CONRAD AND LILLI COME HOME
by Vivienne Phillips
At 1:30 pm on Sunday, March 29; I met Jim and Elisabeth Rathlesberger after their flight from San Francisco, and brought them to my home, where they stayed the week. Our first act on arriving home was to place the urn with the ashes of Connie and Lilli on a small table in the hall, flanked by a photo of Connie on one side and a glass vase of daffodils from my garden on the other, and for five days, I had the honor of the presence of Connie and Lilli in my home.
The morning of April 3 dawned dull and cloudy, but miraculously, the clouds soon disappeared and the sun came out. With Jim, Elizabeth, and Karen who had come from Copenhagen, and the precious urn, I drove first to Platt's Lane, in Hampstead, to pause for a few minutes outside ''Milestone'', where the Veidt's lived until their departure for the States; taking them home for the last time. Then, on to Golders Green Crematorium.
The gathering of more than twenty walked through the Cloisters, accompanied by the Director of the Crematorium, in full morning dress, to the Columbarium and the first floor gallery. As soon as everyone was inside and spread out around the vast room, the informal ceremony began. Jim placed the urn into its niche, and I placed two red roses, sent by Veronica Lewis who wasn't able to attend, int a small glass vase. The vase will remain there for any visistors who wish to place flowers.
Then I made a short speech.
"We are all here today with one purpose in mind; to lay to rest, at last, Conrad and Lilli Veidt. You will all have your own special feelings to make this a memorable day. For myself, it is the fulfillment of a dream that began 55 years ago to the day, to have Connie back in the country he made his own, and near to where he and Lilli lived so happily. I never imagined this to be possible, but sometimes dreams come true. Welcome home, Conrad and Lilli. This is a day to cherish, so, in Jaffar's words, I invite you all to ''listen, observe and remember.''
I then read out the following letters, from John Justin and Valerie Hobson.
''John Justin regrets that for health reasons, he cannot attend today's ceremony. He goes on to say that winning the role in ''The Thief of Bagdad'' was amazing luck, but more than that was getting to know Conrad, who knew more about movie acting than anyone. He was amazingly kind and generous to me. I am very pleased at what you are doing for Connie - he deserves to be remembered.''
Valerie Hobson wrote: ''I am delighted to know that Connie's ashes will be placed where he would have wished and that he will be surrounded by his friends. I'm only sorry that I shan't be able to witnesss it, not being able to get to London that day. My thoughts will be with you all and with dear Connie.''
We have also heard from Viola Veidt who is well, and delighted to learn that we have found a permanent resting place for Connie and Lilli.
Irmgard Hudson spoke in German, praising Connie, a distant cousin, which Shirley Conway translated into English, followed by Pat Battle, from New York, who quoted from ''Romeo and Juliet'' -
''Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heav'n so fine
That all the world will be in love Night
And pay no worship to the garish Sun.''
After this, Jim, Elisabeth and I moved away from the niche to allow everyone to pass by the urn to pay their respects and to follow down the Chapel of Memory, where the Book of Remembrance was open and our inscription on view, as it will be every April 3. Everyone was very pleased with the wording so beautifully handwritten in calligraphy. The whole event was very informal and friendly, yet dignified and respectful, and I must thank the staff of the Crematorium who throughout the negotiations and arrangements, from 1st August 1997 to April had been so helpful in our cause.
Happily most of us were able to come to lunch to a local restaurant, where a table for sixteen had been reserved, and for the next few hours we reminisced and cemented friendships in person that had til now been conducted by letter. The feeling was one of good companionship and a sense of relief at what had been accomplished.
There is a supersition here in the theater that if a butterfly appears inside a theater, then the play, or whatever project, will be a success, as the butterfly is supposed to be the spirit of deceased actors. During our ceremony, a Red Admiral butterfly settled on the floor of the Columbarium jut below the niche. Connie? Who knows!