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Volume 7, Number 3
Editor: Vera Mowry Roberts
Co-Editor: Jane Bowers
Managing Editor: Vanessa Grimm
Fall 1995
Editorial Assistants: Laura Drake and James Masters
Editorial Coordinator: Jay Plum
Circulation Manager: Beth Ouradnik
Assistant Circulation Manager: Julie Jordan
Edwin Wilson, Director
Editorial Board
Stephen Archer
Ruby Cohn
Bruce A. McConachie
Margaret Wilkerson
Don B. Wilmeth
Brenda Murphy
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Volume 7, Number 3 Fall 1995
FREDA SCOTT GILES, Glitter, Glitz, and Race:
The Production of Harlem 1
CHARLES A. CARPENTER, American Dramatic Reactions
To the Birth of the Atomic Age 13
CRISTINA C. CARUSO, "One Finds What One Seeks":
Arthur Miller's The Crucible as a Regeneration
Of the American Myth of Violence 30
BARBARA F. ACKER, "I Charge Thee Speak":
john Barrymore and His Voice Coach,
Margaret Carrington 43
FRANCES DIODATO BZOWSKI, "Torchbearers of the Earth":
Women and Pageantry Between the World Wars 58
GERALD WEALES, Alan Schneider on Broadway 79
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
Glitter, Glitz, and Race:
The Production of Harlem
In his first autobiography, The Big Sea, poet Langston Hughes
provided a definitive portrait of Wallace Thurman:
He was a strange kind of fellow, who liked to drink gin, but
didn't like to drink gin; who liked being a Negro, but felt it a great
handicap; who adored bohemianism, but thought it wrong to be
a bohemian. He liked to waste time, but he felt guilty wasting
time. He loathed crowds, yet hated to be alone. He almost
always felt bad, yet he didn't write poetry.
Thurman did write two of the most highly regarded novels of the Hadem
Renaissance period, a seminal era for African-American arts and letters
marked at its inception by the end of World War I and at its decline by
the Great Depression: The Blacker the Berry and Infants of the Spring.
He also wrote, in collaboration with William Jourdan Rapp, a playwright
of Irish-German extraction, a financially successful Broadway play,
Harlem, which gained him both positive and negative notoriety, raised
and dashed his hope for financial stability, and strained his chronically
fragile health to the breaking point.
Born 16 August 1902 in Salt Lake City, t a h ~ Thurman suffered
through a childhood marked by the disintegration of his parents'
marriage, frequent moves from city to city throughout the Midwest and
West, and debilitating illnesses, including being caught in the great flu
epidemic in 1918. He managed to finish high school, then matriculated
at the University of Utah in Salt Lake, where the pressures of the hostile
racial environment combined with those of his pre-medical studies
precipitated a nervous breakdown. Thurman eventually completed his
undergraduate studies in Los Angeles at the University of Southern
California. He supported himself as a student by working as a postal
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963; rpt. New York:
Thunder's Mouth Press, 1986), 238.
clerk, and remained at the post office for the year following his gradua-
Thurman called his decision to become a writer a "sudden
Stimulated by what he had learned of the New Negro
movement centered in New York, he tried starting a magazine, The
Outlet, to encourage this movement on the West Coast. His effort was
unsuccessful, but his friendship with a struggling young poet who worked
beside him in the post office, Arna Bontemps, helped him remain
enthusiastic. Bontemps, as soon as he gained publication, moved to New
York, and Thurman migrated soon after, in 1925.
Among Thurman's first friends in New York was Theophilus Lewis,
theatre critic for The-Messenger, the journal published by the Brother-
hood of Sleeping Car Porters. With Lewis's help, Thurman gained
editorial positions with The Messenger, as well as two white liberal
publications, The Looking Glass and The World Tomorrow. By 1926,
Thurman was familiar with most of the writers of his generation, and his
Harlem apartment, popularly known by the appellation he had given it,
"Niggeratti manor,"
became the scene of frequent raucous gatherings of
uptown black and downtown white bohemians.
Thurman invited some of the most gifted of the younger generation
of black writers to contribute essays, short stories, and poetry to his next
effort at magazine publishing, Fire, which debuted in November 1926.
Though Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen were
among the contributors, this beautifully produced magazine illustrated
with the artwork of Aaron Douglas, priced at a dollar per copy, proved
an impossibly hard sell. Fire also ignited the wrath of powerful critics,
such as W.E.B. DuBois, the editor of the NAACP's journal, The Crisis;
critical denunciations, particularly from the more conservative among the
black literary establ ishment, flew hot and heavy. Fire's first issue was its
last, and Thurman, severely wounded emotionally and financially, was
forced to spend the next several years paying off printing and start-up
Thurman's contribution to Fire had been a short story, "Cordelia the
Crude." Written in the first person from the perspective of a struggling
writer, it chronicles a brief encounter with a young woman transformed
Wallace Thurman papers, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Yale University.
A rna Bontemps, " The Awakening, A Memoir," in The Harlem Renaissance
Remembered, ed. Arna Bontemps (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972), 15.
Theophi lus Lewi s, " Harl em Sketchbook," Amsterdam News, 5 January 1935,
Thurman papers, Johnson Collection.
Glitter, Glitz, and Race 3
by life in Harlem from a naive southern migrant to a sexually precocious
"chippie." In order to ease the sting of his rejection of her sexual
advance, the writer presses two dollar bills into her palm; ironically, this
gesture inspires Cordelia to enter a life of prostitution.
Sketching out a three-act melodrama, Thurman turned the short story
into a play scenario, also titled "Cordelia the Crude." He created a
family for her, the Masons, recent emigres from North Carolina, and
surrounded them with a variety of characters from the working class and
Harlem underworld, including a bisexual male hustler and his sidekick,
a gigolo known as a "sweetback."
In order to shape these ideas into dramatic action and dialogue,
Thurman turned to William Jourdan Rapp, a friendly acquaintance since
1925, when Thurman, new to the New York scene; had sought out Rapp
for advice on how to gain employment as a writer.
Rapp had been a
feature writer for the New York Times, an editor at True Story Magazine,
and a collaborator on several produced plays such as Whirlpool,
Substitute for Murder and The Holmses of Baker Street. A play under his
sole authorship, Osman Pasha, a drama of the Turkish Revolution, was
produced in 1925.
Thurman and Rapp spent a year rewriting Cordelia the Crude, with
a new title for each draft: City of Refuge (from a short story about Harlem
by Rudolph Fisher), Black Mecca, and finally, Black Belt, which began
to make the rounds of agents and producers in 1927.
Cordelia's family
name is now Williams; she is crowded i"nto a railroad flat with her two
younger sisters, younger brother, unemployed father, and overworked
mother. Unlike her. older brother, who has his own family and has
brought his parents and siblings to Harlem, Cordelia, seventeen, is
described as "selfish, lazy, sullen."
Among the four boarders who also
share the flat is Basil Venable, an honest, hard-working Barbadian
student, who is in love with Cordelia. The Harlem underworld is
represented by Roy Crowe and his cohort Kid Vamp. Crowe is a
Wallace Thurman, "Cordelia the Crude," typed scenario, Johnson Collection.
William Jourdan Rapp, autobiographical statement, Thurman Collection.
0bituaries of William Jourdan Rapp, Thurman papers, Johnson Collection.
William Jourdan Rapp, notes, Thurman papers, Johnson Collection.
