Successful actors have an innate understanding of how to look good in a wide variety of situations. Certainly the Academy Awards, or The Oscars as they have been re-dubbed, offers a moment to shine with very little effort. The instancy of live television is, of course, a two edged sword and the contrast between the Academy Awards of today and the 1960-70’s is marked. The Academy in those days must have wondered just what they had to do to get the actors to fall in line. But different eras have different zeitgeists and we, actors notwithstanding, have a hard time resisting the moment.
One of Thomas Chippendale’s more unusual clients was the actor David Garrick (1717-79). Garrick changed the course of acting with a style that was realistic and less declamatory and garnered admirers that included the Royal Family. In so doing, he also made theatre respectable. His fame and influence are hard to appreciate fully, given that he was just an actor, a profession heretofore not associated with both probity and eclat. Garrick was said by Samuel Johnson (1709-84) to live like a prince and one proof of that was in Garrick’s slow payment of his bills to Chippendale, a high handed tactic used by many of Chippendale’s wealthier clients.
Garrick was also a patron of the artist Johan Zoffany (1733-1810), the German painter who had emigrated to Britain to seek his fame. Garrick met Zoffany in the studio of another artist, Benjamin Wilson (1721-88), probably because of Garrick’s Austrian wife who could converse with Zoffany in his native tongue. It was a turning point for Zoffany in England. Garrick found that Zoffany’s ability to capture him in various theatrical roles was better than other artists of the time including the aging William Hogarth (1697-1764) and he used these paintings in exhibitions to advertise himself. Public relations is clearly a fine art. Perhaps slightly finer in the 18th century.