Thursday, October 13, 2011
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On a trip to Edinburgh in the summer of 1953, novelist Graham Greene and producer John Sutro met Margy Crosby Leifeste and Mary Alexander Sherwood, roommates and Pi Phi sorority sisters who had recently graduated from The University of Texas at Austin. Charmed by the young women, Greene and Sutro jokingly established the Anglo-Texan Society. Here’s the story as Mary remembers it.
Mary and Margy were traveling Europe on a two-month group tour. One of their first activities was to see Graham Greene’s play The Living Room in London. Two months later, they arrived in cold, rainy, and misty Edinburgh. Several girls on the trip went shopping, but Mary and Margy decided to stay back at the hotel and drink some tea to “warm our bones,” Mary recalls.
While drinking their tea, a waiter handed them a note reading: “If by any chance you are free, would you come to see The Devil’s General tomorrow night or to have a drink with us to discuss the matter tonight? Signed, Graham Greene and John Sutro.” Mary and Margy figured their friends were pulling yet another practical joke, so they told the waiter he must be mistaken.
“We spent the next 15 minutes saying, what if it was? Oh! What stupid people we are not to have at least said, why sure, and gone to see,” Mary recalls.
As they got up to leave, two men emerged from behind a screen and said: “We didn’t mean to offend you, but my name is John Sutro, and this is Graham Greene, and we would like for you to have a drink with us.”
Mary and Margy accepted the invitation, and Greene fired question after question about their travels and reactions to Europe.
“They were hanging on our every word, asking questions. They really seemed to be interested in our answers, which was sort of a first,” Mary says.
As the evening wrapped up, Greene again invited Margy and Mary to see The Devil’s General. They both declined. Mary had to catch an overnight train to visit a friend in London, and Margy had to attend a farewell dinner.
“I know what we’ll do,” Greene said. “You, Ms. Alexander, pack your bags. You come to the first two acts of the play, we will put you in a taxi with your suitcase, and off to London you go. And you, Ms. Crosby, after your dinner, you come to the third act of the play, and then we’ll have dinner with Trevor Howard and the producer.”
Mary and Margy accepted. In their ship cabin on the return trip were a dozen yellow roses and a card reading, “Happy landfall. Come back soon. Graham.”
“I really think that there is a side to Graham Greene that you don’t know about, that may surprise you. And that is that he’s a gentleman and a very thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate person,” Mary said.
On the train back to London, Greene and Sutro jokingly decided to establish an Anglo-Texan Society, and they ran an announcement in The Times.
“Much to the astonishment of Graham Greene and John Sutro, some people took it very seriously. At one of the first big meetings in London, they sent three steers, Texas’s best beef, and all sorts of barbecue sauce. 1,500 people attended,” Mary said.
Years later, Mary says people often ask whether she and Margy were afraid when Greene and Sutro invited them to the play.
“Absolutely not. We had no fear of anything. I remember thinking to myself at that time, I could live anywhere in the world. I was just totally without fear of any kind,” Mary says. “Though all of this gave the tour leader a heart attack.”
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