Marius had been entranced by the theatre since the age of three when he was taken to see a pantomime in London and from then on he was determined to become an actor when he grew up. Mrs. Goring was a professional pianist and never discouraged the boy when he claimed he wanted to be an actor. "But," added Goring, "she was adamant that I get a decent education, first that only strengthened my resolve, because I never seriously considered another profession for an instant". His father, who was a lover of music hall, also encouraged him in his acting ambitions.
He shone in school theatricals at The Perse School in Cambridge where the Gorings - his mother Kate, older brother Donald and Marius - were now living after the death of his father in 1919. The Perse had its own active amateur theatre company. The school, according to its website: "had long recognised that the performing arts helped develop confidence, creativity and communication, and placed them at the heart of our site and everyday school life". It goes on to say: "The celebrated Perse ‘Play Way’ tradition of learning through performing, created by Henry Caldwell Cook in the early 20th century, nurtured such eminent Perseans as the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Peter Hall. The old mummery where students improvised plays – based on an Elizabethan theatre – is fondly remembered to this day by many alumni".
Marius made his amateur stage debut at the age of twelve in 1925 in Crossings: A Fairy Play, the only play written by the famous poet Walter de la Mare. He played a fairy in a production at the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) Theatre in Cambridge alongside Angela Baddeley, who was later famous as Mrs. Bridges in the long running 1970s television series Upstairs, Downstairs.
He was to make his professional stage debut at the age of fifteen in December 1927, playing Harlequin in a Jean Stirling Mackinlay Children's Matinee at Rudolf Steiner Hall. He was paid £1 a week and from then on he considered himself to be a professional actor. Jean Stirling Mackinlay was an actress and passionate proponent of Children's Theatre, married to Harcourt Williams, artistic director of The Old Vic. Marius would later use his acquaintance with Harcourt Williams to gain admission to The Old Vic Theatre School in 1929.
After graduating from The Perse School, Marius then briefly attended universities in Frankfurt, Vienna, Munich and the Sorbonne in Paris where he developed and perfected his language skills in French and German.
He began to study acting under Harcourt Williams and at The Old Vic dramatic school between 1929 and 1932 and also stage managed Old Vic productions in the next few years.
During this same period, he joined the English Classical Players in 1931, touring France and Germany, mainly performing Shakespearean roles in their languages. He had become so fluent in both French and German that he could easily perform rôles in either language. He had previously performed a rôle completely in French - Trissotin in Molière's Les Femmes Savantes - at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge in 1930 with the Societé Française de la l'Université company to favourable comment. A review in The Daily Telegraph said of his performance: "Particularly good was Mr. Marius Goring as Trissotin, the pseudo-poet who causes such a fluttering in the ménage of Chrysale, the thoroughly likeable henpecked spouse of that monster of learning Philaminte. Mr. Goring had no qualms about being realistic, and the result was a deliciously fantastic caricature of every highbrow humbug that has ever been. He made particularly good use of his eyebrows and his most expressive mouth to indicate his contempt for all other authors who could not appreciate his gems of poetic creation".
Described by Tyrone Guthrie as an "ardent, gifted student with blue eyes and flaming hair", Marius then kept the promise he had made to himself as a schoolboy by joining La Compagnie des Quinze, having met its founder, Jacques Copeau, at the Sorbonne. He had seen them performing in England at the age of sixteen, and was greatly impressed. He vowed then and there to someday work with them.
Marius toured France and the Low Countries with Copeau, playing Hamlet and other roles in French. The Compagnie des Quinze was now under the directorship of the influential French theatre director and Copeau's nephew, Michel Saint-Denis. Marius would later encourage Saint-Denis to come to England and work as a director there.
In May 1932, he was admitted to The Old Vic company by its manager, Lilian Baylis, at 2 pounds 10 shillings a week. Apparently, for some unknown reason, she resisted putting him into any rôles at first, so Harcourt Williams snuck him into performances of Julius Caesar in late 1932 as a Spear Carrier.
