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COMEDIANS ALL 



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BOOKS BY GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 
ANOTHER BOOK ON THE THEATRE 



BOTTOMS UP 

A BOOK WITHOUT A TITLE 
THE POPULAR THEATRE 
COMEDIANS ALL 



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COMEDIANS ALL 

GEORGE JEAN NATHAN 



New York ALFRED • A • KNOPF Mcmxix 



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''ill, 
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY vN.* t *' 



ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc. 



PRINTER ID TBI V 



>g ,,: .yGOOglC 



A BOOK OF 
CONTRADICTORY CRITICISM 



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CONTENTS 

Criticism 11 

The Dramatic Critic 11 

Destructive Criticism 13 

The New Scenery 28 

The Matter of Adaptation 29 

Skating on Thin Ice 36 

The Actor-Manager 38 

On Observation 39 

Maeterlinck as Dramatist 40 

Intelligence and the Actor 52 

The One-Act Plat 54 

The Japanese Plat 55 

The Birxical Plat 57 

The Foremost American Producer 58 

On Sentimentality 68 

The Biographical Play 69 

The Repertory System 69 

Belasco 70 

On Banality 72 

The Modern French Drama 73 

Harry Watson, Jr. 76 

Brander Matthews 78 

The American Dramatic Criticism 85 

Drama 94 

Roof Shows 94 



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CONTENTS 
Avery Hopwood 106 
The Pothoilermakers 111 
The Drama of Ideas 116 
Hokum 118 
The Star System 119 
The American Negro 133 
The Shaw Imitation 134 
On Drama and Acting 135 
Subterfuge 135 
War, Peace and the Drama 136 
The Critical Stricture 137 
The Actor Plat 142 
The Drama of Augustus Thomas 143 
Sentiment and Avoirdupois 144 
The Religious Play 145 
La Von d'Or 147 
Plays of Caste 148 
The Protean Play 149 
On Aesthetic Dancing 150 
W. Somerset Maugham 151 
The Risque Britisher 154 
Vaudeville 155 

Two Celebrated American Character Actors 155 
The Journalistic Hazlittry 157 
True Sentiment and False 162 
Personality and the Actor 163 
Double Entente 167 
J. M. Barrie 169 

Episode in the Career of a Critic of the Drama 169 
Haddon Chambers 174 
The Palais Royal Naturalized 176 



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CONTENTS 
Satire 177 

The American Sentimentality 178 
The Artificial Plat 178 
The End of a Perfect Dane 178 
Amour in the Theatre 188 
The Broadway "Literary" Playwright 189 
Eugene Walter 190 
The Well-Mannered Play 192 
On Beauty 192 
Toujours Perdrlx 195 
The Chewing Gum Drama 196 
J. Hartley Manners 198 
The Comic Motion Picture 199 
Art Via the Side-Street 202 
The Censor 202 
On Critical Prejudice 203 
The Commercial Theatre 204 
Edward Sheldon 207 
Mixed Identity 209 
Unfrocking the Pretender 209 
The Professor 210 
Laughter and the Onion 211 
The Broadway Curtain Speech 211 
The Realistic Drama 215 
Account of a Sample Masterpiece Born of the Great 

War 215 
The Belasco Technic 217 
The Commercial Public 218 
On Nomenclature 219 
Opera Cohique 224 
Dramatic Paradox 226 



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CONTENTS 
The Fbench and American Taste 226 
Temperature and the Drama 229 
The Marionette 233 
The National Humour 236 
The Crook Play 249 
The Theatrical Wise Men 251 
William Winter 254 
Sex Appeal 256 
The Pigeon-Hole Plat 258 
The Actor and the Trained Seal 258 
The Middle-Class Taste 261 



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"There is always a place for protests against the 
main convention, for rebellion, paradox, partisan- 
ship and individuality, and for every personal taste 
that is sincere. Progress comes by contradiction. 
Eddies and tossing spray add to the beauty of every 
stream and keep the water from stagnancy." — 
Gilbert Murray. 



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Criticism. — Criticism is the art of appraising 
that which isn't in terms of what it should be, and 
that which should be in terms of what it isn't. 
The rest — is mere hand-shaking. 



The Dramatic Critic. — The notion that a dra- 
matic critic may most easily attract attention to 
himself and cut his way to celebrity by expressing 
opinions directly the opposite of those held by the 
overwhelming majority is ridiculous. The reverse, 
indeed, is true. The late William Winter was in 
his lifetime, and remains after his death, the most 
conspicuous figure in American dramatic criticism; 
and he never once in all his career said or wrote 
one single thing about the theatre that nine hundred 
and ninety-nine out of every one thousand Ameri- 
cans did not themselves stoutly believe. The 
theory that Shaw achieved notoriety as a critic by 
standing counter to the general is the theory of 
those alone who either have never read his criti- 



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12 COMEDIANS ALL 

cisms, or have read them carelessly. In his entire 
critical incumbency, Shaw never expressed an opin- 
ion- .thaj ytfit ,ppt : fully concurred in by the great 
majority/ tift'ltii .public. The only difference be- 
;tjfre&ji;Wiwt6r and Shaw — the only essential differ- 
•"erice; {Hat is—*is ; lKsrt "Winter became famous by ex- 
pressing the mob opinion in terms of the mob, and 
that Shaw became famous by expressing the mob 
opinion in terms of the few. But, at bottom, the 
opinions of both were and are the opinions of die 
multitude. 

If Winter was absurdly full of such adjectives 
as "detestable" and "indecent" when a Pinero sex 
play crossed his eye, so was Shaw — as you may find 
for yourself by turning, for example, to his 
"Dramatic Opinions and Essays," Vol. I, page 44. 
If Winter was enchanted by mere empty mob mush, 
so too was Shaw — as you may find for yourself 
by turning, for example, to his Vol. I, page 70. 
And if Winter believed that morals were a part of 
art, so also did Shaw — as you may find for yourself 
by turning, for example, to his Vol. II, page 449. 
The technique and aesthetic of Winter, in the expo- 
sition of these typical mob attitudes, were the tech- 
nique and aesthetic of Dr. Parkhurst; the tech- 
nique and aesthetic of Shaw, in the exposition of 
what were intrinsically the same mob attitudes, 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 13 
were the technique and aesthetic of Gaby Dcslys. 
But, sharp showmen both, their materials, however 
diametrically opposed the manner of their mer- 
chanting, were fundamentally the same, and funda- 
mentally of like mob echo quality. 

In short, the surest way for a dramatic critic to 
remain in oblivion is to do exactly that which the 
theorists prescribe to the contrary, viz., contradict 
the opinions of the majority. Some excellent 
critics, fellows of Bound sense and searching 
theatrical philosophy, have died thus the death of 
public inattention. Who of you, for example, has 
ever heard of Dr. Louis Allard, sometime of Har- 
vard College, of E. Fordham-Spence of The West' 
minster Gazette, of Judge Parry and his "Judg- 
ments in Vacation," of acute Theodore Lessing, 
of C. E. Vaughan, Gustav Rickelt, Maximilian 
Harden as Ibsen critic, Joscha Savitz, or D. E. 
Oliver? 

M 

Destructive Criticism. — Of the numerous and 
fecund fallacies concerned with criticism, doubtless 
the most unremittingly enceinte is that which holds 
it a vastly more easy business to blame than to 
praise. "Any fool can find fault" has been the 



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14 COMEDIANS ALL 

cornerstone of protestant retaliation to so-called 
destructive criticism for something over two cen- 
turies. Upon it have been reared the most sar- 
donic animadversions of the Balzacs, Landors, 
Coleridges, Shelleys, Addisons, Lambs, Drydens 
and Disraelis, the very acuteness and hence lon- 
gevity of whose destructive criticism of destructive 
criticism might possibly suggest to the more wag- 
gish logician that the exceptionally gifted dispara- 
gers in point — by proving both what they set out to 
prove and, automatically, the reverse — swung the 
punitive cowhide so far around their heads that it 
nipped their own ears. 

That any fool can find fault is, of course, per- 
fectly true. But that any fool can find fault ac- 
curately, soundly and searchingly is a horse of an- 
other colour. So to find fault calls upon and com- 
mands a decidedly uncommon talent. And so, 
above this, to find fault with such a fault finder 
calls upon and commands — as the history of de- 
structive criticism emphatically proves — a down- 
right genius. Any picturesque but empty dodo 
like the late Nat Goodwin can toss off a four- 
pound five-dollar book finding fault with every- 
thing from the criticism of Dr. Johnson to Edna 
Goodrich's mother, but it takes the talent of a Wil- 
liam Archer to find searching fault even with a 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 15 
single one of Brunetiere's dramatic theories, and 
the genius of a Bernard Shaw to find sound fault 
with what seemed to be the searching fault which 
William Archer found. 

The extraordinarily capric quality of the mass of 
journalistic criticism in America is due, not as is 
generally maintained, to the desire of its writers to 
please by indiscriminate praise, but to the utter in- 
capacity on the part of these writers to dispraise. 
In the theatrical criticism that appears in the native 
morning newspapers, the omnipresent note of 
eulogy is attributable less to the commentator's wish 
to eulogize than to the recognized fact that, given 
less man an hour in which to confect an estimate of 
a play, gush is immensely more simple of negotia- 
tion than diatribe. Every critical writer knows 
well the truth of this. When he is lazy, he writes 
praise; only when his mind is alert and eager does 
he feel himself capable of fault finding. The art 
of the careful, honest and demolishing coup de 
grace is an art calling, firstly, for an exhaustive 
knowledge of the subject under the microscope, 
secondly, for an original and sharply inventive 
analytical rum of mind, and thirdly, for a wit and 
power over words that shall make them whiz 
through the printed page. The art of the equally 
careful and honest hip-hooray, even at its highest, 



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16 COMEDIANS ALL 

on the other hand calla upon at least the first two 
of these attributes in considerably less degree. 

That the art of penetrating fault finding — or 
"destructive criticism," as the jay misnomer has 
it — is a grant denied the considerable majority of 
our journalistic luminaries may be clearly dis- 
cerned not only in the lavish bravos and vivas al- 
ready mentioned as constituting the bulk of the 
daily reviews, but — better still — in the retrospec- 
tive and more carefully pondered weekly reviews of 
reviews published in the Sunday editions. In these 
latter reviews one regularly observes a brave effort 
at qualification of the morning-after doxologies 
and joss-burnings, a sincere and upright attempt 
to expose holes. But what the sum? Generally 
little more than a faint barking of amiable dachs- 
hunds suddenly disguised as ferocious bloodhounds 
— with Eliza already twenty miles away. The no- 
tion that this daily journalistic criticism is dis- 
honest — a theory cherished by most playwrights 
who compose dramas in which the heroine, when 
the detective's back is turned, cleverly substitutes 
a railroad time-table for the warrant for her lover's 
arrest, and by most actors whose eyes have been 
alleged by the critic for the Mercure de Hoboken 
to be not quite so dreamy as Chauncey Olcott's, 
or Louis Mann's — this notion is absurd. The 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 17 

American journalistic criticism, whether morning 
or evening, is, save in a few notorious instances, 
not dishonest; it is, save in a few equally notorious 
instances, merely disqualified. It is disqualified 
because it honestly essays, when the occasion hon- 
estly presents itself, to write razor-keen destructive 
criticism and finds itself, because of the supreme 
difficulty of the job and its own dialectical short- 
comings, sorely confounded. Its toe, eager, well- 
aimed and valiant, is poised trembling abaft the 
breeches, yet condemned by inhibitory tendons to 
lift gingerly and rest content merely to flick a bit 
of lint off' the coat-tail. 

Consider, for example, such a paper as the pres- 
ent New York Globe. The perspirations of this 
gazette to compose incisive destructive criticism 
when the occasion demands are typical of the per- 
spirations of at least three quarters of our Ameri- 
can newspapers. And the result of these perspira- 
tions is destructive criticism that may be described 
as being approximately as destructive as the erup- 
tion of a Kiralfy card-board volcano. Even simple 
fault finding, fault finding that more or less ac- 
curately finds the fault, evades such journalistic 
enterprise. In concrete instance whereof, take 
some such review as this, culled from die columns) 
of the journal named: 



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18 COMEDIANS ALL 

" 'A Sleepless Night' is a farce comedy of the familiar 
Long Island bedroom type, but it achieves something 
farce is not supposed to achieve. Jack Larric and 
Gustav Blum, who are responsible for the night of in- 
somnia, have managed to write much that is satirical 
into their farce comedy, and that is inimical to the 
piece. Folks that go to see farces don't want to giggle; 
they want to laugh out loud, and blush.** Etc., etc 

Here, indubitably, was a perfectly honest at- 
tempt to write honest destructive criticism that was 
honestly merited. But observe the result. The 
exhibit in point failed to provoke laughter and, 
since laughter is the chief end necessarily sought 
by such an exhibit, failed of effect. The com- 
mentator appreciated this typically and accurately 
enough, yet when he tried to get at the reason for 
the failure — when he essayed even the simple busi- 
ness of getting whatever thoughts he had about 
the case onto paper — he became as one utterly 
bewildered and began metaphorically to chase him- 
self 'round in circles. Thus, while in his very first 
sentence he says that the piece is a farce comedy, 
he finds fault with the farce comedy because the 
farce comedy achieves something that farce is not 
supposed to achieve. Which, obviously, is not 
far removed from criticizing "A Wife Without 
a Smile" because it achieves something that 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 19 
"Charley's Aunt" is not supposed to achieve. 
Granting even that the Olyropiodorus in point had 
not here become somewhat twisted, what is the 
"something" which one observes him astutely fig- 
uring out as being inimical and alien to farce? 
One observes him astutely figuring that satire is 
inimical and alien to farce, thus sagaciously prov- 
ing to the doubtless vastly embarrassed Shaw that 
his "Androcles" is a gloomy and ill-advised hybrid, 
and that such Continental satirical farces as "The 
Fat Cassar," "Donatello" and the like are mournful 
affairs. 

The fault finding which the gentleman now and 
eventually negotiates, to wit, that the particular 
farce with which he is concerned was not laughable 
because while satire may make "folks" giggle, it 
cannot make these "folks" laugh or blush, shows 
even more clearly the blind and vain critical grop- 
ing for the play's actual fault. That satire can- 
not make persons laugh aloud (as, for example, 
in the demonstrated case, among a hundred or 
more others, of de Caillavet's and de Flers' "The 
King") or blush (as, for example, in the mayhap 
demonstrated case, among a hundred or more 
others, of the unexpurgated satirical farce on the 
French petty bureaucrat, "La Presidente") is in- 
deed by way of being high news. 



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20 COMEDIANS ALL 

Is it any wonder, therefore, that appreciating 
the difficulty of achieving anything approaching 
destructive criticism, or even remotely sound fault 
finding, the majority of newspapers very frankly 
heave a sigh, throw up the sponge and cover their 
confusion by the simple expedient of shooting off 
very easily contrived volleys of Pollyanna oil? To 
be fair to the Globe reviewer, one must at least 
praise him for his effort to do the right thing, for 
his hard sweating to get at the faults of the play 
he was engaged to appraise, for his attempt, how- 
ever ill-fated, to brew an appropriately destruc- 
tive criticism. But for one Dred Scott who suc- 
ceeds even in getting so far with destructive criti- 
cism as this Globe Dred Scott has more or less 
brilliantly succeeded, one finds a multitude of 
Evening Telegram cupids who correctly appreciate 
the labyrinthine embarrassments of the job and 
genially pass them up with such facile constructive 
slow music as 

"Mr. Glendinning's attempts to extricate himself from 
his sad predicament, into which he fell guiltlessly, thus 
seeming to bear out the contention that it is only the 
innocent who get caught, were screamingly funny, as 
explanations usually are to unfeeling, auditors. It could 
not be otherwise. Any youth put under the necessity 
of clearing up the mystery and doubt aroused by the 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 21 

discovery of one pink-pajamed beauty under the bed- 
clothes in his apartment, would be funny just because of 
the foolishness of the idea that it could be done. But 
two! Oh yes, the other one wasn't in pajamas. No, 
she sort of wrapped herself in a flowered kimono and 
looked self-conscious. As one of the other characters 
delivered the line, 'two was much too much.* 

" *A Sleepless Night' was written by Jack Larric and 
Gustav Blum. The dialogue is clever and there are 
times when it approaches the brilliant. There is a 
rapid-fire effect to it that helps in holding interest and 
bridges the gaps where the action lags a little. It also 
possesses the virtue of not appearing to have been written 
merely for the effect of being smart. The spoken words 
are all germane to the story. The play is ideally cast 
The various actors did their roles to perfection. The 
production was staged under the capable direction of 
Oscar Eagle." 

These assiduously sweet fellows who look in- 
variably upon the theatre as a June bride looks 
at a lily-bud are, however, comparatively not al- 
ways so droll as they would seem. After all, the 
species of reviewing which they espouse is not 
a whit less trumpery than that practised by the 
equally assiduous journalistic Enmenides who 
would seem to look not infrequently upon the 
theatre (save when it concerns itself with the works 
of Percy Mackaye and other representatives of the 



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22 COMEDIANS ALL 

eighteenth century) as a ravenous bus boy looks 
upon the free lunch. The mock destructive criti- 
cism of this latter school is fully as jocund as 
the mock constructive criticism of the former. As 
an example, take on this particular occasion a 
single slice from the critical opus in the Evening 
Post anent the same farce, "A Sleepless Night." 
After a very fierce and savage preliminary charge 
upon the absurdly trivial little dingus with tanks, 
ten-ton pile drivers, iron shillelahs, large-bore can- 
non, dum-dum spears, howitzers and assaftetida 
bombs, this mortal pot-shot: 

"The story which it endeavors to tell is too silly and 
preposterous to come within even the elastic limits of 
farce." 

This, the Post Garcilasso Vega's carefully calcu- 
lated climacteric fetch. But the story, alas, hap- 
pens to be fundamentally much the same story as 
that of Mr. William Hurlbut's comedy, "Saturday 
to Monday," which, upon its presentation by Win- 
throp Ames in this very theatre the season before, 
was — unless I am very greatly in error — highly 
praised as interesting and reasonable by this same 
forgetful commentator. 

But to argue in defense and explanation of de- 
structive criticism as a high form of art that its 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 23 
absence from the columns of our newspapers is 
often chiefly predicated on want of leisure wherein 
carefully to weigh, ponder and reflect, and wherein 
to interpret the findings pointedly and with skill 
and cunning, is plainly as droll as arguing that 
genius is merely a capacity for taking infinite time. 
The question is not one of lacking leisure, hut one 
of lacking expertness. Turning from the news- 
papers to the American periodicals and hooks of 
dramatic criticism — all granted time and to spare 
for studious reflection — one encounters, with very 
few exceptions, a similar disability in the art of 
sound fault finding. Apparently appreciating, as 
the newspaper commentators appreciate, that sharp 
destructive criticism is a rooster too difficult of 
winging, our critics of the drama for the more 
leisurely brochures take no chances, but sedulously 
devote themselves to an attempted concealment of 
their shortcomings in enthusiastic articles on such 
impressive and safe yokel-magnets as community 
theatres, Maeterlinck, the esprit of Yvette Guilbert, 
and the value of repertory companies. That these 
enthusiasms are often grounded infinitely less upon 
calm observation and sound deduction than upon 
an unaoquaintance with the topic in hand so great 
that it makes fault finding — or so-called destruc- 
tive criticism — out of the question, is fairly ob- 



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24 COMEDIANS ALL 

vious to any one who casts an eye at these bland 
uplift professors and their essays. Take, for ex- 
ample, Mr. Clayton Hamilton, critic to Vogue. 
And take, for example, his recent amorous critique 
of Henri Lavedan, a few illuminating passages 
from which I herewith make bold to quote: 

'Throughout the last three decades, Henri Lavedan 
of the French Academy has been recognized as one 
of the foremost representatives of contemporary French 
dramatic authorship ; and, though his work is intimately 
national, he has enjoyed a quite unusual success in the 
commercial theatre of this country. The first of his 
plays to be presented in America was 'Catherine,' which 
was produced by Annie Russell in 1898. Otis Skinner 
produced The Duel' in 1906, and 'Sire' in 1911. In 
1918, Mrs. Fiske presented 'Service'; and the latest item 
on the list, The Marquis de Priola,' has recently been 
added by Leo Ditrichstein. Of these five plays, three 
have run for not less than an entire season in this coun- 
try, and the others have been played for many weeks. 
What is the reason for this remarkable success of M. 
Lavedan with a theatre-going public that rejects so 
many European dramatists of even larger reputation 
on the ground that they are 'foreign,' and therefore 
not immediately comprehensible? 

"The reason is mat Henri Lavedan is to be admired 
mainly as a painter of portraits. . . . The American 
public is, no doubt, unconsciously attracted by the fact 
that M. Lavedan is more sincerely and emphatically 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 25 

moral in bis work than any other of his French contem- 
poraries, with the single exception of Eugene Brieux. 
. . . His method is similar to that of one of the most 
honourable authors of our recent English drama; and it 
would not be at all beside the mark to describe M. Lave- 
dan as the French equivalent of Henry Arthur Jones." 
Etc, etc 

What have we here, gentlemen? We have — if 
you will forgive me the insuavity — flapdoodle. 
For what we read is something that should rightly 
have been destructive criticism but that has been in- 
stead shrewdly palmed off on the layman as "con- 
structive" by a critic slick enough to understand 
that there is nothing like extravagant praise to 
cover and hide inaccuracies. Examining the 
Hamilton composition even casually, one finds it a 
mass of gushing inexactness progressing with a gay, 
jazzy crescendo to a sweet-sour whack on the cow- 
bell. 

By no first-rate critic in or out of France has 
Lavedan ever been recognized as of the company of 
Rostand, de Curel, Hervieu, Donnay, Lemaitre — 
or even de Caillavet and de Flers. He belongs 
rather, as every first-rate critic without exception 
has agreed, to the second group containing such 
names as Bernstein and Bataille. (We will omit 
Brieux and Porto-Riche — and even Capus — for 



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26 COMEDIANS ALL 

whatever one's personal regard for their eminence, 
their positions have been open to debate — and let 
us be fair to the Vogue philosopher.) Thus, to 
say that Lavedan is one of the foremost repre- 
sentatives of contemporary French dramatic author- 
ship is relatively as exact as to say that Ludwig 
Fulda (though a very talented man) is one of the 
foremost representatives of contemporary German 
dramatic authorship. Furthermore, Lavedan's 
plays, contrary to Mr. Hamilton, have — with a 
single exception — not only not "enjoyed a quite 
unusual success in the commercial theatre of this 
country" but — as Mr. Hamilton may leam if he 
will engage the records of the late Charles Froh- 
man — have lost a fine pot of money. And the 
single exception, "Catherine," will be found from 
the same easily accessible records to have achieved 
a comparative success less on its own merits than 
by virtue of the excellent showmanship and sen- 
timental hokum slyly practised in the casting of the 
play — a hokum whose adroit press-agenting will 
be unfolded to the Vogue commentator by any 
theatrical manager of the day. But the reliability 
of our impulsive critic is even more simply to be 
plumbed in his record that "The Marquis de 
Priola" "has been played for many weeks." 
Whatever the prosperity of its future, the fact re- 



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DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM 27 

mains that when Hamilton wrote this, "The Marquis 
de Priola" had been playing exactly two weeks. 

Let us go on. We now find Hamilton contend- 
ing that this quite unusual commercial success (sic) 
of Lavedan is due (1) to his ability as a painter 
of portraits, and (2) to his moral accent. Yet 
"Catherine," Lavedan's one American money- 
maker, will be admitted even by Hamilton himself 
to contain one of his very weakest portraits, not 
only not in any degree to be compared with the 
portraits painted by him in the instances of "Lc 
Prince d'Aurec" and "Le Nouveau Jeu," but — 
more — -not to be compared even with those ex- 
hibited by him in bis commercial failures, "Le 
Duel" and "Sire" — and possibly "Servir." Again, 
to argue that "the American public is no doubt 
unconsciously attracted (and here, again, sic) by 
the fact that M. Lavedan is more sincerely and 
emphatically moral in his work than any other of 
his French contemporaries, with the single excep- 
tion of Eugene Brieux" is (1) evidently to have 
contrived to read an esoteric lewdness into such 
a contemporary as Rostand, for instance, and (2) 
to believe that the American public was no doubt 
unconsciously attracted to so many enormously lu- 
crative French plays of "The Girl from Rector's" 
order because of their sincere and emphatic Sun- 



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28 COMEDIANS ALL 

day School aspect. . . . The whimsey of the 
Henry Arthur Jones comparison, after the prelim- 
inary ecstatic comet solo and cheek-kissing, I need 
scarcely expand upon. 



The New Scenery. — The theory of the so-called 
New Scenery falls to pieces once one takes a sharp 
eye to it. The sponsors of the neo-cheesecloth 
movement maintain that the best way to fix the at- 
tention of the audience upon the play itself is to 
subordinate the scenery, and that the best way, in 
rum, to subordinate the scenery is to simplify it 
to the furthest degree compatible with beauty. 
The fallacy lies in believing that stark simplicity 
may not be quite as distracting as overburdened 
elaboration. Compare the effect upon the atten- 
tion of a bleak, empty stretch of gray sea and the 
same stretch of sea dotted with myriad gulls and 
ships of all descriptions. Which diverts one 
hypnotically the more; which the more greatly 
cultivates insensibility and inattention to whatever 
is passing before one in one's immediate environ- 
ment? 



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MATTER OF ADAPTATION 29 

« 5 

The Matter of Adaptation. — Despite the not un- 
common assumption that approximately all that U 
necessary to the adaptation of the Continental play 
is to set the second-act clock back six hours, take 
out the bedstead and cast Mr. John Barrymore for 
the husband instead of the lover, it is reversely 
true that this business of adaptation calls for the 
very highest playwriting sagacity and talent. 
And it is equally true, by reason of this, that not 
more than one such adaptation in every twenty- 
five is worth a hoot; and true, further, that what 
holds of American-made adaptations holds equally 
of the attempts at adaptation made by the Eng- 
lish, the Germans, the Austrians, and the French. 

It is, with reservations, almost as difficult to 
translate a play from one language into another, 
and from the viewpoint of one people into that of 
another, and from the favour of one nation into 
the prejudice of another nation, as it is to write 
the play in the first place. A careful scrutiny of 
the statistics of the world's theatre for the last ten 
years discovers astonishingly few adaptations that, 
whether from the artistic or even the commercial 
orthodoxy, have been fully successful. And die 
figures seem all the more surprising when one ob- 



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30 COMEDIANS ALL 

serves the very large proportion of failure in the 
matter of the adaptation of plays which even in 
their original form would appear to have been 
automatically pre-adapted, and easily to have been 
made ready for an alien audience by a mere scratch 
or two of the pen. As, for example, Margaret 
Mayo's "Baby Mine," intrinsically a farce to the 
French taste, which even the adroit Maurice Hen- 
nequin foozled in French adaptation — and, for 
further example, Eugene Walter's "Paid in Full," 
intrinsically a comedy-drama to the German taste, 
(vide Rudolf Lothar's "I Love You"), which even 
the equally adroit Schmieden funked in German 
adaptation. 

There is surely something more than mere 
theatre chance behind the fact that ten more or less 
celebrated Continental plays failed in quick succes- 
sion in their adapted form when brought to the 
American stage, several years ago, by the late 
Charles Frohman. For all Mr. Belasco's excep- 
tional astuteness as a showman, the "Fable of the 
Wolf' ("The Phantom Rival") and "The Lily" 
baffled his most shrewdly selected translators. In 
France, Synge's "Playboy" (adapted by Maurice 
Bourgeois for the Theatre de l'Oeuvre in the 
Antoine), Wedekind's "Awakening of Spring" 
(adapted by Robert d'Humieres), Moody's "Great 



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MATTER OF ADAPTATION 31 

Divide" (adapted by the Cazamians), Pinero's 
"House in Order" (adapted by Bazalgette and 
Bienstock), to say nothing of Shaw's "You Never 
Can Tell" and "Mrs. Warren," Hebbel's "Marie 
Madeleine," Jose Godina's "In the Gardens of 
Murcie," and scores of other such interesting plays 
have regularly gone astray. In Germany and 
Austria, this has been equally true in the case of 
innumerable plays like Gorki's "The Last," Bar- 
riers "What Every Woman Knows," Stephen Phil- 
lips' "Paola and Francesca," C. M. S. MacLellan's 
"Leah Kleschna," Pinero's "House in Order," 
Shaw's "Androcles," and Haddon Chambers* 
"Passers-By." And true, as well, has the situation 
been in England with a vast number of plays by 
the better known among alien dramatists — plays 
such as "The Happy Island" (adapted by James 
Bernard Fagan from Lengyel), "The Right to 
Kill" (adapted by Gilbert Canman from Pierre 
Frondaie), "The Turning Point" (adapted by 
Peter le Marchant from Kistemaekere), "The 
Bread of Others" (by J. N. Duddington from 
Turgenev), "The Head of the Firm" (by Leslie 
Faber from Bergstrom) — the plays, beyond and 
above these, of Hauptmann, Schnitzler, Guimera, 
Molnar, Guitry, Bjornson, Sudermann, Di 
Giacomo, Strindberg, et al. 



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32 COMEDIANS ALL 

When an adapted play fails, whether in this 
country or in England or on the Continent, it ia 
the habitual critical pastime to lay blame for the 
demise not upon the adaptation, but upon the 
original play: the blame usually taking flower in 
the theory that the theme and development of the 
original are alien to the philosophy, taste and whim 
of the national audience immediately concerned. 
In the majority of cases, this is, of course, a mere 
braying and wiggling of ears. When a respect- 
able piece of dramatic writing fails in adaptation, 
the philosophy, taste and whim of the alien audi- 
ence are often less at fault than the philosophy, 
taste and whim of the adaptor. For example, the 
failure in America of the Hungarian Imre Foldes' 
"Hallo," adapted by Mr. George Broadhurst as 
"Over the 'Phone," and without exception laid by 
the critics to the difference in moral attitude on 
the part of Viennese and American audiences, was 
actually due not to the difference in moral atti- 
tude on the part of Viennese and American audi- 
ences, but to the difference in moral attitude on the 
part of the original author of the play and the 
adaptor. How in God's name the difference in sex 
moral attitude 'twixt the European and American 
audiences could be brought forward as an argu- 
ment to account for the local failure of the play 



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MATTER OF ADAPTATION 33 
when the adaptor by deleting the adultery motif 
and substituting therefor a kiss motif had com- 
pletely removed any preliminary ground for this 
difference in sex moral attitude, is pretty hard to 
understand. The failure of the play was due, not 
to the fact that an American audience is unsympa- 
thetic to gay adultery, but, very simply, to the fact 
that the adaptor believed an American audience 
was unsympathetic to gay adultery. The effect 
and the result were precisely the effect and the re- 
sult that would automatically be achieved were 
"Peg o' My Heart" to be adapted for French audi- 
ences by, say, Pierre Veber and Maurice Remon 
and were the MM. Veber and Remon to think to 
enchant their Gallic public by deleting the art- 
less innocence of the heroine and making her, in- 
stead, a fille de joie. 

Apart from this adjudging the failure of adap- 
tations in terms of the box-office, we observe an 
even more striking failure in terms of artistic and 
intelligent enterprise. Bernstein's "The Thief," 
for example, though it achieved a considerable 
commercial success in its American adaptation, 
was in this local reincarnation little more than a 
senseless yell potage. The entire meaning and in- 
tent of the play — the strychnia of lingerie, to wit — 
was slashed out of the text by the adaptor, with me 



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34 COMEDIANS ALL 

result that what remained was nothing but a ten- 
cent detective story culminating in a noisy Bertha 
M. day love scene. 

If Mr. Granville Barker were entrusted with the 
job of bringing Albrecht Diirer's painting of the 
"Adoration of the Trinity" to London from Vienna, 
it is reasonable to suppose that he would exercise 
the greatest care in transit to see that no nicks got 
into it. But when Mr. Granville Barker is en- 
trusted with the job of bringing Arthur Schnitz- 
ler's word painting of "Anatol" to London from 
Vienna, what does he do? He does exactly what 
nine-tenths of the adaptors do when a work of art 
is given into their care. He nicks it up with his 
own petty morals and petty prejudices until little 
more remains of the original than the frame. 
Thus also does an American adaptor like Mr. Leo 
Ditrichstein — even though he is one of the best — 
slash to pieces Molnar's "Fable of the Wolf," does 
an English adaptor like Mr. Cosmo Gordon Len- 
nox slaughter de Caillavet's and de Flers* "L'Ane 
de Buridan" to make a Frohman holiday and one 
like Mr. Arthur Bourchier mutilate Lavedan's 
"Duel" beyond recognition, do French adaptors 
like the MM. Germain and Trebor scuttle the Ger- 
man Robert Reiner's "War" and a German adaptor 



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MATTER OF ADAPTATION 35 
like Rudolf Presber the French Hennequin's and 
Bilhaud'a "Best of Wives." 

The trouble with the majority of adaptors, wher- 
ever one finds them, is a very simple trouble: they 
imagine that adaptation consists primarily in adapt- 
ing an alien play to the different taste of a local 
audience, where, in reality, adaptation should con- 
sist rather in adapting the different taste of a 
local audience to the alien play. 

Take, for instance, a French farce-comedy like 
"Le Rubicon." To adapt this diverting play in 
such wise that it would not colour the cheek of an 
Anglo-Saxon audience would be utterly to ruin it. 
There would be nothing left of it — and it would 
unquestionably fail with the first or second per- 
formance. But to adapt the Anglo-Saxon audi- 
ence to "Le Rubicon" by some such device, say, as 
having a squad of supers in policemen's uniforms 
rush down the aisle at the final curtain and, after 
a denunciatory speech by the jackass captain, pre- 
tend to raid the theatre on the ground that the play 
was immoral and not fit for an Anglo-Saxon audi- 
ence, would be to preserve the play and probably 
pack the streets with ticket-boosting Blumbergs, 
Rosenblatts and Cohens. By such a process, the 
prejudice of a local audience might be simply 



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36 COMEDIANS ALL 

adapted to the alien play — and all ends aptly 
served. For what we thus should have would be, 
obviously, the audience brought into impact with 
the play rather than, as is general, the play 
brought into impact with the audience. What 
such an alien audience demands is not, as the 
adaptors seem to think, that the characters in the 
play shall not condone things which to the alien 
audience are base and immoral, but, to the contrary, 
that it (the alien audience) shall not condone or 
seem to condone those things. This is the point 
the adaptor more often than not confuses, or over* 
looks entirely. 

§6 

Skating on Thin Ice. — One of the droll delusions 
of our American dramatic critics is that the French 
farce writer is without a peer in the form of exer- 
cise known as skating on thin ice. The truth of 
the matter, of course, is that it is not the French 
farce writer that is without a peer in the enter- 
prise, but rather the French language. And par- 
ticularly the French language in the department of 
its daring phrase, simile and metaphor. Skating 
on thin ice requires no mental nor inventive dex- 
terity or balance when the medium of expression 
is already automatically suited to the manoeuvre. 



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SKATING ON THIN ICE 37 
And yet, even with this immense advantage, the 
French farce writer often reveals himself a clumsy 
fellow in the handling of delicate situations. The 
American Hopwood, working in a stiff and flinty 
language, has nonetheless skated over thin ice more 
gracefully than such French farceurs as Verneuil, 
de Bassan, Candera, Hennequin, Mars, Basset, 
Leon Xanrof, Jean Martet, and the jocose Giafferi 
and Jean d'Aguzan. Bracco, the Italian, has at 
his best glided over thin ice more adroitly than 
Feydeau, the excellent Frenchman, at his best. 
Schnitzler and Bahr, the Austrians, working in 
one of the baldest of languages, have equalled, if 
not actualy excelled, the best modern French 
skaters at their own game. And even such inferior 
craftsmen as the German Lothar Schmidt, in a 
language balder still, since unlike the Viennese it 
is untouched by French breezes, have in such 
pieces as "Only a Dream" turned the trick with 
a high prettiness. To any one acquainted with 
the ready-made subtleties of colloquial French, 
the enormous initial advantage enjoyed by the 
French writer over the writers in other languages 
must he apparent. Let an American like Hop- 
wood write in French and a Frenchman like Coolus 
write in English, and we should soon enough see 
which was the more expert skater. 



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38 COMEDIANS ALL 

$7 

The Actor-Manager. — The career of the actor- 
manager in the English-speaking theatre has be- 
come so largely a matter of stencil that it may, 
almost without exception, be safely predicted in 
terms of three stages. The first stage finds the 
actor manager — at fifty still vastly intrigued by his 
personal beauty — given to presenting himself in 
sentimental drawing-room comedies wherein, by 
virtue of an elegant morning coat and a gift for 
polite repartee, he succeeds magnificently in win- 
ning the affections of the lovely ingenue from the 
juvenile. The second stage finds him — nearing 
sixty and now reluctantly intrigued somewhat less 
by his manly beauty than by his cosmic eminence 
— given to presenting himself in biographical 
plays wherein, by virtue of an illustrious historical 
name, a gray wig, a red plush suit, and alternately 
witty and heroic sentiments culled from the mouth 
of the dramatized deceased, he succeeds in win- 
ning for himself at second-hand all the plaudits 
withheld from the poor dead genius in his lifetime. 
And the third stage finds him — beyond sixty and 
fat, and hence perforce brought to abjure his mir- 
ror and think of himself primarily as an actor — 



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ON OBSERVATION 39 

given, with but minor excursions for old times' 
sake, to Shakespeare. 

$8 

On Observation. — What passes for sharp obser- 
vation on the part of even the best of our comic 
playwrights is actually most often a mere appre- 
hension of some trivial and entirely negligible 
phenomenon the novelty of which the critics mis- 
take for genuine percipience. Thus, were I, turned 
showmaker, to remark in a play that it always 
looks like rain through a screen, or that the most 
uncomfortable thing in the world is trying to eat 
dinner without a napkin, or that there is always 
something that sounds drunk about a hansom cab 
late at night, or that there are probably not two 
persons in the whole United States who know 
Little Eva's last name — I should be swallowed as 
a playwright with a more or less acute eye to the 
idiosyncrasies of the world. Of such perfectly 
simple things — a dozen of which occur to the 
veriest blockhead every hour — is the so-called 
"observation" of our playmakers composed. 
Thus, Mr. Avery Hopwood, probably the best 
writer of farce we possess, has achieved, in all his 



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40 COMEDIANS ALL 

farces from beginning to end, little more authentic 
observation of, and comment on, contemporary life, 
persons, institutions and manners than is contained 
in his "Fair and Warmer" line to the effect that 
however late one gets to "Siegfried" there is al- 
ways one more act. Thus, Miss Margaret Mayo, 
in all her otherwise capable work, from first to 
last has vouchsafed an eye that has observed little 
save that a fire at night seems always to be just 
around the corner. All the farce writers we have 
— and we have some good ones — have in all their 
farces combined presented less genuine sharp ob- 
servation of life and less genuine sharp criticism 
of that life than is contained in a single news- 
paper cartoon of John T. McCutcheon, W. E. Hill 
or H. T. Webster. 