~ l l c e Thurman and William Jourdan Rapp, Black Belt, typescript, Thurman
papers, Johnson Coll ection.
gambler, a numbers runner and a "sheik" (a ladies' man, no longer a
bisexual as in the original story) .
The action revolves around Cordelia's efforts to avoid entrapment in
a life like her mother's:
... I got alii needs but freedom. Jes' cause I don' wanna tend to
babies, slave, cook an' wash for pa or some white women don'
mean I don't know what's best for me. I ain't cut out for dat. I'm
cut out for something big, something more exciting and beautiful.
. .. All black women don' have to be sudsbusters and kitchen
mechanics. And don't tell me to be no schoolteacher! I've had
enough of kids right here! . .. I'm going on de stage.
She sees Roy Crowe as her ticket out, and dances wildly with him at
the rent party
in the Williamses' apartment, which serves as the
climactic scene of Act 1; the action culminates in a fight between Basil
and Roy. Cordelia leaves the party with Roy; Act 2 is set in his apart-
ment. Cordelia is unaware of Roy's hidden agenda to seduce her and
become her pimp. Kid Vamp murders Roy and attempts to frame Basil.
The truth is revealed in Act 3, when the action returns to the Williamses'
flat, where the rent party is just breaking up. Kid Vamp is killed by the
police. Cordelia storms out of the apartment vowing to make her own
way in the world.
A number of producers expressed intere-st in Black Belt, including
one who wanted to rescript the play into a vehicle for entertainer George
but the play was finally optioned by Crosby Gaige, under the
title, Black Mecca, in January, 1928. A cast was assembled but dismissed
when the producer's partner, AI Lewis, decided that there was no "wow"
in the third act; the playwrights produced several rewrites but could not
satisfy Lewis.
The option was allowed to expire, and the script went
back into circulation until it caught the attention of a neophyte producer,
Edward A. Blatt, who bought the option and hired Chester Erskin to
A house party at which admission was charged and food and drink, which
during Prohibition included bootleg liquor, was sold.
William Jourdan Rapp, notes, Thurman papers, Johnson Collection.
Wallace Thurman and William Jourdan Rapp, "Detouring Harlem to Times
Square," New York Times, 7 Apri I 1929, sec.1 0, p. 4.
Glitter, Glitz, and Race 5
direct. Harlem, as the play would soon be known, was the first
Broadway credit for both.
Blatt searched for investors while Erskin, Thurman, and Rapp set out
in search of a cast. Believing that Porgy, which had opened in 1927 and
was still running successfully on Broadway, had tied up the most viable
acting talent, the trio scoured Harlem cabarets, shows, and any place
where they thought talent might be found.
Erskin found Cordelia in the chorus at the Alhambra Theatre in
Harlem. She was Isabell Washington, who had followed in the footsteps
of her sister Fredi, who later would become best known for her searing
performance in the 1934 film, Imitation of Life. Isabell would go on to
develop a stage career and to become the first wife of Adam Clayton
Powell Jr., noted Harlem minister and politician.
Richard Landers, hired to play Basil, was the Trinidadian son of a
politician. Veteran actors Inez Clough and Lew Payton were selected to
play Ma and Pa Williams. After the show opened, a story was circulated
that Erskin discovered the other Williams children in an uptown Chinese
restaurant. The cast was filled out with community theatre actors, school
teachers, a dentist, and two lady boxers among the company of sixty,
two-thirds of whom were employed solely for the rent party sequences.
After a successful tryout at the Boulevard Theatre in Jackson Heights
(Queens), New York for the week commencing l'1 February 1929,
Harlem, now subtitled An Episode of Life in New York's Black Belt,
opened at the Apollo Theatre on Forty-second Street on 20 February.
The initial response of the downtown critical establishment was
favorable. Brooks Atkinson, in his New York Times review, called
Harlem "perhaps the most informalist melodrama in months with its high
jinks, sizzling dancing, kicks on the shins and family jars .. . . It is rag-bag
drama and high-pressure blow-out all in one .... "Atkinson also noted
that police department censors were on hand to scrutinize the dancing
in the rent party scenes and that despite the threat of censorship, the
company, particularly Isabell Washington, "performed with an abandon
Harlem marked the beginning of successful careers for both Erskin and Blatt.
Erskin directed the stage version of The Last Mile, which brought him, along with
Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, to Hollywood, where he became a producer, writer,
and di rector. Erskin also claimed to have rewritten and redirected Langston Hughes's
fi rst Broadway play, Mulatto; Hughes detested the changes. Blatt became an
independent producer after working with producer/managers Herman Shumlin, Jed
Harris, and Martin Beck.
Wallace Thurman, notes, Thurman papers, Johnson Collection.
seldom seen before."
Reviews in most of the daily papers were similar;
some critics were so taken with the glossary of Harlem slang included in
the program that they reprinted it. Variety and Billboard augured box
office success. A cautionary note was sounded by Burns Mantle in the
Daily News. While he admired the vitality of the play and the quality of
much of the acting, he expressed concern for the reaction of the police
commissioner to the dancing and the protests from Harlem against
the transplanting of this sector of cheaper Harlem in the Time sq.
[sic.] district. ... So much of a message as they had to deliver,
which appears to be a plea that the southern black should be
urged .to stay where his soul is comparatively safe rather than
brought north .. . is so completely buried under the surface
showiness of the play that it emerges as a mere whisper.
Harlem's producers may have anticipated a negative response from
the African-American community; in any event, they made a concerted
effort to discourage the potential black audience, as reported by the
New York Age, a leading African-American weekly newspaper:
"Harlem," the new play, . . . is not for Negro theatre-goers,
said the press representative, C.A. Leonard, to a representa-
tive of The Age. No advance publicity was sent to any of
the Negro papers, nor were any sent tickets for the opening .
. . . When inquiry over the telephone ... was made, Mr.
Leonard replied that the show was primarily for "white
consumption." ... The attitude is one of marked contrast to
that adopted by Lew Leslie, producer of "Blackbirds," and
David Belasco, when he produced "Lulu Belle" .. . in
which a large number of colored people appeared ....
Members of the black press who did attend the opening were
confined to the balcony. Thurman himself was denied access to center
Brooks Atkinson, "The Play," New York Times, 21 February 1929, 30.
Burns Mantle, " 'Harlem' Reveals Harlem in Grip of a Turbulent and Ginny
Jamboree", New York Daily News, 21 February 1929,21.
" Negroes Not wanted as Spectators of Play, 'Harlem,' Says Producer," New
York Age, 2 March 1929,1 .
Glitter, Glitz, and Race
Forty-Second Street
West of Broadway
FIRE NOTICE: Look around now and choose the nearest exit
to your seat. In case of nrc, walk (noc run) co
that exit. Do not tty to beat your neighbor to the srrcct.
JOHN J. DORMAN, Fire Commissioner.
Ad.Epitode of Life in New Yorlt'a Black Belt
ARABELLA WII.LIAMS .. .................. .. ...... mNA WISE BARK
HAZlE WILliAMS .................................... EUSE THOMAS
IIA WILUA'MS, ....... ................... ........ ....... INEZ CLOUGH
PA WILLIAMS ......... . .... ......... .... . .............. LEW PAYTON
BASIL _VENERABLE . ............... ..... .... ... RICHARD LANDERS
After a tryout in Queens, New York, Harlem
_opened at the Apollo Theatre on 20 February 1929.
From the collection of the author.
orchestra seats.
Shortly after the Age's report appeared, its dramatic
editor, William E. Clark, was invited to review Harlem; he was
conservatively favorable, calling the play an "entertaining melodrama
of one phase of Negro life in New York City."
