- A US theatrical term for a prop, mannerism, or other detailthat gives an actor a sudden insight into the characterization ofa particular role. The phrase originated with the US actor AlfredLunt, who was having difficulty interpreting the role ofProfessor Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion (1927). According tohis wife, Lynn Fontanne, her husband suddenly sat up in bed one night,exclaiming "I'll carry a green umbrella!" In NoëlCoward's version of the story, the umbrella was Fontanne's suggestion.
Whatever the origin of the phrase, Lunt continued to use it.In 1937 during rehearsals for Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 atthe Shubert Theatre on Broadway, Lunt called the cast together toannounce that the play was off because "I can't find the greenumbrella." Fontanne, who was sitting near the footlights, reassuredthe mystified cast, "Don't worry, we'll go on, and he will findit." Half an hour later, Lunt returned to announce delightedlythat the umbrella had been found and the show would go on.