Winter 2021

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118 SAG-AFTRA | Winter 2021 | L ate 1918: "Shelley Hull, star of Under Orders, has evolved a set of rules through the observance of which he thinks he can avoid having influenza. They are: Keep clean, keep warm, [and] don't be afraid of it." The 34-year-old matinee idol and Actors' Equity Council member had just been promoted to a star in Broadway's Under Orders, a two-actor, dual-character World War I play in October, and he and his wife, actor Josephine Sherwood Hull, were ecstatic. Although the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic remained, life was good. Shelley so charmed Under Orders audiences that Dorothy Parker enthused in the October 1918 Vanity Fair, "… you know that if the author had let Shelley Hull get killed, not a woman in the audience would ever have smiled again." The pandemic closed playhouses and movie theaters across the country — but not in New York. Influenza and the resulting pneumonia was still killing people there, and it claimed silent star Harold Lockwood on Oct. 19 and stage actor Julian L'Estrange, then appearing in a Broadway revival of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, on Oct. 22 — both resided just blocks from the Hulls' apartment at 256 W. 57th. On Nov. 25, the pandemic claimed their friend Tom Dobson, a popular singer, and they attended his memorial on the 30th. On Wednesday, Jan. 8, 1919, Shelley played an Under Orders matinee at 2:30 and, by the 8:30 evening performance, he knew something was wrong. His worried wife noted in her diary: "Shelley has a temperature. He played at night, but then took medicine, foot-bath and rub and got to bed." "January 12: Both nurses continuing. Shelley's case so serious, Thompson called in Dr. Warren Coleman — reassuring. So anxious for Shelley but better physically myself [her influenza case was mild]. Everyone kind and helpful. January 13: Shelley about the same, but it is the dreadful pneumonia-influenza. Praying for him, listening to him from my little front room, longing to help him. Oh, such agony not to be with him. January 14: Had three nurses. Shelley struggling for life all day. Dr. Coleman in again. Oxygen, drugs — they are fighting for him. At between 5 and 6, I went to him, had a sweet little talk, followed by a few words later when he asked for me. He died at 6:55 — My beloved, my life." The bereaved widow filled his seat on the Actors' Equity Council as "Mrs. Shelley Hull" and threw herself into union work, including Equity's famous strike in the summer of 1919. Until 1936, Josephine Hull labored in failed productions — both acting and directing — struggling financially, until a miracle came a month before her 60th birthday: a role in a new Broadway smash You Can't Take It With You followed by Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey and The Solid Gold Cadillac. When she died in March 1957, she was a character star of stage, screen, radio and early television and a member of the unions her beloved Shelley never lived to see: SAG and AFTRA. Anna May Wong's first starring role came at the age of 18 in the early Technicolor feature The Toll of the Sea in 1922. You can view this at the National Film Preservation Foundation's website. SAG-AFTRA SPECIAL COLLECTIONS Snapshot by Valerie Yaros SHELLEY HULL: From Broadway Star to Pandemic Victim Hull with Billie Burke (the future "Glinda, the Good Witch" of The Wizard of Oz) in The Land of Promise, 1913. Matinee idol Shelley Hull in a 1916 portrait, left, and his final Broadway play, Under Orders, right, with Effie Shannon in 1918. Hull with Phoebe Foster in The Lasso, 1917.

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