2005-07-16 / News

Grand Hotel Thanks John McCabe for 27 Years of Shakespeare

Island Author, Actor, To Focus on Writing Novel
By Karen Gould

On August 13, 1983, John McCabe presented “Meet Master Shakespeare” on Grand Hotel’s porch. Among the audience, seated second from right, is Amelia Musser, who suggested the event.On August 13, 1983, John McCabe presented “Meet Master Shakespeare” on Grand Hotel’s porch. Among the audience, seated second from right, is Amelia Musser, who suggested the event.

He is called John, Jack, Professor McCabe, and Dr. McCabe. Island visitors know him as the Shakespearean in Residence at Grand Hotel. Islanders know him as an actor, an expert on William Shakespeare, a theater professor, show business biographer, author, columnist for the Town Crier , and fellow resident. After bringing “Meet Master Shakespeare” to the Island for 27 years, John McCabe has decided to relinquish his role for health reasons, choosing to concentrate on a novel he is writing.

Participating in the last Shakespeare program presented by John McCabe at Grand Hotel are actors from the Mackinac Island Community Theater. They performed readings from William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew.” From left: Trish Martin, Dan Seeley, and Jennifer Bloswick.Participating in the last Shakespeare program presented by John McCabe at Grand Hotel are actors from the Mackinac Island Community Theater. They performed readings from William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew.” From left: Trish Martin, Dan Seeley, and Jennifer Bloswick. Dr. McCabe professes to hate informal and formal farewells, so shortly before his last Grand Hotel Shakespearean performance on Wednesday, July 6, he announced, “I’d just like it to be an easeful ending. Just as if I’m coming back next week. Not a good-bye, just an easeful ending.”

In keeping with his easeful exit, Dr. McCabe chose no pre-show publicity for the event that was held in the hotel’s Audubon Wine Bar, a cozy room lined with bookcases. The only hint of what was about to take place at 11 a.m. was a sign at the Audubon’s entrance. Thirty people found their way to the reading.

Before Wednesday’s performance, hotel owners Amelia and R. Daniel Musser talked about their relationship with Dr. McCabe over the years, including the book he wrote for them on the history of Grand Hotel.

“I’m so grateful for all you’ve done for this Island and Grand Hotel,” said Mr. Musser. “I’m sorry it’s ending and also gratified you’ve taken an interest in this community. Thanks, Jack.”

Dr. McCabe began performing plays and readings on the porch of Ste. Anne’s rectory in 1976. Three years later, at the suggestion of Mrs. Musser, the presentations were moved to the hotel. Dr. McCabe first presented Shakespeare on the Grand’s historic 100-foot-long front porch before the production found a permanent home in the Audubon Room.

As for the Shakespearean plays and readings he now leaves behind, he will continue to be available as a consultant to the Mackinac Island Community Theater. Three theater members who have worked with Dr. McCabe over the last few years, Jennifer Bloswick, Dan Seeley, and Trish Martin, participated in this year’s reading from “The Taming Of The Shrew.”

Dr. McCabe chose this play because, he said, the audience could experience Shakespeare at his lightest, and yet at his most profound. The play presents a wide range of comedy and it is the very first play Dr. McCabe taught as a professor of dramatic art at New York University.

The entire play was not read, but specific lines that highlighted the relationship between Katherine and Petruchio were the focus. Mr. Seeley read Petruchio’s lines, while Ms. Bloswick played a young Katherine and Ms. Martin played a more mature Katherine.

In a surprise move relished by the audience, Dr. McCabe read the part of Katherine’s father, Baptista. As he spoke, the actor clearly was in his element and the speech, timing, and intonation were of an experienced Shakespearean .

Of Dr. McCabe, Ms. Martin said, “His understanding of the period, mores, and language really helps in understanding the Bard’s works.” She has worked with him for five years in Grand Hotel productions.

“It’s a real honor working with Dr. McCabe. The man is a true scholar,” said Mr. Seeley. “He’s a classic professor.”

Mrs. Bloswick agrees. “When he directs, he seems to sense when you need help and then he explains,” she said. “His teaching has opened up a whole new world for me.”

During the earlier years at Grand Hotel, as the actor, Dr. McCabe would read lines and act out the scene, then the professor in him would take over and he would fill in details and background to give the audience a greater understanding of the play.

Dr. McCabe, who along with his wife, Karen, lives on the Island, likes to be crafty about his age, saying, “I’m not age shy. I simply boast I was born the same year as Jeannette Doud.” For the record, Mrs. Doud also a Town Crier columnist, turned 85 this spring.

As for the novel Dr. McCabe is writing, it is about what comprises an actor’s life.

“Very few people know anything about that,” he said. “It is an aspect of acting that has not been covered.” The book is semi-autobiographical, and of the challenge, he said, “I don’t know how to write a novel, but that’s not going to stop me.”

He is adept at biographies, however, and his extensive catalog of work includes “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy” (1961), “George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway” (1973), “The Comedy World of Stan Laurel” (1975), “Laurel and Hardy” (1975), “Proclaiming The Word” (with G.B. Harrison, 1977), “Charlie Chaplin” (1978), and “Grand Hotel.” He also ghostwrote James Cagney’s “Cagney by Cagney.”

Dr. McCabe first began acting in a local Detroit production when he was just eight years old. By the time he was 20 years old, he met John Barrymore, who he calls the greatest Shakespearean actor of the early 20th century. Dr. McCabe credits Mr. Barrymore with giving him focus in his career.

Dr. McCabe told Mr. Barrymore he wanted to be a Shakespearean actor.

“Why?” was Mr. Barrymore’s response.

“Because he’s the best,” replied Dr. McCabe.

“Why is he the best?” Mr. Barrymore asked.

Dr. McCabe had no answer, so he returned to school to find it and earned his doctorate in English literature from The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Now, Dr. McCabe can give several lectures on why William Shakespeare is the best English writer, playwright, and poet.

“It is the true gauge of Shakespeare’s greatness that he was at the summit of these three professions,” he said.

At the end of Wednesday’s performance, the teacher in Dr. McCabe weaved a story that probably sent the audience to the bookstore to get a copy of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Dr. McCabe asked Mr. Barrymore what was his favorite Shakespearean line, to which Mr. Barrymore uttered four words spoken by Hamlet in Act 5, Scene II, “The readiness is all.”

Years later, Dr. McCabe met Sir John Gielgud, who he said is arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of the later 20th century. Over tea, he asked Sir John the same question and Sir John responded with the same four words as Mr. Barrymore.

“They are almost like a trumpet call,” said Dr. McCabe of those four words. “They are the philosophy of life, and they even could be the motto of Grand Hotel.”

Dr. McCabe, the philosopher, continued: “Just think of it. Once you have that, you truly have a good life!”

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