This I Believe

Peters, Rollo


  • Rollo Peters explains his faith and wonder in people as individuals and the influence of friends on people's lives, recalling a his friendship with Edward Gordon Craig.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. There is hardly an aspect of the theater in which Rollo Peters has not been involved. He is a founder and the first director of the New York Theater Guild, has produced plays and designed scenery. However, he is perhaps best known as an actor, having been the leading man in a number of Broadway productions, including a record-breaking Romeo and Juliet with Jane Cowl and Dennis King. Here is Rollo Peters.
The truth is, each one us has many beliefs, varied and sometimes even contradictory. It’s also possible through some event or experience for a man’s creed to alter or completely change during his lifetime. Nevertheless, there is almost always a core, a central belief that endures throughout his existence, coloring his character, his actions from childhood to the grave. What is it in my particular case? How to search my mind in deep sincerity for that philosophy which has carried me through a generally rewarding life. Recently these questions were clarified when I came across some lines written by me in an old diary on a glittering Italian morning long ago. The basic ideas were quoted by a young man at that time, such as guide me today.
These ideas resolved themselves into one: my belief in man or woman, the individual, the deep appreciation of my fellow man or woman, expressed in friendship, affection, or through love.
I’m repelled by groups. The mass in political halls, grill grounds, theaters, churches, ballrooms—wherever—is too formless, too easily led in one direction or the other. This I know through countless public appearances. But the individual is understandable, approachable. Be it man or woman, you can reckon with the individual as friend or as antagonist. For it must be confessed that my antipathies are as positive as my devotions. There is, regrettably, a balance of savagery and gentleness in my nature, as in most of us—war and peace.
From the thousands that have passed through my life, I accepted some, rejected others. And when one is young, acceptance by another person can possibly affect one’s entire career. This was certainly true in my own case, when I sought out that great actress, Ellen Terry’s son, Gordon Craig, for it was he, through his theories and designs, who influenced all of us of the new movement in the theater. Having been told by other artists that Craig was not approachable, that he might prove fierce or at least aloof toward strangers, it was with considerable trepidation that I invaded the privacy of his Paris hotel in the spring of 1921. Something in my youthful devotion to the arts of the theater melted him.
He greeted me warmly, and our friendship, his tolerance of me, my admiration for the great man, blossomed into a correspondence that has persisted through the years. This is from my diary written later that summer:
“As Gordon Craig told me, Venice is the theater. Continual festival. I’ve never seen a city so joyous, so dramatic. Venice has taught me this, that man may build such beauty as he can, patiently in agony and sweat, but he cannot hope to repeat or truly echo his own beauty. Welling ceaselessly, eternally renewed, his beauty, having no substance, no edge, is incomparable beyond all calculation. It is the color which hallows mountains, which flushes the grain. It rises green out of black earth.
Build up your Venices and Babylons and Troys. Time will bring ruin to them. But for that continual human magic, which is yours and mine and yours again, there is no ruin and no termination. Therefore colored stones and wars and towers cannot repeat for me that which I feel when I see men building of them.”
Thirty-two years ago, I wrote this in my diary. It is still the essence of what I believe.
That was Rollo Peters, now retired and living in Monterey, California, he has contributed to the theater in a number of varied capacities.