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Elliot Norton Reviews; Elephant Man


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Elliot Norton Reviews
Elephant Man
Series Description

Boston theatre critic Elliot Norton interviews prominent actors, directors and producers on their craft. (Aired from October, 1958 to 1982. Winner of both Peabody and Tony Awards.) Series release date: 1958

Program Description

Elliot Norton interviews actors Ken Ruta, Concetta Tomei, and Jeff Hayenga about their production of “The Elephant Man” at the Shubert Theatre. The play by Bernhard Pomerance premiered on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 1979 and is based on the true story of John Merrick (Hayenga), who was so deformed that he was presented in a freak show until surgeon Frederick Treves (Ruta) and actress Mrs. Kendal (Tomei) helped to restore his humanity.

Hayenga talks about how he understudied the original Frederick Treves, actor Philip Anglim, for the first seven months on the national tour before it was taken to Broadway. He worked with Anglim’s mime teacher, Pilar Garcia, to learn how to twist his body into odd shapes, walk with a limp, and speak in an odd tone to simulate the actual deformities of Treves. He demonstrates the transformation into the Treves position and speaks about the difficulty of learning how to hold the position throughout the show.

Ruta tells Norton that he loved the play when he read it, but admits for the first time that he fell asleep during the Broadway performance. He blames this on jetlag. He was able to meet the daughter of a student of Treves’, who spoke highly of him. Tomei learned a lot about the real Mrs. Kendal when she met her granddaughter, Effy Robinson, after a performance. Robinson did not speak so highly of her grandmother, telling Tomei that she played her grandmother much nicer than she really was. The actors and Norton discuss what is fictitious and what is real in the play and bring Michael Howell and Peter Ford’s new book, “The True History of the Elephant Man” into the discussion. They also speak about the real disease that afflicted Joseph Merrick: neurofibromatosis type I.

Norton asks the actors if they think that society as a whole has become more humane or if there is still a tendency to gloat at human suffering. Tomei felt a strong sense of compassion from the audience and Hayenga sees the necessity of a play like this one as a teaching tool to demonstrate the humanity of people with deformities. The message of the play is that beneath all of the deformities suffered by Treves, there was a human waiting to come out all along.

Director: Joanna Lu. Taped 12/2/1980.



Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Talk Show
Performing Arts
Chicago: “Elliot Norton Reviews; Elephant Man,” 12/04/1980, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 19, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_88CE837B61B04960B494392EF42613F4.
MLA: “Elliot Norton Reviews; Elephant Man.” 12/04/1980. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 19, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_88CE837B61B04960B494392EF42613F4>.
APA: Elliot Norton Reviews; Elephant Man. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_88CE837B61B04960B494392EF42613F4
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