me: entwined work and life until the very end.
Ben was the making of me, Andrea Herzog. Without him, I wouldn’t have been half the star I was, acting in 52 films and plays, of which Ben produced 45. Acting is all I’ve ever done, until the day my husband died. Consequently, I didn’t know what to do when he was no longer at my side. I, who strode over hundreds of red carpets, shook the hands of presidents and queens, didn’t know how to keep my head on my shoulders at the day of Ben’s funeral. What is the role of the widow?
“The eyes and the faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.”