Maeterlinck as Dramatist. — The pretensions of 
Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian, Madame Bla- 
vatsky, long since brilliantly stripped in the dis- 
cerning essay of Andre Tridon, once more brazenly 
unveil themselves in the sequel to "The Blue Bird" 
and pirouette before the jury in all their droll 
nudity. This sequel, called "The Betrothal," is, 
like its stem-play, intrinsically little more than a 
George V. Hobart or Walter Browne Broadway 



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MAETERLINCK 41 

morality show — much more suavely and restrain- 
edly written, true enough, yet still of a but slightly 
higher level in the way of genuine imagination, 
philosophy, beauty, or sound art. It vouchsafes 
the same immature vagueness (promiscuously mis- 
taken for mysticism), the same gaunt literalness 
(likewise confounded with designed simplicity), 
and the same dialectic diabetes (similarly confused 
with sweetness of viewpoint) that its predecessor 
vouchsafed. And it convinces all who in such ap- 
praisals are not given to mistaking beautiful 
scenery for beautiful drama that its creator is the 
most greatly overestimated dramatic writer of our 
place and time. 

Dealing with the adventures of the adolescent 
Tyltyl incidental to his search for an appropriate 
mate, "The Betrothal," like "The Blue Bird," 
leaves in one the feeling that something is missing 
when at the fall of the final curtain one isn't in- 
vited downstairs for strawberries and cake. The 
air of a Sunday School entertainment — albeit a 
very proficient one — is difficult to get rid of. For 
Maeterlinck is the de luxe Sunday School superin- 
tendent of the modem drama: an amalgam of an 
European John D. Rockfeller, Jr., and Charles 
Rann Kennedy, with one of his eyes fastened 
piously upon die Aldobrandini Madonna and 



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42 COMEDIANS ALL 

Sacre Coeur and the other rolling slyly at the Mile. 
Arlette Dorgere and the Bouffes Parisians. He 
has written phrases and passages of sheer and com- 
pelling beauty into the bulk of his work, but — with 
minor exception hereinafter to be noted — he has not 
to this day in that entire work written a single thing 
that has had a single thought in it, or a single won- 
der, or a single dream, much above the pitch of bis 
own Tyltyl's metaphysic. Beside even J. M. Bar- 
rie, and the imagination and fancy of Barrie, he 
is mere advanced vaudeville: a literate song and 
dance man vainly endeavouring to clog to Mozart's 
G Minor symphony. 

The true artist is ever a true critic of his own 
work. Somewhere in his heart there is a bit of a 
critical snicker, a trace of a smile at himself. In 
the heart of Maeterlinck, as that heart is revealed 
to us, there is only a silk badge and a high hat. 
Where a Barrie, say, in a "Peter Pan" — which 
Maeterlinck at his best has not approached — 
winkingly trots out a tot of two to claim the play 
as her own, the Belgian Mrs. Rasputin sets out his 
"Betrothal" (a fuddled effort at a kind of "Peter 
Pan") with all the deadly soberness of a Method- 
ist picnic. The body of this "Betrothal" is re- 
lated in terms of the dream dreamt by Tyltyl and 
the amateurish content and literality of the writ- 



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MAETERLINCK 43 

ing might thus be attributed — as in the instance 
of "Peter Pan" — to the deliberate and eminently 
appropriate attack of the dramatist But never for 
an instant can one believe this in the case of Maeter- 
linck. The amateurish content and literality of the 
dreamless coda to "The Blue Bird" and omega to 
this sequel have taught one too much for that. 
The amateurish content and the literality of the 
writing of "The Betrothal" are not the result of de- 
liberation and relevant treatment; they are the re- 
sult, purely and simply, of an amateurish and 
become sterile mind. Tyltyl awake in "The Be- 
trothal" and Tyltyl a-dream in "The Blue Bird" 
are the same, and their adventurings are the same, 
and the philosophies and imaginations that moti- 
vate them are the same. And all are barren, puny, 
third-rate. The symbolism of a Destiny that 
shrinks to nothingness as life's affairs, by the very 
theme of the play, abide by the decisions of this 
same Destiny — the magic cap that sees into the 
soul of a fanatical miser and discerns in that soul 
a great prodigality and charity — the philosophy 
that the true worth and profundity of a man's love 
for a woman is conditioned on the approval of the 
children that are to be born to them — of such im- 
penetrable bosh and quack sentimentality is such 
a Maeterlinck work as this "Betrothal" all compact. 



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44 COMEDIANS ALL 

The truth about this Flemish Ekdal pere is that, 
aside from his three little one-act plays, "L'ln- 
truse," "Interieur" and "Les Aveugles," he has 
written nothing for the stage that might contribute 
legitimacy to the exalted estate in critical and ar- 
tistic favour to which he has attained. And these 
little plays — the two best, in particular — were the 
fruit of his earlier dramatic years. Founding the 
theory of the symbolist drama, he was to reveal 
himself incapable of the strength to build higher 
upon the cornerstone; and the progressing years 
have disclosed him more and more in the light of 
a half-squiffy and extraordinarily moony female 
Joseph Conrad wildly tossed about and regularly 
ship-wrecked on the allegorical high seas. The 
Maeterlinck of 1902 and on, the Maeterlinck of 
"Monna Vanna" and "Maria Magdalene," of "The 
Blue Bird" and "The Betrothal," the Maeterlinck of 
Sunday supplement uplift sermons on the lovely 
life after sweet death, the Maeterlinck wistfully 
smelling at a rosebud while being interviewed in 
his ruined castle, the Maeterlinck photographed 
atop a hill at sunset looking out to sea like a 
moving picture fade-out, the Maeterlinck of the 
carefully mussed gray hair and the sad Marie 
Doro look carefully cultivated in his eyes — this 
is the soul of the true Maeterlinck, the true soul 



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MAETERLINCK 45 

of the Belgian Belasco, the mark of an artist who 
started forth nobly and not without splendour on 
the highway of literature and, finding the road 
long and winding and full of rocks, calmly sat him- 
self down and decided to make easy and com- 
fortable winks at the box office, at Mr. Hearst's 
opulent pocketbook, and at Dodd, Mead and Com- 
pany. 

Maeterlinck's neo-romanticist fame, when closely 
analyzed, is found to have been the result of a 
critical confusion of dramaturgic novelty with 
artistic integrity. On the higher plane, Maeter- 
linck profited by the delusion much the same as 
did, on the lower, the author of the tin-pot "On 
Trial." His valiant attempt to disengage art from 
the details of actuality, as the phrase has it, has 
succeeded in the main only in disengaging himself 
from the details of art. If he has divorced him- 
self from the details of actuality, he has made the 
actual moonlight of the world into a mere spot- 
light stage moonlight, and the actual mysterious 
stars of the heavens into so many mere miniature 
incandescent bulbs. He is not a voice in the wilder- 
ness; he is a wilderness in the voice. Words, 
words, words — many of them singing and lovely — 
but still mere words, words, words. If he knows 
the effects he desires to create, his skill is inauffi- 



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46 COMEDIANS ALL 

cient to permit him to obtain them. His rains im- 
press one as falling from shower-baths, and one 
detects the stagehand hiding between his printed 
lines and obligingly shaking the sheet of tin and 
rolling the peas 'round the drum-head to create his 
storms. He is, as most always he has been, a poet 
sitting bravely and rather splendidly astride the 
wooden horse on a merry-go-round, riding in blind 
and dogged confidence to a destination in the next 
block. He is Beethoven on a mandolin; Rosetti 
in passe-partout. 

Not long ago, there appeared in one of the maga- 
zines a little sketch called "The Master Mind." 

"The ghostly darkness of the room" — it went — 
"served to heighten the effect of the seance. A 
sense of weirdness pervaded everything. The pale, 
calm face of the medium contrasted with the awe- 
struck countenances of the spectators as the table 
rose in the air. Diabolism, mysticism, reigned 
supreme. Only one face, boredly indifferent, 
seemed out of place. It belonged to the gentle- 
man who manipulated the piano wire." 

Here, unintentionally, is the best impression- 
istic criticism of Maeterlinck and the drama of 
Maeterlinck and the audiences before that drama 
that I have had the fortune to come across. 

Taking Maeterlinck's dramatic writing from first 



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MAETERLINCK 47 

to last, I cannot resist the conviction that it is, with 
the obvious exception of "Monna Vanna" and pos- 
sibly "Maria Magdalene," the essay form gone 
wrong. The poetic essay, that is. "The delicacy 
of technic displayed," wrote the excellent Huneker 
of his "Aglavaine and Selysette" back in the drink- 
ing days, "is almost inconceivable." One is 
tempted rather to say almost invisible. For 
"Aglavaine and Selysette" is poetry of a sort run, 
as the printers say, solid. There is no more 
dramatic technic discernible in its manoeuvering 
than there is in the "Anatomy of Melancholy." 
The impression it leaves in the playhouse is of a 
stained glass window — considerably cracked — mis- 
placed in the wall of the late George Edwardes* 
Gaiety; of a girls* choir tackling Moussorgsky. 

In the critical school that detects in Maeterlinck 
a divine fire which sees "the star in the grain of 
wheat," I find myself, alas, wearing the dunce's 
cap and sitting on a high chair in the same corner 
with the Ashley Dukes who observes of Maeter- 
linck's advent: "This was the destined hour of the 
magician, and Maeterlinck appeared. The ap- 
parition was startling, and some critics, seeking 
a pompous imbecility to cover their confusion, 
named htm 'the Belgian Shakespeare.' In this 
fashion Tchekhov might be named 'the Russian 



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48 COMEDIANS ALL 

Ibsen/ or Hugo von Hofmannathal 'the Austrian 
Dante.' Such is the disintegrating force of the 
new idea upon the mind of the expert labeller." 
The technic of Maeterlinck in his vain attempt to 
articulate the subconscious mood through sugges- 
tion and symbolic speech — an attempt generally 
confused by his admirers with an accomplishment 
— is at bottom the technic of roe Futurists and other 
such current liberally spoofed art cults. Yet the 
same critics who get up steam over the theories 
and technic of Maeterlinck gallop to finger the 
nose at the theories and technic of the Futurists. 
Maeterlinck, in this general enterprise, amiably 
recalls Mr. Strunsky's Puh, the Hindu Omega: 

"Puh is," we are told, "ultimate. But he is far more 
than the last word. He has banished the last word. 
Puh is the writer who writes without words. He has 
magnificently swept away the narrow conventions of 
word-forms, outworn and outgrown traditions. His 
thoughts are universal, not subject to time and space, 
needing no elaborately false temporal mediums for mak- 
ing them known. In fine, Puhism is the science of 
awakening thought by suggestion. 

"Flith! F-l-i-t-k! Don't you immediately hear in 
those two magic words the concentrated autumn wind 
sweeping truculently through the brown woods and the 
sad scraping of raw limbs against each other? Don't 
you see the gaunt tree-trunks scrawling against the 



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MAETERLINCK 49 

clouds and the shivering rabbit whisking through the 
eddying leaves? Or does that picture fail to chime in 
with your mood ? Ah ! Puh is adaptable. Flith! 
F-l-i-t-h! Hear now a gentle breeze sighing senti- 
mentally across the iris-beds along the river and one 
pee-wee calling to another in the top of the nearest 
willow; see the warm sunlight making patterns along the 
hills and flicking the wave-tops with silver. 

"Pufaism is nothing more than the adaptation of litera- 
ture to the personality of the reader. Besides saving 
paper, the author never disagreeably accentuates him- 
self, and each reader is left with his chance mood un- 
directed and virginally pure. To each his own reac- 
tion to Life. What more can we ask of an author than 
that he provide his readers with thoughts? And what 
more simple and natural than to supply them with their 
own thoughts?" 

In the aim of the technic of Maeterlinck, the sub- 
conscious mood, previously expressed only in 
terms of music, found words. But in the aim 
alone. For "Pelleas" and "Ariane" — and even 
"Monna Vanna" — have for the expression of that 
mood deserted their step-parent and gone back 
to their real birthplace, the orchestra, and to their 
real fathers and mothers hiding in the throats 
of the operatic stage. 

But if "The Betrothal" roughly strips the 
Maeterlinckian pretensions to what may be called 
the musicless music-drama, "The Burgomaster of 



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50 COMEDIANS ALL 

Stilemonde," his latest work for the stage, even 
more roughly tears the undeserved purple from the 
Maeterlinckian pretensions to an imagination, a 
passion and a vision powerful enough to act in the 
presence of real prose catastrophe. This last play 
is in the most liberal estimate merely second-rate 
Broadway "war" melodrama. The name and 
fame of its author, of course, have as usual taken 
criticism by the nose and there has been the cus- 
tomary attempt to ferret out absent virtues. Yet 
the work is without dramatic or literary distinction. 
Edward Sheldon, a Broadway playwright, could 
have written the play better than Maeterlinck has 
written it: not only from the point of view of 
actable drama but, I venture to say, from the 
point of view of literature. Had "The Burgo- 
master of Stilemonde" been signed with the name 
of some Max Marcin, for instance, it would have 
been jestingly charged with all the manifold im- 
perfections which, since it has been signed with 
the name of the Belgian Amy Lowell, have been 
stereotypedly and solemnly accepted as cardinal 
excellences. 

In conclusion, to repeat and sum up. What- 
ever Maeterlinck's debatable eminence in the world 
of letters, there can remain increasingly small 
doubt that in the world of drama his position — 



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MAETERLINCK 51 

save in the minor instances of the three one-act 
plays already referred to — has been absurdly over- 
estimated. To this overestimate, various easily ap- 
praisable things have conduced. Literary critics, 
whose delusion that any short novel with the de- 
scriptions printed in italics, the dialogue indented 
and the names of the characters centered consti- 
tutes an actable play, have mistaken such of his 
typographically mis-set, if in mis instance ex- 
tremely praiseworthy, novels as "Pelleas and 
Melisande" for effective theatre drama — when, 
presented as a play without the blood transfusion 
of music, the composition actually constitutes act- 
ing drama in the same degree that Fouillee's psy- 
chological treatise, "Temperamente et Caractere," 
constitutes a novel. Further, the sedulously cul- 
tivated and craftily promulgated picturesqueness 
of the man himself and of his life have operated 
— very much as the same thing operated on a much 
smaller scale in the case of the late Richard Hard- 
ing Davis — toward the confounding of values that 
habitually infects all the numerous impressible 
swallowers of magnificent hocus-pocus. Again 
further, the first and largely unweighed (if at the 
time understandable) enthusiasms of such first-rate 
literary critics as Huneker contrived to affect and 
dazzle — as is the wont of literary criticism — much 



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52 COMEDIANS ALL 

of die subsequent dramatic criticism. And 
further still, the man himself struck almost at the 
outset of his career the extreme good fortune of 
falling in with, and being personally liked by, a 
noteworthy group of French boosters. This group 
literally "made" Maeterlinck in the same un- 
critical way that, on a lower level in the England 
of the moment, Swinnerton's and Merrick's close 
friends are doing their damndest to "make" diem. 

§ 10 

Intelligence and the Actor. — To argue that all 
actors — or, at least, the great majority of actors — 
are numskulls and to prove it is of a piece with 
arguing, and proving, that all fat men — or, at least, 
the great majority of fat men — perspire. To find 
fault with an actor for being a numskull is to find 
fault with a philosopher for being intelligent. 
Numskullery is one of the essential attributes of 
the actor; without it, he is an incompetent in his 
profession, a fellow ill-equipped for his life's 
work, a soul doomed to ignominious failure. 
Imagine an intelligent man — a man like Lincoln or 
Gladstone, say — rouging his lips and cheeks, black- 
ening his bald spot, beading his eyelashes, dressing 
himself up like the top of an old-fashioned mantel- 



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INTELLIGENCE AND ACTOR 53 

piece and, thus arrayed, swelling proudly at the 
handclapping of a houseful of yokels when with a 
tin sword he stands at the top of a papier-mache 
stairway in a J. Stanley Weyman opus and, yell- 
ing "For the glory of La Belle France!" at the 
top of his lungs, chases three nervous college-boy 
supers back into the wings. . . . 

What is often mistaken for intelligence in an 
actor is merely a talent for not reading incorrectly 
the work of the dramatist. But it actually requires 
no more authentic intrinsic intelligence to play, say, 
the King in Shakespeare's "Lear" than it requires 
to play the oboe in Beethoven's Op. 87. Applica- 
tion it does require, yes — and, with application, a 
good pair of lungs, a clear speaking voice, a copy 
of a pronouncing dictionary, a presence at least ap- 
proximating that of Gimbel Brothers' chief floor- 
walker, and a measure of experience in testing 
these things out upon a brilliantly illuminated plat- 
form. But intelligence? Hardly ... The eight 
most effective actors on our American stage 
graduated to that stage from the respective pro- 
fessions of shoe clerk, valet, dog trainer, dry goods 
salesman, circus acrobatic clown, clothing-store 
sidewalk puller-in, race-track tout and haber- 
dasher's clerk. 



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54 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 11 

The One-Act Play. — It is commonly argued, and 
not without a measure of eloquence, that the one- 
act form of playwriting is just one-third as difficult 
of accomplishment as the three-act form. This, 
like many contentions of a kidney, is open to 
doubt. It is quite obvious, of course, that it is a 
very much easier thing to write a one-act play like 
one of Alfred Sutro's than a three-act play like 
one of Alfred Sutro's, but it is of course quite 
equally obvious that it is a much easier thing to 
write a three-act play like one of Alfred Sutro's 
than a one-act play like one of Lord Dunsany's. 
The critic who appraises a play by its length is 
the species of connoisseur who appraises a dinner 
by the number of its courses or a shirt by the lib- 
eralness of the portion that one tucks into one's 
trousers. To judge a work of art by its length 
is to believe Schnitzler's "Professor Bernhardi" a 
finer thing than Schnitzler's "Christmas Shopping," 
Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West" a more lovely 
thing than Brahms' piano concerto in B flat major, 
or Rembrandt's "Sortie of the Company of Frans 
Banning Cock" a meaner work than the cyclorama 
of the Battle of Lookout Mountain. 



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THE JAPANESE PLAY 55 

$ 12 

The Japanese Play.— The delusion that a one-act 
play is, by reason of its being a one-act play, ever 
a less important creation than a three-act play is 
a delusion as persistent as that other critical de- 
lusion which has to do with the lack of poetry in 
Japanese plays written by Occidentals. Let an Oc- 
cidental compose some such play as "The Willow 
Tree" and even the more discerning theatrical re- 
viewers will find much in it to be cross with, will 
lament the unconsonant Western prose of it and the 
absence of congruous Japanese melody, will write 
comparatively of it that in it (I quote a critical 
sample) "not only is there no poetry, but, in the 
employment of a device affording unusual oppor- 
tunities, there is no original thought, no philosophic 
comment upon life, no real satire, and very little 
humour." Granting that all this may be quite true, 
it remains that there is an equal absence of poetry, 
original thought, philosophic comment upon life, 
real satire and humour in the Japanese plays by 
Orientals. The notion that the drama of Japan 
is ever a drama of rare fancy and lovely word 
music is a notion ill-founded. And while this, 
true enough, may not excuse the Occidental when 
he sets himself to the composition of a Japanese 



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56 COMEDIANS ALL 

play, it is yet manifestly unfair to register against 
the Occidental the complaint that his play misses 
something in the real Japanese drama that the real 
Japanese drama does not itself, save in rare in- 
stances, possess. 

A careful reading of the plays of the classical 
stage of Japan {vide Marie Stopes' "Plays of Old 
Japan"; Ezra Pound's notes on Fenollosa and the 
Noh; etc.) reveals no more poetry, as you will dis- 
cover for yourself, than the American-Japanese 
play "The Willow Tree." (The criticism of the 
latter play is not on this point, but rather that 
it professes loudly to be a fantasy of the Japan 
of Hearn and Loti and is in actuality rather a 
fantasy of the Japan of Minnie Ashley and Julia 
Sanderson, of Lionel Monckton and Leslie Stuart.) 
The Occidental playwrights here concerned are 
less deficient in the matter of poetry than in the 
matter of catching the spirit of the Japanese 
dramaturgy. For, as I have said, a survey of 
such things as "Sandaihagi," "Kayoi Komachi," 
"Shojo," "Kumasaka" and the like discloses, by 
way of beautiful imagery, by way of musical simile 
and mellow metaphor, a score of drab tones for 
one such wistful and dulcet singing as "like the 
bell of a country town *neath the nightfall" (Suma 
Genji), a score and more of flat and stereotyped 



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THE BIBLICAL PLAY 57 

"they are piled like the mountains" ( Tamura) for 
one such bit as that describing the withering woman 
Ono (Sotoba Komachi), "she is like a dull moon 
that fades in the dawn's grip." So far as philoso- 
phy is concerned, there is just as much in the Oc- 
cidental "Willow Tree" as you will encounter in 
any of the authentic Japanese plays. And if there 
is no satire or humour in the former, I assure you 
there is even less in the latter. 

§ 13 

The Biblical Play.— The belief that the more the 
characters in a Biblical play act and talk like under- 
takers the more reverential that play is, is some- 
thing I have never been able to plumb. The surest 
way in which to destroy the unmatched poetry of 
the Bible, to callous the message it heralds and 
make it go for naught, is to stage it with actors roll- 
ing their eyes to the gallery, throwing back their 
hands palms upward and moaning as if in the 
throes of a terrible stomach-ache. This is the 
Bible in terms of "Ingomar" and a tank-town per- 
formance of "East Lynne"; this, reverence in terms 
of a Georgia nigger camp meeting; but it is cer- 
tainly neither in terms of simple beauty, simple 
faith and simple common sense. The conventional 



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58 COMEDIANS ALL 

theatrical notion that the Bible must ever be read 
in the woe-is-me tone and that it were a gross 
sacrilege to picture the good Lord Cod as speak- 
ing in a voice not exactly like the coloratura basso 
of Mr. James O'Neill or some other such Rialto 
ham is the offspring of the producers* desire to 
coddle the demands of clergymen, church-wardens, 
Sunday School teachers and other such tender in- 
telligences who never go to the theatre anyway. 

§ 14 

The Foremost American Producer. — He is a fat, 
rosy little fellow in a droll double-breasted over- 
coat that makes him look like Hi Holler begauded 
for a Sunday call on his best girl. There is about 
him always the suggestion that were his coat 
pockets to be searched, one would discover in each 
of them a large red apple. His aspect and de- 
meanour are generally those of a surly small boy 
whose teacher has just slapped his hand for laugh- 
ing out loud. When perchance this mien passes 
and he uncorks a guffaw, the. detonation is like the 
roar of the shirt-sleeved Irish lions in a Wilson 
Barrett play. He makes himself grand with 
creamy-coloured doeskin gloves which — if I have 
spotted him accurately — he would seem not to re- 



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AMERICAN PRODUCER 59 
move even at the supper table; and he is to be 

beheld riding around the town in an automobile as 
bawdy as a moving-picture actor's. Between the 
acts of premier performances he goes out and 
stands alone on the curb and diverts himself by 
aiming expectorations at distant holes in the pave- 
ment. His vanity inspires him to derby hats so 
rakishly tight that when he takes them off they 
leave on his forehead deep and apparently pain- 
ful maroon rings. He seems seldom to open his 
mouth to say anything and what he does say — so 
far as I am able from personal observation to re- 
port — is not especially interesting nor important. 
Where he comes from or whither he is going, I 
haven't the faintest notion — but I have a notion 
that in that round and as- if rural pate of his were 
are at this moment the finest ideals, and bravest 
ambitions, and most vigorous analytical and critical 
virtues to be found in the American theatre. 

And I have this notion for all his periodic pro- 
mulgation of what seem to me personally to be dull 
plays, for all his arch practice of such immemorial 
whimsies as the averment that he never reads the 
criticisms of his work, for all his having believed 
it the thing to invite me to dinner after I had written 
a highly favourable foreword to a book of his, 
for all the things he does that to my own way of 



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60 COMEDIANS ALL 

looking at the theatre are not the right things to 
do. And why have I this notion of this Arthur 
Hopkins? I have it because never once so far in 
his career of independent production has he 
stooped deliberately to a cheap and shoddy thing; 
because his aim, whatever his score as I see it, has 
always been the aim of a conscientious artist; be- 
cause in pursuit of the achievement of this aim he 
has been unwavering and has courageously taken 
many a hard smash between the eyes — some, it 
seemed to me, deserved and more not deserved; 
because he has set himself the goal of a vital drama 
vitally staged and vitally played and to reach that 
goal has sidestepped many an obviously inter- 
mediate and tempting bed of roses with a stead- 
fastness and determination not given to many men 
in his nation. 

In every production that he makes, the man's 
ideal is clearly discernible — in his good and bad 
alike. The single sound stylist of our theatre, 
there is in the plays he chooses and in the manner 
of presentation which he schemes for those plays 
the one uniform suspicion of accurate form that 
reaches the native critical ear. By no means al- 
ways so effective a popular producer as, say, 
Belasco, his sense of composition is yet intrinsically 
of a threefold artistic integrity, delicacy and sound- 



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AMERICAN PRODUCER 61 
ness. This precise sense of composition, true 
enough, is not entirely original with him: it has 
been borrowed by him very largely from Reinhardt. 
But with the latter' s producing technic he has 
adroitly combined the tactical practices of such men 
as Victor Barnowski and has filtered what he has 
thus appropriated through the sieve of his own judg- 
ment and personality. The result has vouchsafed 
to us some of the finest productions of the present- 
day American stage and — where on occasion a play 
and his technic have by the generic nature of the 
play made noses at each other — some of the weak- 
est. But good or bad, the effort to do the fine 
thing at the expense of the hokum thing is ever 
apparent. And ever apparent, too, are the effort 
at beauty, and the effort at something just a trifle 
finer than the next man's effort, and the effort to 
lift the American play and the American stage 
above the level of the crook and sleuth and German 
spy jabberwock on the one hand and the gilt piano 
and Chinese sofa and Louis XV spit-jar aesthetic 
on the other. 

I often wonder where Hopkins gets all the money 
to do the things he does after the conscientious and 
cultivated fashion in which he does them. If he 
has a silent partner, I should like to know die man's 
name: he deserves to have the public hear of him. 



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62 COMEDIANS ALL 

It is easy enough to get hold of a man to back a 
French theatre for purposes of personal social ex- 
ploitation, or to get hold of a man to back a musical 
show for personal physiological purposes, or even 
occasionally to get hold of a man to back a first- 
rate play for purposes of personal puff as a patron 
of the arts. But I have yet to hear — and I want 
to hear — the name of mis American who so deeply 
and honestly loves the theatre that he is willing 
anonymously to hold the bag for any number of 
first-rate plays his partner desires to produce, for 
any number of first-rate productions his partner de- 
sires to make of them, and for any number of 
failures that, because the work is first-rate, are 
bound to ensue. But this, after all, may be said 
to be not exactly my business. 

Hopkins has staged Ibsen in die main more in- 
telligently than any producer before whom I have 
sat. And my poor old hinterspot has been ad- 
justed into chairs before all sorts of Ibsen produc- 
tions, big, little and medium, in three quarters of 
the corners of the world. He is at the present 
moment the one single producing manager in the 
American theatre who has demonstrated himself 
honestly eager to get hold of whatever genuine 
playwriting the young American is doing — or is 
trying to do — and who is honestly eager to defend 



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AMERICAN PRODUCER 63 
his faith in it, and who is honestly eager to give 
it a fair and fighting chance. And in his hope and 
effort to do this, he has received some of his 
sorest bumps. * Clare Kummer, turned down right 
and left, came to Hopkins. Eleanor Gates came to 
him. Moeller came to him. Rita Wellman came 
to him. Reizenstein and Mclntyre and Brown and 
Housum came to him. And other youngsters by 
the score come regularly to him as they might come 
to a sympathetic editor or publisher. Some of 
them may be — and are — pretty bad, but each gets 
a friendly attention. In my somewhat peculiarly 
hybrid office of dramatic critic and magazine 
editor, I am brought into almost daily touch with 
that portion of literary young America whose eyes 
are directed toward the theatre. And I have yet 
to come across a single such aspirant who wasn't 
hoping to pin the trust of his future to Hopkins, 
And some of these, unless I am greatly mistaken, 
are due to do sound work. 

Already in his extremely short career, Hopkins 
has rescued from the pigeon-hole of oblivion, and 
has produced, the best and most imaginative 
dramatic fantasy ("The Poor Little Rich Girl") 
that this country has given birth to. He has 
rescued from this same pigeon-hole, and has pro- 
duced, the most skilful fantastic farce ("Good 



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64 COMEDIANS ALL 

Gracious Annabelle") and the most adroitly com- 
posed biographical comedy ("Madame Sand") and 
one of the most interesting of modern North Euro- 
pean dramas ("Hie Deluge") and the most promis- 
ing serious play come from an American hand in 
the last four or five years ("The Gentile Wife"). 
He is, in his presentation of "The Living Corpse," 
the first to have brought to the American stage the 
illuminating method followed by Reinhardt in 
dramatic production. He is the first to have 
brought over the adjustable proscenium (em- 
ployed in "Evangeline"), the first producer to have 
devised, by a process of editing, the transportable 
pivotal stage (employed in "On Trial"), the first 
to have brilliantly adapted to his needs the familiar 
so-called sheet, or frontal proscenium, lighting of 
Stanialawski (employed in the second act of "The 
Gentile Wife*'). His production of "A Successful 
Calamity" was physically the suavest production of 
social comedy our theatre has proffered. His 
production of "La Cena delle Beffe," the finest in 
the way of romantic drama. He has, with Robert 
Edmond Jones, brought — not in one production but 
in the majority of his productions — a new sim- 
plicity and new beauty to American stage decora- 
tive art, and for the first time a harmony of dress 
and scene. He has brought out more hitherto 



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AMERICAN PRODUCER 65 
buried skill among young professional and amateur 
actors and actresses than any other native pro- 
ducer of comparative experience. And he has ex- 
plored many of these players out of the wallows 
of vaudeville and the recesses of tyro joints and 
the morasses of cheap melodrama. And, while do- 
ing all this, he has, of course, not omitted to make 
more than his full share of mistakes, more than 
his ample portion of very sour cracks. It is the 
easiest thing in the world to find fault, eloquently 
and justly, with Hopkins, but then it is always easier 
to find fault with a man of ideals than with a man 
without them. I can readily pick a hundred things 
wrong with Hopkins where I find difficulty in pick- 
ing one wrong with Al Reeves. Hopkins says to 
me, in effect: "I am trying to do the best for the 
theatre that I know how." And consequently Hop- 
kins metaphorically bends himself down and 
presents to my critical toe a tempting expanse of 
rear pant. Reeves frankly says to me, in effect: 
"I'm trying to do the worst for the theatre that I 
know how." And consequently I find myself 
balked. ... It is easy to miss the bull's-eye if the 
target at whieh one essays to shoot is twenty times 
as far off as one's neighbour's. 

The producing theory of Arthur Hopkins, if I 
may interpret it for him — the critic at his best 



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66 COMEDIANS ALL 

is merely the holder-up of a mirror — is, generally 
speaking, very simply to invest naturalism with as 
much the quality of beauty as is reasonably to be 
imagined a part of it. A rose may fall from the 
window of a Pullman and light upon a New Jersey 
dunghill — a Cossack marching off to war may carry 
in a locket the picture of his baby girl — through 
the skylight of the tenement one may glimpse the 
stars. This producing theory, made by Hopkins 
in his polysyllabic essay at self-criticism hight 
"How's Your Second Act?" to take on a very pro- 
found and esoteric air, is actually as simple as roll- 
ing out of bed. And that, of course, is its chief 
charm and the reason for its voltaism. Hopkins' 
attempt to hocus-pocus it forth in his book as akin 
to a black art of one kind or another is merely 
that part of him that wears the creamy-coloured 
doeskin gloves and rides around the town in the 
peagreen gasolene bus. But taking it simply for 
what it is, his theory and the accomplishments he 
has wrought from it mark the biggest single step 
forward that the artistic producing theatre of 
America has taken in the last decade. 

Here, again, however, have Hopkins and his ef- 
forts been met with many a face-making from the 
kind of critic whose finger was trained by President 
Lowell to thumb his nose where Cod designed that 



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AMERICAN PRODUCER 67 
it should only pick it. In Hopkins' striving to give 
his stage a grace, a style, a natural ease and beauty, 
such critics have seen only an empty pose, only a . 
mumpsimus, only a trying to do something different 
for the sake of its being different. It took twelve 
long years- for two of the greatest theatrical pro- 
ducers of Continental Europe to gain first the at- 
tention, then the sympathy, and finally the warm 
and hearty approval of their already civilized 
critics and audiences for the theory that it is con- 
ceivable that an actor may sometimes properly 
speak with his back to Mr. Alan Dale — and Hop- 
kins has fondly hoped to turn the trick with the 
native Indians in four! But for all the yokel hoots 
and rebuffs, he is sticking to the guns of his art 
and, if the money behind him holds out, he will in 
time succeed as surely as they in Europe have 
succeeded. "Do things as they should be done," 
he says on page 61 of his critical autobiography, 
"and let the results take care of themselves. We 
are not merely tired people with trained bears 
anxious to hear the rattle of pennies in tin 
cups. ..." 

There, gentlemen, sketchily, is your Arthur Hop- 
kins. He is no "Master," no "Wizard." He is 
just a young fellow with a dream, who fails twice 
where he succeeds once, but who feels and knows 



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68 COMEDIANS ALL 

that to succeed even once, bravely, finely and with- 
out compromise, is worth failing fifty times for. 
He has had, on several occasions, do harder critic 
than I — and he will continue to have no harder — 
but even on such several occasions I have felt, as 
I shall doubtless continue to feel, the pull of an 
uncritical prejudice for a man who — as Mencken 
has written in another direction of James Branch 
Cabell— is so largely thrown back upon his work 
for his recompense; who has tried to produce sound 
and beautiful plays and to get upon the stage the 
point of view of a civilized man; and who, having 
succeeded at the business perhaps better than any 
other who has made the same trial, though he re- 
mains still poor in actual worldly return, holds this 
success a sufficient reward for a self-respecting 
artist. 

§ 15 

On Sentimentality. — Why it is that we Ameri- 
cans, a nation of sentimentalists, should demand 
sentimentality in our theatre is not easy of de- 
cipherment. The one fact does not dovetail with 
the other so closely as some believe. The theatre, 
first and last, is a harbour of diversion. Like can- 
not divert like. An egoist hates an egoist. A 
man's sweetheart does not look like his wife. A 



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THE BIOGRAPHICAL PLAY 69 
restaurant with home-cooking would fail in a week. 
A soldier, on furlough, does not spend his time in 
a shooting gallery. . . . The French, a nation as 
sentimental as we, patronize most liberally plays 
that are the reverse of sentimental. The Germans, 
an unsentimental nation, cry copiously into their 
Pschorrbrau when a modi in a cabaret hits the 
quiver note in a barber-shop melody like "Pupp- 
chen." . . . 

§ 16 

The Biographical Play. — The biographical play 
is probably of all plays the easiest to write well, 
since the playwright's philosophy and wit, attack 
and resolution, characters and characterizations, 
lay already full-blown before him and require but 
the not difficult manipulation of theatrical wires 
to set them to dancing. Such dramatic composi- 
tion, however, always impresses persons pro- 
foundly. Yet it is a more simple thing, I venture, 
to write a play like "Madame Sand" (for all that it 
approaches to the first-rate in its field) than to write 
a tenth-rate play like "Up In Mabel's Room." 

§17 

The Repertory System. — The best argument 
against the repertory system is that it elevates the 



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70 COMEDIANS ALL 

actor over the play. It asks us at regular intervals 
to view not a play interpreted by a group of actors, 
but a group of actors interpreted by a play. The 
repertory system thus fails in the same way that the 
Y. M. C. A. athletic system fails. It strengthens 
the anatomy at the expense of the soul. 

$ 18 

Belasco. — The criticism commonly peddled 
against David Belasco to the effect that he is sadly 
content to devote his virtuosity to the mere further 
hegauding and merchanting of the established 
hokums of the theatre is like most of the Belasco 
criticism, whether pro or con, unwarrantable and 
stupid. Whatever may be Mr. Belasco's short- 
comings, the easy practice of tried hokums is cer- 
tainly not one of them. For the Belasco talent, 
quite other than being a mere slick exposition of 
such tried and true hokums, is actually a talent — 
doubtless the most exceptional talent in the native 
theatre—for painstakingly nursing to life theatrical 
devices that by all the rules should have been and 
should be tried and true hokums, but devices that 
mishandling on the part of other playmakers and 
producers has caused to go for naught. It is in 
this business of drawing the hokum essence out 



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BELASCO 71 

of hokums the hokum juices of which have previ- 
ously eluded his confreres, that Mr. Belasco excels. 
This is plainly to be detected in the Belasco trick 
of turning failures, whose intrinsic hokums were 
left by playmakers and producers to lie dormant, 
into hokum-lively successes. There was just as 
much hokum at the bottom of Edgar Selwyn's 
failure, "Pierre of the Plains," as there is in Mr. 
Belasco's success, "Tiger Rose," — but Mr. Selwyn 
didn't know how to pop it. "Tiger Rose" is merely 
a successful version of "Pierre of the Plains," just 
as Belasco's "Peter Grimm" was merely a success- 
ful version of Cora Maynard's failure, "The 
Watcher," and as Belasco'a "Daddies" is merely 
a successful compound of Francis Wilson's failure, 
"The Bachelor's Baby," and H. V. Esmond's fail- 
ure, "Eliza Comes to Stay." 

In this "Daddies," the Belasco hokum nursery 
is to be appraised with an especial pregnancy. 
Every device that failed to register in the Francis 
Wilson play, and every device that failed equally 
of effect in the Esmond play, Mr. Belasco has here 
carefully poulticed and hot-water-bagged and pilled 
into commercial robustness. Stratagems that in the 
two failures had all the earmarks of healthy hokum 
but that suffered from directing cramps have been 
taken over, rolled vigorously across a barrel, had 



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72 COMEDIANS ALL 

their Little Marys massaged and their toes wiggled, 
until the Belasco osteopathy has put them firmly 
upon their legs. And the result, of course, is one 
of the usual Belasco money-makers which, while 
characteristically of an utter literary and artistic 
worthlessness, is still an equally characteristic 
Belasco caesarian sure-fire operation. 