Other African-
American papers, such as the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier
expressed reservations concerning the images projected by Harlem, but
recognized that some exaggeration was needed to make the play
commercial. Theophilus Lewis staunchly defended the play, citing the
forcefulness of the character of Cordelia as a welcome contrast to the
passivity or indolence with which the usual stage Negro was portrayed.
Lewis saw the success of Harlem as opening up commercial possibilities
for other African-American playwrights.
There were those, however,
who viewed the play as detrimental and dangerous, as expressed in this
letter to the editor of the New York Age:
I consider it is the most degrading show ever produced by
colored artists. Instead of it being something to help raise the
race's name in the theatrical world, it is putting the black man
down where the white man wants him.
This view might serve as a telling contrast to an opinion on Harlem
printed in the New York Times:
1n a letter to Rapp, Thurman stated, "Five times I have bought seats for myself
to see Harlem-including opening night-and tho [sic] I asked for center aisle seats
(as much as a week in advance) not yet have I succeeded in not being put on the side
in a little section where any other Negro who happened to buy an orchestra seat was
also placed." C.A. Leonard, the show's publicist, composed a fabrication for the June
1929 edition of Theatre Magazine: "Whenever Wallace Thurman, the young Negro
co-author of Harlem, goes to the Apollo Theatre to look his show over, he voluntarily
buys a seat in the balcony . . .. His chief concern when going to the theatre is that
some white spectator might object to his sitting in the orchestra. He wants to spare
such a spectator the possible embarrassment of discovering that he i s the co-author,
and for that reason, if not another, has a perfect right to sit wherever he darn well
pleases." Thurman was treated as a second-class citizen as a playwright, as well;
Rapp was given primary credit in all publicity releases.
William E. Clark, '"Harlem', " New York Age, 23 March 1929, 6.
Theophilus Lewis, " If This Be Puritanism, " Opportunity, April 1929, 132.
Paul Bebee Grymes, " Says ' Harlem' Degrades," New York Age, 27 April 1929,
G I itter, G I itz, and Race
The novels and plays about Harlem ... reveal and revel in a
primitive folk. It is a civilization still happy in the joyous rhythms
.. . that have been vanishing, alas, out of our less primitive white
civilization . . . . Suppose 135th Street, as currently portrayed,
does look like a very short step away from the Congo? Think of
the kick our own rarer, truly civilized spirits get therefrom!
Esthetically envisaged, Harlem is being glorified, not libeled.
Thurman and Rapp felt compelled to respond to the criticisms
leveled at t h ~ r play; both individually and as a team, they produced
articles and essays in support of the veracity of Harlem's situations and
characters. Meanwhile, the play had garnered audience support to the
extent that a second company was formed and a tour was launched.
Harlem traveled to Detroit and Chicago, and there were indications that
a West Coast and European tour were in the offing. The controversy
over the depictions of Harlem's nightlife and underworld seemed only
to fuel interest in the play. Then things began to fall apart.
During the year leading to the production of Harlem, Thurman had
had his first novel, The Blacker the Berry, published, had started another
unsuccessful I iterary journal, had married Louise Thompson, an
educator and a political activist, and six tempestuous months after the
marriage, had become embroiled in a lengthy and acrimonious divorce
proceeding. Further exhausted and depressed by the controversy over
Harlem, Thurman traveled west, hoping to get some rest, distance
himself from his problems, and break into screen writing by selling
Harlem in Hollywood. According to Edward Blatt, screen rights to the
play were eventually sold to Universal Studios; no film was made.
In letters to Rapp, Thurman expressed distrust for Harlem' s
producers, which, in Detroit and Chicago, included the Shuberts.
Thurman feared that he was being underpaid his royalties but was
hesitant to express his doubts openly. The show's cast became
increasingly less hesitant in expressing its dissatisfaction, and dissension
led to rebellion in New York after the show moved to the Times Square
Theatre, managed by Jed Harris, two doors away from the Apollo.
According to an account given by Harlem' s stage manager,
Hemsley Winfield, to the Amsterdam News, another major African-
American paper, the cast had agreed to open in Queens at a much
" A White Man' s Hol iday," New York Times, 5 March 1929, Harlem clipping
fil e, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library.
Edward A. Blatt cl ipping file, Bi lly Rose Theatre Collect ion, New York Public
Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
lower than average salary with raises promised if the show succeeded
on Broadway. Two months after the Broadway opening, no raises were
forthcoming. Verbal and written inquiries gained no response. Finally,
in desperation, the ensemble in the rent party scene refused to perform
at the end of the first act. An agreement was hastily reached that the
cast would join Actors Equity and receive a raise. It was soon discov-
ered that the pay cut forced upon the principal players compensated
fully for the raises given the rent party ensemble. Prior to the strike,
Isabell Washington earned seventy-five dollars per week; after the strike
each principal player lost ten to fifteen dollars per week. A lead
performer in Porgy could earn up to two hundred dollars per week.
Tensions remained high. Resentment over the preferential treatment of
the sole white cast member, who, though he played a secondary role as
a police detective was assigned the star dressing room and featured in
the show's publicity, added to the smoldering hostilityY
On 6 May 1929, director Erskin called the company together and, .
following "a tirade of profane abuse," notified them that Harlem would
close on 11 May. Calling them a "bunch of crafty niggers," Erskin bid
the cast "go back to Harlem ... and starve."
The original Broadway
production of Harlem closed after ninety-three performances, just short
of the benchmark of one hundred that was the measure of a hit show at
that time. The tour ended in Chicago on 22 june 1929. Though Blatt
and Erskin publicly insisted that faltering box office receipts closed
Harlem, Irving Salkow, Blatt's business manager, told the Daily News:
They thought they had a whip hand and could make all kinds of
demands because the show was a sell-out. But when they
thought they were indispensable, and dared us to close the show,
Mr. Blatt obliged .... Now they can all go back to Harlem and
stage their own rent parties and see how much they make. They
couldn't appreciate what we were doing for them.
"Thurman Pl ay Finds Trouble Casting," Pittsburgh Courier, 10 March 1928,
sec. 2, p. 2.
" Director of ' Harl em' Calls Members of Cast' Artful Niggers,' "New York Age,
11 May 1929, 1.
"Piay ' Harl em' Shut in Race-Cash Fight," Billboard, 11 May 1929, n.p.
Glitter, Glitz, and Race 11
Paradoxically, Thurman sided with the producers, firing off angry
telegrams to newspapers and threatening legal action for libel. Blatt and
Erskin retained five members from the original cast, added a few actors
from the touring company, filled out the ensemble with new performers,
and revived Harlem at the Eltinge Theatre, a Shubert house on Forty-
second Street, on 21 October 1929.
The show closed after two weeks,
then played one week at the Windsor Theatre on East Fordham Road in
the Bronx, followed by another one-week booking at Werber's Flatbush
Theatre in Brooklyn. Harlem never played its namesake community.
Robert Levy, the original producer of the Lafayette Players, the
African-American stock company housed in Harlem's Lafayette Theatre,
opened a production of Harlem at the Music Box Theatre in Los Angeles
on 7 October 1932. Reviews were lukewarm, and the show limped
through a two-week engagement. That same year, Thurman' s second
novel, Infants of the Spring, had been published.