For several years from late 1932, his stage appearances were exclusively at The Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres with The Old Vic Company in their 1932/33 and 1933/34 seasons. He played a variety of Shakespearean roles there, including undertaking the title role in Macbeth in November 1932 for three performances, standing in at short notice for the play's star, Malcolm Keen, when both he and Alastair Sim (who was playing the rôle of Malcolm and understudying Keen) became too incapacitated to perform (Keen had broken his ankle and Sim had a bout of severe influenza).
Early the following year 1933, he was chosen by Harcourt Williams for his first starring rôle at the age of twenty as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet with Peggy Ashcroft playing his Juliet. The reviews of his performance weren't exactly glowing and he himself later admitted that he was perhaps too young and callow to successfully essay the rôle at that time.
He first worked in the West End in a 1934 revival of Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance as Hugh Voysey, directed by the playwright himself at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
In 1935, he co-founded the London Theatre Studio with Michel Saint-Denis, George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw. It trained actors, directors and designers and was a precursor of The Old Vic Theatre School. Marius taught Shakespeare there to the students. Unfortunately, it had to close in late 1939 due to the outbreak of war.
He returned briefly to The Old Vic in May 1935 in the title rôle in Hamlet in shortened versions of the play, alternating with Maurice Evans who only performed in the full versions.
He played Japheth in André Obey's Noah (Noé), translated from the French, in July 1935 directed by Michel Saint-Denis and starring John Gielgud as Noah. This was a ground-breaking production in English theatre history and garnered very favourable reviews, with audiences being entranced by it. The animals were performed by various actors including Harry Andrews as The Lion, George Devine as The Bear/Man, Alec Guinness as The Wolf and Guinness's future wife Merula Salaman as The Tiger. Merula's older sister, Susan, played The Lamb.
Marius and Susan or 'Susy' had formed a romantic relationship at this time and planned to marry. Tragically, Susy was struck down by acute encephalitis in December of that year and was left brain damaged. Marius wished to continue with the wedding (after he got a divorce from his wife, Mary, from whom he was separated). However, Susy and Merula's father, Michel Salaman, would not allow it. Susy would remain an invalid in the care of her family for the rest of her life.
Marius would also feature later that year in another Saint-Denis directed play Sowers of the Hills as Aubert. It was originally a French play by Jean Giono, translated into English by Jolliffe Metcalfe for the production from Giono's Lanceurs des graines. Marius earned praise for his performance with The Stage review commenting: "Marius Goring, as the romantic lover of the forest, who has heard willows moan under the stroke of the axe, cuts a genuinely poetic figure throughout".
In December 1935, he co-starred with Flora Robson as Philip of Spain to her Queen Mary I in Mary Tudor. This was a highlight of his early career and the play received glowing reviews from the critics, enjoying a significant run well into 1936. Marius had first seen Flora Robson performing when he was a teenager and been a firm admirer of hers ever since. From Mary Tudor onwards, they would form a close professional and personal bond for the rest of their lives.
Throughout the 1930s Marius had been building a steady reputation in classical and modern plays. After Girl Unknown, he next took on the rôle of Gregers Werle in Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck. He would return to this play in 1952, but in the different rôle of Hjalmar Ekdal for BBC television. Theatre reviewer Ivor Brown in The Observer commented: "Mr Marius Goring, in far the best performance I have seen him give, gets exactly the right, mad light into the eye of Gregers Werle and the right busy bee into his bonnet. Gregers is very much in our midst to-day, denouncing the corruption of his neighbours' lives and demanding nice moral wars against this Power and that, without reflecting that, however nicely and morally his wars begin, they will not end in that state. Mr. Goring sniffs the alleged marsh-damp and poisonous vapours in the Ekdals' home with the fine, fanatical nose-work of the prig absolute, self-confidant and self-admiring".
Marius then rejoined The Old Vic company for their 1936/37 season. His first rôle for the season was as the doomed Frank Thorney in Thomas Dekker's 17th century play The Witch of Edmonton directed by Michel Saint-Denis. It saw him working for the first time with Edith Evans as well as reuniting him with Alec Guinness and Michael Redgrave. Ivor Brown in The Observer was less complementary this time in describing his performance: "Mr. Marius Goring rolled his eyes a good deal and put up a satisfactory show as the bold, bad Frank, lecher, murderer, and liar".