§ 19 

On Banality. — There is room for banality in the 
theatre. It is less a thing for critical groan and 
frown than one is often persuaded to believe. The 
theatre is an institution wherein one seeks sanctuary 
from the furors and stressful inconstancy of life, 
wherein one may sit before the doings of a mock 
world and sigh oneself into a pleasurable tem- 
porary forgelfulness and reverie. Life itself, and 
the outside world, thrill and torment the individual 
with their ceaseless changes and mist enwrapt ad- 
ventures and somnabulisms — a shifting panorama 
of art, loves, business, coincidences, triumphs, de- 
feats, fears and hopes. From all this the theatre 
offers a refuge. And that refuge may, obviously 
enough, be had only in spectacles of an antithetical 
dulness, flatness and stupidity. 

One may amuse and divert oneself only by more 



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MODERN FRENCH DRAMA 73 
or less violent contrasts. Napoleon, after the 
battle of Abukir, forgot himself in watching a cock 
fight. 

§ 20 

The Modern French Drama. — The modern 
French play as represented, among others, by 
Bataille and Bernstein, remains a triumph of 
technical skill over drama. Disclosing an excep- 
tional hand for the technique beloved of the pro- 
fessors, these pieces, for all the passion of their 
content, leave the beholder cold. Spectator at one 
of them, one is in the mood of the outcast who 
stands shivering in the snow looking through the 
window of a room wherein burns alluringly a hot 
grate fire. It is a favourite practice of the pro- 
fessors to blame this chill not upon the overly 
meticulous technique, but upon the theory that the 
Anglo-Saxon is intrinsically alien to the meta- 
physics and emotions of the Gallic text and hence 
unable to comprehend and sympathize with the 
thoughts and actions of its characters. This, of 
course, is for the most part absurd. The Anglo- 
Saxon, whatever his antecedents, is today certainly 
no more ulterior to the Gallic processes of thought 
and act than he is to the Teutonic, yet the latter 
drama, as typified by such not far removed writers 



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74 COMEDIANS ALL 

as Sudermann, is easily comprehensible to him, as 
are its characters and the thoughts and actions of 
those characters. If, indeed, the American can- 
not encompass the philosophy of passion as it is 
expounded in the French drama of Bataille, Bern- 
stein, et al., how comes it, on the other hand, that 
he is able to grasp it as it is expounded in the 
French drama of de Caillavet and de Flers, 
Tristan Bernard, Capus, et al.? Whether in the at- 
titude of farce or in the attitude of the so-called 
problem play, the fibre of this philosophy is, at 
bottom, the same. If an-alien can comprehend the 
French way of taking passion lightly, why can he 
not comprehend the French way of taking it seri- 
ously? The divergence from the American ap- 
proach to the subject is in each case equally broad. 
The truth, of course, is mat this has nothing to 
do with the successlessness in America of the 
serious French drama. Generally speaking, this 
type of Gallic drama fails in America not so much 
because of its subject matter as because that sub- 
ject matter is treated to a technique so rigid, so 
extravagantly corseted and so unremittingly 
metronome-like that the evening is deleted of all 
those qualities of grace and ease, of flexibility and 
digression, that go to make the quality known 
locally as "theatre," and in their absence substi- 



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MODERN FRENCH DRAMA 75 
tute the smell of the drama course lecture room 
for the smell of the "show." Like the sight of a 
woman wearing velvet in the early morning, this 
drama attracts the attention, true enough, but at 
the same time induces in one a sense of esthetic 
nausea. The Anglo-Saxon success of such so- 
called serious Gallic plays as "Camillc" and 
"Zaza" has undoubtedly been due to their less 
formal technical manner, to their comparative 
warmth, in short, to their technical crudities. 
Some such more recent play as Bataille's "Les 
Flambeaux," on the other hand, tells an interest- 
ing story with a great feeling for dramatic 
technique and small feeling for theatrical tech- 
nique. And some such one as Bernstein's "L'Ele- 
vation" suffers from the same shortcoming. Both 
put one in mind of a college professor endeavour- 
ing to tell a story at a Seeley dinner. The story 
is good enough, and the telling of the story is well 
thought out; but the effect is as nil. The teller 
and the place of telling are not in harmony. 

Against plays of mis kidney, we have the more 
authentic feeling for the cosmopolitan theatre as 
instanced in the case of the Caillavet-Flers "Le 
Roi." In such things, the French writer is at his 
best. His, then, all the sharp nonchalance and 
sagacity that secede from him when his brows 



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76 COMEDIANS ALL 

wrinkle. French farce of this school is genuinely 
merry stuff — not the French farce more generally 
known as such in the Broadway playhouses, the 
machine-made stuff of Soulie, Veber, Nanteuil, 
Faverne, Nancey and Armont and that lot — hut 
French farce as represented by the collaborators 
upon the piece in point, and by such witty fellows 
as the admirable Feydeau, Sacha Guitry, Rip and 
Bousquet and Romain Coolus. 

§21 

Harry Watson, Jr. — That Mr. Harry Watson, 
Jr., is one of the finest comic artists of the Ameri- 
can stage is demonstrated anew with each succes- 
sive year. An alumnus of the same burlesque 
troupe that graduated that other excellent comed'an, 
Mr. George Bickel, Watson's authentic talents, like 
those of his colleague, have long been overlooked 
— or if not entirely overlooked, greatly disparaged 
— by annalists of the stage who vouchsafe to low 
comedy merely a casual and then grudged atten- 
tion. Yet the fact doubtless remains that this Wat- 
son is an actor of uncommon quality, not a mere 
slapstick pantaloon, an assaulter of trousers' seats, 
a professor of the bladder, but a mimic of excep- 
tional capacity, a pantomimist of the very first 



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HARRY WATSON, JR. 77 

grade and a comedian of real histrionic parts. 
Watson's depiction of the tenth-rate prize fighter, 
with its suggestion not simply of such obvious ex- 
ternals as speech, walk, et cetera, but with its subtle 
revelation of the pug's mind, thoughts and general 
singularities, is as admirable a bit of acting as 
the native stage has conceded in years. The thing 
is searching, vivid, brilliant; it measures with the 
best work, in more exalted dramatic regions, of 
such capable actors as Arnold Daly or the late 
Robert Fischer or Ditrichstein. To see it is to 
look into the soul of the cheap bruiser as that 
soul has rarely been transcribed to paper. The 
half-droop of the one eye, the intermittent Maude 
Adams toss of the neck, the setting of the far right 
tooth, the disdain of the lip, the nervous knee — 
these Watson negotiates with a diplomacy as far 
removed from the usual and patent tactic as his 
negotiation of the portrayal of the telephoning 
commuter is removed from the level of the vaude- 
villes. 

For some reason or other, the work of such 
comedians as Watson is held generally in artistic 
and critical disesteem. Why, Cod and the Eve- 
ning Post alone know. For among these come- 
dians one finds a sensitiveness, an eye to human 
nature and a schooling in projection that one en- 



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78 COMEDIANS ALL 

counters with extreme rarity on the dramatic stage. 
The scorn these fellows suffer is part of our na- 
tive theatrical snobbery. In England, George 
Robey is recognized for the artist he is; in France, 
Germain and others like him have received their 
portion. But in our country the actor is rated not 
so much according to his intrinsic ability as accord- 
ing to the ability of the playwright who supplies 
his roles. And yet such a comedian as Bickel re- 
mains at bottom a more susceptive and penetrating 
comic artist than any half dozen Leo Carrillos, 
and such a comedian as this Watson a more strik- 
ing adventurer in the gallery of human nature and 
its portrayal than any double dozen of Russ 
Whytals, Robert Edesons, Richard Bennetts and 
Howard Kyles. 

§ 22 

Brander Matthews. — In a uniformly entertain- 
ing, if uniformly inaccurate, lecture before the stu- 
dents of Barnard College, Professor Brander Mat- 
thews not long ago brewed the following up-to-the- 
minute philosophies: 

"Just as grammar has its conventions," observed the 
Professor, "bo the drama, too, has its conventions. In 
Japanese tragedy each performer has a (supposedly) 
invisible attendant clad in black." They hand a fan, 



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BRANDER MATTHEWS 79 

lift a cloak — and by the middle of the play you do 
not see them. The Mexicans always have the devil 
dressed in a United States Cavalry officer's uniform. Is 
this any more peculiar than, as I have seen in Irving's 
productions, buildings coming down from the sky and set- 
tle down on the stage for a change of scene during an act? 
Certain conventions are necessary, but some are non- 
essential, and these the new scenery is trying to do away 
with. There are conventions also of costume — it took 
Sir Walter Scott to remove the tall ostrich plumes from 
Kemble, playing Macbeth, and replace them with a 
single plume. But there are some inescapable conven- 
tions. You always expect to leave the theatre in two 
hours and a half.* Playwrights, therefore, always con- 
dense. The characters say just the right things in the 
right order, which is absolutely untrue to life. More- 
over, every character always understands everything the 
first time it is said! The convention of condensation 
leads to that of wit, where every one is as witty as the 
author. Take the convention of Shakespeare, where 
every character speaks blank verse. This would not be 
so in life!" 

Let us present the Professor with an examina- 
tion paper on these announced conventions of the 
drama. And, at the same time, with a convenient 
"crib." 

First Professorial Convention: "In Japanese 
tragedy, each performer has a (supposedly) in- 



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80 COMEDIANS ALL 

visible attendant clad in black. They hand a fan, 
lift a cloak — and by the middle of the play you do 
not see them." 

Question: Is it true, or is it not true, that the 
Japanese stage has to a large extent sometime since 
abandoned this convention? 

Answer; It is true. 

Second Professorial Convention: "The Mex- 
icans always have the devil dressed in a United 
States Cavalry officer's uniform." 

Question; Name more than one or two plays 
in which the Mexicans have presented the devil in 
such guise. 

Answer: The circumstance that the Mexicans 
have once, or twice — or even three times — pre- 
sented the devil as a United Slates Cavalry of- 
ficer makes the dido a convention of the Mexican 
stage no more than the circumstance that the Amer- 
icans have once, or twioe — or even three times — 
presented the Italian as a white-slaver makes it a 
convention of the American stage that Italians must 
always be presented as white-slavers. 

Third Professorial Convention: "Is this any 
more peculiar than, as I have seen in living's pro- 
ductions, buildings coming down from the sky 



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BRANDER MATTHEWS 81 
and settle down on the stage for a change of scene 
during the act? Certain conventions are neces- 
sary, and some are non-essential, and these the new 
scenery is trying to do away with." 

Question: See above. 

Answer: The visible descent of scenery from 
the fties was due to no scenic convention, but 
merely to bad lighting arrangements. The new 
scenery is often lowered into place from the flies 
just as was the old scenery. 

Fourth Professorial Convention: "There are 
conventions also of costume — it took Sir Walter 
Scott to remove the tall ostrich plumes from Kern- 
ble, playing Macbeth, and replace them with a 
single plume." 

Question: Was it an invariable and absolute 
convention to play Macbeth with tall ostrich plumes 
or was not this merely an idiosyncrasy of Kem- 
ble? 

Answer: It was no more an invariable and 
absolute convention to play Macbeth with tall 
ostrich plumes in Kemble's time simply because 
Kemble so played Macbeth, than it is a convention 
to play Macbeth with a St. Louis round haircut in 
James K. Hackett's current time simply because 
James K. Hackett so plays Macbeth, 



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82 COMEDIANS ALL 

Fifth Professorial Convention: "But there are 
always some inescapable conventions. You al- 
ways expect to leave the theatre in two hours and 
a half. Playwrights, therefore, always condense. 
The characters say just the right things in the right 
order, which is absolutely untrue to life." 
Question: Is this absolutely untrue to life? 
Answer: No, this is not absolutely untrue to 
life. For example, many conversations in actual 
life between (1) two diplomatists, (2) a good news- 
paper reporter and, say, a sharp politician or 
lawyer, (3) the hostess and her guests at a formal 
dinner, (4) a military officer and his aide. Or a 
conversation on a definite subject — as in dramatic 
dialogue — between some such actual persons as, 
say, Frank Harris and Shaw, or Huneker and 
Richard Strauss, or even Browning and King. 
The notion that conversations in actual life are 
invariably full of stutterings, evasions, you-don't- 
means, hem's and er's is of a piece with the no- 
tion, held by the same theorists, mat an expensive 
cigar is always stronger than a cheap cigar and that 
an intelligent prize-fighter is more likely to win a 
ring battle than a first-rate bonehead. Further, 
equally erroneous is the theory that in drama the 
characters always say just the right filings in the 
right order. More often, of course, are they made 



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BRANDER MATTHEWS 83 
by the playwright arbitrarily to say just the wrong 
things in the right order that the consequent be- 
fuddlement may institute and prolong the mis- 
understandings, et cetera, essential to the dramatic 
action. Examples are at once obvious and plenti- 
ful, and range all the way from Hauptmann's "Be- 
fore Sunrise" to Richard Harding Davis' "The 
Galloper." If the Professor refers to the direct 
and consistently relevant dialogue of a play in its 
relation to the telling of a single and definite dra- 
matic story, he is equally in error when he observes 
it to be in striking opposition to actuality. What 
play written in recent years has developed a story 
more directly than was developed in actual life 
the story, say, of the recent Grace Lusk murder 
case? To argue that the story of this case, if 
turned to the purposes of the stage, would never- 
theless be boiled down and reduced to two and 
one-half hours is to argue that one may read Ar- 
nold Bennett's Gayhanger series in two and one- 
half hours if one only skips the "descriptions." 

Sixth Professorial Convention: "Moreover, 
every character always understands everything the 
first time it is said!" 

Question: Is this even half-way true? 

Answer: No. 



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84 COMEDIANS ALL 

Supplementary answer: If by "understand" 
you mean "thoroughly comprehend," there are con- 
tradictory instances to be found in hundreds of 
plays. A few examples: "Hie Poor Little Rich 
Girl,*' Schnitzler's "The Hour of Recognition," 
Perez-dados' "Duchess of San Quentin," Sutro's 
"The Two Virtues," Mitchell's "The New York 
Idea," etc. If, on the other hand, by "understand" 
you mean merely that the ear of this character 
always catches what that character says the first 
time he says it — a more likely interpretation — 
there are contradictory instances also to be found 
in hundreds of plays. A few examples : 
"Grumpy," "The Professor's Love Story," "The 
Gay Lord Quex," "Letty," etc. 

Seventh Professorial Convention: "The con- 
vention of condensation leads to that of wit, where 
everyone is as witty as the author." 

Question: Is this even one-third true? 

Answer: No. The author more often makes 
all of his characters, save one, dolts or semi-dolts, 
that his wit, placed in the mouth of the one char- 
acter, may appear by contrast to be of an excep- 
tional quality. A few examples: Chesterton and 
the character of the Stranger in "Magic," Shaw 
and the character of Tanner in "Man and Super- 



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BRANDER MATTHEWS 85 
man," Balir and the character of Each in "Prin- 
ciple," Schnitzler and the character of Bemhardi 
in "Professor Bemhardi," Wedekind and the char- 
acter of Hetmann in "Hidalla," Capus and the char- 
acter of Mme. Joulin in "The Two Schools," 
Tchekov and the character of Trigorin in "The 
Seagull," etc. 

Eighth Professorial Convention: 'Take the 
convention of Shakespeare, where every character 
speaks blank verse. This would not be so in life!" 

Well, credit where credit is due. Let us admit 
that here the distinguished Professor negotiates a 
real torpedo! For five solid minutes I have tried 
to think of someone who in actual life speaks al- 
ways in blank verse, and, by all the gods, I con- 
fess it freely, I'm stuck! But perhaps only tem- 
porarily. Something tells me, has long told me 
— that is to say, I have a suspicion — indeed more 
than a suspicion, a definite feeling — that the Pro- 
fessor himself. . . . 

§ 23 

The American Dramatic Criticism. — Dramatic 
criticism in America, estimating it by and large, 
falls currently into either one of two classifications, 



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86 COMEDIANS ALL 

each classification being in turn subdivisible into 

three further classifications. 

The first classification is what may' be called the 
college professor dramatic criticism. The three 
subdivisions of this classification are (1) the col- 
lege professor dramatic criticism which maintains 
that dramatic art and morals are inseparable; (2) 
the college professor dramatic criticism which 
maintains that dramatic art and the structural 
technic of Augier, Sardou, et al., are inseparable; 
and (3) the college professor dramatic criticism 
which maintains that dramatic art and validity and 
integrity of thematic idea are inseparable. 

The second classification is the newspaper dra- 
matic criticism. The three subdivisions of this 
classification are (1) the journalistic dramatic criti- 
cism which maintains that dramatic art and morals 
are inseparable; (2) the journalistic dramatic criti- 
cism which maintains that a drama is a meritorious 
drama in the degree that it impudendy breaks away 
from the accepted technical traditions of Augier, 
Sardou, et al., and (3) the journalistic dramatic 
criticism which maintains that a play is a good 
play in proportion as the so-called "message" or 
propaganda of that play is an opportune one. 

Let us consider the theories and practices of 
each of these representative schools in turn. 



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DRAMATIC CRITICISM 87 
First, under the college professor school of criti- 
cism — the school of such as the Professors Brander 
Matthews, Richard Burton, et al. — the theory that 
dramatic art and morals are inseparable. Under 
this theory of the inevitable matrimony of art and 
morals, we find — what? The unintentional and 
obviously preposterous contention that, since morals 
are often geographical, dramatic art similarly must 
often be geographical. Thus, since the college pro- 
fessor school of criticism holds, from the American 
point of view, that a justification of adultery is 
under all circumstances immoral where the French 
point of view holds the reverse, its criticism — obey- 
ing this localized attitude — must necessarily hold 
a play like Henry Bernstein's "L'Elevation," 
which justifies adultery, a work of dramatic art 
relatively and distinctly inferior to a play like 
Edwin Milton Royle's "The Unwritten Law," which 
condemns adultery. What is art to a Frenchman 
is not always art to an American. This, the crit- 
ical standard of the professor. Art, to the latter, 
is a thing sectional — like baseball, gondola push- 
ing or throwing girl babies to the alligators. A 
fine drama, like a fine piece of sculpture or a fine 
piece of music or a fine painting, may not possess 
universality. Thus, in this first theory, we have 
die criticism of the Puritan, the chief exponent of 



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88 COMEDIANS ALL 

which and the father of which in America was that 
college professor on an unending Sabbatical year, 
the late Mr. William Winter. 

Second, the college professor school of criticism 
which maintains that dramatic art and the play- 
building technic of Augier and Sardou are insepar- 
able. This, the school that elevates the stereotyped 
drama of Henry Arthur Jones and Augustus 
Thomas above the independently imagined drama 
of Shaw, Andreyev, Haupbnann, and Galsworthy: 
that apotheosizes "The Silver King" over "The Sil- 
ver Box" and "The Model" over "Caesar and Cleo- 
patra." To this critical school the inanimate archi 
tecture of a house is ever of more importance than 
the animate persons who live in the house. It 
gauges a man's condition by looking at the set-up 
of his body, never by investigating carefully his 
lungs, heart and bowels. It is, in a word, the the- 
ory of pigeon-holes brought to literature, the busi- 
ness of pasting old labels on new bottles, the blind 
effort to make the modern davenport adhere to the 
standards of the ancient horse-hair sofa. 

And third, the college professor school of criti- 
cism which maintains that dramatic art and valid- 
ity and integrity of thematic idea are inseparable. 
Here we engage a critical ethic that, stripping it 
to the bone, would ask us believe that art and fact 



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DRAMATIC CRITICISM 89 

are indissoluble, that no man may work out a 
beautiful tapestry from a premise unsupported by 
the Magna Charta, the law of gravity and the Mann 
Act. At one swoop are thus devoured the Haupt- 
manns of "Before Sunrise" (vide Professor Frank 
Wadleigh Chandler, of the University of Cincin- 
nati, opus I, pg. 36) and the Pineros of "The 
Thunderbolt" (vide Professor Charlton Andrews 
of the State Normal School, Valley City, N. D., 
opus III, pg. 120). At one swoop are thus 
chewed to artistic death the great artists who are 
guilty of treating only "an incomplete section of 
life" 1 as opposed to those who, like Mr. Max 
Marcin in "Cheating Cheaters," treat of the whole 
majestic panorama, and the great dramatists who 
are guilty of "weak and, though reasoned, unreason- 
able logic" 2 as opposed to those who, like Mr. 
George Hobart in "Experience," are as persist- 
ently and desperately logical as a lesson in ele- 
mentary addition. 

So much, for the moment, for this first of our 
two critical academies. Now for the second, the 
school of newspaper criticism. 

Where, under the initial classification, this jour- 
nalistic school is in the mass found to maintain, 
like the college professor school, that dramatic art 

1 See the latter. 2 See the former. 



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90 COMEDIANS ALL 

and morals are inseparable, the reasons for the 
attitude are here doubtless somewhat more extrin- 
sic than intrinsic — and so more readily comprehen- 
sible. These reasons are not difficult of decipher- 
ment. It is manifestly impossible for a generally 
circulated newspaper to toy, however legitimately 
from the viewpoint of art, with doctrines which arc- 
in the current phrase, 1 not compatible with the 
policy of journals "intended for the home." It 
is certainly an impossible business policy that 
would permit the printing of a review extolling the 
theme, viewpoint and treatment of, say, Wedekind's 
"Earth Spirit" in the column alongside the big ad- 
vertisements of Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, 
Grand Rapids double beds, and felt slippers. 
Where one newspaper like the estimable Boston 
Transcript possesses the independence to dissociate 
the morals of art from the morals of Fairy Soap 
and Libby's Home Salad Dressing — and permits 
the devil to chase his tail as best he may — there 
are fifty who quake in their goloshes at the mere 
thought of what N. W. Ayer and Co. would think 
of a favorable review of the locally immoral but 
universally very beautiful art of Dr. Arthur 
Schnitzler. 

1 Invented and assiduously expounded by the advertising de- 
partment. 



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DRAMATIC CRITICISM 91 
Coming to the second journalistic classification, 
we encounter the school of newspaper criticism that 
runs violently counter to the college professor in 
hailing enthusiastically almost any play that 
brazenly flouts the conventional technic and sub- 
stitutes for it a technic that has the air of novelty 
— or a technic that is a liberal negation of tech- 
nic. This journalistic school, composed largely 
of recent college graduates eager to demonstrate 
to their erstwhile professors their vigorous inde- 
pendence of judgment, holds the Shaw technic 
superior to the Pinero for no other reason than that 
it breaks away from tradition; and the flash-back 
technic of young Mr. Reizenstein's "On Trial" and 
the flash-forward technic of young Mr. Guernon's 
"Eyes of Youth" superior to the technic of De 
Curel for the same reason. This critical group 
confounds mere superficial novelty with artistic 
progress and, though vastly more applaudable 
than the campus critical group by virtue of its 
greater openness and hospitality to innovation and 
experiment, is yet found to lean so far and so gym- 
nastically forward that it is continually touching 
its nose to its toes. 

In the third classification we have the journal- 
istic school of criticism which maintains, often with 
superlative gusto, that a play is a good play in the 



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92 COMEDIANS ALL 

degree that the "message" of that play is oppor- 
tune. In other words, that a work of art is bounded 
this time not by geographical frontiers, but by the 
frontiers of time. In short, that a play like the 
Messrs. Shipman's and Hoffmann's "Friendly Ene- 
mies," or Mr. Thomas' "The Copperhead," is by 
virtue of the acute timeliness and hence strong 
emotional sy ringing-power of its thesis a more 
deserving work of art than some such play as 
Brieux's "Les Hannetons" which, while a good 
play, has yet nothing in it to stir such emotions as 
have been brought by the trend of current events 
immediately into the foreground. 

These, then, briefly and roughly, are the divisions 
and sub-divisions of the bulk of dramatic criticism 
as we of the American today observe it. Founded 
on the college professor side, upon (1) an almost 
complete lack of knowledge of the actual theatre 
and the changes wrought therein in the last decade, 
(2) a stem disinclination, confounded with poise 
and dignity, to accept new things and new stand- 
ards, and (3) a confusion of the stage with the 
tabernacle pulpit — and founded, on the journalistic 
side, upon either (1) a desire to attract notice 
through the eloquent championship of a drama- 
turgic under dog or (2) a desire to earn salary in 
peace and comfort by championing all the upper 



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DRAMATIC CRITICISM 93 
dogs — this native criticism reveals a bizarre coun- 
tenance. It is, on the campus side, a mere very 
pale reflex of the criticism of William Archer and, 
on the journalistic, a mere equally pale reflex of 
the criticism of Clement Scott. I doubt if I ex- 
aggerate unduly when I say that neither of these 
critical schools has in the last dozen years ex- 
pressed a single thought, a single philosophy or a 
single recommendation that has assisted an Ameri- 
can producer or playwright, however eager and 
willing, to improve upon his labours or to elevate 
his standards. If our native theatre has in these 
dozen years made progress — and that it has made 
substantial progress there is doubtless none unwill- 
ing to grant — that progress has been made, very 
largely, in spite of the so-called constructive criti- 
cism mat has been visited upon it. These dozen 
years have witnessed the birth of the Hopkinses 
and the Stuart Walkers, the Washington Square 
Players, the Theatre Guilds, the Provincetown 
Players and other small theatre groups, in the 
cradle of the newer and finer American stage. 
And these births have come about in the face of 
the dramatic and theatrical race suicide persist- 
ently, if not intentionally, urged by the frowzy- 
tradition celebrating campus critics on the one hand 
and the surface-novelty celebrating journalistic 



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94 COMEDIANS ALL 

critics on the other. What the American theatre 
needs is not more intelligent producers — it has a 
goodly share of them — but more intelligent critics. 
In all the colleges and newspaper offices of the 
land, there are today not more than two or three 
men writing professional dramatic criticism who 
can write as sound, as sober, and as searching criti- 
cism as was expounded in the young producer 
Hopkins' vest-pocket pamphlet named "How's 
Your Second Act?" 

$ 24 

Drama. — A theatrical composition which treats 
of a variable number of characters at that point in 
their lives when they have all just bought them- 
selves new clothes. 

§ 25 

Roof Shows. — That such roof music shows as 
Mr. Ziegfeld's "Midnight Frolic" and Mr. Gest's 
"Century Whirl" would be more advantageously 
placed were they moved downstairs into the theatres 
proper and that such theatre productions as, say, 
Mr. Morosco's "Cappy Ricks" and Mr. Belasco's 
"Daddies" would similarly be benefited were they 
moved upstairs onto the roof, I begin to persuade 



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ROOF SHOWS 95 

myself. I speak, of course, not so much from the 
purely critical point of view as from that of the 
practical theatre: for from this latter point of view 
the gain in such a shuffling of the deck is not diffi- 
cult of deduction. 

Let us consider, first, the roof music shows. 
After reviewing a dozen or more of these ami- 
able pastimes in the last few years, I have on each 
occasion been brought to the conclusion that they 
largely defeat themselves in the very business of 
polite aphrodisiac wherewith they seek to cater. 
The reason is simple enough. The success of the 
music show stage — the stage of the "Black Crooks'* 
of yesterday and the "Follies" of today — is pre- 
dicated on the polite sensual allure of that stage. 
And the polite sensual allure of that stage is pre- 
dicated, in turn, on the eternal allure of what seems 
to be remote and unattainable. Or in another 
phrase, what seems to be illusory and esoteric. 
What we engage here is the same thing that the late 
Charles Frohman accurately appreciated as ob- 
taining in a measure in the dramatic theatre; the 
same thing, indeed, that the equally astute Mr. 
Belasco appreciates today. It was Frohman's in- 
junction to his leading women players, as it is 
Belasco's in this day, ever to keep themselves 
aloof from the public eye and thus ever to make 



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96 COMEDIANS ALL 

of themselves piquing and mysterious figures. 
"Never allow yourself to be seen on the street — 
above all, never on Broadway. When you go out, 
use a closed cab. Do not allow yourself to be 
seen in public restaurants. But if you must dine 
out, make it Sherry's. And never allow yourself 
to be seen with an actor." That was, in part, the 
shrewd Frohman's dictum. That, in essence, is 
the dictum, in part, of the equally shrewd Belasco. 
When one young leading woman one day disre- 
garded the Frohman edict and hoofed Broadway, 
Frohman promptly got rid of her. (She has never 
since, incidentally, been successful.) When one 
somewhat older leading woman one day disobeyed 
the Belasco command and became fiancee to an ex- 
actor, Belasco promptly released her from his 
management (And she, too, incidentally, has 
never since been successful.) 

The sensual horse-power of a music show is ob- 
viously diminished in the degree that the girls are 
brought into proximity with the gentlemen sitters. 
In the downstairs theatres this is very clearly to 
be observed in a comparison of the "Follies" and 
its distant New Amsterdam stage with the Winter 
Garden and its relatively intimate runway. In 
the roof theatres, this horse-power is reduced to 
what approaches a vanishing point by bringing 



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ROOF SHOWS 97 

the girls so close to the audience that barely a trace 
of illusion remains. The girls who adorn the re- 
mote stage of the Amhassadeurs in Paris get the 
snooping American pew-holder by the ear; the same 
girls, dancing familiarly at close range in the gar- 
den between the acts, merely bring him to uncork 
a blue chuckle. A stage of the Hofoperntheater 1 
of Vienna, commonly agreed by visiting connois- 
seurs to hold the fairest and most fetching wenches 
in the world, is farther removed from the audi- 
ence than any other operetta stage in the world. . . . 
Any music show, however poor, is a certain 
success the male members of whose audience go 
their several ways at the fall of the final curtain 
individually wishing that they had the telephone 
number of this or that particular girl. (I appre- 
ciate that this isn't precisely the sort of criticism 
deeply admired by the Drama League Iliodors but, 
as every music show producer knows, it is true.) 
And the hankering for this connection is plainly 
more fully cultivated by the distance-lends-en- 
chantment stratagem of the downstairs stage than 
by the present misguided roof move of bringing 
the pseudo-lovely one within such close range that 
the Louisville and Allentown admirers may cruelly 

1 1 of course speak of this theatre at such times as its stage 
deserts opera for the lighter music play. 



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98 COMEDIANS ALL 

assess the mirage in terms of devastating grease 
paint, moles, gilt teeth, loud perfumery, stocking 
seams and hooks and eyes. The most beautiful 
woman's beauty diminishes in the degree that it 
comes toward the male eye; the most beautiful 
woman in the world, scanned nose to nose, betrays 
previously unsuspected and discordant blemishes. 
And — "les illusions ne sont-elles pas la fortune 
du cteur?" 

But where this intimacy is highly damaging to 
the music show, it is precisely the reverse in the 
instance of drama. If the remote Hofoperntheater 
stage has been an extraordinarily prosperous oper- 
etta stage by very reason of its remoteness from the 
stalls, the remote late New Theatre stage was an 
extraordinarily unprosperous dramatic stage by 
very same reason of its equal remoteness from the 
stalls. And since the modern practical dramatic 
theatre has increased its fortunes as it has more 
and more increased the intimacy of its dramatic 
stage and auditorium — going back, in this, to the 
auspicial principles of antecedent centuries — one 
cannot but believe that, still speaking practically, 
this theatre might not augment its financial for- 
tunes even more by developing the intimacy to an 
even greater degree. 



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ROOF SHOWS 99 

When Mr. Belasco produces a dramatic piece 
like "Daddies," it is assuredly reasonable to as- 
sume that Mr. Belasco does so purely and simply 
to make money. To believe that Mr. Belasco be- 
lieves that a play like "Daddies" is an art-work 
and that its presentation will enhance his standing 
in the art world, is a gooseberry too sour to suck. 
Therefore, since the question is primarily one of 
boodle, it is an eminently safe assumption to be- 
lieve that "Daddies," were it presented on a roof, 
would prove not only a much more amusing show 
than it proves to be downstairs, but that, hence, by 
way of predicate, it would make much more money 
than it makes downstairs. And why? Firstly, 
because it would on the roof still appeal to all the 
same sentimentalists who admire it in the more 
austere nether confines of Thespis and, secondly, 
because it would on the roof further appeal to all 
those who have no relish for its diabetic pollyan- 
naism as it is currently presented. And why 
again? Because while those persons who pres- 
ently admire it downstairs would admire it equally 
upstairs, those persons who presently do not admire 
it downstairs would find it a great diversion up- 
stairs where — following the Ziegfeld and Gest roof 
idea — they might throw balls at the actors, ring 



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100 COMEDIANS ALL 

bells when die dialogue became too swashy, and 
squirt siphons at the diabolically cute stage chil- 
dren. 

Aside from the undeniable facts that such plays 
as "Daddies" — and there are regularly dozens of 
them along Broadway — would profit more with 
roof audiences who were somewhat squiffed than 
with the cold sober downstairs shoppers, would 
make a better impression, and would hence be 
doubly successful, these plays — were they moved 
up to the roofs and made the subject of character- 
istic roof divertissement — would by this change in 
projection draw to them the large number of per- 
sons who cannot stomach their idiotic uplifterei in 
its current condition of presentation. A man who 
presently couldn't be drawn in to see a piece like 
"Daddies" with a halter would be delighted to 
see it on the 'New Amsterdam or Century roof 
where, when Mr. John Cope, eetat fifty-one, comes 
out in the role of a college boy, he might stop eat- 
ing his chop suey long enough to throw a cane 
ring over Mr. Cope's ear or where, when Mr. Bruce 
McRae as a great novelist observes that he must 
hurry up work on the last chapters of his serial 
since otherwise George Horace Lorimer will have 
to hold up the presses of the Saturday Evening Post, 
he might, in the playwright's absence, in-curve one 



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ROOF S H O W-&\ : :."{ltt 
of the cotton balls against the "M. McRaVs 'aft-' 
pant. 

Look at the situation honestly, without hypocrisy, 
and tell me if eight out of every ten of the so- 
called straight plays annually uncovered along 
Broadway might not thus be made much more en- 
joyable and profitable. I do not refer, plainly 
enough, to the respectable play that every once in 
a while contrives to show its head above the Rialto 
slopjar, but to the omnipresent exhibition of purely 
commercial showshop accent. Thus, such a play 
as "Just Around the Corner" that lasts a scant 
week in the dramatic rathskeller and induces a 
mental morbus might upstairs prove a gay diver- 
sion and last many months. For here was excel- 
lent roof material gone to waste. Picture the 
pleasure that the theatregoing public might gain 
by ringing the table gongs on such venerable Ho- 
bart mots as the best book to be had in the small 
town being a mileage book back to New York, al- 
luding to the sheriff as Mr. Marshall and, upon one 
character's mistaking Pompeii for a man, causing 
another to observe that he died of an eruption! 
Picture the immense enjoyment to be procured from 
using the little wooden hammers on such goatee' d 
hokums as the man kissing the wrong girl in the 
dark, the repentant youth from the Reformatory 



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JtO?-*;:: COMEDIANS ALL 

Vpoli wnonv aiisp'icion of robbing the safe is made 
cruelly to rest, and the climacteric nosing out of 
the rich villain by the poor pure young heroine! 
True enough, one would wear out one's right arm, 
but think of the fun. 

Take other downstairs plays. Even a play of 
infinitely better grade, such as "Moliere," would 
be improved by the change. For in the instance 
of a play of this better kidney the performance on 
the floor in the very midst of the roof audience 
would relieve the present performance of much of 
its hurtful chill. The effect, on the intimate roof 
floor, would be to bring the audience out of its 
present twentieth century mood and, by the curious 
familistkre potency of theatricalism, make it in 
spirit part of the court about the fourteenth Louis. 
There would be no loss of respect for the text, 
but a subconsciously provoked gain in respect 
This trick, in small measure, was utilized by Gran- 
ville Barker in his staging of the induction to 
Shaw's "Fanny's First Play." Reinhardt, on a 
large scale, executed the same plan with great 
success in his Kammerspielhaus when, on one 
occasion seven years ago, by carrying the scenic 
decorations and lighting out into the auditorium he 
literally contrived to lift his audiences bodily over 
into the milieu of the dramatic characters. In 



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ROOF SHOWS 103 

Japan, of course, the scheme is familiar. And 
William A. Brady, in this country, tried out the 
idea very happily in the last act of "Pretty Peggy" 
when, by filling a portion of the orchestra chairs 
with supers in costume, he converted the balance 
of the audience into actors in the scene. 

Some years ago, I read in an Italian periodical 
devoted to the stage a somewhat analogous sugges- 
tion as to vaudeville. The critic here contended 
that the trouble with vaudeville was that the vaude- 
ville audience was ever shortsightedly regarded 
as of the same complexion as the dramatic audi- 
ence, whereas it must be plain even to the most 
eminent Drama Leaguer that the two audiences are 
of as diverse species as jackass and owl. The 
Italian critic maintained, therefore, that since 
vaudeville audiences are very largely of a piece 
with the kind of yokels who, in our country, merrily 
spend their holidays in the so-called Steeplechase 
Parks getting deathly sick on roller coasters, frac- 
turing their ribs in revolving barrels and catching 
pneumonia by standing agape in a mechanically 
operated blast of wind that blows hats off and skirts 
up — that since this is the case, vaudeville audiences 
should be handled in a similar vein by the vaude- 
ville impresarios. To make vaudeville doubly en- 
joyable to these persons, argued the critic, the 



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104 COMEDIANS ALL 

chairs in a vaudeville dive should be so built that 
they would drolly collapse when sat upon, that the 
hat holders under the seats should impart electric 
shocks, that the ventilators under the chairs should 
at unexpected intervals squirt streams of water into 
the faces of the sitters, and so on. 

But to return to the roof music showB. That 
these shows would be measurably better placed in 
the downstairs theatres must be apparent to any- 
one who has sat critically before them. One goes 
to a music show, obviously enough, not to hear, as 
in the case of a dramatic piece, but to see. There- 
fore, where in the potential instance of a roof- 
presented dramatic piece like, let us say, "The 
Burgomaster of Belgium," it would not matter 
much whether one saw the actors or not so long 
as one could hear what they were up to, in the in- 
stance of one of the current roof-presented music 
shows it quite as certainly does matter. That 
these music shows would be better placed in a 
downstairs theatre where one's view of Lillian 
Lorraine was not periodically cut off by the migra- 
tory hinter anatomy of a fat Swiss waiter and one's 
pleasurable appraisal of Mollie King every other 
minute interrupted by the moving across the vision 
of the ambulatory person of a Roumanian bus boy, 
no one can well contradict. When — as I have 



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ROOF SHOWS 105 

often written — I am courteously invited by the 
management of a roof music show to inspect Mar- 
tha Mansfield or Rosie Quinn and then, just as the 
lovely virgin shoots out onto the floor, my eye 
meets instead with the enormous posterior of a 
roving garcon, I am intelligibly provoked. 