Thurman, the first African-American editor at McCauley's, a major
publishing concern, rose to editor-in-chief. His friendship and collabo-
ration with Rapp continued; in 1930 they had completed a second play,
jeremiah the Magnificent, a drama based on the rise and fall of Marcus
Garvey. This play was never produced. Thurman also worked (with
Rapp's wife, Virginia) on a novelization of Harlem that was never
completed. In the fall of 1932, Thurman and Rapp set to work on a
dramatization of Thurman's third novel, The Interne [sic], a story of
corruption in a large urban hospital; there is no evidence of an extant
In 1934 Thurman returned to California under contract with Foy
Productions Ltd. to write screenplays for two fi lms, High School Girl
(1935), and Tomorrow's Children, which was censored in New York
due to its topic, steril ization. Life in Hollywood proved detrimental to
Thurman's health, which was further endangered by his increased
consumption of alcohol. He eventually returned to New York gravely
ill and deeply depressed. He collapsed and was taken to City Hospital
on Welfare Island, which was, ironically, his model for The Interne.
Louise Thompson, despite their divorce, returned to nurse him.
Thurman succumbed to tuberculosis on 22 December 1934, and was
buried on Christmas EveY
Much has been written about the literary gifts of Wallace Thurman
and the personal demons that beset him. He struggled with his desi re
<>rhe Stock Market coll apsed on Friday, 28 October 1929.
Lewis, " Harlem Sketchbook. "
to break new literary ground, his thirst for fame and its rewards, and his
ambivalent feelings concerning his view of himself and his race, as well
as his race's view of him. Harlem had made him both famous and
infamous. Those who defended the play praised his vivid characters
and his exposure of real problems in the African-American community,
such as limited employment opportunities, strife between African-
Americans and West Indians, overcrowded living conditions, crime, and
the impact of life in Harlem on a family fresh from the South. Those
who condemned Harlem excoriated it for fostering stereotypical images
of near savages dancing to jungle music and for perpetuating the myth
of Harlem as an exotic wonderland of unrepressed sensuality, a myth
that had already made Harlem the playground of white cafe society after
Thurman was the fourth African-American playwright to have a non-
musical play produced on Broadway and the first to have his play
approach hit status. For this he paid a price, commercializing the play
for a predominantly white audience to the extent that he risked
confirming their prejudices and potentially alienating the black
audience, which was deeply concerned with countering exaggerated
and denigrating depictions of African-American life. But his goal was
not simply to sell a play; he was attempting to strike a blow for his
creative freedom. He felt that despite the risk there should be no I im its,
spoken or unspoken, on what he could write, and no taboos. His
rationale for creating the troubled families, alienated, confused youth,
slick, dangerous underworld characters, and desperate dreamers that
populated Harlem was the same as that for his creation of Fire:
It was not interested in sociological problems or propaganda. It
was purely artistic in intent and conception. Its contributors went
to the proletariat rather than to the bourgeoisie for material. They
were interested in people who still retained some individual race
qualities and who were not totally white American in every
aspecc save color of skin.

~ V V a l l a c e Thurman, "Negro Artists and the Negro,'' New Republic 52 (31

August 1 927). 37.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
American Dramatic Reactions
To the Birth of the Atomic Age
The atom bomb that decimated Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, was
not only for its effects on the war or even on the people it
vaporized, scarred, traumatized, or poisoned. It was remarkable also for
its impact on the human imagination. The bomb singlehandedly created
a vision of atomic apocalypse, starkly etched with images of a flash
"brighter than a thousand suns," a burgeoning mushroom cloud, an eerie
"black rain." One could say with Spencer Weart, in his seminal book
Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, that "something unimaginable had
come into the everyday world to stay."
But just as strategists now had
to "think the unthinkable," writers were now compelled to imagine the
unimaginable, to come to terms with it somehow. Fortunately, the
apocalyptic vision inflicted upon them engendered its OWl) counteracting
agents. Phoenix-like, dreams emerged of a world in which peace was
now mandatory because war was out of the question, one in which (to
apply a choice pun of the era) the atom would become a great boon for
mankind rather than just a great boom. The ultimate view of atomic age
existence found it inspiring as well as expiring. In whatever ways the
new reality impinged on fantasy, the potentialities of atomic power
remained a central preoccupation of imaginative life in the immediate
aftermath of Hiroshima.
The early reactions of American writers to the bomb have been
studied sporadically and in little depth. The richest overview of this
unique segment of cultural history is Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early
Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age.
Boyer notes that "the bomb had transformed not only military strategy
and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and
Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1988), 1 06. -
He ranges far beyond imaginative literature in his
attempt to describe and assess this phenomenon in the American context
from late 1945 through 1950. His section on literary responses, " Words
Fail : The Bomb and the Literary Imagination" (243-56), limits itself to the
difficulties writers found in treating the new conditions artistically, and
as a result he touches upon only a few poems, short stories, and
statements by well-known authors. Other scholars have studied the
relevant fiction in some detail; no one has explored the relevant drama.
The ensuing discussion of American dramatic reactions is a first attempt,
and I hope it will also suffice to be the last.
None of these plays is a neglected masterpiece. Looked at individu-
ally, they would no doubt chiefly appeal as curiosities. Taken together,
however, all reflect the prevailing climate of thoughtful response to the
birth of the atomic age, with its new threat of nuclear destruction.
Moreover, each play exemplifies the groping for artistic means to
represent and comment upon a world newly dominated by the reality of
atomic power. The means, in this case, are dramatic and theatrical-not
simply to be experienced privately, as with poetry and fiction, but also
publicly, as only in the performance arts. Though few of these plays
were performed enough times to have much impact in the theatre, all
were written with the contingencies of performance in mind. The focus
of their content and the nature of their form are interesting and revealing
enough to warrant resurrecting them from the almost total neglect they
have received so far.
The first is perhaps the most overtly symptomatic: a brief skit written
by a nuclear physicist, Louis N. Ridenour, and published (in Fortune!)
within six months of the Hiroshima blast. A grim warning in non-serious
terms, "Pilot Lights of the Apocalypse" depicts a partly farcical scenario
for all-out atomic war evolving from American overconfidence in its
nuclear technology. The second play, better termed a stage spectacle, is
well characterized by its full title: f=mc
: A Living Newspaper About the
Atomic Age. Hallie Flanagan (Davis) concocted the script, with research
help, in late 1947 to convey the Jekyll-Hyde nature of the newly
Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the
Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon, 1985), xix.
The only full-length study of the drama in America is Robert David Hostetter,
"The American Nuclear Theatre, 1946-1984," Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University,
1985, whi ch stresses theatrical strategies of 1980-84. The more encompassing fact is
that no study of the world's drama of the nuclear age exists that is anywhere near
comprehensive- not even a check I ist of relevant plays (perhaps 100 have been
published). The titl e of John Elsom's Cold War Theatre (1992) describes its period,
not its subject.
Atomic Age 15
harnessed atom in an appealing theatrical context. The first full-fledged
American drama of the atomic age is Upton Sinclair's A Giant's Strength
(1948). This naturalistic play portrays reactions on the domestic plane to
both Hiroshima and an imaginary nuclear war, but skews its dramaturgy
to support the controversial thesis that atomic power must be controlled
by a _world government if civilization is to endure. Finally, Cornel
Lengyel used an atomic weapons plant as the setting in his one-act
allegorical fantasy The Atom Clock (1950). A young employee becomes
a kind of Everyman figure as he hears the pros and cons of the plant's
ultimate mission: winning the arms race. At least three other American
plays of the late 1940s touch on nuclear themes, but do not represent
highly significant dramatic reactions to the new era.
