by Will Charette
Playwright Dramatist...Actor...Friend. Mr. Millholland rode the 'Twentieth Century' for over 50 years. He started his professional theatrical film acting career at the age of 80 when he appeared as an eccentric old man in the film "SO FINE" which starred Ryan O'Neal. "I got paid $500 a day for Ryan O'Neal to carry me around the set for two weeks! It was easy money and I loved it!" He said smiling.
I met Bruce at a Hunger Project Benefit at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. During one of the intermissions, my date and I were drawn to a smilingly happy little gentleman dressed in a silver lame suit. He had just walked up the street from the Broadway Theater to crash the Hunger Project Party. The musical starring Imogene Coca, "ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY," had just won 5 Tony Awards on Broadway. The Award Winning Play was based on a story called "Napoleon on Broadway" which Bruce had authored. (We learned about all of this much later). We had a wonderful time that night playing with our Broadway Guru. Bruce liked to sing and dance. We invited him to visit and perform with us at The Laurel Theatre Hunger Project Benefit in South Jersey later that year. He was delighted and joyfully came to play with us.
(Following is an article written by journalist Mitch Mendelson that appeared in the Friday, August 25, 1979 Bridgeton Evening News):
"HOPEWELL TWP- In 1930, a Chicagoan named Bruce Millholland took 50 cents worth of paper, wrote a play on it which he copyrighted for $1, and hasn't had to work a day in his life since.
That, as they say, is show biz.
The play was called 'Napoleon on Broadway.' a love comedy about the theatrical characters who used to ride the Twentieth Century, a famous train that ran from New York to Chicago. Jed Harris, the man who produced it in 1932, didn't like the title nor, can it be assumed, did he like the style because he hired Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur to rewrite it. They called it 'Twentieth Century.'
The play is now in its third life on Broadway (called'On The Twentieth Century'), was made into a film starring John Barrymore and Carol Lombard, has spawned umpteen road shows and summer stock productions and has given Millholland a tolerable existence for 46 years.
'I was just lucky, that was all,' he says.
What, you may wonder, occasions this journal to chronicle the life and times of 75-year-old Bruce Millholland? Call it metaphysics. Not ours, his.
Millholland is staying...with Will Charette...and the Goodworks Music people...out on Percy Blew Road. He became involved with them when they met at party in New York and shared a common interest...They asked him to participate in their recent Hunger Project benefit show and here he is, harmonizing with the rich verdure of Cumberland County.
'It's so quiet, it's marvelous. He sighs 'I welcomed the opportunity to come here and I admired what they were doing.' Millholland says he hasn't been out of New York City since 1961 (17 years).
The fact that he has been living off royalty checks for all of his adult life does not imply that he has spent 46 years going to the bank. Millholland, in addition to being a professional ballet dancer, spent ten years seeing the world and authored 60 plays in addition to his 'Napoleon on Broadway.' the tale of 'a famous train for famous people.' Now that he has all but finished his writing and traveling career Millholland has two goals: seeing his plays produced and reaping the benefits of the copyrighted 'Twentieth Century.' 'The copyright extends into the 21st Century,' he winks, 'I intend to stick around for another 25 years to collect the royalties!'
The story behind 'Twentieth Century,' which is enjoying immense success in its latest Broadway musical version, is that Millholland worked as a press agent for a public relations firm in 1928. He was assigned to travel the Twentieth Century with impressario Morris Gest and write press releases and telegrams for the reputedly egotistical producer. Millholland says that after the Gest experience, which he does not remember fondly, his brother Ray, a writer for the Saturday Evening Post, persuaded him to write a play about life aboard the train.
And from that strange mixture of circumstance, fortune and genius that occassionally blesses the pounders of typewriters, Millholland produced a classic of the American Comic theater. He quotes Oscar Wilde: 'Nothing succeeds like success.'
Sweating in the mugginess of a South Jersey August, this diminuitive, white-haired playwright talks about his other works. 'I try to do things that are timeless. To survive, a play has to be appealing to all classes at all times. I wrote a play about Rasputin. It has sex, religion and assassination-the three elements which make it interesting.'
Another local activity involving Millholland, Goodworks Music and The Hunger Project is a rummage sale Saturday at Bridgeton's Laurel Theatre. Millholland is donating his extensive collection of clothing to the sale. 'Collecting is my vice,' he says.
Millholland says he owns 175 pairs of shoes ("I have a shoe fetish...When my mother was carrying me, she was frightened by a centipede,' he jokes) five Givenchy and two Ballenciaga gowns as well as a number of lame suits and Hollywood souvenirs will be at the Laurel Theatre event."
Bruce went on to sing and dance at the Goodworks Hunger Project Benefit show that Saturday night. We were blessed with the opportunity to video tape him and record his only phonograph singing performance "I Can't Give You Anything, But Love." Juan Avila and I played guitars and quietly sang back up vocals to his historical performance. The recording was published and released on the Goodworks Music (tm) phonograph record album as the final cut on side 4 of the benefit performance "Riding On The Wings of Love." and is the sole property of Jubilato Publishing-BMI.
(Bruce Millholland as Walt Whitman)...Bruce also wrote and licensed to Goodworks Music (tm) a number of One Man Identification Plays beginning with "Walt Whitman I Am by Bruce Millholland" which he performed live on stage. It was recorded the following summer at the Goodworks Studios in South Jersey. The production includes Bruce's live musical performance from the Laurel Theatre in Bridgeton, New Jersey.
In 1991 Bruce passed on into spirit. He lived a humble royal life and leaves this legacy of love for all to experience. The Goodworks recording is a marvelous live reading that recreates the spirit of Walt Whitman and is a must for all students of America's Poet Laureate and the American Classic "Leaves of Grass."
Bruce told me many stories about his experiences with his play which was to be made into a film. One of them was about John Barrymore. It seems that Mr. Barrymore liked the "spirits" about as much or more than the likes of WC Fields. When Bruce heard that Barrymore had been chosen to play the lead in the film he said, "I was frightened that the whole thing would turn into a big Hollywood fiasco and that Barrymore was so drunk he would ruin the movie!" Little did Bruce know, that many years later, at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway (where we met), there would be a "BARRYMORE FILM FESTIVAL...And the performance by John Barrymore which would be selected as Barrymore's outstanding performance on film would be...(you guessed it)...The role that John Barrymore played as the lead in the film classic "Twentieth Century"...This was also Carol Lombard's first huge success on the silver screen.
Bruce's last words to me were, "Bless you...Bless you with all good and perfect everything!"
TWENTIETH CENTURY (Napoleon on Broadway)
WALT WHITMAN I AM by BRUCE MILLHOLLAND
ST. FRANCIS I AM by BRUCE MILLHOLLAND
DEAR GUINEA PIG
THE GREEN STICK
AFTERNOON OF A FAUN
GIVE US THIS DAY
THE FIRST FAREWELL
WITCH OF WALL STREET
A NEW WAY
Plus many other plays which will be listed here soon
Under construction: Coming soon...Please come back to visit... MORE PHOTOS, too!
Las Vegas, Nevada