People I Knew When They Were Alive: Dolores Quinton

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Dolores Quinton was my friend and teacher. She changed my life. She was very good at that. She was my champion. She encouraged and supported me. She made me courageous. She gave me heart, her heart. She was one of the very few people in my life that I felt really understood me. Because that was the way she was, it came naturally to her. “Thinking makes it so,” she would say. That was her mantra. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” in Hamlet’s words. (Act II, Scene ii). She loved Hamlet. I can see her excitement now as she quoted his direction to the players. “That is the only acting book you will ever need,” she would say. “He directs us, he tells us what to say and what to do and how to do it and it is all in the text.” She could quote whole speeches from the plays, men’s as well as women’s. She had had a full, active and successful life in the theater as an actor, producer, teacher, and coach. We would often share a cab home from functions together, and on one of those occasions I figured out that this woman who coached Peter Sellers in one of his major film roles just might coach me, who had been acting for about 15 minutes. She was thrilled to take me on and so began a relationship that I will always cherish.

Dolores was passionate about the theater and she had a special love for theater history. She spoke about the great American Shakespearean actor Louis Calvert as if she knew him, and yes she could quote him as well. Although he died before she was born, she knew about him through “The Professor” Randolph Somerville who ran the drama department and theater program at NYU where she trained after her time dancing with Martha Graham at Bennington. She adored The Professor. And she often spoke about him with great respect for his talent and as one who taught her so much. So I had the benefit of learning from all of these masters, through her who channeled their craft. She was especially proud of her producing achievements and often spoke with such joy about her many collaborations. After I had landed a role in an Off-Off-Broadway Sam Shepard play, and the play closed after receiving very good notices, she called me and said “I am sending you to the Players Club!” “Why I asked?” “As a reward for all your hard work, I am so proud of you. I am sending you to Booth Night. The Players Club reeks of Booth, he is everywhere there!” And so I went off to the Players Club. The next day I had to give her a complete review of the evening’s events. And of course she wanted to know every detail. But that was just one example of the full measure of her devotion and generosity.

The morning she died I was walking in the theater district on the way to my first Equity principal audition for a Broadway show. I was thinking about her when my phone rang. It was our friend Elizabeth with the news of her death. My inclination after hanging up was to go home but I could hear her telling me to go on. Which of course I did. Sitting on the bench between 2 actors waiting my turn, I was thinking about her when all of a sudden I heard her say to me “Don’t think of me, think of your monologue, prepare to go in there. Thinking makes it so.” And so I did just that. It was the best audition I ever had. Of course I didn’t get the call back, but that’s show biz. I knew she was very proud anyway.

She often quoted Louis Calvert’s principles for the Actor: Imagination, Desire, Humanity, Generosity, Compassion and Persistence. She embodied and lived these virtues every day of her life, and she instilled them in me. Life is a series of choices, and choices begin with thoughts. She always had the best of both. She also lived a life of deep and abiding faith. I knew this from the chats we had about her daughter, Patricia, who died at age 6. She was her little angel who made her own faith remarkably strong. These stories gave me great comfort and strengthened my own, sometimes, doubting faith.

At the end of our work together she was helping me with a difficult speech from “The Winter’s Tale.” We had met to go over it the week before she died. I had trouble with the line, “I have heard, but not believed the spirits of the dead may walk again.” (Antigonus, Act III, Sc. Iii) We spent a long time on that line but when I got it, she almost leaped out of her chair, “That’s it, that’s it, you’ve got it,” she said laughing and shouting at the same time. I believe Dolores’ spirit will walk again, of that I am sure. Nothing can or ever will restrain her spirit.

Polonius’ parting words to Laertes, as he began his journey came to me as her farewell:

“The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character.”
(Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Sc. iii)

“Punch out those consonants. The consonants have all the energy and power!,” she would say with great gusto.

“Blossom, speed thee well.”
(Antigonus, The Winters Tale, Act III, Sc. iii)

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