Louis N. Ridenour's imaginative and witty playlet, "Pilot Lights of the
Apocalypse, " must have been conceived in the immediate aftermath of
the atomic assaults on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Yet it projects a world
situation roughly equivalent to our own in the early eighties, when the
superpowers seemed to be considering "limited" nuclear war a viable
option and several countries with lesser arsenals were poised for defense
or attack. Ridenour pushes his hypothetical scenario to the limits of
absurdity: All the industrialized nations "have mastered the production
and use of atomic power"; the United States is "ahead in the armaments
race," but its 2,000 radio-controlled bombs in outer space are over-
matched by 3,400 belonging to other nations, and no one knows how
many atomic mines have been planted in the world's major cities, or by
whom. The only deterrent to war is America's superior ability to
retaliate. Moreover, the technology of detection lags far behind that of
waging nuclear war: Meteorites have been mistaken for missiles, and the
aggressor in a presumed attack must be determined by political scientists
on the basis of " the highest negative rating" at the moment.
The skit is set in a Defense Command center in the San Francisco
area. After a pep-talk visit by the President (during which he gloats,
"Who'd dare attack us when we're set up like this?"), the "pilot light" for
San Francisco goes red. What is later revealed to be an earthquake is
Donald Ogden Stewart's How I Wonder (unpublished; performed 1947) features
an astronomy professor who ruminates on a range of current issues, among them
atomic power. Herman Wouk' s The Traitor (performed and published in 1949)
evokes cold war anxieties in depicting a high-minded atomic physicist who intends
to pass nuclear secrets to Russia, but the play is primarily a spy melodrama. Fred
Eastman's The Great Choice (published 1949; never performed?) Is a revision of a
1932 one-act anti-war play that simply inserts the new argument that " war is
obsolete" now that atomic weapons have been developed.
Published in Fortune 33 :1 Uanuary 1946), 116-17,219.
mistaken for a nuclear attack, and the search for an "enemy" comes up
w ith an unlikely leading candidate: Denmark (statues presented to its king
by the United States have met "widespread disapproval," and the
sculptor lives in San Francisco). Cautious mi litary officials want Security
Council approval before retaliating, but an apoplectic Colonel-shouting
" What have we got this for if we don't use it?" - rushes to the control
board and pushes a key that will bring a bomb down on Copenhagen.
A logically chaotic chain reaction ensues: Stockholm goes red after
Copenhagen (Colonel Peabody explains, " Sure. The Danes thought it
was the Swedes. That export-duties row . .. . " ), then four British ci ties (the
Swedes were also arguing with England), then Russian cities, then our
own. " Dark Ages, here I come, " Peabody utters.
Ridenour's playlet is a farce with an implicit moral. According to an
editor's headnote no doubt approved by the scientist, the moral is that
"we should do all that decently can be done to avoid an atomic-
armaments race."
In the play, American overconfidence in its atomic
superiority, falsely insured by its apparent monopoly on the latest
technology, leads to the destructive attitude expressed comically by the
person who later starts the bombardment, Colonel Sparks: "I'm gl ad I
was born an American. We've got the know-how. I'm glad I' m on the
side that's ahead in the race." The latest technology is also shown to be
woefully inadequate not only to detect a genuine attack and identify its
source, but also to stop a war started inadvertently. The play concludes
with the Brigadier sending a futil e message: " THERE IS NO REPEAT NO
WAR,'' to whi ch Colonel Peabody can only respond, "The hell there
isn't. New York's gone red, and Chicago, and . . .. " The room rocks and
crumbles, and the apocalyptic pilot lights go out. One reason why
Ridenour's tiny futuristi c parabl e is effective is that its moral remains
implicit; it emerges only from the dynami c interaction of dialogue and
Dangerous premises are exposed by being stated in a manner
that casts ridi cule upon them; their logical consequences are dramatized
at extremes that evoke both absurdity and horror. This is the mode of
many successful fi ctional treatments of nuclear disaster, perhaps most
notably the film Dr. Strange/ave.
Th is is one of Ridenour's main poi nts in "Military Security and the Atomic
Bomb," an earli er Fortune pi ece (32:5 [May 1945] 170-71, 216-23).
The ski t was adapted by two musical comedy and filmscript writers, George
Bellak and Robert Adl er (ostensibly with Ridenour's help) and produced as Open
Secret at the Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, in December, 1946. Thi s much
more gri m and di dacti c version was publ ished in The Best One-Act Plays 1946-
1947, ed. Margaret Mayorga (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1947), 181-202.
Atomic Age 17
A slightly altered version of "Pilot Lights of the Apocalypse" con-
cludes f=mc
The skit is one of a variety of sources tapped in this
theatrical montage, or "Living Newspaper," which was first performed
in December 1947.
Its guiding spirit, if not only begetter, was the
originator of the Living Newspaper in America, Hallie Flanagan. As
director of the Federal Theatre Project in 1935-39, she developed stage
productions whose aim was to treat "the most poignant problems of
individual and collective judgment ever faced by mankind"
and to
show "their historic development and their effect on people."
designed to dispense vital information in a digestible and entertaining
format, these scripts were worked up in collaboration with researchers
and newspapermen as well as theatre practitioners. They were supposed
to be "carefully documented" and their facts "handled with judicious
Accordingly, in f=mc sources include the authoritative
(and best-selling) 1946 volume One World or None: A Report to the
Public on the Full Meaning of the Atomic Bomb, with contributions by
Einstein and Ridenour, among others; government reports on the effects
of atomic explosions; articles from such journals as the Review of
Modern Physics and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; hearings,
interviews, news reports, and similar materials. The prominent critic
George Freedley surely gratified the play's creators when he called it "a
highly effective lecture in dramatic form."
The overall composition of f=mc
accomplishes its didactic purpose
quite satisfactorily. Act I (of two) first dramatically recreates the impact
A bibliographical note: Although the chief author of this play and of the well-
known memoir Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre (1940; rpr. New York:
Blom, 1965) is generally referred to as Hallie Flanagan, the Samuel French edition of
the play (New York, 1947) lists the authorship as Hallie Flanagan Davis, assisted by
Sylvia Cassel and Day Tuttle. Subsequent references to the play will be cited in the
text. Two recent studies of Living Newspapers are C.W.E. Bigsby's "The Federal
Theatre and the Living Newspaper" in his A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-
Century American Drama, 1: 1900-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1982), 211-36, and Stuart Cosgrove's introduction to "Liberty Deferred" and Other
Living Newspapers of the 1930s Federal Theatre Project, ed. Lorraine Brown (Fairfax,
VA: George Mason University Press, 1989), ix-xxv. See also Joanne Bentley' s Hallie
Flanagan: A Life (New York: Knopf, 1988), 386-89, and Flanagan's Arena.
8 igsby, 232.
Fianagan, Arena, 71 .
/bid., 72.
Hostetter, 96.
of the birth of the atomic age at Hiroshima, then presents the essential
scientific and historic background, culminating in the decision to use the
bomb. Act II focuses on questions for the present and future: Who shall
control atomic power and how shall it be used? The act begins by
showing its "great boon" potentialities and ends with the "great boom"
in Ridenour's skit; in between, the conflict over administering this
enormous source of power is dramatized in staged hearings with living
advocates of mi litary/government control opposing spokesmen for
civilian/international control. Invented characters ranging from ordinary
citizens to Clio, muse of history, alternate with "real" people played by
actors, viewed in films, or quoted by the emcee of this episodic pageant,
the Stage Manager.
