The play was “Coquette,” Douglas Fairbanks Jr. recalled, and Helen Hayes’ performance had just dissolved the audience to tears.
Afterward, he asked her what she was thinking during those emotional stage moments that day in 1927.
She replied: “I was wondering where I could get a hamburger after the show.”
Such stories rolled off the lips of Jason Robards, Julie Harris, Tony Randall , former Gov. Hugh Carey and others at the Shubert Theater on Friday, where more than 1,400 friends and admirers paid tribute to Hayes, who died March 17 at age 92.
Fritz Weaver sang “Peanuts and Emeralds,” which put to music the story of how writer Charles MacArthur broke the ice with his bride-to-be by saying he wished the peanuts he placed in her palm were emeralds.
Bob Hope’s wife, Dolores, sang “Always,” and recalled how composer Irving Berlin performed the song himself at the party where Hayes and MacArthur met.
At the end, her adopted son, James MacArthur, said, “I am forever grateful to have been chosen by her.”
And then, the first lady of the American theater had the last word herself, her tape-recorded voice reciting these words by George Bernard Shaw:
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. … Life is no brief candle to me, it is a sort of splendid torch. … I want to make it burn as brightly as I can before handing it on to future generations.”