The Brettish Empire
Vol. I #14

November 3, 1995

Hello Everyone,

I thought you might enjoy the following anecdote in celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the birth of Jeremy Brett:

THE WOMAN IN WHITE

If you happened to drive past the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in downtown Columbus near midnight last Saturday, you would have seen a woman in white gliding down the sidewalk.

No, it wasn't "the woman in white" who is said to haunt COSI's "Street of Yesteryear" section; it was Miss Eliza Doolittle, fresh from the Ascot races. Well--actually, it was your editor dressed as Eliza Doolittle, fresh from COSI's annual Halloween party.

Since the theme of this year's party was "A Silver Screen Halloween," attendees were encouraged to dress as a favorite movie performer or character. I wracked my brain trying to decide who to go as--Dorothy from "Oz"? Scarlet O'Hara? Buster Keaton? Then, it came to me--Eliza Doolittle. In the "Ascot dress." This would be perfect, I reasoned. My Fair Lady is one of my favorite films; Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorite actresses; and, of course, Miss Hepburn's co-star in MFL was a "shiny young Englishman" named Jeremy Brett.

However, as the day of the party drew near, work and other responsibilities kept me from concentrating on assembling my costume. When I finally found some time to think about it, I feared that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Looking at the box of the My Fair Lady gift set and studying the pictures in the original 1964 souvenir booklet (which I bought at a used book sale), I noticed just how elaborate the "Ascot dress" really was: yards of white lace, satin ribbon insets--and that hat!

Panic set in. Maybe I could go as "early" Eliza and dress in rags. But, even "early" Eliza's clothes were elaborate. The souvenir book revealed that it took two weeks to "age" Eliza's velvet jacket. I had less than one week now. Hmm...maybe I could find a "little black dress" and go as Holly Golightly instead?

The day of the party arrived. I considered not going, but I'd already purchased my ticket. I had to go.

I remembered the previous Halloween. The theme of COSI's party then was "A Phobic Halloween (Come as Your Worst Nightmare)." That had been another "brain-wracker." I had no clue about what to dress as until the morning before the party, when Sherlock Holmes came to my rescue. I recalled a character from Granada's The Eligible Bachelor, the "woman in the veil" borrowed from The Veiled Lodger. I pictured myself in a Victorian dress, my face veiled to hide my "scars." That, I mused, would be pretty nightmarish!

Now, where to obtain such a get-up? I'd heard about a local costume rental store at a nearby mall and decided to check it out. It turned out this shop supplies costumes to local drama troupes, so they had outfits for nearly every era, from Shakespeare to spacesuits. I found the ideal dress, and a hat to which I added a long, black veil. Perfect! Except: (1) My wax scars wouldn't stay on; and (2) Everyone at the party saw the veil and assumed I was portraying a widow. (I tried to explain that I was a character from a Sherlock Holmes story, but...)

So, this year, I decided to try the costume shop again. I wasn't sure if they had anything even remotely resembling the "Ascot dress," but I hopefully made my way to the "1900's" section and--EUREKA! There it was--the dress. With the white lace and the satin ribbons. It even said "Ascot dress" on the tag. Needless to say, I greedily grabbed the gown before any other Eliza "wannabe" could walk off with it. The dress came with a white parasol and a gaudy pink hat (which didn't match the dress, so I had to improvise with a black velvet hat of my own). I bought a pair of white lace shoes, and--voila!--my "Eliza" ensemble was complete.

This costume also brought back memories of the previous autumn. The restored edition of My Fair Lady was being released on videocassette and I haunted the video store awaiting its arrival. At last, I spied the gift set on the shelf, brought it home, and popped a cassette into the VCR. There was Mr. Jeremy Brett on my television screen, looking a bit haggard and sad-eyed (but still handsome and strong of voice), hosting the documentary which accompanied the revitalized MFL. Jeremy provided new insights on this film, and once and for all answered the question which had nagged Brettfans for years--no, that was not really his voice we heard singing On the Street Where You Live. Jeremy humbly admitted that he wanted to set the record straight.

Seeing Jeremy host this documentary gave me hope. I'd read about his health woes in early 1994. I knew his health had improved to the point that he was able to talk with representatives of the National Theatre in September 1994. But, rumors of ill-health persisted (e.g. he had lost of lot a weight; he had "water on the lung.") Still, he looked well enough in the MFL video that I thought perhaps things were on the upswing for Jeremy. Unfortunately, this proved only to be the calm before the storm. His downward spiral began shortly afterward, reaching its tragic conclusion on September 12, 1995.

These thoughts were still on my mind as I walked toward COSI in the Ascot dress. COSI staffpersons pretending to be autograph-seekers were posted just outside the front door. A woman ran up to me squealing, "Oooo--it's Audrey Hepburn! We loved you, Miss Hepburn, and the work you did for UNICEF!"

"Thenk yew," I said, playing along. I signed her autograph book. Another woman snapped my picture.

The autograph hound began rattling off the names of some of Audrey's leading men--Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Peter O'Toole ("He's got such blue eyes, and he's Irish!")--and asked me who my favorite was.

"Jeremy Brett," I smiled.

The woman looked at me quizzically. "Really?"

"Absolutely!" I affirmed.

That was my little tribute to Jeremy.

After the party, I walked down Broad Street to the parking lot with some friends. I walked ahead of them. I wasn't trying to be rude--I just wanted to be Eliza for a moment. I imagined that a tall, handsome Englishman was walking beside me.

The costume went back to the store the next day, but my memories remained.


I hope you enjoyed this true story. Now, I'm off to enjoy a bit of birthday cake. You see:  today is also my birthday. I'm proud that I share this date with Jeremy. And, I'm happy that I could spend part of this day with you.

Until next time,

Lisa :-)


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"The Brettish Empire"/"TBE" Copyright Lisa L. Oldham.