Early in the play the Stage Manager says pointedly, "there's more than
one way of releasing atomic energy-and this is the theatre way" (26).
Robert L. Hostetter has treated the script at length from the theatrical
point of view in his dissertation
; I will examine some of the dramaturgic
problems that arise in its attempt to release information and ideas about
the nuclear crisis in "the theatre way." As Hallie Flanagan recognized,
this mode requires not only arousing theatrical excitement but also
synchronizing widely disparate elements of content and form. Like most
plays that tackle the nuclear crisis, E = mc
intermixes extremes of fact and
fiction, stark realities and engrossing fantasies. When the impact sought
is that of "a highly effective lecture," the imaginative elements must not
call too much attention to their fantastic and improbable qualities; they
must adhere to their primary function of making facts and ideas intelligi-
ble and interesting, and above all not jar incongruously with these
realities. The most problematic element in f=mc
, from this standpoint,
is one of its most prominent fictions, the Atom.
Conceived as "the clothes line on which the Living Newspaper
would be fashioned"
, the character of Atom conceptually embodies
limitless potentialities for improving or blighting the lot of mankind,
depending on how it is used by those who control it. The concept itself
is made explicit at various times in the play-for instance by a professor
who states: "atomic energy can cure disease-or cause it-create
food-or poison it-provide heat for the whole world-or blow it sky-
high-you see, it's going to be up to you and me" (50). Atom contributes
by expressing in personal, emotional terms the main point of the play:
/bid., 91-106.
Sylvia Gassel , quoted in Hostetter, 91.
Atomic Age
ATOM: You people have got to get together with people all over
the world and take control! (Starts to grow wild) Because I
can't wait forever, see?-1 have my hypomanic moments and
when I'm in that state I may go into fission any minute,
see? . . . I'm getting so wrought up I'm gain' to have a
nuclear breakdown, see? But you won't believe it till you're
in it. ... You won't believe a thing till you see it for yourself!
The problem of characterization arises from the very nature of real
atoms. As Atom herself notes, her real-life counterparts are not only
invisible but static if not set in motion: sheer potential. Yet she is given
a "hypomanic" character to demonstrate her latent energy. The first time
she appears on stage, " She springs to her feet, vital and dynamic," and
"turns several cartwheels" (26). At one point she proclaims: "there's so
many things in me I want to express"; then, after "insane gyrations,
beating [her] breast violently," she continues: "I've got so much-in
here!-that I want to get out- . .. I've got so much-energy!" (31-32).
Within this established norm of explosive (though ostensibly unreleased)
energy, moreover, Atom must somehow reflect the "dual personality"
that the two-sided potential of atomic power implies. Her manner is
supposed to be "docile and meek" at times, "hard and manic" at others,
as if the nature of atomic energy differed when used benevolently or
destructively. Quite apart from the general lack of appeal of this frenetic,
comic-book figure, its striking lack of congruity with the concept it
represents would disturb discriminating spectators and hamper the
teaching function of the play.
Other fantastic elements that have mixed success in this respect are
those in the category of prophetic or futuristic. The play begins with a
striking theatrical rendering of a precise historical event: a man's
grotesque shadow being etched on a wall in Hiroshima when the bomb
exploded. The ensuing sequence depicts a fictional but convincingly
realistic cross-section of reactions to the news of Hiroshima. Then the
Stage Manager introduces the valid but hardly necessary reminder that
certain people had foreseen the approach of the atomic age. This serves
as a pretext to stage a brief scene from the only (published) play that
prefigured atomic power, Robert Nichols's and Maurice Browne's Wings
Over Europe (1928).
The trouble is that the excerpt is introduced as if
it contains highly serious prophecy, whereas it must appear to post-A-
See Charles A. Carpenter, " A ' Dramatic Extravaganza' of the Projected Atomic
Age: Wings Over Europe (1928)," Modern Drama 35 (1992), 552-61.
bomb spectators as wildly extravagant and far removed from sci entifi c
projections. A young scientific genius announces to Parliament that he
has learned to control the energy in the atom. What this means, he
proclaims abruptly, is that civi lization as it exists " is relegated at last to
its proper place as the confused remembrance of an evil dream.
Yesterday, man was a slave; today, he's free!" (21) . Following the
excerpt, the sober predictions of living scientists (mostly culled from One
World or None) only accentuate the i ncongruity. In the same general
vein, when Ridenour's " Pilot Lights of the Apocalypse" is staged as the
play's finale, Atom introduces it as if it were a grim enough bombshell to
stir people to action:
ATOM: "All right, all right!- You won't control me?-Then here
goes-here goes!-lf you don't control me, this is the way it's
going to be!" (75).
After the half-farcical skit, the Stage Manager comments that it was
not written by a dramatist or a dreamer but by a physicist. " He is
allowing us to use it because he wants as many people as possible to
know-that it could happen that way" (82). It is difficult to imagine
sensing " a terrifying prophetic reality" in the playlet, although I am
quoting a reviewer who said he did.
As an experiment in treating the
nuclear situation through theatrical means, then, E = mc
is surely unique
and fascinating, and in its time it would have been reasonably successful
in promoting an awareness of one of the " most poignant problems of
mankind." Apart from its unavoidable dated quality, however, it is not
deeply coherent or integrated enough to impress-or endure-as a work
of art.
The extremely prolific socialist writer Upton Sinclair had already had
a long career of treating vital issues in essays and novels when he chose
drama to address the atomic threat in 1948. He interrupted the writing
of his popular Lanny Budd series of novels, he said, " to do a play about
the atomic bomb, which everybody was speculating about at the end of
the 1940's."
The bulk of his plays remained unproduced, but the
topical interest of A Giant's Strength: A Three-Act Drama of the Atomic
Ri chard Watt s, quoted in Hostetter, 96.
The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (New York: Harcourt, 1962), 297.
Atomic Age 21
Bomb gave it a fleeting theatrical life.
After its amateur premiere in
1948, it was performed briefly in both London and New York.
The play is an interesting but clumsy attempt at naturalistic thesis
drama. Sinclair aims to suspend disbelief and arouse empathy in
spectators and to lure them into experiencing vicariously how disastrous
a nuc)ear war would be-a vital preliminary to the play's pitch for world-
government control of atomic power. He brings the dramatized situation
home to the audience by showing its long-term effects on two thirtyish
married couples, a 1 0-year-old son (who grows to late adolescence by
Act Ill), and his grandfather. This family group relives spectators' recent
experiences of hearing the first press release about the Hiroshima
bombing, General MacArthur's address when Japan surrendered, and
(fictionalized) testimony before the House Committee on Un-American
Activities. These events provide a basis of verisimilitude for an invented
but acceptably "historic" international crisis that unfolds and finally
results in widespread nuclear war. Attacks on cities are carried out by the
"most deadly method of all" deduced from the second B.iki,ni. tes-t in
1946: the setting off of bombs. in the harbors, thus creati1ng i:mmense.ti:d:a+
waves and widespread '"rachoactive mrsC' ('24]. The family group, staying
i:n at the time, is spared the immediate dangers, and their
ensuing frantic preparations for flight and survival foreground the grimly
realistic panorama of horror that emerges from radio reports and their
own informed speculations. We hear, for example, that a bomb
detonated in the harbor of New York City, "close below the Battery," has
produced a huge tidal wave that has "overwhelmed the downtown
district of Manhattan Island" (26-27). The attempts of survivors to flee,
pursued by a spreading "atomic cloud," are concretely visualized:
Hundreds of thousands of people will be massed at the entrances to the
few bridges in lower Manhattan, "crushing each other to death and
climbing over the bodies of the dead and dying"; other thousands will be
to crowd into the subways, "but the trains block the tubes, and
when the crowd comes to a train, thousands will be crushed and
suffocated, until the tubes are packed solid with bodies" (32). To
Sinclair's credit, he does not overdo exposing the audience to such grisly
images of the probable consequences of nuclear war.