The rest of the plays he performed in this Old Vic season were all Shakespeare: firstly he undertook two rôles in Hamlet as First Player and Fortinbras alongside Laurence Olivier in the title rôle accompanied by Michael Redgrave and Alec Guinness. His next part was as the clown Feste in Twelfth Night where his acting was particularly admired for its "piercing melancholy". His last rôle in the season was as the Chorus to Laurence Olivier's Henry V with Redgrave and Guinness sharing the stage with him again.
1937 also saw him undertaking rôles like Peter de Meyer in Satyr with Flora Robson and Wolfe Guldeford in The Last Straw with Lucie Mannheim. These performances would make him well-known for playing troubled, even homicidal young men. His character in Satyr has similarities to his 1939 film rôle of Willie, Lord Lebanon in The Case of the Frightened Lady, based on a play by Edgar Wallace. Lord Lebanon had much in common with Peter de Meyer in Satyr. Both are charming young men, obsessed with music and murder, who are dominated by their mother.
In mid 1936, he was chosen by renowned American theatre director Guthrie McClintic to co-star in a production of The Ante-Room, based on the novel by Irish dramatist Kate O'Brien. He shared the stage with Diana Wynyard and Jessica Tandy. The play initially opened for tryouts in July 1936, first in Edinburgh then Manchester. However, before it was due to move on to a London season, Marius was devastated to learn from impresario Binky Beaumont, the play's producer, that he was being replaced in his rôle and he was to be immediately let go from the company. His distress was no doubt heightened by the recent sudden death of his older brother, Donald, in a motor vehicle accident. This second blow was very hard to take for him. "I got the sack while we were playing in Manchester," he said later. "I came very close to jumping out of my hotel window. When I got back to London, Larry Olivier asked if I'd like to take over for him in a part he was tiring of. Like an idiot, I refused, thinking my career was over. To a serious young actor, one's career is one's life".
Fortunately, he was able to recover from this disappointment when he was cast a few weeks later in Girl Unknown to co-star with Lucie Mannheim, the renowned Jewish German actress who fled Germany in 1934 after the Nazis came to power. Lucie was also the show's producer and had seen his photograph in a theatre almanac and liked the way he looked. They would work together regularly from then on, acting in and producing plays together and also becoming romantically involved. They would marry in 1941. They would also perform together in a number of film, radio and television productions over the following decades.
His stage appearances decreased in the late 1930s as he embarked upon an increasingly busy film career. He started 1938 with a production called Surprise Item, far removed from the troubled characters he had just played. It was a comedy penned by Cyrus Brooks where Marius played two rôles - a naïve, goofy shop assistant, Arthur Primmer, and a Ruritanian King on the run who he is persuaded to impersonate due to his close resemblance to that royal personage. The Times review said of his performance: "Mr. Marius Goring gets a deal of fun out of the purely farcical passages, yet contrives to give the simpleton a genuine charm of character".
His only other stage performance in 1938 was as the flamboyant Leonid Schervinsky in The White Guard based on the Russian play by Mikhail Bulgakov. It was directed by Michel Saint-Denis and starred Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft. The cast also included Marius's fellow co-founders of The London Theatre School, George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw.
James Agate in The Sunday Times was greatly impressed by the performances in the play: "The piece was brilliantly acted. Mr. Michael Redgrave as leader of a forlorn hope had real passion. The others, notably Mr. Stephen Haggard and Mr. Glen Byam Shaw, took their cue from him admirably, and Mr. Marius Goring deserved very great praise for traveling so far from his usual self. But you may travel a long way from St. Pancras without getting to St. Petersburg! Mr. Goring's study of the third-rate opera-singer who is also Shakespeare's Mercutio turned volunteer in the White Army, struck me as probably as near to a character wholly foreign to him as a French actor's Hibernian character sketch would get to Mr. O'Casey's Paycock!". W.A. Darlington in his review for The Daily Telegraph said: "So high is the level of acting in this play that as I run my eye down the list of the cast looking for somebody who must be specifically praised, I find that almost everybody has a claim. Michael Redgrave as the commanding officer, Peggy Ashcroft as his sister, Marius Goring as a charming, flamboyant boaster, Stephen Haggard as a shy boy from the country are all as good as can be; but in their present company they hardly stand out". However, confirming the old saying "There's no pleasing some people", Ivor Brown in The Observer was less than complimentary of Marius's performance: "Mr. Marius Goring has the opportunity to prance and prattle as an operatic singer who manages, in red pantaloons, not to go to battle. A very stagey stage-character is this, and not at all persuasive". The main rôle of Alexei Turbin, played here by Michael Redgrave, was to be later undertaken by Marius to great acclaim in a 1960 BBC TV production directed by Rudolph Cartier.
