Adapted from a play by Noel Coward, Charles and his second wife Ruth, are haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira. Medium Madame Arcati tries to help things out by contacting the ghost.
Did You Know?
Arriving in Los Angeles on Sunday December 16, 1955 and celebrating his fifty-sixth birthday, Noël Coward was Clifton Webb's house guest. Clifton Webb (b.1893-1966, 73), born Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, an American character actor and film star, had been touring the States in Noël Coward's two plays "Blithe Spirit" and "Present Laughter" with immense success; he and Noël had first met on a Davos, Switzerland, skiing holiday in 1924. Their long friendship history lasted till death. Noël occupied Clifton Webb's Beverly Hills/Bel Air residence as both a social and business operation base. Noël would begin rehearsing his second CBS "The Ford Star Jubilee" ninety minute television production of his play "Blithe Spirit" to be broadcast live from California. Although CBS had rehearsal rooms in their Hollywood television facility, Noël insisted that Clifton's residence be used as a rehearsal space, directing and blocking his cast in Webb's living room until the sets were finished and decorated on Stage 43 at CBS Television City, located at Fairfax and Beverly Boulevards, adjacent to the famous Los Angeles Farmer's Market. A successful first cast 'reading of the play' on Sunday December 8th at the Bogarts' residence pleased Noël, noting that Lauren 'Betty' Bacall (at age 31; b.1924-2014, 89), playing the deceased ghost first wife Elvira opposite Noël's role as husband Charles (age 55), "was word perfect considering she was shooting a film". Claudette Colbert (at age 52; b.1903-1996, 92) played Charles second wife Ruth. Noël commented neither woman was easy to work with; Colbert was "extremely tiresome", and Bacall was "no comedienne". Colbert complained that "Noël was unremittingly difficult". When she apologized for fluffing her lines - "I knew them backwards last night", Noël retorted, "Yes, and that's the way you're saying them this morning". Colbert had always regretted the fact that the distance between her nape and shoulders was short: "The thing Noël said that hurt me most - but funny it was - he said 'If she had a neck, I'd wring it'". Preparations followed the usual precise requirements: Coward demanded studio rehearsals on a fully furnished stage-set, (in the poltergeist scenes of the play, even the furniture had to be rehearsed). All but essential personnel were barred ("That's so the men spending their money won't bother their ulcers", Noël told a journalist). He also requested a studio audience for an early rehearsal so that he could judge their reactions. These were unprecedented demands for a medium used to casual drama production methods. But just as camera rehearsals began, an abscess was discovered on Coward's sciatic nerve in his right leg. A doctor sent for, "and injected the damn thing eight times with the thickest needle I have ever seen". Numbed with Novocaine, Coward continued, although he seemed bad-tempered for much of the rehearsals. But the ninety-minute show was - "played without nerves and on nerves...the result was that the performance went like a bomb". The studio invited audience was described as 'very hep' by the New York Herald-Tribune, who likened it to 'a smart Broadway opening with a terribly fashionable cast, in front of an upper-drawer audience'. See more