Upton Sinclair, A Giant's Strength (Girard, KA: Haldeman-Julius, 1948).
Subsequent references to the play will be cited in the text.
'1"he Valley Community Theatre of Claremont, California, performed it in June
1948, London' s tiny Torch Theatre in December, and Erwin Piscator's Dramatic
Workshop of the New School for Social Research in january 1949.
Unfortunately, key ingredients in the play's naturalistic mix strain our
sense of credulity and render empathy difficult. The household is far
from a representative one. It includes an atomic scientist, Barry Harding,
who has contributed to the bomb's development and who can describe
its appalling effects in detail. He also serves as a partial spokesman for
Sinclair, expressing his fears that the bomb will become "another toy" in
"the game of power politics" and tendentiously calling for "democratic
world government and control of atomic power at every stage of its
production" (17). "We physicists know best," he once says, "and it's our
duty to inform the public" (18). Another character, "Cramp" Ferguson,
is a retired history professor who, not coincidentally, is writing an
account of the rise and fall of civilizations. A cynical doomsayer
throughout, his only desire after the war begins is to record the final fall .
But the biggest sacrifice in the interests of ideological fullness lies in the
character of "Bub" Chester, a "kids are like that" character before the
family's prolonged stay in a cave-home in the Black Hills of South
Dakota. That experience turns him into an activist pacifist determined to
leave his isolated existence, "go back where there are people," learn
what they are thinking, and "find a way to bring this war to an end" (51).
The finale of the play belongs to him; "facing the audience, with fists
upraised/' he shouts:
All you troglodytes, you cave dwellers! Stop kill ing one another!
. . . Get the nations together! . . . Tell all the people: There shall
be . no more killing! There shall be love, and kindness, and
understanding! There shall be a world government, with the
power to keep order! Let the government have the weapons, and
let no other government have them! . . . There shall be peace
and disarmament, so that men can work at constructive things.
Down with war, and the war makers! Down with them for all
time! (52)
The abrupt violation of the naturalistic fourth-wall convention here,
so much more off-kilter than that in, say, Odets's Waitin8 for Lefty,
wrenches the play's dramaturgy out of its previously consistent mode.
The fatuousness of the high-minded but totally unrealistic sentiments
expressed (Shaw would have called Bub an lmpossibilist) lifts the play
from its previously down-to-earth conceptual mqorings. The effect of
this disruption in both form and content is disconcerting, to say the least.
Two other dimensions of the play that undercut its realism are veins
of overdone soap opera and incongruous satire. Barry Harding's wife,
Elaine, is a hedonistic, self-centered woman who considers it "dull" to
li ve with a nuclear physicist but stil"l resents his prolonged absences
Atomic Age 23
bitterly. Before he returns from "secret war work," she spends much
time with a divorced man. After he returns and the war starts, Barry
assumes he cannot leave with the family because the Army wi II summon
him, and Elaine threatens, "If you don't come with your wife, you won't
have any wife" (29). He does flee with them (for other reasons), but after
several years in the cave the Army summons him and he prepares to go.
Elaine dismisses him forever in a hail of invective (40-41). After flirting
with the other husband, she finally works out her destiny by offering
herself to an "underworld romantic," the gangster Bugs Gigotti, within
ten minutes of his arrival (45). A radio serial about Lucy Dare's "sexual
entanglements" is heard from time to time in the play, pointing up the
comparison (42). This soap opera, along with obnoxious commercials
and patriotic appeals, is part of the play's satirical attack on the commer-
cial ism and manipulativeness of radio. Sinclair's earnest motive is to
show how "the minds of the masses become as clay" in the hands of the
businessmen and politicians who control radio (Preface). Bub, originally
a radio "fiend," is capable by Act Ill of denouncing the "herd of slaves"
whose minds are manipulated by commercials, "imbecile" serials, and
the slogans of "political stuffed shirts" (51). A jingoistic radio announcer
periodically comments that this is a war for democracy-and free
enterprise-and that God is on our side (37, 51). The problem that all the
references to radio creates is obvious: How has commercial radio, not to
speak of big business, survived a virtual holocaust? The play itself
informs us that "the financial system is kaput" and American industry will
have to "start from scratch" (33). We are perhaps willing to accept the
convention that news flashes will fortuitously issue forth whenever
someone turns on the radio, but not the idea that "free enterprise" is still
actively manipulating the few people who own working radios to
purchase products that are not available. Sinclarr's anti-capitalist satire,
like his alluring soap-opera plot, is misplaced and inappropriate. It is
understandable that Eric Bentley called A Giant's Strength one of the
London season's worst.
Still, the play remains the pioneering attempt
to deal with all-too-conceivable nuclear disaster in the familiar medium
of naturalistic drama.
The last American play that can definitely be termed a dramatic
reaction to the birth of the atomic age is, appropriately, an abstract
dramatization of attitudes toward developing atomic power. The Atom
Clock was written in 1950 by Cornel Lengyel, a jack-of-all-genres creative
Eric Bentley, In Search of Theatre (New York: Athaneum, 1975) 40.
writer in his mid thirties.
Lengyel's half-poetic allegory focuses on
emotional rather than scientific or political issues involved in the
intensifying cold war arms race. By 1950, the news that Russia had
exploded an atom bomb had dissolved whatever complacency Americans
may have derived from their nuclear monopoly, and the United States
had made public its determination to create intercontinental ballistic
missiles and a "so-called hydrogen or super-bomb."
Paul Boyer
succinctly outlines the change in attitude since 1945:
For a fleeting moment after Hiroshima, American culture had
been profoundly affected by atomic fear, by a dizzying plethora
of atomic panaceas and proposals, and by endless speculation on
the social and ethical implications of the new reality. By the end
of the 1940s, the cultural discourse had largely stopped. Ameri-
cans now seemed not only ready to accept the bomb, but to
support any measures necessary to maintain atomic supremacy.
In Lengyel's play, the operation of a stylized atomic weapons plant,
with its establishment slogans and military control, represents the
prevailing attitude of the time toward the arms race. The plant becomes
a catalyst for the expression of attitudes that differ sharply from the norm
or that I ie concealed beneath it. The central character is an employee,
the Young Miner (delver?), who is spurred to grope for "an answer" and
is bounced from one extreme point of view, and one extreme emotion,
to another.
His progress is that of an Everyman figure confronting
abstract alternatives that can be discerned as Despair and Hope, Evasion
and Rebellion, with Compliance always beckoning. The play largely
abandons surface reality in its search for a deeper human truth: an
The play was not published until 1951 (Los Angeles: Fantasy), but an acti ng
edition dated 1950 is recorded in the National Union Catalogue and a publisher's
blurb says that the play won Stanford University's Maxwell Anderson Award for
poetic drama. I have found no record of a performance. My study is based on the
much-revised edition that appeared in 1969 (Poet Lore 64, 435-57); it is superior in
dramatic coherence and poetic quality, yet does not differ significantly in substance
as an early dramatic reaction to the atomic age.