When I visit a roof show — and I presume that 
I am not much different from other men — I visit 
it primarily not to hear the so-called music, nor 
listen to such accompanying rhymes as "A sweet 
French grisett-a, whose name it is Yetta," nor en- 
visage tableaux disclosing a scowling chorus man 
in a red undershirt and placarded "The Spirit of 
Anarchy," but merely and purely, plainly and sim- 
ply, to look over the girls. And when my eye is 
caressed by a creature sufficiently fetching to take 
my thoughts for the moment off such of my habitual 
ruminations as the occulsion of the aqueduct of 
Sylvius in relation to hydrocephalus, or the ques- 
tion of orokinase and ptyalin in the saliva of a 
horse, I don't wish to be interrupted. It is dis- 
tressing to go to a roof with the notion of getting 
the little Quinn and her chemise dance to rid the 
tired mind of speculations on the phenolsulphone- 
phthalein test and its application to surgical dis- 
eases of the kidneys, or with the intention of get- 
ting the Mile. King's pretty legs to make one agree- 



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106 COMEDIANS ALL 

ably forget for the nonce such workaday problems 
as the genetic study of plant height in phase- 
olus vulgaris, to say nothing of the notion of sum- 
inability for the limit of a function of a contin- 
uous variable, and then find that at the Miss King's 
very first knee expose or the Miss Quinn's second 
wiggle a nomadic chow main butler, cigar vivan- 
diere or winepail porter is shutting the gentle houri 
from view. 

The august Professor Richard Burton may rather 
look at Holbrook Blinn than at Marilynn Miller, 
but I call upon such of my somewhat softer 
arteried friends as' the Professors William Lyon 
Phelps and Archibald Henderson to lift their right 
hands to the ceiling, smack the Book, face the jury, 
and solemnly on their sacred words of honour 
swear that they would do likewise. 



Avery Hopwood. — In the concoction of suavely 
risque farce, Avery Hopwood usually stands head 



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AVERY HOPWOOD 107 

lish. There are probably a dozen American farce 
writers who can evolve better ideas for their farces 
than Hopwood is able to evolve for his; and there 
are many who are considerably more fertile in 
devising original and more comically impudent 
characters and situations. Yet not one of them 
can write a farce half so good as Hopwood, since 
not one of mem understands his native language, 
and the acrobatics of that language, so well as Hop- 
wood. 

It is this virtue that Hopwood's even most 
friendly critics habitually overlook. To praise 
Hopwood, as he is generally praised, for his inven- 
tion in the way of politely risque situation, is to 
praise him very largely for a talent that is not espe- 
cially his, since more than one such excellent situ- 
ation has been bodily appropriated by him from the 
work of this and that European writer. The 
amusing Hopwood calendar situation in "Sadie 
Love," for example, U a literal borrowing of the 
same amusing situation from Sacba Guitry's farce, 
"La Prise de Berg-op-Zoom." And the Hopwood 
bed-moving situation in "Fair and Warmer" is a 
brother to much the same situation in Jean Mar- 
tet's farce "Les Ingrats," as the servant situation 
in "Our Little Wife" is to the servant situation in 
Rip's and Bousquet's "L'Habit d'un Laquais." 



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108 COMEDIANS ALL 

Thus, also, to praise Hopwood, as he is generally 
praised, for the originality of his farcical themes 
is equally to miss the mark. The soul swapping, 
astral body conceit of his poorest farce, "Double 
Exposure," for example, was already long familiar 
in the German von Scholz's farce, "Exchanged 
Souls." But the general failure to praise Hop- 
wood for his high cunning in the writing of naughty 
English, for his happy knack of selecting precisely 
the proper word for precisely the improper place, 
is to miss the mark even more widely. For it is in 
this gymnastic that Hopwood excels every other 
American writing for the farce stage and not only 
every other American, but, as I have hereinbefore 
pointed out, a number of the talented Frenchmen 
as well. 

Hopwood knows how to write this risque English 
because, first, he knows how to write English. Un- 
like his Broadway farce-making competitors, be ap- 
preciates that good farce is not to be manufactured 
by walking the floor like a caged hyena and shoot- 
ing dictation at a stenographer out of the edge of 
the mouth. He understands that writing is writing, 
and not merely the recording of extemporaneous 
conversation. He knows that it is as absurd to sup- 
pose that, since a play is to be spoken by actors, the 
spoken word of the actors is best to be made to seem 



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AVERY HOPWOOD 109 

natural through the author's experimental speak- 
ing instead of writing that word, as it would be to 
suppose that since a waltz is to be danced by 
dancers, the leg-work of the dancers is best to 
be made to seem graceful through the composer's 
experimental dancing instead of writing that waltz. 
(That the Mozarts of modern farce, de Caillavet 
and de Flers, are an exception in this is a contradic- 
tion not especially more pertinent than the circum- 
stance that Mozart improvised a strict fugue on the 
clavichord at fourteen is a contradiction of the fact 
that fugues are made and not bom.) In almost 
every word that he writes, Hopwood's discrim- 
ination and care are apparent. Like Langdon 
Mitchell, he seeks his audience's laughter less 
through an intricate joking sentence than through 
a single joking adjective. As Mitchell, in his 
comedy "The New York Idea," brews a good round 
chuckle merely by dropping the adjective "mis- 
cellaneous" into an apt place, so Hopwood in some 
one of his farces like "Sadie Love," say, turns the 
same trick by dropping the little adjective "first" 
into an equally apt place. And where one of the 
sweating Broadway farce heavers like Mr. Mark 
Swan, for instance, works tooth and nail to get a 
laugh by laboriously combining a joke from the 
Birmingham Age-Herald with the spectacle of a fat 



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110 COMEDIANS ALL 

actress in green pajamas, Hopwood contrives to get 

a tripled laugh by the much simpler expedient of 

selecting carefully a single peppery, appropriate 

verb. 

However greatly one of his farces may happen 
to vary from the standard he has set for himself — 
personally, I believe his "Our Little Wife" to be 
his best work — there is little Hopwood writes that I 
do not experience a pleasure in contemplating. 
Like Victor Herbert, he never does anything with- 
out its touch of quality. There is always a cosmo- 
politan twinkle of eye, a gay phrase, an amusing — 
if, in truth, entirely superficial — hitting on this 
or that human idiosyncrasy. Taking his farce writ- 
ing by and large, I suppose he intrinsically re- 
sembles the young Cuitry more than he resembles 
any other Continental. Like Guitry, his comment 
on life is most frequently negligible; and like 
Guitry, his satiric sense, if he has such a sense, 
remains largely invisible; but like Guitry, too, he 
can take a sheet of gay tissue paper and with a 
fancy adroitness twist it into an exceptionally 
jocund foolscap. Born in Ohio, I believe, and 
graduated from the college at Ann Arbor, Michigan, 
he is paradoxically as Parisian in his writing as this 
Guitry. And he is the only man writing risque 



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THE POTBOILERMAKERS 111 

farce in America whose work has any finish, any 
style, or any metropolitan flavour. 

§ 27 

The Potboilermakers. — In the world of modem 
dramaturgy, the English hack takes categorical pre- 
cedence over the hacks of Europe and America in 
the enterprise of writing bad plays as dully as ia 
by human effort possible. The American hack at 
his worst is always a cut or two above the English 
hack at his worst: however empty his play there 
is generally a touch of sharp Americanism, a dash 
of vulgar honesty, that catches the ear. And the 
French hack or German hack, the Italian or the 
Austrian, contributes to his dismal masterpiece at 
least a flash of phrase or dim suggestion of quasi- 
philosophy. But the English hack reaches heights 
of virtuosity in stenciled balderdash unsealed by his 
drivelling contemporaries. This is true not only 
in the instance of dramatic writing, but in the other 
forms of literature; for the English hack novels 
of such as the immensely popular Nat Gould are 
as far inferior to the American hack novels of such 
as the equally popular Harold Bell Wright, or to 
the French hack novels of such as the equally 



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112 COMEDIANS ALL 

popular Henri Bordeaux, or to the German hack 
novels of such as the once almost equally popular 
Heinz Tovote, as the English hack plays of such as 
Horace Annesley Vachell are triumphantly inferior 
on all counts to the American hack plays of such as 
William Hurlbut, or the French hack plays of such 
as Lucien Gleize, or the German hack plays of such 
as Rudolf Holzer, or the Austro-Hungarian hack 
plays of such as Vajda Szinhaz, or the Danish hack 
plays of such as Carl Gjellerup, or the Italian hack 
plays of — 

But no need to continue the tedious catalogue. 
Nothing in all the modern writing for the stage at- 
tains to the dull splendour of an Englishman writ- 
ing at his dullest. At hie worst the Englishman is 
as difficult of matching as at his best. Search the 
records of current theatrical writing the world over 
and one will be at pains to discover equals in the 
art of sheer inanity for such British masters of 
bavardage and twattle as Jennings, Porter, 
Devereux, Worrell, Morton, Hemmerde, Vansittart, 
Nielson, Howard, Brandon, Lonsdale, Dunn, 
Coleby, Martindale, Pleydell, Fenn, Thurston, 
Terry, Raleigh, Hodges, Percival, Harwood, 
Vernon, Owen, Parry, Stayton, Frith, Gibson, 
Hamilton, Jeans, Lion, Merivale, Chilton, Ellis, 
Can, Denny, Fernald. . . . 



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THE POTBOILERMAKERS 113 
This last, though American bom, is by personal 
vote, long residence, activity, taste and training, as 
English as a mutton chop or tight shirt, and a typical 
example of the contemporaneous English rubber- 
stamp professor. Twenty years ago, this Mr. 
Chester Bailey Fernald, then living in the land of 
his birth, wrote a first-rate short story and a second- 
rate, though rather diverting, one-act play. But 
in the nineteen years elapsed he has composed not so 
much as a single phrase touched with grace or 
originality, with resonance or wit, with melody or 
observation or philosophy. The plays he has 
written, from "The Moonlight Blossom" to "The 
Married Woman," from "98-9" to "The Day Be- 
fore the Day," from "The Pursuit of Pamela" to his 
most recent "Three for Diana" out of "The Third 
Marriage" of Sabatino Lopez, are in each instance 
illuminatingly representative of British hackdom on 
die flying trapeze. 

I do not mean to single out Fernald as the worst 
of this sour school, or even the second worst. He 
is by no means the worst. But he combines in him- 
self so many of the deficiencies and absent qualities 
of the present-day British drama drudge that, as 
well as any other, he may be selected by way of 
horrible example. It is a characteristic of Fernald, 
as of his colleagues in the arts of unimaginative 



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114 COMEDIANS ALL 

writing, that he works almost entirely in terms of 
the platitudes, treadmills, stock phraseology and 
stale literary baggage of the stage. And this habit 
is so deeply ingrained that it operates even when 
he gives himself over to the transposing of a play 
manuscript from one language into another, just as 
it operates in like situation in the instance of such 
of his fellow doctors of stencil as Fagan, Hicks, 
Farquarson Sharp, Bithell, et al. In example 
whereof, I append a few examples from the adapta- 
tion by Fernald of the aforementioned Italian "II 
Terzo Marito" — examples of the substitution of so 
many coccygine vaudeville-sketch cackles for what 
might, by the simple and obvious means of direct 
translation, have been retained as somewhat less 
banal and moth-eaten stuff: 

1. "The mere sight of you makes me grow younger. 
It's like a breath of the sea air!" 

2. "You are free; / am free! What is the use of hav- 
ing freedom if one cannot make happiness out of 
it? Marry me and the world will be just big 
enough to hold our happiness!" 

3. "I have (dropping her eyes) something to tell you. 
When you have heard me, probably you will want 
to reconsider your proposal." 

4. "I decided to talk the matter over with her once 
again. She had insisted that we should not refer 
to it again." 



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THE POTBOILERMAKERS 115 

5. "But under that moon, under those silent stars, with 
the music of the waves beneath us. . . -" 

6. "How she has changed in a year! She was a child 
then; now she is a woman!" 

7. "I wrote you not to come until now because I 
wanted to give you a chance to think. I wanted 
you to be prepared for {pause) what we shall have 
to say to each other." 

8. "What do you know of life? Nothing! There is 
a great, beautiful world still to be opened to you!" 

9. "You have had no experience. You are a beautiful 
unwritten page." 

10. "When I looked into your eyes — I can see your eyes 
every night whenever I close my own in the dark — 
the first time I looked into them and every time since 
— something has happened in my heart" 

11. "If I talk lightly about the most serious things in 
the world, it does not mean that I am frivolous. I 
was never so serious in my life. And you are not 
going to tell me (gulping) that there is another?" 

12. "If you send me off, I shall never get over it as 
long as I live!" 

13. "My own feelings were a trifle hurt, at first; but 
when you explained, I saw that your intentions were 
as kindly as they always are." 

14. "And what, pray, do you know about me?" 

Add to these sentimentalized stencils the injec- 
tion of an alien dose of morals, the joke about the 
practise of exchanging duplicate wedding presents, 
the joke about the climate of England, the joke 



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116 COMEDIANS ALL 

about married persons fighting with each other, and 
the joke about woman's habit of changing her mind, 
and one achieves a fair idea of the Fernald opera- 
tions in adaptation. I have seldom laid eyes on 
a sadder job. The Italian original, true enough, 
is in the most liberal accounting a third-rate effort, 
but Fernald has dexterously plunged it thirty pegs 
farther down the scale. He has changed the in- 
calescent Italian lover into a cool cockney 
cucumber; be has turned the saucy widow into a 
dour Prince of Wales's Theatre clothes-horse; he 
has removed the gin from the cocktail in Acts III 
and IV; he has written over the Italian phraseology 
into the phraseology of the commonplace London 
curtain-raiser. In the original, a kind of high- 
comedy matrimonial "Baby Mine" — though in no 
sense and in no degree so adroit or humorous a 
work as Miss Mayo's — the play is revealed in this 
typical British hack adaptation as a windmill turn- 
ing furiously in a dead calm. 

§ 28 

The Drama of Ideas. — The theatre, for all the 
whoops and hopes of its academic whifflers, is 
actually the last place in the world for the exposi- 
tion of ideas. The so-called drama of ideas — using 



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THE DRAMA OF IDEAS 117 
the word idea in its strictest sense — is as much an 
anomaly as California Rhine wine. Imagine even 
the tremendous genius of a Shakespeare deducing 
from the influence of the conception of evolution on 
philosophy a sober play that wouldn't put its 
audience to sleep. Imagine Hauptmann a Newton, 
de Curel a Haeckel, Dunsany a Thomas Hobbs — 
and then imagine sitting through their dramatic 
stage conclusions. The drama of ideas must be — 
in fact, is — merely a drama of inklings. It must 
be, by its intrinsic soul, even in its highest forms, 
less a substantial projector of such ideas as Vernon 
Wollaston's on the variation of species, Lange's on 
the emotions, Durkheim's on the division of labour 
or Tarde's on anti-naturalism than an amiable 
juggler of such easy speculations and second-hand 
quasi-philosophies as Andreyev's on the burden of 
religion, as Dunsany's on fate, as Brieux's on 
heredity and Galsworthy's on social economics. 
One genuine idea, expounded soberly and soundly 
without the hocus-pocus of stage tinsels, would 
suffice to crowd the nearest blind pig to the doors 
fifteen minutes after the rise of the first curtain. 



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118 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 29 

Hokum. — Probably nowhere else do the popular 
playmakere of Broadway reveal their imaginative 
shortcomings so clearly as in the employment of 
what is known colloquially as hokum. In particu- 
lar, comedy hokum. This species of hokum, or 
positively provocative comic antic, these play- 
makers scarcely ever embellish, scarcely ever 
elaborate, scarcely ever trick out in fresh gauds or 
overhaul. Year in and year out, and (though still 
largely sure-fire) become drably stereotyped and 
threadbare, this hokum of tripping over the door- 
mat, throwing an imaginary object into the wings 
and having the stagehand thereupon strike a gong, 
and the like, is promulgated in all the glory of its 
venerable whiskers. The rubber-stamp hokum of 
the guignol who gets his hand stuck in the decanter, 
who under the guise of camaraderie gives his com- 
panion a staggering whack across the shoulder 
blades, who emphasizing a point stamps on his 
confrere's toe, who bends himself in at the middle 
as if anticipating a boot from the rear, who peeking 
into a window painted on the back-drop winks over 
his shoulder at the audience as if he were spectator 
of saucy didoes , transpiring within — these play- 
makers provide season after season. And yet more 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 119 

novel hokum, and doubtless by virtue of its com- 
parative freshness more telling hokum, were readily 
improvised. For example, the droll mule who 
moves aside his finger-bowl and dips his fingers 
grandly in the demi-tasse. For example, the gabby 
Polonius who, just as he has worked up to full 
eloquence, drops his pince-nez in the soup. For 
example, the vengeful hanswurst who very, very 
slowly lifts up his foot in order to bring it down 
hard on his neighbour's great toe, suddenly with a 
seraphic grin lets it fly, and, while still grinning, 
feels it descend with an awful crack on his own. 
For example, the vir borealis who lifts the telephone 
receiver off the hook and, without calling a number, 
enters forthwith into the midst of a very intimate 
conversation. . . . 

§ 30 

The Star System. — Some fifteen years ago and 
still in the critical egg, it was one of the major di- 
versions of my almost ceaseless indignation regu- 
larly to deride and pummel the so-called star system 
of the American stage. Against this system and its 
personages I was wont to discharge profoundly 
manufactured dialectic and abuse, supported by 
what then seemed to me to be exceedingly san- 
guinary epigrams, deadly mots and bomb-like 



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120 COMEDIANS ALL 

similes and metaphors. Let a physiologically 
choice young woman, newly graduated to stage 
eminence from some managerial love sofa, show 
herself in anything more than the merest eight-point 
advertisement, and promptly I had at her with some 
such very ironical definition as "Star: A heavenly 
body." And let a Figaro somewhat less capable 
than Forbes-Kobertson or Moissi, but possessed of 
two-inch eyelashes, be elevated overnight by some 
astute impresario from the part of the butler to any- 
thing more important than friend to Bassanio, and 
I was upon the poor fellow with something like "A 
proficient actor is one who is successful in com- 
pletely immersing his own personality in the role 
he is playing; a star actor, one who is successful in 
completely immersing the role he is playing in his 
own personality." And having thus performed 
upon these poachers and depredators, I would 
chuckle myself to sleep and arise early the next 
morning to detect the death rattles and watch the 
star system roll over, gasp, and die. But each 
morning, much to my chagrin and utter incompre- 
hension, the impersuasible stars and their Bystem — 
for all my seemingly (insurmountable objections — 
appeared to get stronger and rosier. For the more 
assiduously and sarcastically I would lay to the 
night before with cutlass, machine gun, cup custard, 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 1^1 

broom handle, dynamite, axe, old slipper, field 
pieces and pea-blower, the more would I hop out at 
suncrack to view the enormous stacks of corpses and 
be dumf ounded to hear only a peaceful, rhythmic, 
and apparently very comfortable snoring. 

But I was young then, and not disheartened. 
For two — three — years, I kept at the job, hurling 
soft puddings and bricks, fashioning biting pro- 
nunciamentos, installing secret wireless stations on 
the roof, brewing devastating repartees, and shoot- 
ing off thousands of lethal things like "Why these 
extravagant hymns to Madame Sarah Bernhardt be- 
cause she possesses the courage to appear on the 
stage with a wooden leg? A leg is approximately 
but a one-sixth part of the human body. There are 
therefore any number of star actresses amongst us 
who, in the matter of woodenness, have the Madame 
beaten six to one." And not only did the stars 
themselves daily come in for my mortal comments 
— as for example, "An actor is one who cannot act; 
a star actor, one whose exceptional virtuosity in 
this direction has brought him recognition from a 
manager" — but also the audiences who, against my 
expressed wish, seemed to rush to see the stars in 
such numbers that I was compelled to take a side- 
street to get to my home. Of the women who went 
to make up these audiences I would caustically ob- 



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122 COMEDIANS ALL 

serve that they fell into two classes: those who 
thought that James K. Hackett was too grand for 
words, and those who thought that James K. Hackett 
would be too grand for words if he got his hair 
cut. And of the masculine element, that die three 
greatest star comedians in America were (1) Dan 
Daly; (2) Thomas Q. Seabrooke; and (3) the man 
who could laugh at Frank Daniels. And of the 
programs handed to these audiences (nothing was 
out of the range of my pig-balloon), that they were 
devices subtly employed by theatrical managers to 
persuade the audience to believe that the play it 
was about to see was going to be acted — or, again, 
that they were pamphlets circulated by the producer 
to assure the audience that the theatre was dis- 
infected of germs with C N Disinfectant and the 
play disinfected of drama with actors. 

To reinforce this epigrammatic front line, I 
would then hustle up from the rear a heavy 
artillery of smoking similitudes and analogies, 
among them such cartouches as the likening of this 
star actress' carriage to a buckhoard and that star 
actor's vehement articulation of grief to a long train 
of freight cars in the act of unbuckling. But the 
more I performed, the longer grew the lines at the 
box-offices of the houses wherein the stars were 
playing and the more the newspapers gave over 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 123 

their pages to the public's insistent demand for 
interviews in which the star actresses explained how 
difficult it was for inexperienced and innocent 
women like themselves to act sophisticated roles of 
the Camille and Zaza type and how (business of 
shuddering) it was therefore necessary for them to 
take up with one of these creatures in order closely 
to watch and study her. And so great presently 
became the popularity of the heterogeneous stars 
and the public's relish for them that it was a rare 
Sunday newspaper that gave one-tenth the space to 
the Philippine muddle and the Nan Patterson case 
that it devoted to this star's confession that she was 
originally a well-known society girl of Roanoke, 
Va., or to that star's opinion that women should not 
smoke in public. Photographs of star actresses' 
Chinese hounds and star actors' "country homes" at 
Bay Shore, Long Island, edged the pictures of 
James R. Keene's Sysonhy, Adlai E. Stevenson's 
birthplace and the hotel clerk who had discovered 
that Maxim Gorky and the lady were not married, 
off the first page — and interviews in which star 
actresses told how much moral good was being done 
by the play in which they were acting crowded 
Delmas' remarks back opposite die Siegel-Cooper 
advertisement. Thus, of an already lusty seed, did 
the star system of the popular theatre — for all the 



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124 COMEDIANS ALL 

hogsheads of vinegar I poured upon it — blossom 
to its present sweeping proportions. And why? 
Very simply, because in spite of such amiable 
clowns as the Nathans of a decade and a half ago 
and the Hamiltons of the present day, this star 
system is not the pox claimed for it, but actually 
a very valuable, a very sound, and very prophylac- 
tic institution. 

The steadily increasing success of the star system 
is a tribute to the superior critical sagacity which 
the mob, as opposed to the so-called cultivated 
minority, on very rare occasions evinces. It was 
the American mob that got the proper measure of 
Maeterlinck while the minority was still extolling 
him as a second Shakespeare. It was this same 
mob, that, on another level, detected the photo- 
graphic virtues in Charles Hoyt and George Ade and 
George Cohan while the minority saw in the first 
only a cheap farce writer, in the second only a 
slangy buffoon and in the third only a very cocky 
young man who was given to singing about the 
American flag through his nose. And it was this 
mob again, and not the minority, that first soundly 
appraised at their correct values such diverse 
native artists as Mark Twain and Montague Glass. 
The theatre mob of Washington, in the very teeth 
of its critical minority, first detected the virtues in 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 125 

Barrie's "Peter Pan." The theatre mob of Phila- 
delphia, in the teeth of its critical minority, first 
detected the vitues in Eleanor Gates' "Poor Little 
Rich Girl." The theatre mob of New York, in the 
teeth of its critical minority, measured accurately 
the virtues of Sheldon's admirable dramatization 
of Sudermann's "Song of Songs." It sometimes 
happens! And one of these sometimes is vouch- 
safed us in the mob's acute realization that, far 
from being a damaging vice, the star system has 
been one of the most trenchant forces working 
toward the prosperity of a better American, or 
American-presented, drama and a more elevated 
American cabotinage. 

Let us consider the situation. Not theoretically, 
but in terms of available fact. In the first place, 
then, is the star system, even as we at present rather 
absurdly have it, inimical to the sound presentation 
of good drama? I reply to the question by ask- 
ing another. Are such plays as Galsworthy's 
"Justice" and "Silver Box," for instance, in any 
way deleted of artistic force by the starring in them 
even of such variable actors as the Barrymores, 
frere et soeur? Are these dramas not actually in- 
vested with a greater artistic force by this mana- 
gerial emphasis of the leading roles? (When the 
dramatist places his emphasis upon a certain role 



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126 COMEDIANS ALL 

— as he does four times in five — why should it be 
held an artistic error for the dramatist's producer 
to do likewise?) Is the same author's "Strife," 
presented (as it has been) without the stress of 
stars, relatively more forceful or more soundly 
composed and presented? And are not stars in 
such instances of an actual tonic advantage, since 
they frequently attract to worthwhile drama many 
susceptible persons who might otherwise remain 
away? 

Again, consider the effect of the star system upon 
acting. Germany, Austria and, in considerable 
measure, France know no such greatly — and ap- 
parently ridiculously — elaborated starring system 
as the American. As a consequence, for all one 
reads to the contrary in the learned books on the 
drama written by the two-building-college pro- 
fessors of Mechanical Engineering and Botany, the 
general average of the acting in the American 
theatre is at present of a quality quite as good as, 
if not superior to, that on any of the stages named. 
In the entire theatre of Germany and Austria in 
the year of the late war's outbreak there were a 
number of actors like Schroth, Albert Heine, 
Moissi, Grube, Lindemann and Kayssler of a vivid 
and exceptional talent; but the absence of an en- 
couraging and inspiriting star system had left the 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 127 

rank and file in a sorry state of under development. 
Moissi is a very much better tragedian and char- 
acter actor than our star system has developed and 
Schroth a better performer of the average straight 
rfile, but for every other Germano-Austrian actor 
of any authentic grade it is not difficult to name 
at least two — and in some cases perhaps as many 
as three — American or naturalized American or 
Anglo-American actors. Similarly, while the 
French actor like Guitry fils, say, is of course a 
vastly more proficient farceur than the American, 
he is on the whole inferior to the latter in the 
other instances of dramatic interpretation. For 
one Max Dearly the American stage can boast three 
or four equally good, if not better, low comedians. 
For one Guitry /fere, the American stage gives you 
a twofold correlative talent. Try, for example, 
relatively to match French actor for American star 
in the instances of Arnold Daly, John Drew, 
William Faversham, Walter Hampden, David 
Warfield, Lew Fields, Leo Ditrichstein, Fritz 
Leiber. . . . 

Coming to the women, the case is even more 
illuminating. And it is not necessary to support 
one's contention with the names of the American 
women whose right to stardom has been — or is — 
uncontested. Take the cases of those whose 



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128 COMEDIANS ALL 

status has not been, is not, so fully agreed upon. 
And on this plane search Germany or Austria or 
France for an actress capable of giving a better, 
sounder and more artistically telling performance 
than such as-if-too-suddenly manufactured and 
professorially scoffed at stars as the Fenwick of 
"The Song of Songs," the Ulrich of "Tiger Rose," 
the Starr of "The Easiest Way," the Jolivet of 
"Where Ignorance is Bliss," the Stevens of "The 
Unchastened Woman," the Reed of "Roads of 
Destiny," the Keane of "Romance," the Ferguson 
of "The Strange Woman," the Taylor of "Mrs. 
Dakon's Daughter." . . . Was Ethel Barrymore's 
talent corrupted — was it not rather encouraged to 
fructification — by Frohman's starring of her when 
she was still an artistically immature and merely 
very pretty girl? Would the comedic talent of 
Margaret Lawrence, say, be in any way encom- 
passed and made sterile if the Selwyns were to- 
make a star of her tomorrow? 

The objection to the star system is convention- 
ally based upon two assumptions — both of which 
are false. The first of these assumptions is that 
it tends to destroy smooth ensemble performances. 
What it actually does in the majority of instances 
is precisely the opposite. In example whereof, 
take at random any ten or twelve of the more re- 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 129 

cent companies with and without stars, and com- 
pare the ensemble performances of those contain- 
ing stars with the performances of those minus 
stars. On the star side take, for instance, "Tiger! 
Tiger!" "The Saving Grace," "A Successful 
Calamity," "Why Marry," "The Very Minute," 
"Redemption," "The Copperhead," "Mr. Laz- 
arus," "Kismet," "Madame Sand," "Getting 
Married" and "A Marriage of Convenience." 
And on the non-star side, for example, "Three Wise 
Fools," "Daddies," "The Gypsy Trail," "Hush," 
"A Little Journey,*' "Polly With a Past," "Magic," 
"The Betrothal," "The Devil's Garden," "The 
Happy Ending," "Toby's Bow" and "The In- 
visible Foe." Compare the one side with the other 
and cast your vote, a vote that will assuredly go to 
the star productions and one that will be all the 
more confirmatory since a fair number of produc- 
tions in both lists were made by the same directors 
and since, further, a number of the productions 
listed on the star side were purposely selected for 
the comparatively mediocre quality of the stars 
who appeared in them. Thus, unless I am greatly 
mistaken in your "ballot, one discovers that the 
weakness in ensemble acting, where it exists, has 
often less to do with the star system than with the 
director responsible for the production. 



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130 COMEDIANS ALL 

The second characteristic assumption is that the 
system, as we have it, is an evil since it is in the 
occasional habit of elevating to stardom young 
women whose histrionic virtuosity is alleged to be 
confined principally either to a pretty face or to 
an openness to managerial amour that amounts 
almost to Southern hospitality — or to both. This 
assumption seems to me to wear two false-faces. 
In the first place, to argue that the star system is 
intrinsically an evil because certain of the young 
lady stars it has manufactured are neither 
actresses nor virgins, is, as I see it, of a piece 
with arguing that the non-star system is intrinsically 
an evil because certain of its male performers are 
neither actors nor satyrs. And in the second place, 
to believe that it is improbable that a young woman 
may be possessed simultaneously of a talent for 
concubinage and for acting is to bring into the 
argument a morality as alien to an appraisal of 
histrionic skill as it is to an appraisal of literature. 
The simple truth, of course, is that in America, 
as well as in England, and, more especially, on the 
Continent, a number of the most proficient actresses 
of the present years — to say nothing of the past — 
have been graduated to their estate of granted pro- 
ficiency out of managerial embraces. 

To object to the American star system as a 



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THE STAR SYSTEM 131 

menace to acting and drama on the ground that it 
occasionally (as within the last few months) pops 
into stardom a talentless young woman who 
achieves star eminence for herself by the simple 
means of putting up half the money for the show 
or a talentless actor who illuminates Broadway 
with his name in Matkowsky capitals hy laying out 
twelve thousand dollars is to object to American 
hook publishing as a menace to art and literature 
on the ground that it occasionally (as within the 
last few months) pops into absurd prominence by 
means of extravagant newspaper and 'book-jacket 
advertising a talentless young man who pays for 
his own book and writes personally the high praise 
of himself or an equally talentless young woman 
who does likewise. The star system, at bottom, 
is a sound and serviceable, a logical and natural, 
institution. And its frequent abuse may — as I see 
it — no more be brought as an argument against 
its fundamental worth, validity and integrity than 
the frequent abuse of the eyes may he brought as 
an argument against the practice of reading. The 
star system has proved itself of undeniably sound 
commercial design — and whatever brings the 
theatre to prosper must in the end, though the end 
be far off, he viewed with critical satisfaction. 
And if on the more relevant side of artistic design 



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132 COMEDIANS ALL 

the star system has been not always quite so uni- 
formly successful, its measure of comparative 
artistic success has at least outweighed its measure 
of comparative artistic failure. Regarded from 
any plane of criticism higher than that from which 
one appraises the art of the Sells Brothers, the 
art of even the best actor is of course approxi- 
mately as authentic an art as that practiced by 
Duveen, Knoedler or any other such merchant in 
the retailing of masterpieces. But estimating it 
merely for what it is, what it stands for, and what 
it seeks to accomplish, the star system, for all its 
absurdity, is as valuable to the theatre as a pocket- 
ful of iron crosses and croix de guerre is to the 
general of an army: it is a spur to effort, a teaser 
to glory, a something to transfix the gaze of the 
great crowd on the line of parade. 

Mr. Thomas A. Wise is, in sound criticism, a 
not particularly able actor, yet as a star his Fal- 
staff is an immeasurably better Falstaff than that 
of Wilhelm Diegelmann, who, because he is not 
starred in Germany, gives the native professors 
an excuse to declaim omnisciently against the 
American star system. Madame Nazimova is 
similarly a not particularly illustrious actress, yet 
as a star her Ibsen performances are immeasur- 
ably better than those of Ida Wiist, of Brahm's 



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THE AMERICAN NEGRO 133 
famous Lessing-Theater company, who — not be- 
ing starred in Germany- — provides the local 
Brunetieres with still another excuse. Come down 
the list a bit, and you will find analogously that 
such a local and artistically debatable star as 
Ruth Chatterton is, though debatable, yet pos- 
sessed of an actually greater skill than such a 
French non-star as the Mile. Sylvie who plays in 
Paris the same kind of parts that the Chatterton 
plays in New York. And the same thing holds 
true in the cases of Billie Burke and Marthe 
Regnier. If Desjardins isn't starred in France 
and Henry Dixey is starred in America, it is, 
quite properly, because Dixey is really the better 
and more deserving actor. And if Brule isn't 
starred in France and William Gillette is starred 
in America in the same kind of roles, it is simi- 
larly because Gillette, being the more effective 
performer, deserves to be starred. 

§ 31 

The American Negro. — It is one of the com- 
monest delusions that the American negro is by 
nature a musical fellow. The truth, of course, 
is that he is not at all musical, but rather merely 
rhythmical. He has an acute feeling for rhythm, 



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134 COMEDIANS ALL 

but of music he knows nothing. It is, indeed, as 
rare to find a black American who knows anything 
about music as it is to find a white American. . . . 
The negro, with his unusual sense of rhythm, is 
no more accurately to be called musical than a 
metronome is to be called a Swiss music-box. 

§ 32 

The Shaw Imitation. — The average imitator of 
Shaw appears to believe that the best way to write 
a Shaw play is first to write one's own play and 
then — without changing a line of dialogue — by 
transfering the names of the male characters to 
the women characters and vice versa, to put the 
male sentiments in the women's mouths and the 
women's ideas in the men's; and, this done, to 
cause one character to quote Schopenhauer and 
then bring into debate with that character another 
character who contrives to floor him with a wheeze 
of W. S. Gilbert, soberly expounded. 

The fault of Shaw's imitators is that they are 
successful in imitating Shaw's garrulity without 
being successful in imitating the substance of 
Shaw's garrulity. Anyone can easily and success- 
fully imitate a dramatist such, for instance, as 
Henri Kistemaekers, since the hitter is merely ver- 



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SUBTERFUGE 135 

bose in a hollow, empty way; but it is another thing 
to imitate with any degree of closeness an agile 
writer like Shaw. For the more closely a writer 
imitates Shaw, the more apparent becomes the wide 
difference between them. In example, where a 
more successful imitator of Shaw than Wedekind, 
or Ilgenstein, or Otto Soyka, or Freksa, or Gustav 
Wied — and where figures more distant each in 
turn from the original? Or, to turn to Shaw him- 
self, where a closer imitator (in "The Phil- 
anderer") of the Arno Holz attitude in "Die Sozial- 
aristokraten" — yet where two men farther apart? 

§ 33 

On Drama and Acting. — Drama is the art of ex- 
pressing artificially what is felt naturally. Act- 
ing, the art of expressing naturally what is felt 
artificially. 

§ 34 

Subterfuge. — It is the common custom of the 
playwright who is desirous of exhibiting himself 
in the light of a brilliant philosopher but who is 
unable to think up anything brilliant to say, to 
resort to the theatrical trick of trying to confound 
criticism by putting the very best things he is able 



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136 COMEDIANS ALL 

to think of in the mouth of his hero and then, upon 
their being Spoken by the hero, causing another 
character to observe that the aforesaid hero talks 
like a sophomore. 

§ 35 

War, Peace and the Drama. — Why a great war 
should nine times in ten inspire the contem- 
poraneous theatre to little more than the composi- 
tion of trivial Phillips Oppenheim-Anna Katherine 
Green fables must be explained hy the same per- 
son who can tell why a great historical figure should 
nine times in ten generally inspire the theatre 
to little more than washboiler melodrama (Lin- 
coln in "The Ensign"), chasings after scraps of 
paper ("Colonel Cromwell"), and superintend- 
ings of ingenue amours ("Disraeli") \ The war, 
or military, play of respectable quality is born 
not of war, but of peace. Where peace gives birth 
to a Galsworthy's "The Mob" in England, war 
gives birth only to spy-plot pot-boilers like "The 
Man with the Club Foot" and "The Live Wire." 
Where peace gives birth to Von Beyerlein*s 'Taps" 
in Germany, war gives birth only to the same kind 
of spy-plot pot-boilers on the stages to the north and 
south of the Rosetheater. And for one peace- 
time "L'Aiglon" in France, war breeds nothing but 



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THE CRITICAL STRICTURE 137 
countless spy yellow-backs like "Alsace," just as 
for one peace-time Roda Roda's "Feldhermhugel" 
in Austria, war belches forth nothing but trash of 
the accent of Flamm's "Soldier's Child." 

§ 36 

The Critical Stricture. — That the wildest im- 
probability may be taken for the postulate of a 
play is a theory which regularly projects the 
majority of our critics into something of a sweat. 
They charge the air with gaudy dicta on the unity 
of this or that, on the holding up of the mirror, 
on the quality of reasonability in the initial pre- 
mise and on many other such whim-whams about 
which the person seeking amusement in a theatre 
gives not a continental. Forgetting, as has often 
been pointed out, that, from four hundred and sixty- 
eight years before the birth of Christ — when the 
most successful play of the day ("(Edipus Rex") 
showed its audience a hero who, when he came on 
the stage, had been married for twelve years to his 
own mother, who, in turn, throughout all that time 
had never had a talk with him on the past which 
might have given him any suspicion of her indentity 
or of the fact that he had murdered his own father 
— down to the present time, when one of the suc- 



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138 COMEDIANS ALL 

cessful plays of the day ("Justice") thoroughly 
convinces its New York audiences of its local ap- 
plicability despite its New York audiences' non- 
recognition of section 887 of the Penal Law and 
section 2,188 of the Penal Code, which make the 
play, from the local and native point of view, 
ridiculous — forgetting, as I say, that improbability 
has utterly nothing to do with a play's chances 
for success and effectiveness, whether commer- 
cially or artistically. 

