A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 12, 2022
“‘Break a leg’ dates back to Shakespeare, because you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs”

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” is an old proverb. “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few eggs/egos/legs” is a theater joke.
     
“You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking egos” was printed in the Lew Archer novel, The Galton Case (1959), by Ross Macdonald (1915-1983). “You can’t make a ‘Hamlet’ without breaking a few egos” was printed in The Observer (London, UK) on April 8, 1984. “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few egos. William Goldman, 1931 dramatist/screenwriter” was printed in The Book of Bill: Choice Words, Memorable Men (2009) by Tom Crisp. It’s not known when screenwriter William Goldman (1931-2018) wrote this, but it’s unlikely that it was as early as 1959.
 
American theatrical producer and director Joseph Papp (1921-1991) founded Shakespeare in the Park (Central Park in Manhattan). “I was in his office once when they were rehearsing Hamlet. Someone came in to say an actor had been injured and he said, as though automatically, ‘Well you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs’”  was printed in the book Joe Papp: An American Life (1996) by Helen Epstein. “SAM WATERSTON When I was doing Hamlet in the park in 1975, with John Lithgow playing Laertes, he tripped as he was jumping into the grave in the fight scene and he creamed his knee. An ambulance came, and once we were certain John was all right, I was sitting in the auditorium with Joe and I heard him say, ‘Well, you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some legs’” was printed in the book Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan.
 
“Break a leg” is a theatrical expression for “good luck.” “‘You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few legs!’ Hence the superstitious salutation ‘Break a leg!’” was posted on the newsgroup alt.callahans on November 18, 1997. “RT @martylog: The theatre idiom ‘break a leg’ dates back to Shakespeare’s time, because you can’t make Hamlet without breaking some legs” was posted on Twitter by Dan on September 7, 2011. “Did you know that the theatrical tradition of saying ‘break a leg’ before going in stage is because of this play. Because you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs” was posted on Twitter by Gummitch on February 28, 2018.
 
“As someone must somewhere have said, you can’t make Hamlet without breaking eggs” was written the theater critic Benedict Nightingale in the New York (NY) Times on September 5, 1982. “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs” was written by theater critic Jack Kroll in Newsweek on May 21, 1990. “There may even be bad jokes: you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs, Benedict” also a pun on eggs Benedict and actor Benedict Cumberbatch) was written by Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph (London, UK) on August 5, 2015.
 
   
Wiktionary: you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
Etymology
1796 in English, from French, on ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs (1742 and earlier), attributed to François de Charette.
Proverb
you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs

1. In order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that some mistakes are made or some sacrifices must occur.
 
Wikipedia: Hamlet
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet (/ˈhæmlɪt/), is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1601. It is Shakespeare’s longest play, with 29,551 words. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his attempts to exact revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet’s father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet’s mother.
     
Google Books
Google Books (2011 printing)
The Galton Case
By Ross Macdonald
New York, NY: Knopf
1959
Pg. 49
“You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking egos.”
 
5 September 1982, New York (NY) Times, “Two Hamlets on Two London Stages” by Benedict Nightingale, pg. A16, col. 8:
As someone must somewhere have said, you can’t make Hamlet without breaking eggs.
   
Newspapers.com
8 April 1984, The Observer (London, UK), “Not in the script,” pg. 16, col. 9:
You can’t make a ‘Hamlet’ without breaking a few egos.
   
21 May 1990, Newsweek (New York, NY), “Putting Hamlet on the Spot: Kevin Kline tackles the problems of the Prince” by Jack Kroll, pg. 90, col. 3:
But “Hamlet” is Hamlet. It may be that to reach the depths of the most multifarious role in world theater, an actor today must take extraordinary steps: sign out of the fleshpots of Broadway and Hollywood for a year, take off in search of himself, think, read, meet new people, challenge his preconceptions not just about theater but about life. You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs.
       
Google Books
New Scientist
Volume 125, Issues 1698-1705
1990
Pg. 112:
His place was to some extent filled by Ross MacDonald, who seemed to me to be the last of the witty writers of such stories (for example, “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking egos”).
 
Google Groups: comp.sys.acorn
c.b.a posting: CLIB 3.66 - NOT PD ! 
CNEWS MUST DIE!
May 9, 1991, 9:59:05 AM
(...)
mathew
[ PD or not PD? That is the question… Ah, well. You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs. ]
 
Google Books
Joe Papp:
An American Life

By Helen Epstein
New York, NY: Da Capo Press
1996
Pg. ?:
“I was in his office once when they were rehearsing Hamlet. Someone came in to say an actor had been injured and he said, as though automatically, ‘Well you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs.’”
(A playwright speaking about Joe Papp.—ed.)
   
16 August 1996, The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON), “Arts Ink Edinburgh cancels Lepage, McNeil,” pg. D2:
None of them, however, could be coaxed back to life after a fingernail-sized rivet broke during rehearsals last week. Lepage offered his apologies to ticket-holders, saying he was “deeply embarrassed by the problem.” But he denied the staging was too ambitious to use in a touring show, saying: “You can’t make Hamlet without breaking a few eggs.”
 
