Anjelica Huston, Catherine Keener, Mark Hammill, And Others, Bring Down The House At U.S. Debut Of British Phenomenon Letters Live

Last night at the Ace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles the British phenomenon Letters Live made its highly anticipated U.S. debut. Since its launch in London in December 2013, Letters Live has brought a string of remarkable talents together on fifteen separate occasions (including last night) to read some of history’s most remarkable letters.

Hitting the stage yesterday at the Ace were the following performers: Anjelica Huston, Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Hamill, Catherine Keener, Stephen Fry, James Corden, Shirley Manson, Jarvis Cocker, Danny Huston, Aisha Tyler, and others. Inspired by Shaun Usher’s international best-selling Letters of Note series and Simon Garfield’s To the Letter, Letters Live is a live celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence. Each show always features a completely different array of great performers, reading remarkable letters written over the centuries and from around the world. One of the joys of Letters Live is that one never knows who is going to take to the stage or what letter they are going to bring alive.

Apart from the delicious entertainment value of each production of Letters Live, the series supports a wide range of charities, with last night’s L.A. proceeds going to 826LA, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

Last night’s impressive selection of letters (which I believe are each chosen personally by the performers who read them) included a letter read by Mark Hamill which was written in February 2017 by prominent psychiatrist Allen Francis and published as an op-ed in The New York Times. The op-ed is Francis’s clinical diagnosis of Donald Trump’s mental state, and it received some of the most uproarious laughter and cheers from the audience. “Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder. Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).” (READ IT HERE).

Another stand-out letter was read by Ian McShane. It was written by Groucho Marx to Warner Brothers in 1945 after the studio attempted to block the Marx Brothers’ spoof of Casablanca, entitled A Night In Casablanca. Groucho effortlessly dismantles the studio’s bogus claim to all things Casablanca. “It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.” (READ IT HERE).

Jake Gyllenhaal’s best read came from a letter he chose which was written by Texas farmer, J.B. Lee, to his Congressman in 1963, in which Lee pokes holes in the seemingly ludicrous nature of federal farm subsidies. “If I get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, then will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 hogs which means I will have $80,000 coming from the government.” (SECOND LETTER FROM THE TOP HERE).

James Corden read a brilliant letter written by aspiring screenwriter Robert Pirosh in 1934 to MGM. Pirosh’s letter was a request for a job with the studio, and MGM was so impressed by it that they hired him immediately. Pirosh would later go on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Battleground. “I like words,” writes Pirosh. “I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave ‘V’ words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve.” (READ IT HERE).

Jarvis Cocker took to the stage to read one of the night’s biggest hits: a letter written by a Beatles superfan who, in 1987, was enraged at Nike for having the audacity to use a Beatles song in one of their commercials. The letter now hangs in the international headquarters of Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. (READ IT HERE).

Anjelica Huston chose a letter written by Katharine Hepburn to Spencer Tracy, her life partner of 25 years (Spencer remained married to another woman throughout the relationship). Katharine wrote the letter years after Spencer died, as a way to process the complex emotions she was dealing with. “Dear Spence, Who ever thought that I’d be writing you a letter. You died on the 10th of June in 1967. My golly, Spence, that’s twenty-four years ago,” writes Hepburn. “That’s a long time. Are you happy finally? Is it a nice long rest you’re having? Making up for all your tossing and turning in life. You know, I never believed you when you said that you just couldn’t get to sleep.” (READ IT HERE, AND WATCH HEPBURN READ IT HERSELF IN THE YOUTUBE VIDEO BELOW).

Jon Huston read a powerful letter written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1967 to the U.S. government. Vonnegut wrote in defense of his son, Mark, who refused to serve in the Vietnam War. “My family has been in this country for five generations now,” writes Vonnegut. “My ancestors came here to escape the militaristic madness and tyranny of Europe, and to gain the freedom to answer the dictates of their own consciences. They and their descendants have been good citizens and proud to be Americans. Mark is proud to be an American, and, in his father’s opinion, he is being an absolutely first-rate citizen now. He will not hate. He will not kill. There’s no hope in that. There’s no hope in war.” (READ IT HERE).

But of all last night’s letters, the one that left the most powerful impact was read by Catherine Keener. Keener selected a letter written by Cheryl Strayed (the woman whose memoir WILD was later turned into a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon). Cheryl Strayed wrote the letter for her Dear Sugar column, and it was in response to a young woman seeking wisdom. The young woman asks Cheryl, “I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: what would you tell your twenty-something self if you could talk to her now?”

Cheryl’s response, as read by Catherine Keener, nearly brought the house down with the applause that followed. Cheryl’s letter to her younger self reads as follows: “Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity,” writes Cheryl. “Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you. When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t ‘mean anything’ because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.” (READ IT IN FULL HERE).

Learn more about Letters Live by visiting

About The Author

Brent Lambert
IG: @FEELguide

Brent Lambert is a Los Angeles-based editor, writer, Entertainment Editor for BELLO magazine, as well as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of He also has a degree in architecture, is a Photoshop whiz, and in his spare time dabbles in set design and illustration (portfolio:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.