One of the most recent plays to come in for such 
strictures is — a farce, to boot, mind — the "Good 
Gracious Annabelle" of Clare Kummer, a deliber- 
ately fantastic affair designed only, by a wild dis- 
cbarge of artless humours, to jabberwock its audi- 
tors and give them a bit of careless fun in the play- 
house. These strictures are not difficult to expect, 
since they are ever vouchsafed us by the pro- 
fessors when a piece slightly different from the gen- 
eral is brought to the community's attention. They 
appeared in full force, it is interesting to recall, 
when twenty-seven years ago "Paris Fin de Siecle" 
was charming the French capital and when "The 
Cabinet Minister" was crowding the theatres of 
the British. And the critical strictures were in 
these instances largely of a piece with the critical 
strictures more recently visited upon the entertain- 



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THE CRITICAL STRICTURE 139 

ing play by Miss Kummer. To object, as objec- 
tion ts made, to the antic unreality of Miss Kum- 
mer' 9 little play, is to object to the final scene of 
Augier's "Le Gendre de M. Poirier" — the best 
scene in the play and probably Augier's best frag- 
ment of dramatic composition. Another recent 
play, "Come Out of the Kitchen," by A. E. 
Thomas out of a novel by somebody or other, 
concerns itself with a story the same as that em- 
ployed by Miss Kummer. And this same story 
it handles with a precise regard for all those rule- 
books of technic so close to the fancy of the grave 
and literal-minded critic. And the result? The 
play is not only not one-tenth so amusing as Miss 
Kummer' s play, but, into the bargain, it is a sub- 
stantial fact that — so far as the story goes — "Come 
Out of the Kitchen" actually isn't one-half so 
convincing as the latter! Mr. Thomas elects to 
treat the fable of the aristocrat turned servant as 
rational comedy; Miss Kummer elects to treat it 
as moonstruck farce. The theatrical value of the 
latter approach must be at once patent. By initi- 
ally assuring the audience that the theme is quite 
absurd, Miss Kummer needs only, to achieve suc- 
cess, concern herself with making her spectators 
laugh. To the contrary, by initially assuring the 
audience that the theme is a semi-serious one, Mr. 



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140 COMEDIANS ALL 

Thomas (being no Oliver Goldsmith) is com- 
pelled through the rest of the evening not only to 
devise ways and means to amuse his spectators, but 
in addition must waste a considerable and valu- 
able portion of his allotted two hours in per- 
suading his audience periodically of the reason- 
ability of his characters and his characters' ac- 
tions. The difference 'twixt the two entertainments 
is, therefore, the usual difference 'twixt local 
comedy and farce. The former is more often 
than not merely the latter without a sense of hu- 
mour. 

Again, contrary to the prevalent critical notion 
that Miss Rummer's plays are (I quote the ga- 
zettes) "diffuse," "formless," "loosely and care- 
lessly knit" and "of an irresponsible and slipshod 
technique," the truth is that for all their surface 
appearance of formlessness and technical in- 
felicity they actually follow a very definite and 
symmetrical design. To say that the plays would 
be better plays were they of a more symmetrical 
construction is arbitrarily to say that the straight 
street of a city is a more lovely place to linger 
in than a crooked country lane. Miss Kummer's 
plays, if the word formlessness must be used, are 
formless not in the sense that a bad piece of 
literature is formless, but in the sense that a good 



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THE CRITICAL STRICTURE 141 
piece of literature — the "Professor Bemhardi" of 
Schnitzler, say, or the "Weavers" of Hauptmann, 
or the "Peter Pan" of Barrie, or the "Pasteur" 
of Sacha Guitry, or, to descend in the scale, one or 
two of the farces of Hoyt — is formless. Formless- 
ness is frequently not a fault, hut a virtue of rich 
blossom. Consider, in fine, Strindberg's "Dream 
Play" . . . Chopin's sonata in B flat minor . . . 
the poetry of Yeats. . . . The work of Miss Kum- 
mer, if it lacks technique, lacks technique in the 
sense that a little child dancing merrily to a spring- 
time hurdy-gurdy lacks it — and, contrariwise, in 
the sense that Gertrude Hoffmann possesses it. 

Not less ridiculous than these criticisms of Miss 
Kummer's work are the majority of criticisms 
directed against Langdon Mitchell's dramatization 
of Thackeray's novel, "Pendennis." It has been 
made the subject of vigorous critical objection that 
Mr. Mitchell has, in his dramatization of the novel, 
omitted all drama. Which, in view of the circum- 
stance that in the novel itself there is no drama 
(i. e., drama of the spasm sort mat physics pleasur- 
ably what Thackeray himself was fond of allud- 
ing to as "that great baby, the public"), seems 
just a trifle like lamenting that Rostand, in pre- 
paring the story of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac 
for the stage, did not make the play more romantic 



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142 COMEDIANS ALL 

for Coquelin's and Mr. Mansfield's lady admirers 
by giving Cyrano a more lovely nose. 

To object to a dramatization of "Pendennis" is 
an objection truly not without a measure of com- 
mon sense. But to object to an undramatic drama- 
tization of "Pendennis" is to object to Paderewski 
because be doesn't play the violin. Mr. Mitchell's 
purpose was to lift Thackeray onto the stage. It 
was apparently Mr. Mitchell's critics' desire that 
he lift the stage onto Thackeray. The notion that 
the stage, then, is not the place for an undramatic 
story such as this, is the sort of notion that would 
bar from the theatre all manuscripts like "Anatol" 
and "Patriots" and welcome in their stead chiefly 
such as "The Queen of the Opium Ring" and "The 
Witching Hour." 

§ 37 

The Actor Play. — An actor views a play not in 
terms of composite drama, but in terms of its in- 
dividual roles. It is consequently not unnatural 
that we find that when an actor composes a play 
for his own use he more often than not writes a 
luxuriant part for himself and completely forgets 
to write a play around the part. When an actor 
attempts the negotiation of satire, an especial 
marasmus is on the world. Actors have written 



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AUGUSTUS THOMAS 143 

successful drama, comedy, burlesque, farce — but 
satire, the edelweiss of literature, has generally 
been far above their reach. 



The Drama of Augustus Thomas. — The drama of 
Augustus Thomas is the condensation of the pro- 
tagonist's lifetime into two hours and the expan- 
sion of the theatregoer's two hours into a lifetime. 
The so-called technique of this playwright is so 
perfect that it completely obscures his drama. 
Every exit and entrance, every pince-nez that is to 
be broken at a critical moment, every bandage that 
is to be found germ-infected and bring about a 
character's death, is planted with a so thorough as- 
siduity that, once the first half of the preparation 
is done with, nothing remains but to hang around 
and watch the plants work. True, pastime may 
be found the while in giving ear to such of the 
playwright's tony Broadwayisms as "the chemistry 
of motivation," "the chemistry of things spiritual," 
and the like, and to his seriously intended love 
scenes wherein the hero informs the heroine, in 
voice a-thrill with fervour, that she is "an angelic, 
delectable baby" (the quotation — from "Rio 
Grande" — is literal!), yet in the main the evening 



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144 COMEDIANS ALL 

reveals itself as a mere lecture by Thomas on 
"How To Write A Play," a laboratorical evening 
proving to the further satisfaction of the students 
of Professor George Pierce Baker that, with pro- 
tracted schooling and practice, one may become 
sufficiently proficient in what is termed dramatic 
technique to write anything for the stage but drama. 

§ 39 

Sentiment and Avoirdupois. — It is probable that 
the refractorily comic aspect of many a play- 
wright's sentimental work is often heightened by 
the experienced lady to whom the playwright's 
producer entrusts the leading role. The lady — so 
one on such occasions generally reads in the en- 
thusiastic reviews of the play — "is possessed of no 
small histrionic skill" and, after witnessing her 
performance, one is disposed emphatically to agree. 
For so great, indeed, is generally the lady's his- 
trionic skill that once she sits upon it during a 
sentimental floor scene she is unable subsequently 
to get to her feet again without the robust aid of the 
leading man. 

Sentiment demands slenderness. The moment 
sentiment weighs one hundred and thirty-five 
pounds, it becomes comedy; the moment it touches 



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THE RELIGIOUS PLAY 145 
one hundred and thirty-six, it becomes farce; the 
moment it touches one hundred and forty, it be- 
comes burlesque. The best piece of criticism ever 
set to paper in this regard was written by the late 
Charles H. Hoyt when he was the dramatic critic 
of the Boston Herald. He wrote it after witness- 
ing the performance, in a sentimental role, of Miss 
Lily Langtry. And this one piece of criticism 
doubtless did more for the future American drama 
than any thousand pieces of criticism written pre- 
viously or since. The day it appeared Hoyt was 
promptly discharged — and became a playwright. 

§ 40 

The Religious Play. — Since the average New 
York audience is usually made up for the most part 
of Jews, a religious or racial play that abstains 
from an excessive adulation of Jewry is predestined 
to failure. Such a play stands small chance of 
financial success unless it brings down its big cue- 
tain on a rosy piece of verbal fireworks in which 
Jesus Christ, Disraeli and Jacob Schiff are pro- 
claimed as belonging to the same race, and unless 
it brings down its final curtain with the discovery 
that not Milton Rosenbaum, but the low Patrick 
McCarthy, was the man who actually stole the 



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146 COMEDIANS ALL 

money. Any variation of the theme is bound to 
offend the tender sensibilities of the theatregoing 
Anglo-Oriental. And, further, any variation is 
bound to come in for gamy cracks at the hands of 
the newspaper play reviewers, since an enthusiastic 
record of a play that handles the racial question 
without thick gloves would not be likely to drive 
crazy with joy the Messrs. GimbeL Altaian, Saks, 
Stern, Greenhut, Abraham & Straus, and the rest 
of the full-page advertisers. 

This attitude on the part of audience and re- 
viewer is instrumental in producing a hundred 
"Melting Pots" and "Little Brothers" for one "Con- 
sequences," a hundred "Houses Next Door" and 
"Five Frankfurters" for one play like "The Gen- 
tile Wife," a hundred fountains of hypocritical 
pulvil for one decent piece of writing that ventures 
to look upon its subject matter intelligently, calmly, 
decently and fairly. . . . Our popular theatre, 
however, is a bizarre institution in any direction 
when its stage is occupied with a religious question 
— whether that question be Christian, Jew or Bud- 
dhist. It sees nothing profane or blasphemous in 
presenting the Saviour as a sizzling spotlight ("Ben 
Hur") or as the inventor of a death-dealing sub- 
marine (in the motion picture "Civilization") or as 
an uncouth actor ("The Servant in the House"), yet 



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THE RELIGIOUS PLAY 147 

it shrinks — particularly in its Mosaic managerial 
departments — from such reverent and gentle and 
very beautiful things as Brieux's "Faith" and 
Andreyev's "Sawa." The obvious sacrilege of 
such mossback diddlers as "The Terrible Meek" 
and "Marie-Odile" — exhibitions of evil taste 
aimed directly at the box-office — it hearkens to in 
awe and in devout silence. It views a team of 
asthmatic nags toting a papier-mache chariot over a 
treadmill or a baby spotlight halo-ing a scheduled 
ingenue or a number of stagehands mimicking the 
roars of hungry lions as an exalting religious spec- 
tacle, while it the meanwhile is somewhat puzzled as 
how to conduct its feelings and attitudes toward 
such a presentation as Shaw's "Androcles". . . . Re- 
ligion, so far as the theatre is concerned, is much 
like a cigar. A cigar, however good, is not palat- 
able when smoked in the brilliant sunlight. A 
religious theme, however sound, is distasteful when 
aired in the brilliant glare of the footlights. 

§ 41 

La Voix (TOr. — That a rich low speaking voice 
generally bespeaks generations of cultural breed- 
ing and background is one of the commonest of 
American-held social and critical fallacies. The 



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148 COMEDIANS ALL 

so-called rich low speaking voice is found in Amer- 
ica to be regularly less the inheritance of aristoc- 
racy than the inheritance of an engagement in 
"The Lady of Lyons," a medical specialization in 
women's diseases or a waiting on table in a first- 
class restaurant. The speaking voice of Mrs. 
Astor in infinitely less "aristocratic" than that of a 
third-rate Broadway actress. The speaking voice 
of Hamilton Fish, compared with that of a Ritz 
headwaiter, sounds like a foghorn. 

§ 42 

Plays of Caste. — It is the general contention 
of American critics of the drama that a play whose 
theme relates to British class prejudice and seeks 
to exhibit the results of an amorous collision of 
caste and proletariat cannot possibly succeed in in- 
teresting American audiences since — I quote the 
common observation — "in this country there is no 
such thing as caste," etc. Such critical flag-wag- 
ging is the veriest gibberish. Not only, of course, 
is there quite as much class distinction in this 
country as in England — if, indeed, not vastly more 
— but, what is more directly to the point, plays with 
precisely the same basic theme have regularly suc- 
ceeded in interesting American audiences. The 



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THE PROTEAN PLAY 149 
eternal "Iron Master" (with perhaps its American 
derivative "The Boss"), "The Lost Paradise," 
"Old Heidelberg," "Trelawney," ... the innu- 
merable native plays wherein the family of wealth 
and position opposes its son's marriage to a poor 
working girl or its daughter's marriage to a young 
commoner ... all are intrinsically of the class 
versus mass posture. The Lords and Ladies of 
Tom Robertson and the Misters and Missuses of 
Owen Davis (vide "Forever After," which played 
an entire season in New York alone) are brothers 
and sisters under their skins. 

§ 43 

The Protean Play. — That a four-act play of the 
nature, for example, of "Under Orders," acted in 
its entirety by a cast composed of but two players, is 
interesting is not to be denied. But that the quality 
of interest aroused is precisely akin to that aroused 
by a man playing a banjo with his toes — and that, 
incidentally, the quality of the resulting drama is 
of a piece with the quality of the resulting music — 
is to be denied no less. Such a play is to drama 
very largely what the vaudeville mind-readers 
named the Zanzigs are to Sigmund Freud. Just 
as with the Zanzigs a member of the audience is 



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150 COMEDIANS ALL 

pricked up vastly less by being told that what he 
is holding in his hand is a plumber's license than by 
guessing how the -Zanzigs did it, so with a play of 
this kind is a member of the audience made curious 
much less by the progress of the drama than by 
speculating how two lone actors are going to fur- 
ther the progress of that drama. That the play- 
wright in such an instance writes a play for two ac- 
tors less than he writes two actors for a play is, 
of course, obvious. And while it is readily to be 
allowed that he may maneuver his trick dexterously, 
the fact remains that all that remains is this trick. 
And a trick, alas, is no more profound drama than 
pulling goldfish out of an ink-well is deep-sea fish- 
ing. 

§ 44 

On Aesthetic Dancing. — The numerous schools 
and cults of aesthetic dancing, interior and al 
fresco, are doubtless grounded less on the honest 
desire to make a beautiful art of the dance than on 
the Freudian desire of unwanted vestals to play in- 
directly, yet satisfactorily, with the masculine pas- 
sions. A bevy of women running half naked 
around Central Park is not nearly so intent upon 
enthroning Terpsichore in her niche in the temple 
of the beaux arts as upon watching the effect on the 



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W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 151 
park policeman out of the comers of its eyes. The 
unloved woman with legs gnarled and knotted like 
a rustic bench, galloping across the grass plots 
in a sheet and a diaper, thus takes out her sinister 
revenge. No women half-way admired by men, 
and loved by men, go in for undressing in public, 
whatever the artistic purport of their intentions, 
save possibly upon the stage. The moment a 
woman runs around Pelham in the daylight clad 
only in a bed sheet, under the dubious impression 
that she is Psyche in the Arcadian Wood, that mo- 
ment is it certain that she has reached the conclu- 
sion that her charms are unavailing against the for- 
tress that is man. The schools and cults of aesthetic 
dancing are filled with left-overs, wall-flowers. 
These schools and cults are to art what the Japan- 
ese punk stick is to an old maids' tea-room. 

§ 45 

W. Somerset Maugham. — It is one of the char- 
acteristics of W. Somerset Maugham's so-called 
epigrammatic comedies — so painstaking and ob- 
vious are the author's plants and cues for bright 
lines — that one knows in advance precisely what 
his characters are going to say and that one then 
finds that what one thought they were going to 



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152 COMEDIANS ALL 

say is much brighter than what they really do say. 
For example, when in his play, "Caroline," his 
elderly and already somewhat skeptic lovers, dis- 
cussing prosaically their forthcoming wedded life, 
suddenly begin quarreling over their union, one 
knows that what will follow will be the man's con- 
ciliatory "There, there, dear Caroline; let us look 
on our coming marriage merely as a disagreement 
to agree." But what actually follows is the man's 
"Let's not quarrel now, Caroline; we will have 
plenty of time to quarrel after we're married" — 
a line favourite of every team of gas-house comed- 
ians in the small-time vaudevilles. And so it goes. 
That there is a certain graceful quality to 
Maugham's writing, that he writes a more engag- 
ing English than the majority of quill-drivers 
who contribute to the stage of our own country, 
is a matter scarcely open to question. But that he 
is a wit or a writer possessed of even a facile 
cleverness is a thing of another colour. The Amer- 
ican newspaper comparison of his play, "Caroline," 
with the comedies of Oscar Wilde is surely a some- 
thing to jounce the humours. In all of the play, 
from beginning to end, there isn't one-tenth the 
wit of die American Tom Barry's "Upstart" which 
was ridiculed out of court by the daily gazettes 
after a few performances several years ago in the 



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W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 153 

Maxine Elliott Theatre, one twentieth the wit of the 
American George Bronson Howard's "Snobs" which 
suffered a like fate at the Hudson Theatre — or 
one-fiftieth the wit of Mencken's recent brew of 
speculations enclosed between the covers of "A 
Little Book in C Major." If you are one to doubt, 
compare Maugham's "Marriage doesn't change a 
woman much. She remains just the same, only 
more so," with Mencken's "The charm of a man is 
measured by the charm of the women who think 
that he is a scoundrel." Or Maugham's "Men 
don't want to marry. It's not their nature. You 
have to give them a little push or you'll never bring 
them to it," with Mencken's "How little it takes to 
make life perfect! A good sauce, a cocktail after 
a hard day, a girl who kisses with her mouth half 
open!" Or Maugham's "Women make such a dis- 
tinction between the truth and the true truth" with 
Mencken's "Since Shakespeare's day more than a 
thousand different actors have played Hamlet. No 
wonder he is crazy!" Or the former's "It is in 
railway stations that a man shows his superiority 
to a woman" with the latter's "The one unanswer- 
able objection to Christianity is that the God it asks 
us to worship, if the descriptions of its official 
spokesmen are to be believed, is a vastly less vener- 
able personage than Ludwig van Beethoven." Or 



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154 COMEDIANS ALL 

the former's "Nothing is so pleasant as to think of 
the sacrifices one will never have to make" with the 
latter's "When a husband's story is believed, he 
begins to suspect his wife." 

But I prove here what is already perfectly known. 
Maugham is merely a pretty juggler of pretty words 
who blithesomely tosses them aloft and lets them 
fall about him in indiscriminate, pretty little piles 
that have plenty of cake-frosting but little meaning 
and less humour. 

§ 46 

The Risque Britisher. — It is, generally, as diffi- 
cult for an English playwright to be adroitly risque 
as it is for a married woman. The Britisher who 
essays to write an adroitly risque little play is most 
often as light and devilish as a German dancing the 
tango. With the exception of Pinero's "Wife 
Without a Smile" I am unable to summon to mind 
a single modishly naughty British play possessed 
of that delicate touch so imperatively necessary to 
such affairs. No sooner does the British author 
affect a momentary mood of wickedness than he be- 
comes nervously frantic immediately the moment 
is over with to explain at great and serious length 
that what went before was intrinsically impeccable 
from any angle of morality from which his audi- 



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CHARACTER ACTORS 155 
ence may have elected to regard it. The moment 
a bashful double entente peeks furtively around 
the corner of the proscenium arch, out dashes the 
playwright armed with swabbing instruments and 
antitoxins. The evening, in 'brief, amounts to 
three acts of apology interrupted at intervals by 
pseudo-compromising situations of the sort that go 
to make up the violent serials in the Ladies' Home 
Journal. 

§ 47 

Vaudeville. — Vaudeville is a species of enter- 
tainment derived from the dregs of drama and 
musical comedy assembled in such wise that they 
shall appeal to the dregs of drama and musical 
comedy audiences. 

§ 46 

Two Celebrated American Character Actors.— -It 
is claimed by many of my colleagues that George 
Arliss is America's most expert character actor. 
And indeed, by this time, he should -be. For he 
has been acting that character for longer than I am 
able to remember. True enough, now the character 
has been named Zakkuri ("The Darling of the 
Gods"), now the Devil, and now Disraeli (in the 
plays so titled), now again Paganini and now still 



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156 COMEDIANS ALL 

again Hamilton (in the plays so called), but what' 
ever the designation, Mr. Arliss' interpretation of 
the character is ever the same. The slit-eyed peer, 
the nervous hands, the velvet tread, the Ralph Herz 
delivery — they never vary. The difference be- 
tween Mr. Arliss' Disraeli and Paganini, as the dif- 
ference between his Zakkuri and his Devil, is 
merely a matter of make-up. A pleasant actor the 
man is; but a versatile actor, or an actor possessed 
of very real skill, certainly not. Otis Skinner, like 
Arliss, is also a one-part actor. His characteriza- 
tions vary only in the tint of grease-paint with which 
he colours his face. The difference between his 
Anthony Bellchamber, English actor, and his An- 
tonio Camaradonio, Italian organ-grinder, for ex- 
ample, is but the difference between Hess* No. 9 
(healthy pink) and a grayish wig and Hess* No. 12 
(healthy olive) and a black wig. Otherwise, all 
is as one: the flourish of gesture, the cocking of 
the eye, the slap upon the expanded chest, the ele- 
vation of the right shoulder, the hat upon one ear, 
the running of the scale with the speaking voice, 
the posture debonnaire, the backs of the palms sup- 
porting the chin, and the smiling of the whimsical 
smile. . . . Whatever the role, the same bag of 
tricks. Mr. Skinner never gets deeper into the soul 
of the character he is playing than that soul is re- 



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JOURNALISTIC HAZLITTRY 157 
vealcd to him in his dressing-room mirror. His 
Italian organ-grinder is less an Italian organ- 
grinder than an imitation of the late Maurice 
Farkoa in a yellow sash. 

§ 49 

The Journalistic Hazlittry. — Not less interesting 
than Dunsany's "The Laughter of the Cods" were 
the journalistic critical performances visited upon 
the work and its author on the occasion of the play's 
initial revealment in the United States. By way of 
assessing the kidney of criticism to which a play- 
wright is subjected at the hands of New York jour- 
nalism, let us undertake the completely bootless 
business of criticizing one of the representative and 
typical criticisms confected on this especial occa- 
sion — the criticism in point being that of Mr. J. 
Ranken Towse, of the Evening Post, the dean of 
metropolitan journalistic play reviewers. An ex- 
cerpt from this critical estimate will serve. Thus, 
then, this Mr. Towse: 

"A close, critical scrutiny of the play reveals some 
obvious weaknesses. In the first place, it is certain that 
when an argument or a meaning is intended the exposi- 
tion of it should be clear. In this particular case, for 
instance, in which, supernatural ism (whether Pagan or 
otherwise is immaterial) supplies the energy of the whole 



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158 COMEDIANS ALL 

dramatic scheme, the spectators ought to be left in no 
doubt as to whether or not it is held up to ridicule. 
Yet this is the condition in which a good many of them 
must have found themselves the other evening if it oc- 
curred to them to think at all. It is not probable that 
Lord Dunsany deliberately set to work to puzzle his 
audience with conundrums, but he has proposed several. 
At whom or at what were the gods laughing? At the 
jocose slaughter of a court which had refused to credit a 
prophecy which they had themselves suborned or at 
the priest whose lie they converted into a true and seem- 
ingly inspired prediction? Or did the priest willingly 
deceive his blackmailers by pretending that he was lying 
when he knew that he was speaking the truth? Or was 
he trying at the last to undo the mischief for which he 
was mainly responsible?" 

In the first place, the observation that "It is cer- 
tain that when an argument or a meaning is in- 
tended the exposition of it should be clear. In this 
particular case, for instance, in which supernatural- 
ism . . . supplies the energy of the whole dra- 
matic scheme, the spectators ought to be left in no 
doubt as to whether or not it is held up to ridicule," 
etc. 

In the first place as to this in-the-first-place, why 
should it be desirable that the spectators be left 
in no doubt as to whether the supernaturalism in 
point is or is not held up to ridicule? Even grant- 



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JOURNALISTIC HAZLITTRY 159 
ing that some sort of argument or meaning is in- 
tended which — as Dunsany explicitly stated in an 
article quoted in the Evening Post, among other 
papers — is not the case. This leaving of the spec- 
tators in doubt is the very element that makes the 
play the notably impressive thing it is. Chester- 
ton has worked the same trick in "Magic." Brieux 
has done largely the same thing in "La Foi." 
Ibsen, if we are to listen to the opinions of Catulle 
Mendes, Ahlberg, Jaeger and Georg Brandes, did 
much the same in his "Comedy of Love." The 
spectators at Ibsen's "Wild Duck" are left in doubt 
as to where the thematic ridicule of satire ceases 
and the bite of tragedy begins, and vice versa. 
And so on without end. 

"It is not probable mat Dunsany deliberately 
set to work to puzzle his audience with conun- 
drums, but he has proposed several," continues the 
reviewer, — and proceeds to enumerate. 

Dunsany — despite the reviewer — deliberately Bet 
to work to do just that. If intrinsic proof be 
needed, we have his published word for it. But 
to this outside word it is not necessary to look. 
"The Laughter of the Cods," plainly enough, is 
deliberately a conundrum play — as "The Lady or 
the Tiger" was deliberately a conundrum story 
and as "Mr. Lazarus" and the "The Thirteenth 



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160 COMEDIANS ALL 

Chair" were deliberately conundrum plays. Or, 
on a higher level, as Schnitzler's "Bernhardi" and 
Bahr's "Principle" and Galsworthy's "Strife" are, 
in one sense, deliberately conundrum plays and 
as, in another, are Shaw's "Getting Married" and 
— by stretching a point — Dunsany's own "Glitter- 
ing Gate." The thematic conundrum of "The 
Laughter of the Gods" puzzles Dunsany's audi- 
ence for the very simple reason that it also puz- 
zles Dunsany. And being an artist, Dunsany has 
none of the hack's wish arbitrarily to answer what 
is intrinsically an unanswerable riddle merely that 
his play may be the more toothsome to the yokel 
appetite for "endings." This childish desire to 
have everything explained, proved, settled, sealed 
and labelled is the invariable itch of the What's- 
Inside-the-Doll school of journalistic criticism to 
which this Mr. Towse is a typical doctor. Of the 
inscrutable mysteries and riddles of the universe, 
the meaninglessness in the circlings of the globe 
and of what transpires on it and above it and be- 
low it, this criticism and its devotees demand a 
facile and satisfactory solution. That the great 
artists of the world, from Shakespeare and Bee- 
thoven to Hauptmann and Anatole France and 
from Ibsen and Balzac to Synge and Gorky and 
Conrad, have been baffled in the face of the rid- 



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JOURNALISTIC HAZLITTRY 161 
dies means less to the Towses than that the Charles 
Kleins and Charles Rann Kennedys have always 
been quick to find soothing answers. 

The utter fatuity of such criticism is to he per- 
ceived in the questions which the reviewer would 
have Dunsany and his work answer and which, 
being not answered, greatly, in the reviewer's esti- 
mation, weaken the play. 

"At whom or at what were the gods laughing?" 
the curious Towse demands to know. Or again — 

"Did the priest willingly deceive his black- 
mailers by pretending that he was lying when he 
knew that he was speaking the truth?" Or 
again — 

"Was he trying at the last to undo the mischief 
for which he was mainly responsible?" 

Following an analogous train of critical reason- 
ing, the good Towse might readily find fault with 
"The Master Builder" (as, sure enough, did Pro- 
fessor Frank Wadleigh Chandler, of one of the 
numerous jitney Oxfords of the Middle West) be- 
cause Ibsen has failed clearly to answer for the 
Professor such questions (I quote the genial Pro- 
fessor, who calls them "enigmas") as: 

1. "Is Hilda a woman, like Hedda, or is she a mere 
'imaginative child?" 

2. "Is Hilda the youthful aspiration of Solnese re- 



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162 COMEDIANS ALL 

turned to him in later life? If so, his death is a 
triumph, not a tragedy!" 
3. "Or, again, is Hilda, as his embodied aspiration, a 
futile force? If so, the play is a tragedy!" 

And, similarly and quite as relevantly, might 
the good Towse find fault with Beethoven's Fifth 
on the ground that it does not satisfactorily answer 
for him such conundrums as why does a chicken 
cross the road, how old is Ed Wynn, and how soon 
will William Jennings Bryan die. 

"The Laughter of the Gods," though consider- 
ably inferior to "The Gods of the Mountain," is 
a finely imaginative and compelling derisory satire. 
It brings one to wonder, once again, why no one 
has thus far looked to Dunsany for grand opera 
material. What librettos his plays would make! 

§ 50 

True Sentiment and False. — Every once in so 
often some play writer addresses himself to achieve 
again the spirit and romance of Meyer-Forster's 
"Old Heidelberg," and every once in so often the 
tilter comes unhorsed from the tourney. The sen- 
timent of "Old Heidelberg" was brewed out of an 
understanding of life and out of an understand- 
ing of literary composition sufficient to translate 



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PERSONALITY 163 

that understanding of life to the stage. It was 
not, like its imitations, a thing brewed rather out 
of a misunderstanding of life and out of an under- 
standing of the showshop sufficient to translate that 
misunderstanding of life to the stage. Sentiment 
is not to be projected through the proscenium arch 
by a mere set representing a flower garden, a dim- 
ming of the border lights, and Ethelbert Nevin on 
an off-stage violin. 

§ 51 

Personality and the Actor. — On the vexed sub- 
ject of personality and actor, one of my colleagues 
— a young man given to a profound admiration of 
the cosmetic art — has written: "Our critics always 
have been a little bewildered by personality. 
When they come upon a personality as vivid as 
Mrs. Fiske's or Maude Adams', or Mr. Mansfield's 
— where it is recognizable as a common factor of 
all the artist's performances — we are sure to have 
some wearisome paragraphs of protest from those 
who are wont to confuse the art of acting with the 
art of disguise. It is a little as though a music 
lover might regret that, while Caruso was pleasing 
enough in his way, he always sang tenor." My 
young friend's employment of the word "art" to 
designate the craft of putty noses and false whisk- 



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164 COMEDIANS ALL 

ers should be a sufficient answer to his notion as 
to the place of personality in the sun of the foot- 
lights. Yet his contention is so nicely representa- 
tive of the opinion of the professional layman that 
one may be forgiven for plumbing it a little fur- 
ther. 

In the first place, let us set down that person- 
ality is a matter of major importance to an actor: 
that personality is nine points in the histrionic law. 
To this, doubtless, every cool eye agrees. There- 
fore, since personality is nine points in the his- 
trionic law, it must follow that, in an appraisal of 
the histrionic esthetik, art is but one point. Can 
one picture, for example, Mrs. Fiske's "art" apart 
from her physical tricks and peculiarities of per- 
sonality? And if so, what is the bulk of the "art" 
that remains? Lazaro's art remains art on the 
phonograph record. Imagine Mansfield's "Cy- 
rano" on the Victrola! Would it be Mansfield's 
art or Edmond Rostand's that the machine repro- 
duced? The notion that a bad actor reciting 
Shakespeare is merely an actor, but that a good ac- 
tor reciting Shakespeare is an artist, is akin to the 
notion that Shakespeare in paper covers is a lesser 
artist than Shakespeare in morocco. Take Brieux's 
personality from "Les Hannetons" (there is none 
of the man's generally accepted and recognized 



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PERSONALITY 165 

"personality" in the work), and a work of art still 
remains. Take Maude Adams' personality from 
her Peter Pan — and what is left but J. M. Barrie? 
When H. G. Wells wrote "Tono-Bungay," he was 
proclaimed, and properly, an artist. But if H. G. 
Wells were to write "Tono-Bungay" every year, 
without variety, without change, would it be jus- 
tifiable every year to proclaim him an artist of in- 
creasing rank? Or Rodin; if, every year, he re> 
peated his "Hand of God"? Yet year on year our 
so-called actor artists repeat themselves, without 
variety, without change, without diversity — for all 
the world as if they were dwelling still in those dis- 
tant days when first the heated young journalists 
of the epoch proclaimed mem artists. Mrs. Fiske's 
"Erstwhile Susan" is Mrs. Fiske's "Mrs. Bump- 
stead-Leigh," just as Mrs. Fiske's "Mrs. Bumpstead- 
Leigh" is Mrs. Fiske's "High Road" and "Servir.' 
Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman" is not Ber- 
nard Shaw's "Csesar and Cleopatra"; Brahms 1 
piano-concerto in D minor is not Brahms' piano- 
concerto in B flat major. In a word, the so-called 
art of acting has become, in its final deduction, 
most often but the sustained art of acting and re- 
acting a single role: the revolving disc of the por- 
trayal of a role that once captivated the crowd. 
That is, a successful catering to the mob. Hence, 



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166 COMEDIANS ALL 

mere salesmanship. Hence — save in a few sig- 
nal instances — something scarcely compatible with 
authentic art. 

As to my young friend's supplementary criti- 
cism: "It is a little as though a music lover might 
regret that, while Caruso was pleasing enough in 
his way, he always sang tenor." The obvious re- 
tort would seem to be, "It is a little as though a 
music lover might regret that, while Caruso was 
pleasing enough in his way, he always — while sing- 
ing tenor — distracted one with periodic bizarre 
movements of his ombligo." 

Nothing, as agreed, is so important to an actor as 
personality; yet nothing so instantly bounds his ca- 
pacity and versatility. The actor with a marked 
personality — and here even a very great actor like 
Salvini is found no exception to the rule — is as a 
Corot upon whose palette there is an unconsonant 
carmine which is forever getting vexatiously into his 
brushes. A dryness of voice in the limpid lines of 
Romeo; a staccato utterance in the soft lips of a 
Princesse Lointaine; an uncontrollable neck twist in 
the tender passages of Hannele; an indelibly char- 
acteristic semi-grunt in the great silences of Cyrano 
— these are the defects of personality that tear fine 
moments of the stage into a thousand tatters. To 
be effective, acting must interpret not so much the 



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PERSONALITY 167 

playwright's work as the audience's silent criti- 
cism of that work. The actor who is most success- 
ful is he who thinks less with his own mind than 
with the mind of the theatregoing mob. And 
this is why the thoughtful lover of drama, the 
person who elects to use his own mind, has re- 
cently taken himself in such large numbers to die 
printed play. He appreciates the fact that a com- 
fortable chair under a reading lamp is the only 
place for worthwhile drama. And if, in sooth, you 
are one to disagree with this man's notion and seri- 
ously contend that good plays should be acted in 
the theatre — that the stage is the proper place for 
them — tell me what you think would happen to 
Hauptmann's great Silesian play if, in the tremen- 
dous climax to the fifth act, the child actress play- 
ing Mielchen were accidentally to drop her panties? 
Or, again, what would befall the superb art of 
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" if you were to 
see it played by a Romeo who chanced unhappily 
to be seized with the hiccoughs? 

§ 52 

Double Entente. — A theatrical piece by such rep- 
resentative American virtuosi of thin ice as Mr, 
and Mrs. Frederic Hatton ever suggests a French 



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168 COMEDIANS ALL 

play written in Chicago. Invariably selecting 
themes distinctly Gallic, the Hattons with equal reg- 
ularity select treatments distinctly galline. That 
this selection of treatment is, however, invol- 
untary, that it proceeds automatically from the 
collaborators' shortcomings, is apparent to any- 
one who has passed an eye over their various 
labours. Breathlessly pursuing the elusive double 
entente and attempting a flying leap to the step 
of its caboose, the Hattons are forever missing 
and landing with a loud Dump upon their joint 
sit-spot. But such is the patent unshakable de- 
termination of the good souls and so great their 
ardour to be the Chicago de Caillavet and de Flers, 
that a rub on the sore place and they are forever 
once again up and at it. Does a double entente 
perch upon the window sill of their chamber and 
chirp, and the Hattons are out of bed at a jump 
and off to the pantry after the salt-shaker. Does a 
double entente show its bead over the underbrush 
and the Hattons dash wildly to the edge of the lake 
and set sailing a decoy duck to lure it within range. 
But nary a genuine double entente falls into their 
clutches. For what they capture, when they cap- 
ture anything, is less a double entente than a raw 
smoking-car story, a mining-camp jape, a traveling 
salesman's wheeze. And, further, not a ribald 



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THE CAREER OF A CRITIC 169 

plaisanterie swaggering unashamed in its ribaldry, 
and so open to no charge of leer or hypocrisy, but 
rather something that gives one the impression of 
smut in a kimono, of dirt grinning at one from be- 
hind a screen and crooking its finger. The double 
entente of such Frenchmen as Cuitry fils and 
Picard, such Italians as Bracco, such transplanted 
Swedes as -Adolf Paul, such Germans as Thoma, 
and such an American as Zoe Akins, is to be bred 
not, as the Hattons believe, merely by crossing smut 
with cftlogne, but by the infinitely more difficult 
trick of crossing wit with literary skill. Double 
entente is not, as the Hattons present it, an 
obstetrician in a dress suit; it is a well-bred young 
woman in negligee. 

§ 53 

/. M. Barrie. — The triumph of sugar over 
diabetes. 