1939 began with a series of plays that he and Lucie co-produced and performed in at the Duke of York's Theatre. They started with a revised version of the William Archer translation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House which was produced by them under the title of Nora (which is the female protagonist's name). Marius produced and directed this play but did not take a rôle in it. Lucie played the lead rôle of Nora Halmer to Austin Trevor's Torvald Halmer. Lucie had played this same rôle at the Staatstheater in Berlin for three years in her illustrious career there before she had to come to England. The play received favourable reviews and ran for several months.
Next came a farce with music called Lady Fanny based on the play by Jerome K. Jerome Lady Fanny and the Servant Problem. Marius took a lead rôle this time with Lucie. It was decidedly less of a success than Nora and received some quite scathing reviews, with the Daily Herald reviewer pronouncing: "This is the most painful evening I have had at the theatre this year". It closed after only six performances.
They decided to cut their losses and move on to Nina by Bruno Frank, a play with which Lucie had made her successful stage debut in England in 1935. Their revival again starred Lucie in the lead rôle with Marius taking the part of Schimmelmann, a film producer.
Due to some savage reviews of their last venture, Lady Fanny, they were a little gun-shy and, while allowing theatre critics to attend the opening night, they stipulated that they not review it at that point. Fortunately, Nina was much better received and it ran for several months, even transferring to the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for a run there.
Next Marius performed with John Gielgud in his production of Hamlet, first in London at the Lyric Theatre and then at Kronborg Castle, Helsingør in Denmark. The castle was the inspiration for Shakespeare's Elsinore. As with the 1937 Hamlet with Laurence Olivier, Marius once again undertook two different rôles, this time as First Player and as Osric. It was a qualified success as the weather was not good - cold and windy - making it a sometimes uncomfortable experience for the audience who was seated in the open on stands in the castle's forecourt.
The Danish writer Karen Blixen was seen in the audience at one performance, "whose lips could form every speech in Hamlet as perfectly as the prompter". 1
Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen, was a great Shakespeare enthusiast and would became a good friend of Gielgud's.
"The company was inevitably conscious of the growing threat of war. Torpedo boats flying the swastika were anchored in Elsinore harbour, and one night, to the actors' displeasure, a group of German sailors occupied the whole front row. The tension came out in practical jokes and childish pranks, with Marius Goring the ringleader. Live chickens appeared in people's beds, and cannons in the corridors. Once Gielgud returned to his room to find four of the company, including Fay Compton, tucked up in his bed. After a last-night party even he caught the mood, as Margaret Harris remembered: 'We all assembled on the beach, and started to throw people into the sea. Nobody quite dared to do that to John. Finally he said, "Isn't anyone going to throw me in?" So we did.'
One day all the swastikas disappeared from the hôtel dining-room. With several Nazis among the guests, the manager feared an international incident, and appealed to Gielgud. Reluctantly assuming the rôle of an authority figure, he asked the culprit to own up, whereupon Marius Goring confessed to having stuffed the flags down the toilet. Some replacements were found, but they too disappeared, presumably in similar fashion. 'I think we all feel some kind of premonition of violent change,' Gielgud wrote in his diary. 'There is a curious end-of-term melancholy as we pack up and say good-bye'." 2
1, 2. Croall, Jonathan. Gielgud: a theatrical life, 1904-2000 (The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2001), 273
Marius Goring and the Swastikas article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 February 1941.
Marius's exploits with the swastikas were still being reported over a year later in the international press. Inexplicably, he is erroneously referred to as being a Czech in the article. Marius had to put up with (to his increasing annoyance) his nationality being misidentified, usually as a German, throughout most of his career, because of his surname.
Note: More information on Marius Goring's later stage career will be added in the near future.
Meanwhile, here's a preview of coming attractions: