Is he a man or a myth?
You can spot his name in the playbills for tons of theatrical productions. He’s usually credited with a small role, often appearing in just one scene. Oddly, he may pop up in two or three or a dozen different productions at the same time.
But despite his long list of credits, George Spelvin doesn’t actually exist.
Time was, actors didn’t like the audience to know they were “doubling,” i.e., playing more than one role in a single production. They would change their voices, costumes, and makeup, and the audience would (ostensibly) be fooled. But if patrons saw the same name listed twice in the credits, the surprise would be ruined. Hence the moniker “George Spelvin” was born.
It’s a similar story with George’s sister Georgette, who has played many small female roles over the decades. Their British cousin Walter Plinge works mostly in London, but he has appeared on Broadway from time to time.
Sometimes it’s the playwright or director who wants to downplay the fact there’s doubling going on. Or they might want to lead audience members to believe that an “offstage character” mentioned in the play will appear on stage, when actually he or she will not. That could preserve a plot twist in a thriller, for example.
George has also turned up as a character in a bunch of plays, as a kind of insider gag. Take a look at the final credits of this video, for example. Do you get the joke?
There’s a story that Spelvin was born more than a century ago when the notoriously superstitious Broadway producer David Belasco realized the roster of characters listed in a show he was about to produce totaled the unlucky number 13. Rather than tempt fate, he hired a dozen actors and made one of them cover two roles, so the company would number only 12. He didn’t want evil spirits to look at the playbill and uncover his subterfuge, however, so he credited the smaller of the two parts to “George Spelvin.”
More reliable sources link Spelvin’s earliest stage appearances to an 1886 play called Karl the Peddler. In any case, he became best known when he turned up in the cast of Brewster’s Millions, a hit play of the early 1900s.
While the elusive Mr. Spelvin usually skips the curtain call, he does sometimes give interviews. Mervyn Rothstein once profiled him in Playbill magazine’s “A Life in the Theatre” column.
These days, with cast sizes shrinking and doubling becoming more common, the stigma attached to playing more than one role has largely disappeared—and so has Spelvin. But this dedicated thespian has not vanished completely. He has shifted his cloak of anonymity to cyberspace, where dozens of George Spelvins have created profiles on Facebook.
This video was made by Glamsmash Productions
Glamsmash LLC is a New York based creative production company bringing a unique aesthetic and voice to the film-making community. Glamsmash strives to to produce distinctive high-quality work in order to provide a unique entertainment experience. In-house services include pre-production, digital HD filming, sound, lighting, and post-production editing. (Visit Glamsmash on YouTube.)
Directed & Edited by Chris Ford
Written by Austin Sanders
Ryan Chittaphong, played by George Spelvin
George Spelvin, played by Ryan Chittaphong
Script Supervisor and Body Double
Original Music by Chris Ford