§ 54 

Episode in the Career of a Critic of the Drama. 
— Two days before the opening of the new Selwyn 
Theatre in West Forty-second Street, the manage- 
ment by uniformed special messenger sent me, in 
the stead of the reviewer's conventional paste- 
board tickets of admission, a box from Tiffany's 



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170 COMEDIANS ALL 

wherein, amid a wealth of tissue paper, lay a hand- 
some leather case (also from Tiffany's) wherein 
in turn, amid more tissue paper, lay a magnificent 
sterling silver plate (also from Tiffany's) engraved 
with my name, a number of gorgeous scrolls and 
circumbendiba, and the legend "Admit two." 
Obviously, said I to myself, on gazing upon this 
costly boon — obviously, said I, the MM. Selwyn are 
about to open their new musee with an especial 
piece de resistance, a true goody, a something 
extra-fine. This must be, I said, since for such 
things as Forbes-Robertson's "Hamlet" and 
"Caesar and Cleopatra" the Shuberts had sent me 
by the mere mails the ordinary stereotyped card- 
board tickets, since for Bernhardt's "L'Aiglon" the 
Frohman office had merely scribbled on a somewhat 
dirty scrap of paper the figure 2, and since for 
Dusc's "Hcimat" in Paris, I well recalled, the 
manager had simply shouted to one of the ushers 
to give me whatever decent seat he could find 
vacant. In view of all this, repeated I to myself 
as I gazed upon the MM. Selwyn's dazzling grant, 
in view of all this, said I, the MM. Selwyn must 
have something vintage, some impeccable bijou, 
some great ruby, to set out before me. Here, 
whispered I, would be no merely fine drama, but 



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THE CAREER OF A CRITIC 171 

something literally to floor and stun: a drama to 
remember when other dramas had long gone, a 
drama to thunder its echoes down the esplanade 
of time. 

So came the night of the event. Impressed and 
not a little bouleverse by the handsome leather case 
and my magnificent sterling silver ticket, I dressed 
with unwonted and scrupulous care, essaying full 
half a dozen ties until one suited punctiliously the 
contour of my chin and a half dozen pairs of pumps 
until the leather of one matched precisely the shade 
of my trousers' braid. A bit of pomade upon my 
hair, a boutonniere, a flip to the topper 1 — and the 
glass satisfied me I was appropriate to the great 
occasion. To Delmonico's then, the handsome 
leather case and my magnificent sterling silver 
ticket in my pocket, for a properly preparatory re- 
past. A slice of Honey Dew, consomme Sultan, 
a timbale a la Conde, red-snapper a la Venitienne, 
a cotelette de Chevreuil, a sorbet, chapous truffes, 
poires a la Richelieu, gateau Baba aux fruits — and 
en passant a Taveme cocktail, a pint of Perier 
Jouet, a bit of Johannisberger Blue Seal 1862 and 
a few tablespoons of cognac to wash it down. A 
Partagas Extremoso Delicioso, a victoria — the 
handsome leather case and my magnificent sterling 



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172 COMEDIANS ALL 

silver ticket would deign to abide no mere taxi- 
meter cab — and, heigho coclier, I was arrived at 
the MM. Selwyn's propylon! 

I was, I confess it, agog. The lobby flooded the 
night with a thousand brilliant lights. The MM. 
Selwyn, dressed to kill, stood beside an immense 
horseshoe of pink roses and, beaming spacious 
beams, addressed to me words of welcome. The 
aged keeper of the door bowed meekly as I flashed 
him with my handsome leather case and my 
magnificent sterling silver ticket. The elegant 
head usher, glimpsing my handsome leather case 
and my magnificent sterling silver ticket, saluted 
me a la militaire. The but slightly less elegant 
assistant head usher followed suit and hastened to 
signal one of the menial ushers to escort me to my 
chair. Grandly was I led by this menial through 
an Italian Renaissance promenoir unstintedly em- 
bellished with gilt Byzantine griffins, silver As- 
syrian hippogriffs, still lifes by Candido Vitali, the 
flags of the Allies, a Greek urn or two, several Louis 
XIV tapestries, a Roycroft library table, a number 
of baskets of artificial poppies and goldenrod, and 
four or five of Lewis and Conger's sociable brass 
spittoons — and waved into the fauteuil desig- 
nated on my magnificent sterling silver ticket. 

I was breathless with the grandeur of it all. 



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THE CAREER OF A CRITIC 173 
And profoundly moved and expectant Haupt- 
mann at the very least! mused I. And, even so, 
this Hauptmann fellow would under the circum- 
stances be at his best none too good. Or mayhap 
Rostand! Yet this Rostand also would under the 
circumstances be something of a disappointment 
even at his 'best. The MM. Selwyn's plum was un- 
questionably a more juicy one. I looked at the 
handsome leather case and my magnificent sterling 
silver ticket (allowed in my keeping as a souvenir 
of the high event), and was certain. 

The big orchestra boomed out "The Star 
Spangled Banner" and, with the audience to its 
feet, the national emblem was flung proudly in 
dedication across the proscenium. . . . Andreyev 
or von Hof mannsthal ! One or the other, I was 
now sure. Nothing less! . . . The big orchestra, 
the audience again seated, was at the overture, the 
"Mireille" of Gounod. ... At least de Curel or 
Bjornsterne Bjomson, I would have bet my shirt! 
Or perchance some posthumously discovered MS. 
of Strindberg. Or something of Schnitzler or 
Tchekhov. Or even — though this was under the 
circumstances unthinkable — a vulgar descent to 
Gorki or Heijermans or Gabriele D'Annunzio. 
. . . The orchestra became silent. ... A lung- 
filled hush swept the auditorium. . . . The lights 



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174 COMEDIANS ALL 

became very, very slowly dim. . . . The luxurious 

plush curtain rose. 

"Don't she look just like a picture!" ecstatically 
exclaimed a fat actress in a maid's costume, peer- 
ing through some pink curtains at the left of the 
Btage. 

The pink curtains were then pulled apart and re- 
vealed the leading woman in a pink nightgown 
trimmed with dyed pussy languishing in a 
pink bed and making winks at the friends out 
front. 

I seized my gorgeous program in seven colours 
print upon vellum. And this is what I saw: 

Jane Cowl 

in 

"Information, Please!" 

by 

Jane Cowl 

§ 55 

II addon Chambers. — In my perhaps sometimes 
unjust critical canon, a dramatist is held always 
to be as strong as his weakest banality. It is be- 



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HADDON CHAMBERS 175 

cause of this and because in the midst of even the 
best of his good writing he descends now and then 
to the most doggrel showhouse platitude, that I hold 
Mr. Haddon Chambers in less than the common 
esteem. If a man writes a distinctly first-rate play, 
but somewhere — and however briefly — in that play 
makes a small joke on Watt Street or Swiss cheese 
or Yonkers, my prejudice, for all his otherwise 
distinctly first-rate work, dispatches the fellow with- 
out further ado. Thus, though in a play like "The 
Saving Grace" Mr. Chambers exhibits a consider- 
able measure of finished writing, polished humour 
and occasionally dexterous characterization, the 
resident impression I take away from the piece is 
of the butler sneaking the usual two drinks of 
sherry on the sly and, upon the sound of foot- 
steps, gliding away from the decanter, the mean- 
while whistling in innocent nonchalance. 

Were minutes hours or even half-hours, Mr. 
Chambers would be a precellent dramatist. In his 
almost every piece of writing for the stage, he dis- 
closes various minutes of sound worth. But these 
separate minutes, save possibly in his "Tyranny of 
Tears," are ever drowned in overwhelming waves 
of inconsequent observation and the more or less 
manifest theatrical dodges. There are several 
such valuable minutes in his "Saving Grace." 



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176 COMEDIANS ALL 

But they, aa in his other plays, are surrounded and 
riddled to the death by overtures in which two 
typical Jerome K. Jerome servants set the table and 
identify the characters presently due to appear, by 
the bewhiskered whangdoodle of the faithful family 
retainer who gulps and nobly declines to desert his 
financially distressed employer, by the equally 
bearded platitude of the last moment telegram 
that turns the hero's fortunes, and similar dramatic 
crutches. 

§ 56 

The Palais Royal Naturalized. — Were Brieux's 
"Damaged Goods" to be adapted in terms of Ger- 
man measles and George Moore's little Luachet 
in terms of Little Red Riding Hood, the result 
would not be more confounding than the invariable 
local conceit of presenting the bed of Palais Royal 
farce in terms of mistletoe. The notion, com- 
monly suffered by the native writer for the theatre, 
that an American audience will not stomach 
adultery in light farce is absurdly ill-founded, as 
the first adapter who sees through the current super- 
stition will amply prove. The general practice of 
adapting this adultery out of a play and convert- 
ing it into a pinch on the arm, or something equally 
lubricious, not only of course makes the theme of 



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PALAIS ROYAL 177 

the play perfectly ridiculous, but sorely damages 
the box-office values to boot. When a loose fish 
goes into a young woman's bed-chamber late at 
night and without opposition remains in it until 
early the next morning, there isn't an audience in 
the whole of the United States that can be per- 
suaded to believe for a single moment that all the 
fellow did in there was to play post-office. And 
while such an audience is willing — for the sake 
of the tradition forced upon it against its will and 
common sense — good-naturedly and temporarily 
to overlook the preposterous equivocation around 
half-past nine, it plainly begins to lose patience 
when the equivocation is thereafter insisted upon 
every other minute and when, in the midst of the 
insistence, it suddenly develops that the young 
woman who voluptuously held hands with the 
Lothario is enceinte. 

Ten years ago, the American audience may have 
held, with commendable steadfastness of faith, that 
adultery was confined to milk, but in the meantime 
its suspicions may be said to have become some- 
what aroused. 

§ 57 

Satire. — The seat of the trousers pursuing a 
slapstick. 



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178 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 58 

The American Sentimentality. — A proof of the 
incurable sentimentality of American theatregoers 
is to be had in the case of Mr. Bert Williams. 
Williams, seven or eight years ago, showed promise 
as a comedian. But, each year since, he has re- 
vealed himself as an increasingly inept and un- 
imaginative performer. Yet each year he is pro- 
claimed a better and better comedian, and ap- 
plauded the more and more, merely because he 
happens to be a negro. 

§ 59 

The Artificial Play. — To the composition of even 
the most artificial of comedies, an intrinsic sense 
of touch and go with life is patently essential. 
Without this, the result is a play artificial not in 
the intentional and appropriate sense, but artificial 
in the sense of a street-light left unwittingly to 
bum after dawn. 

$ 60 

The End of a Perfect Dane. — Every once in a 
while the gentlemen who manufacture dramatic 
criticism for the New York newspapers and maga- 



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END OF A PERFECT DANE 179 
zincs achieve a performance in the slapstick and 
seltzer siphon so brilliant that it must fetch a tear 
of envy to the entrepreneurs of burlesque, small- 
time vaudeville and the pie film. In considerable 
part the species of dramatic commentators who 
believe that when Al Jolson falls with a thud upon 
his pelvis the spectacle is vulgar, and that when 
Falstaff falls with a thud upon his it is Art, these 
gentlemen rarely allow a month to pass without 
applying the bilbo to their own hinter-pant and 
squirting themselves in the ear with the mechanical 
carafe. By archaeologists of the bean feast, such 
periodic critical rendezvous with the loaded stogie 
are recognized as of a piece with the finest low 
comedy of the actual stage, and as such are prop- 
erly eulogized to their niches in the ante-chamber 
of the temple of the beaux arts. 

The late war doubled up the sheets on the local 
Hazlittry with a persistent and sardonic waggery 
and augmented at least fiftyfold the unwitting 
metropolitan critical comedy. For the war 
patently made the German, Austrian and Hun- 
garian dramatist as popular in the Anglo-Saxon 
theatre as a loud, wet sneeze and an indulgence in 
left-handed stratagem was hence made necessary 
when producers and adapters desired to present 
the work of these enemy craftsmen in that theatre. 



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180 COMEDIANS ALL 

The result, as observed, was a critical wayzgoose 
of truly magnificent proportions: a dazzling stand- 
ing upon heads and tripping over mats and danc- 
ing of the bump-polka the like of which even two 
such proficient critical comedians as Mr. J. T. 
Grain, of London, and Mr. J. Ranken Towse, of 
the New York Evening Post, have with all their 
virtuosity in unconscious monkeyshine been in the 
past unable to equal in even an entire quarter 
column of theatrical comment. 

Among the most extravagant capers cut by the 
local guerinets during this period of managerial 
war-time subterfuge will be recalled the now cele- 
brated instance of the unanimous acceptance of 
"Such Is Life," a play produced in the Princess 
Theatre and credited to the British playwright, 
Harold Owen, as a typical example of modern 
English comedy. This "Such Is Life," as will co- 
incidentally be recalled, was actually a word-for- 
word translation of "The Book of a Woman," a 
well-known and typical modern German comedy by 
the well-known Berlin playwright, Lothar Schmidt. 
A tutti of not less imposing sweetness, as con- 
noisseurs of the more refined cheese wheezes will 
remember, was brought on with the presentation 
of a play called "Grasshopper," in the Garrick 
Theatre. This play was the work of von Keyser- 



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END OF A PERFECT DANE 181 
ling, the German, whose dramatic writings are com- 
paratively as familiar to Munich audiences as are 
those of George Broadhurst to New York. The 
play was duly credited to von Keyscrling but, by 
way of safeguarding the box-office against the 
omnipresent and alert Mrs. Jays, the management 
prudently dropped the von and gave out that Mr. 
E. Keyserling, as they dubbed him, was a Russian 
dramatist. This news the critical gentlemen of 
the metropolitan brochures promptly swallowed, 
with the result that the reviews of the play were 
rich in profound comparisons of "The Moscow 
Keyserling's" writing with that of such of his fel- 
low Russian dramatists as Ostrovsky, Griboyedov, 
Gogol and Turgenev and such of his fellow Rus- 
sian poets as Tyntchev and Pushkin. In this enter- 
prise, the Beaumarchais of The Times (the young 
Professor Dr. Woollcott) was especially informa- 
tive and, if I remember rightly, devoted consid- 
erable extra space in his Sunday edition to an il- 
luminating feuilleton in which he commented ex- 
tensively and instructively upon Keyserling's proud 
place in modem Russian dramatic literature. 

Another if possibly not so mouth-watering 
delicacy was the concerted critical promulgation of 
"The Blue Pearl" as a typical specimen of the 
American crook melodrama, the play — credited on 



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182 COMEDIANS ALL 

the playbill to Miss Anne Crawfdrd Flexner — be- 
ing actually a translation of Arnim Friedmann's 
and Paul Frank's Viennese sex triangle comedy, 
"The Blue Crocodile." And still another — al- 
though the war had no share in this drollery — 
was the extravagant praise of the actor, H. B. 
Warner, for his "fine art in holding the stage dur- 
ing a fifteen minute soliloquy" in "Sleeping 
Partners" (I quote the Globe Aristobulus by way 
of sample), when the truth was that the actor's 
art was so extraordinarily fine that Cuitry's 
original soliloquy, with all its sly fancy and 
humour, had to be cut exactly in half to meet the 
Warner deficiency in talent for holding the stage. 
The original soliloquy, incidentally, was read in 
full in the London presentation of the play by a 
performer even so lacking in fine art as Mr, Sey- 
mour Hicks. 

But with all this — and all this is as nothing be- 
side the bible of critical foot-slippings and ker- 
flops that in the early war years entertained the 
archdeacons of joy — the real piece, the cake for the 
birthday, the, plat filled with the maraschino, was 
yet to come, since the last war year was to bring 
with it the most truly beautiful flower of journal- 
istic criticism, the most truly lovely bloom, that has 
thus far blossomed out of the show pews of 



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END OF A PERFECT DANE 183 

Broadway. For in this year there was presented in 
the Harris Theatre a play, and the play was called 
"The Riddle : Woman," and here follows the 
jocund tale. 

This play was written about ten years ago 
by Rudolf Jakobi, the well-known Hungarian 
dramatist, and was produced under the same title 
in the seasons directly following both in the Volks- 
theater of Vienna and the Deutschestheater of 
Berlin, The Messrs. Shubert, subsequently plan- 
ning to exploit in this country a Danish actress 
named Betty Nansen, purchased the American 
rights to the Hungarian play and employed their 
play-reader, Miss Charlotte Wells, to make a 
translation of the play in collaboration with Miss 
Dorothy Donnelly. These ladies took the Hun- 
garian manuscript in hand and, by way of injecting 
an atmosphere into it that might the better suit the 
Danish actress, changed the locale from Austria- 
Hungary to Copenhagen and such character names 
as Julius Schebitz, Hermann Dunkel and Lena 
Wegenstein to Lars Olrik, Erik Helsinger and Thora 
Bertol. Meanwhile, however, the Messrs. Shubert 
decided not to exploit the Danish actress and re- 
linquished their rights to both the original Hun- 
garian play and die translation. For several years 
the play rested in the translators' desk drawer; and 



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184 COMEDIANS ALL 

then one day along came Bertha Kalich, the push- 
cart Bernhardt, with her black eye peeled for a 
Broadway vehicle. And out from its nest came the 
dusty adaptation of Rudolf Jakobi's opus. 

The Kalich blood-pressure jumped sixty points 
when she read the adaptation, and she decided to 
present it instanter. But care must be exercised! 
the adapters warned her. For the war, as has been 
said, made it a risky box-office-busting business to 
put on a play from the pen of an enemy dramatist. 
The Wagner-chuckers and Kreisler-grabbers and 
Muck-rakers were ever snooping around in gum 
boots! Well, why not throw them off the scent; 
why not drop the suspiciously beery Rudolf and 
substitute for it simply the initial C — C might be 
taken to stand for something Copenhagenish like 
Copnus; why not spell Jakobi as Jacobi; and why 
not, finally, announce this C. Jacobi on the play- 
bills as a Danish playwright and "The Riddle: 
Woman" as a Danish drama? A rich idea; and 
no sooner conceived than executed. And thus it 
came about that Bertha Kalich opened one fine 
night at the Harris Theatre in the celebrated Danish 
play, "The Riddle: Woman," by the eminent Dane, 
Mr. C. Jacobi. 

Now for the criticisms of this famous Scandina- 
vian work. 



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END OF A PERFECT DANE 185 

Thus, the learned Sir Isumbras to the World: 
"The play's foreign manner is easy to detect. The 
program's acknowledgment was hardly necessary 
that Charlotte Wells and Dorothy Donnelly, who 
made the present version, went as far afield as Den- 
mark to find the original in a drama by C. Jacobi. 
This Danish play is as danksome as the emanations 
of the Scandinavian dramatists usually are." 

Ah, Isumbras, the danksome Budapest of ten 
years ago! 

Thus, the Pupienus Maximus to the Globe: 
"It is evident from the first of this Danish drama 
that C. Jacobi knows well his Scandinavian temper- 
ament." 

So, the Eumolpus to the Sun: "The play is an 
offshoot of the Scandinavian school of drama . . . 
of the sort that Ibsen might have thrown off. The 
Scandinavian characteristics are more than super- 
ficial. The story is one of seething passions, of the 
volcanic emotions of descendants of the Vik- 
ings. . . ." 

Thus, the Theodoras Gaza to the Evening World, 
who — as will be noted — evidently read the play 
in the original Danish: "Charlotte Wells and 
Dorothy Donnelly have taken the Danish play of 
C. Jacobi and made it an interesting sex drama. 
It was all of that — and a bit more perhaps — in its 



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186 COMEDIANS ALL 

original form. There is no particular reason for 
considering the work that Miss Wells and Miss 
Donnelly have done. The main fact is that the 
play suggests ... the thought of Ibsen. The first 
act brings back Hedda Gabler and Mrs. Elvsted 
. . .", etc. 

So, the Giuseppi Fiorelli to the Herald, who was 
apparently also privy to the original: "The 
adapters acknowledge indebtedness for their idea 
to the Danish play by C. Jacobi. It might be wiser 
to acknowledge even more than the idea, since the 
Danish names of the characters are retained . . .", 
etc. 

And thus, with firm finality, the profound M. 
Towse, Titus Livius to the Evening Post: "The 
simple fact is that in this case, as in a very large 
proportion of the modern Scandinavian drama, the 
main material . .> . ", etc. 

Again, to turn to the periodicals, so the omnis- 
cient M. Metcalfe, Ippolito Rosellini to Life: 
"The Mesdames Wells and Donnelly seem to have 
translated 'The Riddle: Woman' almost literally 
from a Danish play by C. Jacobi." 

And so, again, the ordinarily sagaeious M. 
Lewisohn, Alonso de Ojeda to Town Topics: "As 
Danish libertines are more picturesque than those 
of other countries — with which we have been sur- 



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END OF A PERFECT DANE 187 
foiled — the adapters have not transplanted the 
locale of the original play." 

And so, still again, the pregnant M. Clayton 
Hamilton, Rasmus Rask and Acusilaua to Vogue: 
"The piece was adapted from the Danish of C. 
Jacobi . . . and we should be duly thankful to his 
two American adapters for drawing attention to his 
prowess . . .", etc. 

I need not go in for more. Without exception, 
whether in the instance of newspaper or weekly or 
monthly magazine, was the lay public fully en- 
lightened by its critical savants on the "modern 
school of Scandinavian drama of which The 
Riddle: Woman* is a typical example and of 
which C. Jacobi is a typical exponent." . . . 

The incurable fancy, promiscuously held and 
fostered by the local professors of criticism, that 
the Danish drama is insistently and invariably a 
sour drama, a drama of passion, abnormality and 
low lights, should dally in passing with a number 
of such familiar Danish plays as Gustav Wied's 
"2 X 2 = 5," or "Thummelumsen," or Gustav 
Esman's "Father and Son." For, contrary to be- 
ing a typical specimen of the modern Scandinavian 
problem drama, "The Riddle: Woman" is a typical 
example of the modern Austro-Hungarian problem 



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188 COMEDIANS ALL 

drama. For one Austro-Hungarian like Schnitzler, 
or Sil Vara or Molnar who writes with charming 
sophistication in the twilight mood, there are two 
dozen who annually grind out naive morning-after 
yokel-yankers in the glowering mid-Pinero mood. 
Mo twelvemonth passes in the Austro-Hungarian 
theatre without its ample procession of "Riddle 
Women," without its long series of reboiled Tan- 
querays and Irises. In the half season directly 
preceding the war, precisely twenty-eight such 
ancient and artless boudoir explosions were set be- 
fore the public in question. And for the full 
season of 1913-14, the easily accessible Kiinast 
and Knepler statistics reveal a doubled dose. . . . 
It therefore grieves me sorely to report that Mr. 
"C. Jacobi" is approximately as Danish as 
Chauncey Olcott. 

§ 61 

Amour in the Theatre. — The basic difference be- 
tween a comic opera libretto and a drama is gen- 
erally this: In a libretto the interest of everybody 
on the stage and of nobody in the audience is 
centered on the successful culmination of the hero's 
love affair. In drama the situation is the reverse. 



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"LITERARY" PLAYWRIGHT 189 

§ 62 

The Broadway "Literary" Playwright. — The 
technique of the Broadway "literary" playwright 
consists (1) in expressing die simplest thought in 
the most complex manner possible and (2) sup- 
planting any monosyllabic word that may crop up 
in the expression with a word at least four inches 
long. Thus, if in one of his plays he desires a 
character to observe that it is time for tea, the 
Broadway "literary" playwright goes about the en- 
terprise something like this. He writes, first, the 
simple line, "It is time for tea." Scrutinizing 
the line closely, and detecting its baldness, he then 
changes the line to read, "The hour for the serv- 
ice of tea has arrived." This line he ponders, 
deems a trifle too bourgeois, and presently converts 
into "The appropriate period for the distribution 
of tea has overtaken us." Nor is the line yet pre- 
cisely to his Corinthian palate. And slowly it be- 
comes "The meet moment of God's beautiful day 
for the social custom of distributing tea has dawned 
upon the conscience." So much for the first step 
in the technique. It now but remains to take out 
the little words and supplant them with as many 
true beauties. And so, at length, the line that 



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190 COMEDIANS ALL 

the character speaks is not the merely plebeian 
"It is time for tea" but the vastly more delicat and 
impressive "The consentaneous conjuncture in the 
Infinite and Eternal's tesselated nonce for the homi- 
letical punctilio of dispensing the brew of the 
Camellia theifera has dawned upon the acroama- 
tism." The impression one consequently takes 
away from such a play is of having been present 
at a discourse by the debating team of the Tuskegee 
Institute on the one side and Montague Glass* Henry 
D. Feldman, Mr. Thorstein Veblen and a Baume 
Analgesique circular on the other. 

$ 63 

Eugene Walter. — The technic of Mr. Eugene 
Walter in the achievement of stage melodrama 
would appear to be as follows: first, to take a 
story inBtrinsically devoid of melodrama; second, 
to write that story on the smallest possible num- 
ber of Western Union Telegraph blanks; third, to 
throw away half the blanks; and, fourth, by way 
of making the remaining blanks then pass for tense 
melodrama, to cause what is written on them to 
be recited by a company of actors in a rapid, ner- 
vous and confused whisper. Mr. Walter's method 
may be concretely impressed upon the reader by 



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EUGENE WALTER 191 

asking him to think of some such jingle as, for in* 

stance, 

Mary had a little lamb 
Its fleece was white as snow, 
And everywhere that Mary went 
The lamb was sure to go. 

Here, the reader will grant, may be inherent many 
things, but assuredly no great amount of melo- 
drama. Now, however, for Mr. Walter's secret. 
First, imagine a darkened stage. Then, 

Detective X 
(Quickly flashing a pocket-light around the dark room, 
taking three rapid strides toward the door at left centre, 
and speaking in a rapid, quivering undertone) : 
Maryhadalittlelamb. 
Detective Y 
(Stepping quietly to Detective's X's side, placing a 
restraining hand upon his wrist, and speaking in a 
breathless whisper) : 

Itsfleece waswhiteas snow. 
Detective X 
{Glancing quickly to the right and extinguishing the 
pocket-flash. In a voice shaking with suppressed excite- 
ment and scarcely audible) : 

And every whersjhatmary went. 
Detective Y 
(Handing Detective X his revolver. In a tense 
vibrating pianissimo): 

The lamb was suretogo ! 



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192 COMEDIANS ALL 

— and you have the Walter system. A pocket- 
flash, a revolver, a dark stage, and the most inno- 
cent lines spoken as if the actors had lost their 
voices and were victims of palpitation of the heart 
— and you have the necessary air of mystery, fore- 
boding and suspense. 

§ 64 

The Weil-Mannered Play. — All that seems neces- 
sary to persuade the average play-reviewer that a 
play and production are well-mannered is for the 
producer to direct that the play be enacted in a very 
slow and deliberate tempo, that the actors speak 
softly, and that the chairs on the stage be uphol- 
stered in some colour other than red or green. 

§ 65 

On Beauty. — My favourite and oft-repeated con- 
tention that one good-looking girl is sufficient to 
make almost any kind of music show thoroughly 
enjoyable, is once again eloquently proved in the 
case of such an Anglo-* xon production as "Over 
the Top," and at the same time even more elo- 
quently disproved in the case of such a Latin pro- 
duction as "A Night in Spain." In the first direct 



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ON BEAUTY 193 

instance, what is otherwise an entertainment of 
modest pressure is given a tripled fillip through 
the presence on the stage of the arch tit-bit known 
as Justine Johnstone, and in the second indirect in- 
stance, what is otherwise an entertainment of su- 
perior pressure is deleted of not the slightest fillip 
by the presence on the stage of a company of ladies 
even the most beautiful of whom fails signally in 
ambrosial approach to a cow. 

The Spanish type of beauty, of which these latter 
ladies are somewhat remotely representative, is, 
for all the democratic affectation of the Anglo- 
Saxon Lothario, as much below the American type 
of beauty as the American is below the Japanese. 
Beauty, after all, in its general world sense, is de- 
terminable very largely in accordance with its de- 
gree of delicacy, as Nietzsche and numerous others 
have pointed out. The Spanish beauty is the 
beauty of the ripe tomato; the American, the beauty 
of a slice of tomato on a lettuce leaf; the Japanese, 
the utsukushiki of the lettuce leaf. To the true 
connoisseur, whether Spanish or American, the 
Spanish bloom has about it something too much 
of the quality of the tube-rose, of a parade with 
the brass bands too close together, of a Hofbrau 
carte du jour: it is, in a word, too excessive, too 
luxuriant. And when, as in the case of the "Night 



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194 COMEDIANS ALL 

in Spain" ladies, the exhibited beauty is as far re- 
moved from the flower of Spanish beauty as is the 
beauty exhibited in the Avenue des Acacias from 
the flower of French beauty, the nature of the 
aesthetic sensation imparted may be imagined. 
But, as I have in the beginning suggested, it is 
this very lack of beauty in these seiioritas that pre- 
sents us with our embarrassing paradox. Where 
the merely half-way homeliness so common to the 
New York stage chills — or, at best, leaves one in- 
different — the very amazing homeliness of these 
ladies, by virtue of its sheer magnitude and unaf- 
fected splendour, enchants completely. Where the 
average moderately personable Broadway music 
show creatures fail to divert the eye a second time 
after the first chorus, these gorgeously unlovely 
things attract and hold immobile mat same eye as 
absolutely as — and in the same way as — Cyrano 
de Bergerac and the Elsie de Wolf scenery, Cour- 
bet's "Les Baigneuses" and green stockings, the 
Fifth Avenue residence of Senator Clark and Jo- 
jo the Dog-Faced Boy, a Boston bull and the nudes 
of Paul Cezanne, or Madame Polaire and Youngs- 
town, Ohio. Miss Johnstone is to the Senorita 
Marco, true enough, as Aquavit is to beer; but, as 
any more civilized Scandinavian will assure you, 
there are paradoxes in tipples no less than in ass- 



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TOUJOURS PERDRIX 195 
thetics, and the two, though you believe it or not, 
may yet be mixed to the charm of the palate and 
the complete satisfaction of the judge of fine arts. 

§ 66 

Toujour* Perdrix. — One of the legitimate objec- 
tions to the dramatic critic is that he always thinks 
in terms of the theatre. When an undertaker falls 
in love with a woman, he does not visualize his 
beloved as a corpse. When a chemist falls in love, 
he doesn't appraise his fair one in terms of so much 
hydrogen, chlorine and Johann Hoff's Malt Extract 
— or whatever is the combination that goes to make 
up human life. But the dramatic critic is always 
odiously saturated with the things of his trade. 
The critic being, obviously, at least one hundred 
times more a theatregoer than the man to whom 
theatregoing is not a trade but a diversion, is at 
least one hundred times more thoroughly imbued 
with the things of the theatre. Visiting a great 
man-o'-war on a gala day, he is impressed not so 
much with the thing itself as with the notion that 
it looks like the second act of "Pinafore." . . . 
Wall Street is not Wall Street to him: it is merely 
the big scene in "The Pit." . . . The voluminous 
and exotic bill-of-fare in a German restaurant 



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196 COMEDIANS ALL 

looks to him exactly like the cast of "Ben Hur." 
. . . How then does the dramatic critic justify 
his existence? He believes that there is room for 
experienced opinion on the drama and that the 
best man to voice such opinion is himself — the man 
who gets free seats — since it is impossible to ex- 
pect any opinion worth hearing from anyone so 
imbecile as to pay two dollars and a half to get 
into the average American theatre. 

§ 67 

The Chewing Gum Drama. — In the program of 
each New York theatre there has been appearing for 
years a conspicuous advertisement of the Adams 
Chewing Cum Company which in heroic type so in- 
forms the audience: "All those who have to make 
good and understand that no excuse goes, chew 
gum. It is the one ideal habit of the alert!" 

Since the Adams Chewing Gum Company is un- 
questionably an astute concern and one that 
shrewdly sees to it that its advertising is placed 
where it will most impress and convince, there fol- 
lows the syllogism (1) that the Adams Chewing 
Gum Company must have a pretty good idea as to 
the precise quality of the New York theatre audi- 
ence, (2) that whereas one has heard not so much 



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CHEWING GUM DRAMA 197 

as a suspicion of facetious comment on the adver- 
tisement from a member of a New York theatre 
audience, the meat of the advertisement must be 
concurred in by that audience or, at least, not 
found bizarre, and (3) that, therefore, the New 
York theatre audience which the dramatist and pro- 
ducer must please is made up of a group of per- 
sons who believe that Dr. Beeman is a greater man 
than Beethoven. 

With a few distinguished exceptions, the drama 
divulged in New York year by year hence con- 
tinues to be of the chewing gum brand. For one 
presentation like the sprightly "Le Roi" of de Cail- 
lavet, de Flers and Arene, there is ever the usual 
plenitude of dramatic opera of the kidney of 
"Broken Threads," in which the hero, cross-ex- 
amined by the heroine, admits that there is another 
woman whom he has loved and will never forget, 
only to confess finally, after an appropriate 
amount of quivery dialogue on the E string, that 
he has been referring to his mother. And for one 
representation of Pinero's genuine comedy romance 
"Quex," ever a full measure of bogus romances 
after the fashion of "The Pipes of Pan," in which 
die Stars, the Moon, the Boul' Mich*, the Call of 
Spring and the rest of the hackneyed blubber 
troupe are trotted out on their alpenstocks and 



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198 COMEDIANS ALL 

wheel-chairs to make calves* eyes at the Philistine 
tear duct. 

§ 68 

/. Hartley Manners. — Hie philosophy of J. 
Hartley Manners, as typically revealed in such of 
his plays as for example, "The Harp of Life," 
has all the efficiency of a bloodhound with a cold. 
Seizing in this instance upon the theme maneu- 
vered by Wedekind in "The Awakening of Spring," 
by Cosmo Hamilton in "The Blindness of Virtue," 
by Ludwig Thoma, satirically, in "Lottie's Birth- 
day," and by writers on end fore and aft, Mr. 
Manners contrives by a masterly application of 
cerebral infelicities to make of that theme a thing 
of serio-comic fluff. Mr. Manners believes that a 
young boy's curiosity in matters of sex may best 
be stifled by telling him plainly about such mat- 
ters, a theory somewhat akin to a belief that die 
best way in which to keep a young boy from de- 
siring to taste champagne is to open a bottle in his 
presence. Mr. Manners is respectfully referred 
to Havelock Ellis. Mr. Manners should know that 
temptation and warning are twin sisters. To this, 
the admonitory "wet paint" placard and the pro- 
voking impulse to touch a finger to the paint to 
see if it actually is wet offer some testimony. 



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J. HARTLEY MANNERS 199 

So, too, by way of testimony we have keep-off- 
the-grass signs, prohibition and married women. 
Mr. Manners also believes that a boy's mother, for 
the prosperity of his future manhood, should be 
his sole playmate (the Oberon complex), and that 
the way in which best to make him respect and be 
faithful to one woman is to be told suddenly that 
another woman whom he has respected and fallen 
in love with has been faithful to some half dozen 
men. Mr. Manners is, in fine, the sort of dramatist 
who pours the sugar on the coffee instead of the 
coffee on the sugar. 

§ 69 

The Comic Motion Picture. — The popular Mr. 
Charles Chaplin's latest motion pictures provide 
a still further testimonial to the versatility of the 
fellow as a low comedian. A touch of Chaplin 
now and again is a serviceable diversion against 
the laboured unfunniness of the posturing artists 
of Broadway. He is, however, to be taken in 
small doses, like a few leaves of an artichoke 
or a sip of Vieille Cure. Too much of him dulls 
the palate, impairs the taste. And yet, for all the 
splendour of the fellow's estate in this fair re- 
public, it is but true that not only is he not nearly 
so good a comedian as his brother, Mr. Sidney 



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200 COMEDIANS ALL 

Chaplin (whose "The Plumber" is by all odds the 
most adroitly conceived and cleverly executed mo- 
tion picture thus far revealed to the public — I 
offer here less my personal and very largely un- 
substantial opinion of such things than a consensus 
of more authentic judgments) but more, not nearly 
so genuinely happy a pantaloon as several un- 
identified and tough-bottomed fellows who cavort 
through the so-called Keystone screen comedies di- 
rected by a Mr. Mack Sennett. This Sennett is 
probably the most fecund inventor and merchant 
of the slapstick masque the civilized world has 
yet seen. A spectator of but very few of his pic- 
tures, I am yet fascinated by the resourceful 
imagination of the fellow. An erstwhile chorus 
man in the Casino music shows, Sennett has done 
the work he set out to do with a skill so complete, 
with a fertility so copious, that he has graduated 
himself as the foremost bachelor of custard-pie 
arts, the foremost conductor of the bladder. He 
is, in short, the very best entrepreneur of low 
comedy the amusement world has known. He has 
made probably twice as many millions laugh as 
have all of Shakespeare's clowns and all the music 
show comedians on earth rolled together. And 
laughter knows no caste, no altitude of brow. I 
do not know whether this Sennett imagines all his 



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COMIC MOTION PICTURE 201 

scenarios. But whether he imagines them all or 
only a few, whether a portion of the credit goes 
to his writing staff or not, Sennett himself is with- 
out doubt the inspirational spring. There is more 
loud laughter in his picture showing the fire-hose- 
flooded house with the bathtub containing a flapper 
working loose from its moorings and starting on 
a mad career down the stairs, out the door and 
down the turbulent gutters to the Pacific Ocean, 
and with the populace in avid pursuit, than there is 
in a hundred farces by Brandon Thomases. And 
mere is as large an intestinal glee in his picture 
showing the wind-storm blowing the nocturnal 
pedestrian into a strange house and into a strange 
bed already occupied by the person of a sweet one 
as there was in a single serious drama by the late 
Steele Mackaye. These Sennett things, too, must 
of course be used sparingly. One can no more 
endure them often — every week, say — than one 
could endure every week a new book of Ade's 
fables in slang or a new farce by Bernard Shaw. 
It is the nature of such things — excellent as they 
individually are — that their zest departs when ap- 
proached too frequently. But a farce by Shaw or 
a fable by Ade or a trouser sonata by Sennett is 
each in itself a distinctive, albeit remotely related, 
work of art. 



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202 COMEDIANS ALL 

$ 70 

Art Via the Side-Street, — That the stage intro- 
duction to America of the rare and imaginative 
work of Dunsany would eventually have to be 
vouchsafed by amateurs was, of course, to be ex- 
pected. Just as it is a tradition on the part of our 
professional managers that, in a military play, no 
matter where a soldier is wounded he must always 
wear a bandage around his forehead, so is it a 
tradition of our theatre that either amateurs or 
Arnold Daly must finally be entrusted with intro- 
ducing to the American public all the really worth- 
while dramatists. Thus, Shaw had to be given his 
first American hearing up a side-street. So, too, 
Echegaray (at Mrs. Osborn's Playhouse). So, too, 
Strindberg. So, too, Bjornson. So, too, St. John 
Ervine, and Bergstrom, and Tchekhov, and An- 
dreyev, and all the rest 

§71 

The Censor. — How like a hair the line that sepa- 
rates respect and ridicule! What if, at the height 
of his moral crusading power, a waggish theatrical 
manager could have got hold of a photograph of 
Anthony Comstock taken at die age of two show- 



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ON CRITICAL PREJUDICE 203 

jng him — as was the genial mode in those days — 
stark naked! 