Google Groups: alt.callahans
PUN: shakespeare
John Barnstead
Nov 18, 1997, 3:00:00 AM
(...)
As Jezebel told me after her successful albeit Blue-Cross-intensive production, “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few legs!” Hence the superstitious salutation “Break a leg!”....
     
Google Groups: misc.immigration.canada
New to this
Martyn Jackson
Oct 14, 1998, 3:00:00 AM
(...)
” You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few egos’ ” (William Goldman)
   
Google Books
The Book of Bill:
Choice Words, Memorable Men

By Tom Crisp
Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
2009
Pg. 33:
You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few egos.
William Goldman, 1931– dramatist/screenwriter
 
Google Books
Free for All:
Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told

By Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp
New York, NY: Anchor Books
2010
Pg. 167:
SAM WATERSTON When I was doing Hamlet in the park in 1975, with John Lithgow playing Laertes, he tripped as he was jumping into the grave in the fight scene and he creamed his knee. An ambulance came, and once we were certain John was all right, I was sitting in the auditorium with Joe and I heard him say, “Well, you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some legs.
   
Twitter   
Wylie Jones
@Wylieknowords
“You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few egos.” William Goldman
www.knowords.com
2:03 PM · Feb 14, 2010
       
Twitter
Phil Hatfield
@hattiepeverel
Final theatrical thought for 2010: “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs.” Happy, peaceful and prosperous 2011 to all my followers.
10:41 AM · Dec 31, 2010
 
Twitter
Shawn Levy
@shawnlevy
“You can’t make a ‘Hamlet’ without breaking egos.”—Ross McDonald
3:42 PM · May 7, 2011
 
Twitter
Dan
@buzzingbugs
RT @martylog: The theatre idiom ‘break a leg’ dates back to Shakespeare’s time, because you can’t make Hamlet without breaking some legs.
11:11 AM · Sep 7, 2011
   
Google Books
Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Colossal Collection of “Quotable” Quotes
By the Bathroom Readers’ Institute
San Diego, CA: Printers Row Publishing Group
2012 (Originally published in 2004)
Pg. ?:
“You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking a few egos.” —William Goldman, screenwriter
 
31 July 2013, National Post (Don Mills, ON), “Trudeau Liberals still seeing stars” by John Ivison, pg. A1, col. 2:
The old joke is that you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking egos.
         
Twitter
♚ Lord Likely ♚
@lordlikely
Told an actorly chum to ‘break a leg’ for his Shakespeare performance. As the old saying goes, you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs
12:50 PM · Sep 13, 2013
 
Twitter
Ally Craig
@mr_craig
Theatrical tradition states that one should never wish a performer “good luck.” You can’t make an Hamlet without breaking a few legs.
5:26 PM · Feb 7, 2015
 
Twitter
Alasdair Hunter
@alasdair_h
“You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some legs.” -  Joe Papp
9:09 AM · Jun 20, 2015
 
5 August 2015, The Daily Telegraph (London, UK), “Forget Benedict: the play’s the thing: As Benedict Cumberbatch prepares to play Hamlet tonight, Dominic Cavendish explains the genius of theatre’s greatest role,”  pg. 25:
There may even be bad jokes: you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs, Benedict.
           
Twitter
Slava Ukraini!
@t_phuck
you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking eggs Benedict http://telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/why-hamlet-is-the-greatest-part-of-all/
10:52 AM · Aug 5, 2015
 
Twitter 
Jess Nevins
@jessnevins
That’s the Shakespeare with all the torn pantyhose. Because you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some L’Eggs.
#sorry
3:43 PM · Aug 29, 2015
 
Twitter 
Michael Schulman
@MJSchulman
As Joseph Papp used to say, “You can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some legs.” http://nytimes.com/2016/07/14/theater/director-pulls-hamlet-from-theater-for-a-new-audience.html?hpw&rref=theater&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0
10:11 AM · Jul 14, 2016
 
Twitter
Gummitch
@gummitch_uk
Replying to @meakoopa
Did you know that the theatrical tradition of saying ‘break a leg’ before going in stage is because of this play. Because you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking legs.
2:30 AM · Feb 28, 2018
 
15 October 2021, Express (London, UK), “Hamlet Review: Cush Jumbo is a star in the wrong production” by Neil Norman:
YOU can’t make a Hamlet without breaking egos, they say. I’ve never figured out who ‘they’ are but this production starring Cush Jumbo has been hotly anticipated since it was first announced that the British actress best known for playing Lucca Quinn in the US TV series The Good Wife was going to tackle Shakespeare’s greatest male role.
 
Twitter
David Smith
@David_Strathdee
Did you know the practice of wishing actors luck by saying “break a leg” comes from Shakespeare’s time?
Because as the old saying goes, you can’t make a Hamlet without breaking some legs.
12:42 PM · Mar 14, 2022

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Monday, December 12, 2022 • Permalink


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