Posted on November 15, 2019
Who is, or was, George Spelvin, and what did he do to merit his own day?
Would you believe me if I said that he doesn't exist, and never did exist, and THAT'S WHY he was given a special day?
Sometimes, in a theater (live-action) presentation, an actor plays two roles. A change of makeup and costume, a wig or new 'do, and voila! The audience who just saw an actor playing the role of Cordelia in Shakespeare's King Lear, for example, might not even recognize that same actor playing the role of the Fool.
Sometimes one actor playing two or more roles is intentional, kind of part of the plot, and it's meant to be noticed by the audience. For example, there is a tradition in stage presentations of Peter Pan for one actor to play both Mr. Darling (Wendy, John, and Michael's father) and Captain Hook!
|Jason Isaacs as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook|
But most of the time when actors are double-cast in plays, it is hoped that the audience will NOT notice. It's done to save money, or to save space backstage, or for some other practical reason. Since most plays have the cast listed in the program, sharp-eyed audience members are bound to notice the same actor's name associated with two different roles - and that would spoil the effect.
Enter George Spelvin, stage left. When a male actor played two roles in the play Karl the Peddler, premiering on this date in 1886, the fictitious name George Spelvin was used for the second role - apparently to fool the audience.
In 1906 the playwright Winchell Smith used the same name, for the same reason, in one of his plays. That play succeeded, so Smith began to think of Spelvin as a sort of good luck charm. He ended up double casting actors and using the name George Spelvin in many other plays, as well...
...And then film makers used the fictitious name, and television producers as well. Sometimes the name George Spelvin was changed: George Spelvinsky, Georges Spelvinet, Giorgio Spelvino, Gregor Spelvanovich all have made appearances. Sometimes the two roles were played by a female actor: Georgette Spelvin and Georgina Spelvin have showed up in multiple productions. In at least one play, George Spelvin and George Spelvin, Jr., both appeared on the cast listing.
At this point, using George Spelvin or one of the George-Spelvin-like names is a bit of an in-joke for people in the entertainment biz and people who really love theatre and/or movies. And maybe now you and I will get the in-joke, too!
By the way, I read that George Spelvin once played in 9 different theaters, in 11 different roles, in cities as widespread as San Francisco, Boston, and New York - in ONE NIGHT! Wow! And over the course of three years, George Spelvin performed 20,000 times, in 210 different roles, again all over the U.S. Double wow! That would be hard to do for anyone other than a fictitious character!
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