§ 72 

On Critical Prejudice. — The dramatic critic who 
is without prejudice is on the plane with the gen- 
eral who does not believe in taking human life. 
He is unfit for his job, out of place, a strayed buf- 
foon. To he without prejudice is to be without 
learning, without viewpoint, without philosophy, 
without courage; in short, a menial neutral. The 
ideal critic is he who venerates like a Turk, who 
hates like a Corsican — and who knows no compro- 
mise on middle ground. His estimate of art is 
his estimate of Madeira: it is either good or bad. 
There is neither such thing as fair art nor fair 
Madeira. His business is not to encourage signs of 
talent. His business is simply with talent or lack 
of talent. He is not a school teacher: he is the 
school teacher's husband. He is not a youth, open 
to this change and to that, but a man whose mind 
has walked the Louvres of the world and is just 
a bit tired. He is not a judge: he is that which, 
being the lingering bloom of judgments long since 
withered, is harsher, more relentless than judge: 
he is reverie and reminiscence. 



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204 COMEDIANS ALL 

$ 73 

The Commercial Theatre. — As only a million- 
aire, whatever the depth or quality of his artistic 
appreciations, can buy the finest art treasures, so 
can only a rich theatre buy the treasures of new 
dramatic art and present them as they should be 
presented. There is much nonsense written con- 
trariwise by amiable souls who agreeably believe 
that the best dramatists are glad to give away their 
plays for nothing if only to serve the cause of art 
and who believe, further, that these plays may be 
presented with rare beauty in side-street little 
theatres by amateurs who are occultly able to make 
thirty-eight dollars' worth of cheese-cloth look like 
three thousand dollars* worth of Gordon Craig. 
The notion gained from reading breathless arti- 
cles by visiting school-teachers to the effect that 
the greatest art theatre in Russia — if not in the 
world — was operated with the few dollars taken in 
from the small audiences is a notion more pretty 
than true. The greatest art theatre in Russia — 
if not in the world — enjoyed from its very incep- 
tion die fat and liberal sustaining purse of a 
wealthy champion, without which it could never 
have existed. Reinhardt and his fine enterprises in 
Berlin were financed by wealthy social pushers. 



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THE COMMERCIAL THEATRE 205 
The Odeon of Antoine, and the National of Stock- 
holm, and the Espanol of Madrid, were subven- 
tioned theatres. And even our own Washington 
Square Players, though it is not generally known, 
were compelled to rely — for all their noble ef- 
fort to make cheese-cloth look like satin — on the 
hank-hook of a Wall Street banker. And though 
these young impresarios did much excellent work, 
the fact persists that when this banker withdrew 
his life-giving purse in order to devote that purse 
to the institution in America of Copeau's Theatre 
du Vieux Colombier, the art theatre of the Wash- 
ington Square Players had to throw in the towel 
and close its doors. 

The most grasping dramatists are generally not 
(as is commonly supposed) the hack playwrights 
of Broadway, the Strand and the Boulevards, but 
the best — or at least the most famous — drama- 
tists. Rostand, with the help of shrewd counsel- 
lors, practised upon Charles Frohman's French 
agent an auction sale of the American rights to 
"Chantecler" so adroitly manipulated that Froh- 
man was compelled to pay an exorbitant price for 
those rights. Shaw's contract, which he has written 
himself and caused to be printed at his own ex- 
pense, is three feet long and, in addition to de- 
manding a flat fifteen per cent of the gross re- 



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206 COMEDIANS ALL 

ceipts (the customary percentage is five, seven and 
one-half, and ten per cent on the first five thousand, 
seven thousand five hundred, and ten thousand dol- 
lars respectively) clairvoyantly demands a share 
of all tickets sold to hotel agencies and speculators 
at an advance over the box-office price. To obtain 
the plays of such dramatists as these takes not mere 
"art talk," as the Rialto phrase has it, but cold 
hard cash — and a great deal of it. And to obtain 
even the good theatre plays of such considerably 
lesser playwrights as Sacha Guitry, it is necessary 
to put up a substantial bonus of from five to ten 
thousand dollars. The American rights to Knob- 
lauch's "Kismet" had to be bought from Oscar 
Asche, its English producer, with an advance pay- 
ment of many thousands of dollars; and for the 
American rights to the spectacle "Chu Chin Chow" 
the local impresario was compelled to lay out to 
the same British producer an advance of so much 
as fifty thousand dollars. 

A theatre may have Shakespeare and Moliere 
for the asking, but it cannot have the best in 
modern drama unless its purse is well lined. A 
poor theatre, further, though it may have Shake- 
speare and Moliere for the mere .taking, cannot 
present Shakespeare and Moliere beautifully, sat- 
isfactorily, however much one may pretend, 



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EDWARD SHELDON 207 

for the brave poor theatre's sake, that it can. 
§ 74 

Edward Sheldon. — Were Edward Sheldon com- 
missioned to touch up, for example, Ibsen's 
"Ghosts" for the contemporary stage, it is an 
eminently safe wager that he would go about the 
enterprise something like this: 

OSWALD 

{Sits in the arm-chair without moving. Suddenly, as 
in the distance a street-organ is heard playing "0 
Parig?' from "Traviata.") 

Mother, give me the sun. 

MRS. ALVING 

(By the table, starts and looks at him.) 
What do you say? 

OSWALD 

(Repeats, in a dull, toneless voice as the street-organ 
dies away and there is heard, from a neighbouring house, 
the voice of a young girl humming Johann Strauss' 
"Blue Danube" waltz.) 

The sun. The sun. 

MRS. ALVING 

(Goes to him.) 

Oswald, what is the matter with you? 

OSWALD 

[His muscles relax; his face becomes expressionless; 
his eyes take on a glassy stare. . . . In the next room 



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208 COMEDIANS ALL 

a phonograph begins to play "Sempre Amur" from 
"Faust") 

The sun— 

MKS. ALVING 

{Quivering with terror.) 

What is this? (Shrieks) Oswald! What is the 
matter with you? (Falls on her knees beside him and 
shakes him) Oswald! Oswald! Look at me! Don't 
you know me? 

OSWALD 

(Tonelessly as before. The phonograph slops. 
There is a pause. In the distance is heard faintly a 
church choir singing Rheinberger's Requiem for Soldiers 
of the Franco-Prussian War.) 

The sun — the sun! 

MRS. ALVING 

(Springs up in despair, entwines her hands in her hair 
and shrieks.) 

I cannot bear it! (Whispers, as though petrified.) I 
cannot bear it! Never! (Suddenly) Where has he 
got them? {Fumbles hastily in his breast) Here! 
(Shrinks back a few steps and screams.) No, no, no! 
Yes! No, no! 

(She stands a few steps away from him with her hands 
twisted in her haw and stares at him in speechless 
horror. As she stands so, there is heard approaching 
in the street below a party of merrymakers with a band 
playing Parry's "The Prodigal Son.") 
OSWALD 

(Motionless as before) 

The sun — the sun! 



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MIXED IDENTITY 209 

(The band gradually dies out in the distance. There 
is a long pause. From some place far away come the 
strains of TschaikowskCs "Pathetique" as the curtain 
slowly falls.) 

Mr. Sheldon's inordinate affection for piccolos, fife 
and drum corps, hautboys, love-birds, harps, choirs, 
music-boxes, military bands, street and church or- 
gans and Victrolas in the wings is instanced anew 
in his every play. "Music off" is to the Sheldon 
faith what clothes off is to the Ziegfeld. As a 
result his plays and his revisions of plays generally 
give one the impression that the theatre in which 
they happen to be presented is situated always 
next door to Aeolian Hall. 



Mixed Identity. — When plays having mixed iden- 
tity as their theme fail, they fail not because 
the audience is unwilling to grant that a man 
might conceivably be unable to distinguish his 
wife from her delectable twin sister, but because 
it is unwilling to grant that the man would con- 
ceivably try. 

§ 76 

Unfrocking the Pretender. — In view of the in- 
creasing prevalence of the lazy and detrimental 



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210 COMEDIANS ALL 

custom of so many of our lady players to per- 
mit expensive and magnificent toilettes to substi- 
tute for talent and hard work, I have a sugges- 
tion to offer our more sincere and serious pro- 
ducers, a suggestion which — will they carry it out 
— cannot, I believe, fail in time to improve to a 
very considerable degree the quality of acting 
in the native theatre. 

My suggestion: Make the ladies rehearse their 
roles in the altogether. 

§77 

The Professor. — One of the cardinal rules 
preached and insisted upon by the doctors of play- 
writing is that no play can possibly succeed and 
prosper if its ending is not precisely that ending 
— whether "happy" or "unhappy" — for which the 
audience has been made to hope. "Peter Pan," 
with its audience invariably disappointed in the 
hope that Peter may remain forever with the 
youngsters the audience has been drawn to love, 
was the late Charles Frohman's most lucrative 
property, has made a fortune for Maude Adams 
and Barrie, has brought a thousand dollars a week 
for the St. Louis, Missouri, stock rights, and 
has thus far been vainly sought from Barrie by 



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LAUGHTER AND THE ONION 211 
eager moving picture impresarios on a bid of 
$200,000. 

§ 78 

Laughter and the Onion. — Why should the men- 
tion of an onion infallibly provoke laughter in a 
popular theatre audience? Because the onion has 
a grave bouquet? Hardly, since the jimson-weed 
(Diplotaxis muralis), which has a far graver, pro- 
vokes not the slightest laughter. Because the onion 
makes tears come to the eye? Impossible, since 
smelling salts, which distil tears twofold, brew 
not even a faint snicker. Because the onion, when 
eaten, imparts to die breath a flooring sachet? 
No, since Torreya nurifera food-oil, which imparts 
even more mortal zephyrs, extracts nary a weak 
chuckle. Because onion is a word of comic 
sound? Scarcely, since union, which makes no 
one laugh, is a word of equally comic sound. 
Well men, simply because an onion is an onion? 
Again impossible, since a scallion, which is 
equally an onion, doesn't elicit so much as a gig- 
gle. 

§ 79 

The Broadway Curtain Speech. — While it is 
quite true that the art of a playwright is not al* 



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212 COMEDIANS ALL 

ways soundly to be measured by the sort of cur- 
tain speech the playwright makes on the opening 
night of his play, I yet know of no surer brief and 
estimate of the art of such a Broadway Sardou 
as Mr. Willard Mack than that automatically pro- 
vided by the august gentleman himself in his con- 
duct and oral manifestations on such high occa- 
sions. I have heard Mr. Mack address the flock 
on at least a half dozen proud evenings and on each 
such memorable moment Mr. Mack has summed 
up Mr. Mack and die Mack art very much more 
pungently and illuminatingly than the most acute 
of his critics. 

The most recent indulgence in self -appraisal 
on the part of this Mr. Mack occurred not long ago 
after the curtain in the Forty-eighth Street Theatre 
had come down on the third act of his newest art- 
piece, a serio-comic war composition hight "The 
Big Chance." The applause liberal, the master of 
the asbestos was constrained to yank the curtain 
up and down some nine times. On the first yank, 
Mr. Mack — resplendent in the outfit of a brigadier- 
general, for the Mack virtuosity extends to his- 
trionism as well as to literature — was beheld bow- 
ing with elaborate and cavalierly deference at 
Miss Nash, the leading lady. On the second yank, 
the modest Mack bent himself so far in at the 



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THE CURTAIN SPEECH 213 
diaphragm in his humble obeisance to Miss Nash 
that he almost lost his balance. On the third 
yank, Mr. Mack, growing elated over the enthusi- 
asm of the stalls, gave Miss Nash a loud con- 
gratulatory slap upon her decollete back. On 
the fourth yank, Mr. Mack, his elation growing 
visibly, imparted to the Nash back with his palm 
still another whack that made a hollow reverber- 
ating sound as if the lady were just getting out of 
a bathtub. On the next hoist, Mr. Mack, now nigh 
unable to contain himself over the tribute of the 
art lovers out front, grabbed Miss Nash and im- 
printed a loud smack upon her hand. Thrice 
more was the curtain then lifted and thrice more 
did die overjoyed Mack pay sonorous osculatory 
homage to the Nash fingers, wrist and forearm. 
And now, the curtain up again, the applause wax- 
ing hotter and his innate modesty overcome by the 
demonstration, Mr. Mack, with the reluctance of a 
pop-gun, stepped to the footlights. 

"Speech! Speech!" cried someone in the back 
aisle, presumably under the impression that Mr. 
Mack had stepped to the footlights to get a hair- 
cut. 

At the cry, it was plainly obvious that Mr. Mack 
was taken completely aback. Surprise was written 
clearly upon his every feature. Surprise and an 



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214 COMEDIANS ALL 

overwhelming sense of flattery. Mr. Mack de- 
murely dropped his eyes. That one should be 
paid so great an encomium! But again the cry 
resounded from the back aisle. Plainly enough, 
whether he willed it or no, it was now necessary 
for Mr. Mack, however consuming his disrelish, 
to say a few words. A hush. ... A pause. . . . 
Out in the lobby, a pin dropped. . . . And pres- 
ently Mr. Mack spoke. As hitherto and always, 
not in laudation of himself, but of another. This 
time, of Mr. A. H. Woods who produced his opus, 
the liberal and unshakably confident Mr. A. H. 
Woods whose dogged financial plunging in the 
matter of mis particular production — by many con- 
demned to failure — Mr. Mack so greatly admired. 
To this habit of dogged plunging, Mr. Mack 
wished to pay tribute. He cleared bis throat for 
the purpose. Then — 

"I want to call your attention, ladies and gentle- 
men, to A] Woods," spake he eloquently and feel- 
ingly — "Al Woods whose dogmatic plundering has 
made this play possible!" 

And this is why I have observed that while it is 
quite true that the art of a playwright is not al- 
ways soundly to be measured by the sort of curtain 
speech the playwright makes on the opening night 
of his play, I yet know of no surer brief and esti- 



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A SAMPLE MASTERPIECE 215 
mate of the art of such a Broadway Sardou as Mr. 
Willard Mack than that automatically provided 
by Mr. Mack himself in his conduct and oral mani- 
festations on such high occasions. 

§ 80 

The Realistic Drama. — If, as many of the so- 
called constructive critics maintain, it is true mat 
our realistic American drama is eminently success- 
ful in holding the mirror up to nature, it must 
follow as a logical corollary that nine-tenths of 
the important events in our national life occur 
in the libraries of private houses, and that, what- 
ever their nature, they are never without their love 
interest, comic relief, and display of the latest 
styles in women's frocks. 

§ 81 

Account of a Sample Masterpiece Born of the 
Great War. — It is called "Lilac Time." It was 
written by the Mesdames Murfin and Cowl. It 
is a thing of pretty actors in soldiers* suits, peri- 
odic off-stage bass drum beats bursting in the air, 
promiscuous fervent handshaking of the bowed- 
head, I-understand-old-man species, leading man 



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216 COMEDIANS ALL 

with cheeks tanned by the make-up weather who 
swallows when he makes love and who at great 
length in each act is eulogized as a hero for hav- 
ing performed some feat of bravery in the wings 
during the preceding act, leading lady in peasant 
girl's dresses by Lady Duff-Gordon who digs into 
the old trunk and sentimentally draws forth her 
mother's wedding veil, the playing of national airs 
as four stagehands make appropriate sounds be- 
neath the window as of a regiment marching off 
to battle, the usual I-knew-your-father-young-man 
sympathetic old Major, and veteran of the Franco- 
Prussian war now old and gray who gives an imi- 
tation of Henry Irving playing "Waterloo" and 
who, after suffering a sudden and complete phy- 
ical collapse following an hysterical reminiscence 
of valorous bygone days, sinks into a chair and 
promptly crosses his legs. . . . 

The scene of it is laid in Berlitz, France, and 
the time is the war year 1918. Judging from the 
numerous outbursts of song on the part of the sol- 
diers, now in solo, now in barbershop quartet 
grouped around a drinking table, it would seem 
that the authors' conception of war is that it is 
something like going to college. Described upon 
the program as "a play of youth and springtime," 
like so many other "plays of. youth and spring- 



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THE BELASCO TECHNIC 217 
time," it presents us in the theatre with the spec- 
tacle of a mere lad of forty-seven and his love 
for a slip of a girl of thirty-six or so, their moist- 
eyed animadversions on "the lilac time of youth" 
in the old garden at purple gelatine-slide time, 
the summoning of the lad to his country's service, 
the necessary postponement of the wedding that 
was to have been performed that very morning by 
the village Cure and the lowering of the curtain 
for a moment to indicate the impromptu passing of 
the young lady's virginity, the wistful looking out 
of the window for the lover's return with one hand 
clasping the baby clothes upon which the young 
lady has been sewing, the message that tells of 
the lover's home-coming, the bromo-seltzer ingenue 
jumpings up and down, the second message that 
tells of the lover's fall in battle, the young lady's 
tearful eyes and nose. . . . 

§ 82 

The Belasco Tecknic. — It is the general produc- 
ing technic of David Belasco first to pick out as 
poor a play as he can find and then assiduously to 
devote his talents to distracting the audience's at- 
tention from its mediocrity. 



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218 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 83 

The Commercial Public. — How many, after all, 
the pleasant and meritorious moments in our so- 
called commercial theatre, moments that have been 
permitted by a dense or careless public and an 
equally dense or careless professional criticism to 
pass comparatively unnoticed; or else have been 
deliberately snickered out of court. Consider the 
lonely, orphaned scene in Augustus Thomas' "The 
Ranger," the scene between the two characters in 
the beleaguered stockade and the recollection by 
one of them of a similar situation in "The Girl 
I Left Behind Me." Recall the final curtain of 
Tom Barry's "Upstart," with the descending asbes- 
tos abruptly cutting off the Sow of the young up- 
lifter's passionate rhetoric. What, too, of the 
Chopin motif through Molnar's "Where Ignor- 
ance is Bliss" and the caretaker's tag, "They've all 
gone to the moving pictures," in Lennox Robin- 
son's "Patriots." Consider the bit in Gillette's 
"Clarice" when the doomed man tears up the little 
sketches over which the girl has so bravely and 
painstakingly laboured. And the resigned smile 
of the husband and father at the close of Harold 
Chapin's little tragedy, "The Dumb and the Blind." 
And the scene between the ageing. bachelor, still 



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ON NOMENCLATURE 219 

striving to be young, and the life-filled flapper 
in the second act — I believe it's the second — of 
Hubert Henry Davies' "A Single Man." And the 
scene between the suffragette and the faun in 
Knoblauch's play. And the "But we thought you 
didn't believe in marriage" and the "Oh, but my 
case is different" scene in Fulda's translated 
"Our Wives." These are but the handful that 
come to mind at the moment. And they occurred, 
all of them, in commercial failures. 

§ 84 

On Nomenclature. — While it may be true that 
a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, 
it is more or less certain that it wouldn't seem to 
smell as sweet if it so happened that it was called 
a rosenberg. And while the Constitution of the 
United States theoretically maintains that any 
American-born citizen may possibly become Presi- 
dent, it is equally more or less certain that a man 
with a name like Bruno Gintz or Ambrose Wiffel 
would stand a very poor chance of seeing the in- 
side of the White House. Even if, indeed, the 
rival candidate were Josephus Daniels. 

What's in a name? The question may be an- 
swered very simply. Say you are a stranger in 



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220 COMEDIANS ALL 

the city, are seized upon a remote highway with 
a sudden cramp, and desire to consult a physician 
forthwith. A mile down the street, you come upon 
a building in the front windows of which are 
visible the shingles of three doctors. The first 
shingle reads: "Dr. Ignatz Loos." The second 
shingle reads: "Dr. Hugo Gula." The third 
shingle reads: "Dr. John J. Smith." Which of 
these three doctors would get the trade of your 
cramp? Plainly enough, the last. Why, you will 
have to answer for yourself. But, however you 
answer, you come finally to the conclusion that the 
fundamental impulse that propelled you and the 
cramp into Dr. Smith's office was little else than 
the comfortable sound of Dr. Smith's name. 

For those persons who believe that names mean 
absolutely nothing, let us make another experi- 
ment. Take, for example, a very popular ro- 
mantic play like the "Romance" of Edward Shel- 
don. The principal characters in this play are 
named, respectively, Thomas Armstrong, Cornelius 
Van Tuyl and Margherita Cavallini. Keep the 
manuscript intact, with not so much as a syllable 
altered, but change the Thomas Armstrong into 
Cholmondely Tootle, the Cornelius Van Tuyl into 
Ralph Sprinz, and the Margherita Cavallini into 
Filomena Piu. What success would the play have 



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ON NOMENCLATURE 221 
in the way of sentimental, romantic appeal? 
Imagine the lore scenes! 

Why do theatre audiences laugh at a cheese 
named Corgonzola and not at the doubly puis- 
sant cheese named Minister? For the same reason 
that they laugh at a reference to Weehawken and 
not at one to a neighbouring New Jersey village 
like Rutherford, a village intrinsically every bit 
as jocose as Weehawken. Why is Kalamazoo 
funny and the just as funny Michigan town of 
Marshall not funny? What makes people snicker 
derisively at Oshkosh and on the other hand treat 
with silent respect the nearby and equally comic 
Wisconsin hamlet of Appleton? Doubtless the 
same thing that caused Amelia Bingham to ap- 
preciate that if she remained Millie Smilley, as 
she was baptized, no one would ever accept her 
as an actress capable of histrionic heights more 
elevated than hitting a comic Irishman in the eye 
with a New York Herald. 

It is as ridiculous to believe that a name means 
nothing to a man or woman as it would be to be- 
lieve that a name means nothing to a dish of 
food. What theatrical producer would engage for 
the role of Romeo an actor, however talented, who 
was known to the world as Julius Katzenjammer? 
What restaurant patron would enjoy the dish half 



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222 COMEDIANS ALL 

as much if it weren't named mountain oysters? 
Imagine giving three lusty cheers for General 
Claude Vivian Pershing! More feats for the imag- 
ination. Imagine being impressed by a woman 
with a fireside name like Carrie Dudley (alias 
Mrs. Leslie Carter) in the role of Du Barry. 
Think of being impressed by Irish impersona- 
tions on the part of a girl named Blanche Min- 
zesheimer (alias Belle Blanche). Imagine hav- 
ing collected cigarette pictures of Pauline 
Schmidgall (Pauline Hall). What if Jerome K. 
Jerome spelled out his middle name — Klapka? 
Why has Elsie Janis persistently denied with a 
suspicious indignation that she was born Bier- 
bauer? How many bottles of Mary Garden Per- 
fume would they sell if they had named it, in- 
stead, Schumann-Heink? What if the Oriental 
Tbeda Bara had stuck to her real Cincinnati, Ohio, 
name of Miss Goodman? Who would have 
listened to Billy Sunday if his name had been Max 
Blitz? Jacob Beer, even though he changed his 
name to Giacomo Meyerbeer, remains fodder for 
the vaudeville comics. What girl, however hand- 
some the man and however opulent he was in the 
goods of the world, would enthuse over marrying 
him if he happened to enjoy such a name as Eli- 
phalet Gilgal, or Joel Pecos, or Kosciusko Saus? 



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ON NOMENCLATURE 223 
Rex Beach and Jack London, signed to stories of 
wild Alaska, are names more or less convincing. 
But say there were a woman who could write 
stories of wild Alaska very much better than these 
twain — whose name happened to be Gladys Dar- 
ling or Mae Sunshine. What serious considera- 
tion would the poor girl get? Or say the maga- 
zine writer named Bonnie Ginger, whose work ap- 
pears regularly in the Street and Smith publica- 
tions, bad chanced to write Andreas Latzko's 
"Men in War" — who would have been disturbed 
by it? What if the actress named Trixie Fri- 
ganza had been in Edith Cavell's place, or the 
motion-picture girls named Arline Pretty and 
Louise Lovely in the places of the Congressional 
Jeanette Rankin and the Suffragette Pankhurst! 

The theory that a name means next to nothing, 
and that it exercises little or no bearing upon the 
fortunes of its owner, is a theory akin to that 
which would stoutly maintain that a girl named 
Minnie Ohio would be as likely to impress Co- 
vent Garden as Marguerite, despite her equal 
talents, as the one named Mignon Nevada. There 
are exceptions, of course, but they prove little. 
For one Leo Ditrichstein who has succeeded in en- 
chanting the matinee girl despite the influenza of 
his name, there have been several dozens who, 



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224 COMEDIANS ALL 

afraid to take so great a chance, have astutely 
turned the natal Simon into Selwyn, Lepper into Ab- 
ingdon, and something or other considerably less 
harmonious into Courtenay. And for one Lud- 
wig Rottenberg who has succeeded in the musical 
world in spite of the patronymic odour, there have 
been a score or more who, sensing the danger, 
have changed themselves from Nachtigall into 
Luscinius. What chance did poor Mr. 0. U. 
Bean, who produced "An Aztec Romance" in 
the Manhattan Opera House six or seven years 
ago, stand? Even if he had revealed himself a 
new Gordon Craig or Reinhardt? What serious, 
attention, in turn, would Gordon Craig ever have 
attracted had his name been O. U. Bean? Hash 
called emince tastes twice as good. A firm call- 
ing itself the Royal-Imperial Corset Company will 
sell its wares to twice as many women as it would 
were it to call itself by the names of its proprietors, 
Bierheister and Pluto, Inc. And finally, what if 
Rigo, the eye-rolling, lady-killing fiddler, had pos- 
sessed the name Herman or Gus? 

§ 85 

Opera Comigue. — The formula of opera oo- 
mique: Act I — "The Boar's Head Tavern" with 



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OPERA COMIQUE 225 

the fat-legged chorus of female villagers, the King's 
Guard as stiff as ramrods, the hero with his shirt 
open at the neck, the daughter of the poor inn- 
keeper who hugs the footlights, closes her fists 
upon her bosom and blinks her way through a 
song called "Love is a Rose," the low comedian 
with the funny legs, plug hat, red nose and joke 
about matrimony-alimony; Act II — "The Court- 
yard of the Palace" with the fat-legged villagers 
now appearing as red-and-green gipsies, the 
frowzy old stock company actress with a velvet 
portiere attached to her bustle (thus depicting a 
Queen), the Prince incognito, the separation of 
the lovers by the cruel librettist, and the low come- 
dian with the funny legs, plug hat, red nose and 
joke about germs coming from Germany; Act III 
— "The Throne Room of the Palace," with the 
fat-legged first-act villagers and second-act gipsies 
now wearing long white sateen skirts and walking 
across the stage as if a loved one had just died 
(thus vouchsafing the yokels a regal "coronation 
scene"), the reunion of the lovers through the 
news that the hero has been pardoned, and the 
low comedian with the funny legs, plug hat, red 
nose and joke about Pittsburgh. . . . 



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226 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 86 

Dramatic Paradox. — Why is that theatrical 
audiences always laugh at the blunders of the in- 
nocently ignorant characters in drama and are 
moved to compassion by the blunders of the in- 
telligent? Is this not directly opposite to the 
practice in actual life? 

§ 87 

The French and American Taste. — One has only 
to compare such a play as Harry James Smith's 
"The Little Teacher" with such a play as Alfred 
Capus' "The Little Postmistress" to sense (1) the 
difference between the tastes of an American and 
a French playwright, and (2) the difference be- 
tween the tastes of an American and a French 
theatre audience. I doubt whether in the dramatic 
literatures of the two nations there are two plays, 
of whatever quality, that may more exactly il- 
luminate the respective postures of these nations in 
their playhouses. Both plays proceed from the 
adventures of a spotless virgin come to earn a 
livelihood in a small village and each play in its 
subsequent progress pronounces clearly, and at 
every rum, me stereotyped characteristics of the 



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TASTE 227 

audience for which it was designed. The Capus 
play is a brightly written, sophisticated, good- 
natured and droll comedy of live and living per- 
sons. The Smith play is an amalgam of all the 
mildewed hokums of the Broadway showsbop ex- 
pounded through the figures of all the mildewed 
puppets of the one-night-stand opera houses. 
This Smith work, is, indeed, a veritable tour de 
force in the so-called sure-fire devices that are 
ever successful in the diteggiatwa of the keyboard 
of the native playgoing yokel's emotions and the 
pawing out of bis moods doloroso, infervorato, 
vivace con furioso and /. quanta possibile, a tour 
de force in the yap-traps and old reliables of stage 
commerce that has not been matched for sheer 
virtuosity since George M. Cohan's "Hit-the-Trail 
Holliday." 

The story of the play is the autobiography of 
the brazen popularity stratagems of the American 
folk stage. The picture of George Washington 
decorated with American flags; the picture of 
Woodrow Wilson beside it; drawings of the Star 
Spangled Banner upon the blackboard by the 
school children with coloured chalks; the creeping 
down the stairs of a small tot in its little white 
nightie; the sprig of Spring blossoms which the 
heroine gives to the hero and which the hero 



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228 COMEDIANS ALL 

tenderly presses in a book for sweet memory's 
sake; the drunken father who beats his children 
until the "purple welts" show on their backs; the 
twain of sour old maiden ladies who seek to stir 
up the community against the little school teacher 
because they believe her relations with the hero 
are not so innocent as they seem; the uncouth but 
whole-hearted lumber-jack to whom the little 
school teacher teaches the A B C's and with whom 
she falls in love; the head of the village school 
board whose bandanna protrudes from the tails 
of his coat; the heroine's wistful playing of the 
organ in the candle-light with the children in their 
nighties cuddling beside her — the organ that 
hasn't been played, it's nigh on thirty years now, 
sence the baby died . . . they are all here. And 
with them, the village beau in the loud red vest 
who wets his fingers and creases his trousers; the 
hero who fells with a blow the knave who casts an 
aspersion upon the little school teacher's fair name ; 
the kettle of boiling water with the real steam com- 
ing out of it; the joke about Jersey City; the dis- 
covery that the ill-used children were kidnapped 
from their cradles and are in reality the heirs of a 
rich New York family; the comic old rube who 
goes on talking forgetting that he has a lighted 
match in his hand and bums his fingers; the hero 



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TEMPERATURE 229 

who says "damn" and then, when the heroine 
raises her eyebrows, elaborately begs her pardon; 
the pale little girl child who observes pathetically 
that she "never had no muwer"; the longing to be 
back again in "wonderful little old New York"; 
the final vision of the hero in khaki . . . and you 
have, in small part, an idea of the night's in- 
dubious traffic. 

When one sees "The Little Teacher," one sees 
synchronously the history of our American pop- 
ular stage. It is a vaudeville of American 
audiences since 1870 and, as such, the best unin- 
tentional theatrical satire I have ever seen. 

§ 88 

Temperature and the Drama. — Of the numerous 
delusions that enwrap the theatre, not the least 
amusing is the hypothesis that the summer season 
is suited vastly better to music shows than to 
drama because the former, in warm uncomfortable 
weather, place considerably less strain upon the 
attention of the spectator than the latter. The 
truth, of course, despite its regrettable air of 
flippancy, is quite the opposite. A music show 
like "The Follies," say, with its seventy or eighty 
comely girls, with its every fifteen minute change 



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230 COMEDIANS ALL 

of multicoloured costume and brilliant scenery, 
and with its quickly shifting panorama of dance, 
tune and spectacle, invites the attention with a ten- 
fold more close alertness than a drama like St. 
John Ervine's "John Ferguson," for instance, with 
its seven or eight characters, its very slow action, 
its leisurely development of thesis. 

The managerial assumption that the music 
show provides the better form of hot weather en- 
tertainment because it calls for a lesser sense- 
organic agility on the part of the spectator than 
does the dramatic show vouchsafes us a not in- 
accurate measure of the peculiarly bogus 
managerial metaphysic. Placing the cart before 
the horse with his accustomed perspicacity, the 
manager argues from the success of the music show 
in hot weather — and from the reciprocal failure 
of drama in the same weather — that the music 
show is successful because it appeals to the 
spectator's indolent hot weather mood, when the 
fact is that the music show appeals to the spectator 
in hot weather — as the drama does not — purely 
and simply because in hot weather the average 
man is of twice as active a disposition and of twice 
as alert a nature as in cold weather, and because 
the music show thus satisfies his doubly acute 
senses. In the summer months the average man 



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TEMPERATURE 231 

who in the winter months hugs the radiator and 
the easy chair is fond of exerting himself. The 
activity he abjures in the cold season he adopts 
with a furious suddenness and enthusiasm in the 
warm season. Though he may be anything but 
athletic, the warm weather sees him golfing, walk- 
ing, swimming, bathing in the surf, playing tennis, 
gardening, climbing hills and mountains, hurrying 
to and from railroad stations, fishing, commuting 
twice a day, working like a dog cooking his own 
meals and washing dishes in some sort of "camp," 
going on long bucoiic hikes, spending weeks stalk- 
ing the mythical bear in the Maine woods, rowing 
his arms lame at Lake Mahopac, falling out of 
canoes into the Hudson River or pitching hay for 
diversion in Westchester County. The very men- 
tion of such exotic didoes would make him grunt 
a sour grunt during the winter; but, come summer 
with its wilting heat, and he becomes abruptly and 
surprisingly as active as a cootie. It is this 
grotesque and wayward hot weather zeal that 
brings him to the desire for a more lively form of 
theatrical entertainment than slow-paced drama. 
When the warm weather comes, his peculiarly 
restless nature wants action, change, something to 
rivet the attention, to provoke the emotions and 
the senses, to hold the eye. And the music show 



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232 COMEDIANS ALL 

serves this end. He strains his too long inert 
body by day and, suddenly avid of life, he wishes 
to balance the strain by a hard pull at his other 
faculties by night And if he is not of the sort 
that relishes the physical strain of sport, he 
naturally relishes doubly, and wants doubly, the 
equivalent and compensatory emotional strain pro- 
vided by the theatre. Drama would rest him and 
cause him to relax, and he doesn't want rest or 
relaxation. He wants to have a smashing colour, 
a dazzling parade, a ceaseless movement, litho- 
graphed upon the combined blchromated gelatin 
and albumen of his nervous and vigilant brain. 
He wants, not an inert, passive and too easily as- 
similated depiction of the tragic psychoneurologi- 
cal phenomena underlying filial and maternal love 
as set forth in some such drama as Hervieu's 
"Passing of the Torch," but tbe active, absorbing 
and every-moment intriguing and riveting kaleido- 
scope of bewildering motion. 

The problem is a simple one in practical psy- 
chology, familiar to every Harvard sophomore. 
It is fully explained by Wundt, Kulpe and James 
in their respective writings on the nature and forms 
of attention, and by Ribot ("Psychologie de FAt- 
tention"), A. J. Hamlin in tbe American Journal 
of Psychology, Floumoy ("L'Annee Psycholo- 



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THE MARIONETTE 233 

gique"), and the very sagacious Exner. . . . This, 
therefore, the reason why "The Follies" is in- 
evitably twenty times as prosperous a hot weather 
show as would be the best drama Pinero ever wrote. 

§ 89 

The Marionette. — For the dramatist, the marion- 
ette surpasses the living actor in the same way 
that, for the composer, the violin surpasses the liv- 
ing singer. For all the wood out of which the 
marionette, like the violin, is fashioned, that wood 
contains in each instance the potential voice of the 
thousand and one inspirations of the creative 
artist. Unlike flesh and blood and the whims and 
idiosyncrasies and contumacies that go more or 
less inevitably with flesh and blood, it serves the 
creative artist with all the obedience and docility 
of his pen, with all the expository force of the 
lead that is in cold type. The critic of the marion- 
ette is the critic who believes that the human voice 
of Schumann Heink is capable of bringing as great 
a glory to the "Heidenroslein" of Schubert as the 
wooden voice of Antonio Stradivari, or that the 
visible nose, Adam's apple and Chianti-bottle 
figure of Mr. Robert B. Mantell constitute a 
grander and more beautiful funnel for the majestic 



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234 COMEDIANS ALL 

verse of Shakespeare than the shrewdly negotiated 

combination of a trained and mellifluous larynx 

in the wings and a visible wooden figure finely 

carved by the painstaking hand of an artist of 

Bologna. 

The "Scheherazade" of the Russian ballet, the 
richest flower of pantomime and in its silence as 
vibrantly dramatic as the most strepitantly voiced 
drama, is in essence drama expounded by marion- 
ettes. The "Voice in the Wilderness," the off-stage 
voice of Cod, in the dramatic presentation of the 
Biblical "Book of Job," contributes at once the 
most effective and dramatic note of the play. Is, 
then, the theory of the marionette drama — in- 
trinsically a combination of these twain — so 
absurd as some contend? . . . What living, 
speaking actor could be half so effective, half so 
revelatory, half so eloquent as Pinero's little 
marionette that gayly dances down the curtain to 
the second act of "A Wife Without a Smile"? 
What living, speaking actress could conjure up for 
the imagination the vision of a Jenny Mere as that 
vision might be conjured up by a delicate waxen 
doll responding to the golden, always-sixteen off- 
stage voice of a shrivelled Bernhardt of sixty? 

If there are certain plays that, in good truth, 
cannot perhaps be so electrically played by ma- 



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THE MARIONETTE 235 

rionettes as by living actors — plays of sex emo- 
tionalism, for instance — there are no less certain 
plays that cannot be so electrically played by liv- 
ing actors as by marionettes. The so-called drama 
of ideas, for example, is essentially and properly 
a marionette drama: the living actor not only 
contributes nothing to it; he actually by his pres- 
ence detracts from it. Lucien Cuitry as Pasteur 
in the play of that name is less Pasteur than the 
familiar Lucien Cuitry playing Chantecler in a 
Prince Albert. It thus becomes necessary for the 
proper effect of the play that the spectator, in . 
Coleridge's phrase, strain to support the illusion 
not by judging Guitry to be Pasteur, but by re- 
mitting the judgment that Guitry is not Pasteur. 
This "temporary half-faith supported by the 
spectator's voluntary contribution," this mental 
ruse and imaginative tug — this a marionette in the 
role of Pasteur would not call for, since (I) the 
role of Pasteur as written by the younger Cuitry 
is primarily a mere spigot for the projection of 
scientific ideas and contentions, since (2) a living 
interpreter of the role, however able, by virtue of 
his familiar and largely inalienable aspect and 
comportment serves as a somewhat grotesque sieve, 
and since (3), therefore, the marionette, being 
obviously a marionette, would rid the spectator of 



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236 COMEDIANS ALL 

the devastating sieve consciousness and, interpos- 
ing no alien physiological element and call for 
temporary half-faith, would bring the spectator 
without ado into direct contact with the aforesaid 
scientific ideas and contentions. The difference, 
somewhat less gaseously expressed, is the differ- 
ence between watching August Fraemcke excite the 
F minor concerto of Chopin on a Steinway and 
listening to the ghost of Paderewski perform the 
same composition on a Welte-Mignon. 

Well, well, I probably exaggerate. Nor do I 
pretend that I am myself yet convinced. But, 
perusing the anti-marionette logic of the mummer 
worshippers, my doubts and hesitations are some- 
what moderated. If there is much to be said on 
the one side, there is much also to be said on the 
other. 

§ 90 

The National Humour. — Were I asked by a 
foreigner to point out the most searchingly exact 
and typical — if true enough not always the best — 
specimens of the American national humour, I 
should direct the inquisitor to the legend postcards 
on sale for a penny apiece in corner cigar stores 
throughout the country. Nowhere else, I con- 
clude after considerable deliberation, is the unique 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 237 

and characteristic humour of the United States bo 
clearly presented, so clearly illustrated, so clearly 
summarized. Search the libraries of America 
from end to end and one will be at pains to find 
a shrewder and better anthology than is revealed 
upon these mailing-cards. I quote a few more or 
less familiar examples, selected at random: 

1. "What! You never kissed any girl before? Then 
you beat it! You are not gonna practise on me." 

2. "After talking with some people, without mentioning 
any names, I wonder at the high price of ivory." 

3. "Don't criticize the butter — yer may be old yerself 
some day." 

4. "I'm somewhat of a liar myself — but go on with 
your story; I'm listening." 

5. "I'm so unlucky mat if it was raining soup I'd be 
right there with a fork." 

6. "Some men will do more for a cheap eigar than they 
will for a dollar." 

7. "Don't spit. Remember the Johnstown Flood!" 

8. "A tea-kettle sings when it's full of water. But who 
the hell wants to be a tea-kettle?" 

9. "Life is one damn thing after another. Love is two 
damn things after each other." 

10. "I've met both your gentlemen friends, and I don't 
know which one I like the worst." 

11. "Kiss me quick, kid; I'm going to eat onions." 

12. "If you have nothing to do, don't do it here." 

13. "Come in without knocking. Go out the same way." 



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238 COMEDIANS ALL 

14. "If you spit on the floor at home, spit on the floor 
here. We want you to feel at home." 

15. "Take things easy. You can always go to jail." 

16. "Don't swear while here. Not that we care a damn, 
but it sounds like hell to strangers." 

17. "If every man was as true to his country as he is to 
his wife, God save the U. S. A." 

18. "You can't fool nature. That's why so many pro- 
hibitionists have red noses." 

19. "The peacock is a beautiful bird, but it takes the 
stork to deliver the goods." 

20. "Don't say mean things to your mother-in-law. . . . 
Kick her in the slats." 

21. "What! You here again? Another half hour gone 
to hell!" 

22. "Half the world is nutty — the rest are squirrels." 

23. "I ain't got nothing to live for; nobody loves me but 
the dog, and he's got fleas." 

24. "A baby doesn't know much, but father can't wear 
mother's nightgown and fool it when it's hungry." 

25. "Calves may come and cows may go, but the bull 
goes on forever." . 

26. "I love my patent leather, but oh you undressed kid." 

27. "I may be no chicken, but I'm game.** 

28. "Any fool can go to bed, but getting up takes a 
man!" 

29. "Our eyes have met, our lips not yet, but oh you kid, 
I'll get you yet" 

30. "An Irishman dies every time they're short an angel 
in Heaven." 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 239 
Not a tony, an elegant, humour perhaps — but 
nevertheless a humour sharply typical of the 
present day American people: as typical in its way 
as is the humour of he Rire, Maillol and Rip of 
the French, the humour of Seymour Hicks, Tit- 
Bits and the New Cross Empire of the British, 
or the humour of Busch, the side-street Tingel- 
Tangel and Georg Okonkowski of the German. 
The national humour of America, like that of any 
other nation save Spain and possibly France, is 
in the main its lowest and mo3t vulgar humour. 
Thus, the satirical humour of George Ade — the fin- 
est American humour of our time — is no more 
accurately the weather-cock of the American na- 
tional chuckle than the high satirical humour of 
Anatole France is the divining-rod of the French, 
or the striking satirical humour of Ludwig Thoma 
that of the German, or the smart satirical humour 
of Max Beerbohm that of the British. The na- 
tional humour is obviously enough the humour 
not of the few, but of the mass — the plurality 
humour. And thus the humour most typical of 
the American people is the humour of the beer 
saloon, the scenic railway pleasure park, the 
country fair, the day coach smoking car, the 
street-corner, the chowder club picnic, the political 



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240 COMEDIANS ALL 

rally, the baseball bleachers. The humour of any 
nation is the humour of its leading bartender. 
The humour of England is assuredly typified vastly 
less by the reply of a W. S. Gilbert to the ques- 
tion of what he thought of Dickens — "He was, if 
you understand me, a gentish person" — than by 
some such punning allusion of Arthur Wimperis 
as General Haig and Haig or Admiral Jellycake. 
The humour of Germany is not of the stuff of 
Bismarck's reply when they asked him how he 
would settle the Irish problem — "I would have the 
Irish and the Dutch exchange countries: the Dutch 
would make a garden of Ireland, and in a year or 
so the Irish would begin neglecting the dikes" — 
but of the stuff of some such music-hall "Jupplala" 
lyric whence was derived the American "My wife's 
gone to the country, hooray, hooray!" And the 
national humour of France, though probably of a 
suaver quality than that of the other nations here 
considered, since France, after all, is metropolitan 
Paris and metropolitan Paris France, is measur- 
ably less the gorgeous humour of "The Revolt of 
the Angels" than that of the well-known comic 
boulevard picture with the appended inscription, 
"Is this Monsieur Calchot that I have the pleasure 
of addressing?" 

In England and on the Continent, the character- 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 241 
istic humour of a nation is the humour of its music- 
halls. The humour of the Alhambra, the Victoria 
Palace and the Camberwell Empire is as certain 
a thermometer of the British humour as that of the 
Folies-Bergere, the Olympia, the Bobino and the 
Gaite-Montpamesse is a thermometer of the 
French, and that of the Wintergarten, the Fleder- 
maus cabaret platform and the Nollendorfplatz- 
Theater of the German. But the representative 
humour of the American people is, I believe, the 
humour of the cheap vaudevilles and the bur- 
lesque show. It is this humour that the post-cards 
which I have described reflect: for in the cheap 
vaudevilles and the burlesque shows one finds, in- 
deed, this humour's provenience. The humour of 
the burlesque show is a humour original with the 
burlesque show: it is an even more original humour 
than that of the cheap vaudevilles which is often 
a mere slight polishing up of the burlesque humour 
or a mere roughening and toughening up of the 
already thrice distilled Broadway musical comedy 
humour. And this burlesque humour therefore 
doubtless places a more accurate finger upon the 
national pulse. The loudest and most popular 
laughter in the American theatres of today is pro- 
voked by humour that has been graduated from 
burlesque. The leading comedians of a dozen or 



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242 COMEDIANS ALL 

more shows of uniformly high prosperity through- 
out the country have come to the more august stage 
from burlesque, and have brought their wheezes 
with them. The exceptionally popular humour of 
Irvin Cobb is substantially the humour of the bur- 
lesque show, somewhat refined for the purposes 
of general distribution in a periodical that rolls 
a canny eye at the papa and his housewife. The 
most popular mot negotiated by President Wilson 
on his speech route of 1918, the joke about mak- 
ing the world safe for the democratic party, 
originated with the comedian in Charlie Baker's 
"Gay Morning Glories" show. Helen Green's ad- 
mirable actors' boarding house and telephone 
girls' humour' — some of the very best native 
humour an American has set upon paper — was in 
essence the purest burlesque show humour. 

The satiric humour of George Ade, though, as 
observed, probably the best American humour 
since the time of Twain, is genetically less an 
American than a British humour. On the surface 
it is as American as a catcher's mit; its general 
form and style are as thoroughly American as 
Stein-Bloch clothes; but in its amazingly sharp 
satire it is British. Ade's training and upbringing, 
contrary to the general notion, were — I under- 
stand from a source that seems thoroughly reliable 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 243 

— less along banks of the Wabash lines than along 
banks of the Thames lines. (His father, so I hear, 
was of English stock and stubbornly read no other 
newspaper than the London Telegraph, for which 
he regularly subscribed.) The fine English sa- 
tiric note in the son's writings may thus be ex- 
plained. Whatever the facts, the one fact remains 
that the humour of George Ade is intrinsically no 
more a symptom of the national humour than the 
vastly less fine but partly satiric writing of Charles 
Hoyt was, in his day, intrinsically a symptom of 
the national humour. The present-day American 
mass humour is not the sly humour of Ade, but 
the somewhat less recherche humour of Billy Wat- 
son ("baggy comedian's clothes, toothpick in his 
mouth, red nose, cuffs tied with ribbons, hatchet 
in his hip pocket," so Arthur Ruhl describes him 
in mat droll and excellent essay) — of Billy Wat- 
son and his venerable and deathless "Kraus- 
meyer's Alley." Just as the twenty-year-ago sly 
American humour of Hoyt was less the national 
humour of its day than the somewhat less recherche 
humour of this selfsame Watson and this selfsame 
"Krausmeyer*s Alley.*' (A nation's humour is in 
general as unchanging as a nation's flag — a few 
more stars, or a few more asterisks, perhaps, but 
Watson's current immensely popular addendum to 



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244 COMEDIANS ALL 

"Krausmeyer's Alley," "A Gay Old Boy," is noth- 
ing other than Harry Montague's famous "My 
Uncle" of a quarter of a century ago, the lucrative 
and nationally applauded standby of Waldron's 
old Trocadero Burlesquers.) 

The American national humour is not the de- 
risory humour of the T wains and the Ades, but 
the burlesque humour of the Petroleum V. Nashya 
and the Irvin Cobbs. The humour of Ring 
Lardner comes nearer the national pulse than the 
humour of Montague Class, say, yet both these 
humours are intrinsically of too fine and subtle a 
left-handed quality, too sharp and incisive a power 
of characterization — especially the humour of the 
latter 1 — to bring them into a plurality of popular- 
ity. The national humour is the low, broad, easy, 
vulgar humour that appeals alike to the Elk and 
the member of the Union Club, the motorman and 
the owner of a Rolls-Royce, the congressman and 
the chiropodist, the Y. M. C. A. superintendent 
and the brothel keeper, the artist and the shoe 
clerk: the humour that tickles alike the ribs of 
ignoramus and intellectual, of rich and poor, of 
rowdy and genteel, of black, white and tan. And 
where other than in burlesque do we find this 
humour in America? Whether spoken humour 
or physical humour, this burlesque humour 1 — reg- 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 245 

ularly graduated to the more legitimate popular 
stage, to the popular magazines, to the popular 
songs and hooks and moving pictures, and so given 
a thorough national circulation — is more often 
than any other form of American humour success- 
ful in amusing the generality of the American 
people. Thus, for one American who will laugh 
at some such delicate mockery of Clyde Fitch's as 
"Men are always hard on another man whom 
women like," ten thousand will laugh at some such 
burlesque show fancy as Krausmeyer's injunction 
to Grogan to take his feet off the table "and give 
the Limburger a chance." And for every Ameri- 
can, rich or poor, black or white, Christian or 
Quartermaster, who will be found to laugh at some 
such literary drollery as Christopher Morley's ac- 
count of the lecturer on Tennyson who by error 
got into a home for female inebriates, there will be 
found thirty thousand who will laugh at some such 
burlesque drollery as Al Reeves' account of his ad- 
ventures in urging the Salvation Army saver of 
fallen women to save him two blondes and a 
brunette for Saturday night. 

The true fundamental national humour of 
America — as of any other nation — rests, of 
course, in its dirty story. The loose and ribald 
anecdote of the Irishman and the minister's 



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246 COMEDIANS ALL 

daughter, of what was seen through the opera- 
glass from the veranda of the Hebrew golf club, 
of the widow and the college boy, of the girl 
who went to the masked ball as a certain playing 
card, and the like, constitute the N toward which 
the national popular humour compass needle con- 
stantly and unswervingly directs itself. And it is 
because the burlesque show humour more closely 
and brazenly than any other public form of 
American humour approaches to this shall we say 
deplorable index, that it vouchsafes the most ac- 
curate public picture of the American national 
humour. This burlesque humour, further, is of 
typical American accent and expression, as the 
burlesque show itself is a typical American 
product: one will not find the like of it anywhere 
in the world. And this is why the alien in- 
vestigator, would he know the best available 
criterion of the American scherzo, would rightly 
and most appropriately be directed to a study of 
that form of American public entertainment whose 
humour most intimately and unabashedly dances 
the hump-polka with what is the actual national 
humour. 

The humour of the burlesque show — the 
genuine, full-blown and unaffected burlesque show 
of Fourteenth Street, not the hybrid thing mani- 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 247 

cured by the so-called burlesque wheel for the up- 
town Columbia Theatre of Broadway — this humour 
is as representatively and intrinsically American, 
in all the fine bloom of its vulgarity, as the humour 
of the comic valentine, the pie cinema or the bush 
league bleachers. Its essence is the essence of the 
nationally most popular comic cartoons as, for 
example, the "Boobs," "Simps," "Foolish Ques- 
tions," "No Brains" and "Mike and Ike" of Gold- 
berg, the Hallroom Boys of McCill, the Mutt and 
Jeff of Bud Fisher, the "Bringing Up Father" of 
George McManus, the "Abie the Agent" of Hersh- 
field — and the Yellow Kid of Outcault, and Foxy 
Grandpa, and the Katzenjammer Kids, and the 
various celebrated comic strips of the yesterdays. 
For one American who laughs at the pungent, 
satiric drawings of Webster or Hill or McCutcheon, 
there are ten thousand who laugh at the low bur- 
lesque stage sketches of Tad, of Opper, and of T. 
E. Powers. 

Puck was successful only so long as it stuck to 
the barber-shop level: the day it attempted a more 
elevated form of wit the office boy began figuring 
how much the editor's spittoon would go for at 
the auction sale. Life sticks sagaciously to 
mother-in-law and Little Willie jokes and so keeps 
alive. Judge sticks to yokel limericks about the 



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248 COMEDIANS ALL 

man who lived in Siam and pictures of dogs with 
cans tied to their tails and thus keeps its head 
above water. Hie United States has not one 
humorous periodical of one-half the quality of the 
British Punch, or one-tenth the quality of the 
French Vie Parisienne, the Russian Loukomorye 
and Novi Satirikon and Boudilnik, or the German 
Simplicissirnus. The American comic paper re- 
flects the highest popular level of the American 
taste in humour as exactly as such a periodical as 
the Saturday Evening Post, with its two millions of 
circulation and its five millions of readers, reflects 
the highest popular level of the American taste in 
philosophy and aesthetics. 

As, theatrically, "Krausmeyer's Alley" may be 
accepted as a typical example of the American 
humour, so many "La Cocotte Bleue," the Cluny 
Theatre riot, be accepted as an emblem of the 
French humour, and "A Little Bit of Fluff," the 
dismal American failure, as an emblem of the 
British, and an eternally popular Laufs and Kraatz 
collaboration as an emblem of the German. The 
American humour, more than the British, or 
French, or even German, is a slapstick and seltzer 
siphon humour. It is the humour of "Dere 
Mable," of "Speaking of Operations," of K. C. B., 
of comedians speaking into telephones and receiv- 



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THE NATIONAL HUMOUR 249 
ing faces full of flour, of William F. Kirk, and 
of Barney Gerard kicking Rose Sydell in the seat 
of her tights. It is the humour of the Silk Hat 
Harry cartoons, of such songs as "How're We 
Gonna Keep the Boys on the Farm After They 
Been to Gay Paree?", of postcards bearing the 
inscription "Say, bo, get me! You're bughouse," 
of Louis Robie and the bass drum and ratchet and 
suggestively torn strip of muslin. It is, in brief, 
less the humour of the ironic Harry Leon Wilson, 
or of the observant Kin Hubbard, or of the J. L. 
Morgan of the shrewd club lampoons, or of the 
F. P. Adams of parody classic verse, or of the 
quaintly philosophical E. W. Howe, or of the muse- 
ful Clare Briggs than the humour of the Yonkers 
Statesman, "Bugs" Baer, Dinkelspiel, the Charlie 
Chaplin inserts, Joe Oppenheimer's "Broadway 
Belles," Roy L. McCardell, Ezra Kendall, Bert 
Leslie, and the one about the cigar drummer and 
the blonde. 

§ 91 

The Crook Play. — The modern Broadway crook 
play, commonly held to he as typical and 
characteristic an American product as a Muhlen- 
berg College bachelor of arts or the Mann 
Act, is actually no more indigenously Ameri- 



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250 COMEDIANS ALL 

can than Napravnik's "Dubroffsky." The mod- 
ern Broadway crook play is a lineal descendant 
of the German o-Austro-IIungarian crook play: 
its blood relationship is more or less visible 
in its every feature. The American Carters 
and Marcins with their "Master Minds" and 
"Cheating Cheaters" were in each instance antici- 
pated by the Austro-Hungarian Sawa Zez-Mirskis 
with their "Super-Scoundrels" (Der Obergauaer) 
and "Cheated Cheaters" (Betrogene Betriiger), as 
the American Armstrongs and McHughs with their 
card-sharper "Greyhounds" and burlesque "Of- 
ficers 666" were in each instance anticipated by 
the Central European Karl Schiilers with their 
"Card Sharpers" (Falschspieler) and Turzinsky- 
Stifters with their burlesque "Don't Write Letters" 
(Mann Soil Kerne Briefe Schreiben). The Broad- 
way crook melodrama composer like Willard Mack 
has always had a crook melodrama papa overseas 
like Kurt Matull; the Broadway crook farce com- 
poser like James Montgomery a crook farce papa 
like Ferenz Molnar. The Americans have in none 
of these cases been plagiarists — this is not the 
point — but the species of crook plays which they 
have written were in each case already familiar to 
and popular with the Central European audience. 
Not only in America but in Europe is the crook 



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THEATRICAL WISE MEN 251 
play, when it is done with a reasonable show of 
skill, among the most prosperous and lucrative of 
the numerous theatrical jay baits. The theory of 
the local college critics that the high popularity of 
the crook drama in America is a melancholy mark 
of the inferior American theatrical taste is a theory 
that suffers a swift hump when the Continental 
(and particularly the French) statistics are 
plumbed. 

§ 92 

The Theatrical Wise Men. — Probably no other 
institution on earth is burdened with so many posi- 
tive theories and rules of conduct as the theatre. 
And in probably no other institution, save it be a 
physical culture diet restaurant, are the positive 
theories and rules of conduct so profitably to be 
violated. The moment an oracular theory or law 
is laid down in the theatre, that moment does it 
become certain that by breaking it someone is due 
shortly to make at least a quarter of a million dol- 
lars. 

A. H. Woods, probably the shrewdest com- 
mercial manager in the American theatre, rejected 
a ridiculously cheap advance offer of a sixty per 
cent interest in the melodrama named "The Un- 
known Purple" on the contention that the play con- 



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252 COMEDIANS ALL 

taihed a situation in which a wife failed to recog- 
nize her husband after an absence of eight or ten 
years, which situation, Mr. Woods informed the 
author of the play, would never conceivably be 
accepted as credible by a theatre audience. "The 
Unknown Purple," with the situation, thereupon 
proceeded to run for an entire theatrical year in 
New York City alone. 

When Arthur Hopkins announced that he was 
about to produce "The Jest," this same canny Mr. 
Woods voiced his conviction that so sombre a 
tragedy could not conceivably draw more than a 
very limited "highbrow" audience, as he termed it, 
and could not consequently play to "big money." 
The sombre "Jest" thereupon promptly turned out 
to be the greatest financial dramatic success in 
many years, playing lo the astonishingly high box- 
office sale of over nineteen thousand dollars a week. 

George M. Cohan, who probably knows more 
about popular playmaking than all the rest of the 
popular American playwrights combined, has said 
in answer to an interviewer's query: "If you want 
to sell anything to Americans, sell them what they 
want. That goes for pants or plays. And give 
them what they want quick! Shoot it over fast! 
Tell your story so sharply that it will keep your 
audience awake all the time following you! Get 



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THEATRICAL WISE MEN 253 
a plot and get it going at once! Don't give the 
audience time to think!" Mr. Cohan rejected the 
manuscript of "Peg o' My Heart" on the ground 
that it moved too deliberately, that its story was 
not shot over with sufficient punch and speed, mat 
its plot maneuvering was so slow that an audience 
would have too much time to think about it and 
that, therefore, it would fail to hold an American 
audience. "Peg o' My Heart" thereupon began 
a record-breaking run that is still going on in the 
remote tank towns and that has netted its author 
and manager a great fortune. 

Augustus Thomas, the leading American apostle 
and professor of absolutism in dramatic technique 
— in the theory that in order to succeed a drama 
must be written according to hard and fast, tested 
and inviolable, formulae — laboriously confected 
"The Copperhead" according to the said formula; 
and then found, upon the third night of its suc- 
cessful New York presentation, that it was neces- 
sary to the perpetuation of the play's success to turn 
the chief principle of his main formula topsy-turvy. 
Thus the first night enigma of Milt Shanks' loyalty 
to the Federal government was on the third night 
imparted to the audience in a hoarse down-stage 
whisper by the rewritten Milt himself. 

Daniel Arthur hesitated to produce Clare Kum- 



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254 COMEDIANS ALL 

mer's "Good Gracious Annabelle" as a music show 
libretto because it was, he maintained, too absurd 
a fable too artificially bandied. Hopkins there- 
upon obtained the rights to the libretto from Arthur, 
impudently produced the libretto as a straight 
farce comedy without any music at all, and got 
away with it. 

These are five cases out of an available five 
hundred. 

§ 93 

William Winter. — Re-reading the bulky opera 
of the late William Winter, I am impressed more 
than ever with the utter incompetence of the man as 
a critic of the drama. A writer of many a felici- 
tous phrase and fruity turn of sentence, he was yet 
of the mind of a schoolboy, of the point of view of 
a girl disappointed in love. Of his grotesque 
morality and puritanism in matters of art, I do not 
speak: these are of course familiar. What I speak 
of was the man's almost complete lack of under- 
standing of the fundamental requirements of crit- 
icism. He was a critic of acting and 'drama in 
precisely the same sense that the late William S. 
Devery was a critic of sociology. His attitude was 
generally the attitude of a Simon Legree without 



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WILLIAM WINTER 255 

slaves. Perpetually vexed, irritated, infuriated, 
he would wildly brandish his cowhide about him, 
would have at imaginary ghosts that were con- 
stantly terrorizing him and, finding the ghosts 
made of thin air, would suffer upon his own ear 
the boomerang sting of the whip. Dancing then 
and howling over the self-inflicted fetch, he would 
seek to get even with the whip by loudly calling it 
a rattlesnake. And it was this imprecation that 
was duly set upon paper and called criticism. 

If I seem to be indelicate in writing thus of a 
dead man, I have no shuffling apologies to make. 
The fact that Winter is dead doesn't increase my 
respect for him in the slightest. And though I 
hope that the good Lord God may rest the soul of 
him in eternal peace, I can't resist the conviction — 
come upon me since carefully re-reading his works 
— that the mark of the man as a critic of the 
theatre was best to be appraised in his acceptance 
of public benefit alms, in the dour midnight of his 
life, from the very actors whom he had labelled 
dramatic maquereaux and the very actresses whom 
his pale blue New England mind had denounced 
as no better than harlots. It is to the credit of 
Mrs. Minnie Maddem Fiske that she alone — of all 
who were sought to play the hypocrite to such a 



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256 COMEDIANS ALL 

man in bis doddering, financially wrecked days — 
remained a sufficiently acute critic of critics to show 
the committee the door. 

§ 94 

Sex Appeal. — The disappointingly small meas- 
ure of popular success achieved by the woman who 
is agreed to be the best actress on the native stage, 
a regular topic for speculation where critics of 
the theatre are gathered together, is not so diffi- 
cult of explanation as it would seem to be. The 
woman in question, an unusually able player and 
one further endowed with a musical speaking voice 
and more than the average share of comeliness, is 
yet utterly devoid of the sex appeal essential to 
success on the popular dramatic stage. This ob- 
servation would, in faith, be trite enough were it 
not for the fact that the deficiency (doubtless thor- 
oughly recognized by the excellent actress herself) 
has never to my knowledge been attributed to her 
even by her least friendly critics. And yet, pin 
down her admirers and disfavourers one by one, 
riddle their elaborately profound professorisms, 
and one finds that in the subconscious nook of each 
there hides, politely veiled in academic flim-flam, 
this simple icicle truth. 



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SEX APPEAL 257 

The actress who thus, albeit indirectly, impresses 
an audience, though she be the greatest actress in 
her nation, will ever remain a popular failure. 
The yokel sees never the role interpreted by the 
actress, but the actress interpreted by the woman. 
It is nonsense to say, as they do say, that this or that 
stage young woman is New York's or Cleveland's 
or Kansas City's favourite actress. It is more ac- 
curate to say that the young woman, whoever she 
happens to be, is New York's or Cleveland's or 
Kansas City's favourite stage young woman. 
When the Senior Class at Yale or Harvard thinks it 
is voting for its favourite actress, it is actually vo- 
ting for the girl it would individually like best to 
take out to supper. Allen and Cinter did not sell 
cigarettes by putting in their packets pictures of ac- 
tresses as actresses — imagine the yokels collecting 
photographs of Mrs. Sarah Cowell Lemoyne as the 
Dowager Duchess de Coutras! — but by putting in 
pictures of actresses as women with good shapes 
and as girls with naughty dimples and soulful eyes. 
To believe that the yokel cuts out half-tones of an 
actress and pastes them on the wall over his bed 
because he venerates the actress for her histrionic 
virtuosity is to believe that the editor scholastically 
puts them in his magazine for the same reason. 



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258 COMEDIANS ALL 

§ 95 
The Pigeon-Hole Play. — The most ignorant criti- 
cism visited upon a play in my memory was that 
accorded Zoe Akins' "Papa" on its New York pre- 
sentation. Confounded by something not duly 
listed in the pigeon-holes, the gentlemen of the 
press promptly concluded that the author had 
failed in her attempt to write a kind of play that 
was listed in the pigeon-holes when, of course, what 
the author had tried plainly to do was to write a 
kind of play that was not listed in the pigeon-holes. 
Whether she failed to do this in sound fashion, or 
whether she succeeded, is beside the point. The 
point is tnat she was criticized not for what she 
tried to do — whether, as I say, the accomplishment 
was good or bad — but for what she deliberately 
tried not to do. To take to the criticism of a play 
like "Papa" a 'Turn to the Right" mind and a 
"Three Faces East" technical appraisal is to shop 
at a florist's for beefsteak. It is much as if one 
were indignantly to criticize Culmhacher for its 
lack of palliative massage properties or a horse 
liniment for its taste. 

§ 96 

The Actor and the Trained Seal. — I trust that I 

am not unduly pessimistic, yet it seems to me that 



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THE ACTOR AND SEAL 259 
each year the quality of acting in the American 
theatre grows progressively worse. Save in the in- 
stance of a half-dozen or so men and a half-dozen 
or so women, the bulk of acting becomes each sea- 
son more slovenly, more uncouth, more absurdly 
incompetent That the actors themselves are 
wholly to blame for this, I doubt. The average 
actor, true enough, brings to his profession not 
one-half the equipment that a fairly good barber 
brings to his; and the average actress is ready to 
call it quits when she has learned how to pronounce 
three or four French words and to sit down with- 
out automatically throwing her right leg over her 
left. But despite this it seems to me that, though 
the job were akin to driving nails into cobblestones, 
these droll curios might yet be polished up a hit 
and improved if there existed producers who knew 
how to do the polishing and the improving. That 
the average actor is willing to be helped, I haven't 
the slightest doubt. But that the average producer 
knows how to help him, I doubt seriously. 

The producer makes the mistake of believing his 
job done when he hires the actor. His job, in re- 
ality, has then just begun. When the producer be- 
comes indignant over the incompetence of the actor 
he has hired, he becomes foolish. He has not hired 
competence, though he is ever fond of deluding 



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260 COMEDIANS ALL 

himself with the tradition and hope that he has; 
be has hired merely a large hunk of more or less 
sensitive and impressionable wax. To expect this 
clod to perform its work of its own accord is to 
expect a phonograph to play without a needle, a 
record and considerable winding. If the acting on 
the American stage grows worse year by year, it is 
because the producers have taken more and more 
for granted the theory that the average actor knows 
something about his work. The average actor 
knows no more about his work than the average 
reader on the staff of a magazine- knows about his 
work. He knows that he mustn't stop to blow his 
nose in the middle of a hot love scene, that he must 
refrain from spitting on Aubrey Tanqueray's rug 
and that he must look up the pronunciation of the 
word "coniomycetus" — just as the magazine reader 
knows that he mustn't bother the editor with stories 
about the beautiful, seductive, mysterious Fifi 
Pommard, alias Sophie Bohnensalat, the Ger- 
man spy — but, like the reader, he knows very 
little else. Of imagination, initiative, critical an- 
alysis, artistic derring-do, neither vouchsafes a 
trace. 

If an actor gives a bad performance the fault is 
the producing director's, just as if a trained seal 
gives a bad performance the fault is the trainer's. 



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THE ACTOR AND SEAL 261. 
The director who, upon finding an actor, perfunc- 
torily takes for granted the actor's ability to do the 
right thing at the right moment is akin to the trainer 
who, upon finding a seal, perfunctorily takes for 
granted the seal's ability to intertwine the French 
and American flags at the right moment. The actor 
is not an independent body and mind, a creature 
of invention and resolve: he is a mere mechanical 
instrument He is the keyboard upon which the 
producer plays the playwright's tunes. He is to 
creative art what the nickelodeon is to De Pach- 
mann. The producer who confidently regards him 
otherwise is like the street urchin who fondly hopes 
to start the slot piano going merely by shaking it. 

§ 97 

The Middle-Class Taste. — It is a common dud- 
geon of the American professor-critics of the drama 
that the low grade of American theatrical enter- 
tainment is due to the low taste of the American 
middle-class theatrical audience. Elevate the 
taste of this middle-class, rid the auditorium of the 
artistic and «sthetic predilections of our stock- 
brokers, haberdashers, clothing salesmen, moving- 
picture actors and other such mental and social oc- 
toroons, and — they say — you will coincidentally 



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262 COMEDIANS ALL 

and sumritaneouflly elevate the quality of American 

Let as suppose that this middle-class and its 
plebeian taste were completely and summarily re- 
moved from the American theatre and its erstwhile 
loges occupied by, let us say, the aristocrats of 
Europe and the aristocratic taste of Europe — in 
direct example, let us further say, the aristocratic 
taste of Great Britain. What would be die result? 
Surveying the statistics of royalty's attendance 
upon the London theatre during the last twelve 
years, we find that what this aristocratic and culti- 
vated taste chiefly patronized and relished was as 
follows: 

Feb. 12, 1907— His Majesty the King, accom- 
panied by the Queen, visited the Apollo and saw 
"The Stronger Sex," a third-rate popular comedy 
by John Valentine. 

Feb. 19, 1907— The Royal couple went to Wynd- 
ham's and saw "When Knights Were Bold," a 
fourth-rare flash-back romantic play the success of 
which was due to the low comedy, slapstick antick- 
ing of the actor James Welch in the role of Sir 
Guy de Vere. 

June 26, 1907 — They visited the Adelphi to see 
the ancient rube ruffler, "The Corsican Brothers." 

July 18, 1907— They went to the Vaudeville to 



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MIDDLE-CLASS TASTE 263 
see the adapted French farce, "Mrs. Ponderbury's 
Past." 

The King, while in Paris the same year without 
the Queen, attended "Vous n'Avez Rien a De- 
clarer" and "La Puce a l'Oreille," two particularly 
hot ones, both at the Nouveautes, and Bernstein's 
"The Thief." While the King was away, the 
Queen took in Hall Cable's "The Bondman," 
"Raffles," "Miss Hook of Holland," the variety 
show at the Palace, "The Great Conspiracy," "The 
Belle of Mayfair" — and went a second time to see 
both "The Stronger Sex" and James Welch's mon- 
keyshines. 

The Prince and Princess of Wales during this 
season took in "The Stronger Sex" and "Sinbad the 
Sailor," a Drury Lane extravaganza. 

In 1908, 1 find that the aristocratic taste went in 
for "A White Man" (called "The Squaw Man" in 
this country) ; "Diana of Dobson's," the Cicely 
Hamilton shopgirl romance; die naughty farce 
"Dear Old Charlie"; the patriotic military flag: 
wagger hight "The Flag Lieutenant"; "Marriages 
of Mayfair," a Cecil Raleigh-Henry Hamilton 
Drury Lane melodrama; "Lady Barbarity," an 
R. C. Carton masterpiece; "Her Father" (twice), a 
prototype of the Broadway play called "The Rain- 
bow"; "The Gay Gordons," "The Belle of Brit- 



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264 COMEDIANS ALL 

tany," "The King of Cadonia," "Havana" and 
similar song and dance shows; the venerable 
"Lyons Mail"; "The Sway Boat," by W. T. Coleby, 
and "The Early Worm," a laborious farce by 
Frederick Lonsdale. The command performances 
in this year were "The Flag Lieutenant," "The 
Corstcan Brothers," "The Duke's Motto" and Al- 
fred Sutra's "Builder of Bridges." . 

The following year saw the King twice taking in 
me Drury Lane melodrama called "The Whip." 
The King also went to see "An Englishman's 
Home," a yellow journal melopiece; "Arsene 
Lupin," a detective play; "The Woman in the 
Case," a Clyde Fitch melodrama attributed to 
Theodore Kremer; a third-rate farce named "Mr. 
Preedy and the Countess," subsequently done at 
the Maxine Elliott Theatre in this country; a couple 
of obscure "society plays" by obscure writers; and 
a couple of leg shows in which the pretty Phyllis 
Dare was appearing. The taste of the King was 
concurred in by tbe Prince and Princess of Wales 
and, save in the case of a vaudeville show at the 
Alhambra, by the Queen. "The Lyons Mail" was 
one of the command performances. 

In 1910, the King elected Isabel Jay and "The 
Balkan Princess," Lily Elsie and "The Dollar Prin- 
cess," Gertie Millar and "Our Miss Gibbs," to- 



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MIDDLE-CLASS TASTE 265 
gether with "Alias Jimmy Valentine," "Dr. Jekyll 
and Mr. Hyde," "The House of Temperley," 
"Tantalizing Tommy" and a Chauncey Olcott opus 
called "The O'Flynn." The next four years found 
Royalty attending in the main Bulwer Lytton's 
"Money*' (a command performance in honour of 
the visit of the German Emperor and the German 
Empress!), the Robert Hichens Valeska Suratt 
come "Bella Donna," the Horace Annesley Vachell 
potboiler "Jelfs,** the coloured moving pictures at 
the Scala, Charles Klein's "Third Degree" at the 
Garrick, James Montgomery's Broadway crook 
farce "Ready Money," the suggestive French farce 
"The Glad Eye" (here called "The Zebra" in the 
Paul Potter adaptation). Cicely Courtneidge in the 
"Princess Caprice" music show, the song and dance 
shows called "The Girl in the Taxi" and "The 
Dancing Mistress," the movie "Quo Vadis," a va- 
riety show, a revival of "The Silver King," the 
Dniry Lane extravaganza "Sleeping Beauty," the 
Third Avenue plumber's delight "Mr. Wu," the girl 
shows called "The Cinema Star" and "The Mar- 
riage Market," a vaudeville bill at the Palace, and 
"Grumpy" at the New Theatre. 

The war year of 1915 saw Queen Alexandra, 
Princess Victoria and Princess Maude of Fife for- 
getting their troubles at a musical comedy named 



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266 COMEDIANS ALL 

"Betty" and the Queen and Princess Mary taking 
in "Potash and Perlmutter" and the vaudeville 
show at the Coliseum — the King remaining away 
from the theatre save on the occasion of war benefit 
performances. In the subsequent war year of 
1916, the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Prince 
Albert, went to the Palace to lay an eye to the 
cuties in "The Passing Show"; the Queen, accom- 
panied by the Crand Duchess George of Russia, 
took in "Puss in Boots" at Drury Lane; the same 
ladies, joined by the Princess Victoria, the follow- 
ing week (Jan. 18) went to a vaudeville show; 
the same ladies — the King still remaining away 
from the theatre — on May 29 took in "Peg o* My 
Heart"; and the Queen, on July 10, sat alone 
through a something called "The Bing Boys Are 
Here." And the seasons of 1917-1919 saw the 
movie called "Intolerance," Al Woods* "Friendly 
Enemies," a couple of vaudeville shows, Edward 
Sheldon's "Romance" and a revival of Sydney 
Grundy's "Pair of Spectacles" the especial marks 
of the aristocratic favour. 

During these dozen years, while the aristocratic 
eye was popping at the hack comedies of Carton, 
the blood and thunder melodramas of Drury Lane, 
the red-vest vaudeville acts at the Alhambra and 
the shapely legs of the Adelphl chorus girls, there 



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MIDDLE-CLASS TASTE 267 

were being presented just around the corner — and 
passed up — the great plays of the great dramatic 
writers of all time, ancient and modem. In 1907, 
with Hauptmann's "Sunken Bell" at the Waldorf, 
His Majesty went instead to Somerset Maugham's 
"Lady Frederick" at the Court. In 1908, with 
D'Annunzio's "La Figlia di Jorio" at the Shaftes- 
bury, Her Majesty elected instead a musical com- 
edy by Adrian Ross and Leslie Stuart in which 
Laurence Crossmith was springing comical jokes. 
In 1909, with Oalderon at the Aldwych and Oliver 
Goldsmith at the Haymarket, the Prince and Prin- 
cess of Wales voted for Gladys Cooper's rendition 
of a Blanche Ring song in a Gaiety show and for 
a Vaudeville bill at the Empire. In 1910, with 
Shakespeare at the Court and Shaw at the Duke of 
York's, the royal family made instead for a Paul 
Armstrong melodrama at the Comedy and a look at 
Emmy Whelen at Daly's. With Synge, Schnitzler, 
Galsworthy, Hervieu playing down the block, Buck- 
ingham Palace has ever generally selected instead 
a bedroom farce, a crook melodrama or a leg 
show. 

Let us therefore under the circumstances invite 
our American professors to make dramatic criti- 
cism somewhat safer for democracy. 
THE END 



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M124021 

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THE UTOVERSITY OF CAUFOBNIA LIBRARY 




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