Boyer, 337.
/bid., 334.
ln the early edi tion the characters are named and described. The Young Miner,
Martin Craie, is said to be "confused by the world and his part in it-groping for
answers-not quite sure there are any answers" (9).
Atomic Age 25
attitude toward the present nuclear situation that is both valid and viable.
Realistically, no easy or gratifying answer emerges.
The closest The Atom Clock comes to depicting the actual state of the
atomic age is in its first few moments of exposition, when the dramaturgy
is flagrantly non-naturalistic. Choral voices from offstage poetically
capsuJize the essence of the era:
Pursuing destruction he found the great treasure,
Double-edged weapon for good or damnation,
Key to an Eden no prophet foretold,
Door to infernos none dare to describe.
How shall he master it? (436)
The voices also lay the basis for the play's allegorical device of a questing
Everyman. The "he" who must p ~ n d e r how to "master" atomic power,
clearly mankind, is referred to as a "lad" who is "not yet ripe for it."
Abruptly a loudspeaker over the gate of the weapons plant announces the
latest news: "the enemy" (never specified) has developed "a new
simplified weapon to supersede our latest rocket missile," and as a result
the Atomic Weapons Department, which "already controls more than
half the national budget," will receive further appropriations to "regain
our margin of safety." This exemplum of the arms race in action draws
two sharply contrasting reactions. The newscaster himself (as in Sinclair's
play) speaks for the hawkish establishment, inadvertently reducing its
position to absurdity by carrying it to logical extremes:
If bigger and better weapons alone will preserve our freedom,
let's get behind the program. . . . Whatever the risk, we'll
retaliate. If the cost is mutual annihilation, we're ready for mutual
annihilation. Let's build the best and biggest hell-bomb of them
all! (436-37)
This expressionistic trumpeting is countered by the humane admonitions
of a "scholarly old gentleman" who rises from the audience and climbs
on stage. He turns out to be a physics professor who regrets having
helped to develop nuclear weapons. Addressing the spectators directly
as an abstract voice of reason (in the first and last "theatricalist" episode
of the play), he points up their complicity: "All of you are part of the
show, more important than any on the stage .... We each play a part in
The early edition lacks the "mutual annihilation" passage, which echoes a term
that emerged later, "mutual assured destruction."
building the infernal machine that's bound to blow up in our faces"
(437). But the establishment intrudes; he is not permitted to read a
petition he has prepared and is dragged off by guards.
Finally hearing the professor's petition will mark the end of the quest
for the play's Everyman, the Young Miner. Being thwarted from hearing
it now prompts his quest. When he shows his determination to a man
who checks employees into the plant but is also a secret plotter, the
Timekeeper, that figurative pointer to "the atom clock"
hints at one
clear alternative, Rebellion. Insisting that he knows what goes on
"inside" and what should be done, the Timekeeper tells the youth:
When we take over, we'll run the works for all of us. It's man
who'll ride the atom and rise to the stars, not bankrupt himself
on a doomsday binge riding his fellow men to hell! (440)
The Young Miner derides his words as party-line "slogans for suckers"
(which the context strongly implies), but he absorbs the repeated message
that "the time is ripening." Another alternative emerges at once in the
figure of his mother, who is also a nurse. Unexpectedly, she turns out to
be the voice of Despair. In somnolent blank verse cadences, she mourns
that since our weapons and defense systems are in effect obsolete,
There's no more need for heroes,
No more need for mothers.
We're obsolete, too, now.
Lengyel seems to be using the Mother to expose and discredit an
increasingly prevalent tendency of the time, escaping nuclear fear by
abandoning hope and receding into an attitude that I. I. Rabi called "the
complacency of despair."
The Mother's tone of bitter depression as
she says such things as "The carrion smell from the fields of tomorrow/
Already pollutes the air we breathe" (441) seems calculated to undercut
Despair as an alternative for spectators with any degree of resiliency.
Its immediate effect on her son is to spur him to resist further
complicity. He decides to take no further part in the plant's business and
1 see no evidence that Lengyel is alluding to the " doomsday clock" that began
appearing on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, with its hands
set at seven minutes to midnight {i.e. the end of time for humanity). The first edition
of the play equates the atom clock with the "infernal machine that's bound to blow
up in our faces" {7).
Boyer, 351.
Atomic Age 27
to seek out the professor's more positive alternative. What he encounters
instead is a figure willingly involved in the production of more and more
destructive weapons, but paradoxically an embodiment of Hope. An
attractive woman clad in white, she appears carrying a Geiger counter
and shepherding an atomic warhead to its stockpile. The warhead is a
highly. styiized super-bomb: two portable hemispheres that need only to
be joined to attain "the critical mass" and "kill a million" (445). The
Mother likens the "Young Technician" to a priestess in a satanic ritual,
but this analogy does not apply well to her attitude. In line with popular
opinion about the arms race at the time, she believes that the more
dreadful the weapons, the less likely they are to be used: "That's why we
must build the weapons/Match terror for terror, in hope of peace" (448).
But the "lovely and wise" young woman has a vision that extends far
beyond an image of stalemate. She envisions the arms race as "trans-
muting the heart of man," hastening the day when "reason shall prevail."
Her voice is that of sheer, abstract Hope as she addresses the skeptical
Believe me, it's coming, the day, the hour,
The long-awaited unpostponable minute
When all the forbidden gates will spring open,
When men will join hands,
Step forward a thousand years
And convert the secret stockpiles of death
Into storehouses of rich new life for all! (448)
The allure of the young womans wishful thinking-and attractive-
ness-sways the Young Miner for a moment, and he decides to stay on
the job. But, in an ironic peripeteia, he does so just as word arrives that
he has been fired for suspected disloyalty. This provokes him (with the
Timekeeper's nudge) to recall the blighting features of the "infernal
machine" that he had almost rejoined, chief among them the demand for
unthinking Compliance. Thoroughly frustrated, he tries the alternative of
Evasion, asking the Young Technician to leave with him and share a
road to freedom." Her response is convincingly sound: "There
is no private' path.. N!one may escape the shadow [of 'looming mushroom
clouds'], not in our tfme. But each must do what he can do to remove
the cloud from those who are yet to comen G451). turching rreactiun
(again spurred by the Timekeeper), he tries Rebellion:, serzrng the atomic
warhead and threatening to create "A 'No' to be heard around the
globe!" (453). As he holds the two sections of the bomb aloft, his mother
exults in this gesture of utter Despair: "Clap your cymbals, my son. It's
time to celebrate." The Young Technician has little trouble showing him
that such a gesture would be useless in practical terms ("Who' II know
what really happened here, if none survive?" ), and he realizes there are
no simple or sure-fire alternatives. He laments:
Then what's to be done? Whatever I do is wrong. Chance has
given me choice, yet choice itself is loaded, loaded with death
The final crescendo of The Atom Clock, punctuated in fact by the
clock's distant resounding, suggests that a viable attitude does exist after
all; the professor's petition still hovers in our minds, waiting to be heard.
The Young Miner recalls it and, still brandishing his " sheaf of thunder-
bolts" (453), forces the authorities to rel i nquish it. While it is read,
however, he becomes engrossed and gradually allows the two halves of
the bomb to move apart. Having emblematically eschewed violence, he
is shot. This second ironic peripeteia is a counterpart of the first, when
the woman's wishful thinking turned him toward loyalty just as he was
fired for disloyalty. This time, or so the dramaturgy implies, his search is
terminated just as he has found his answer. The attitude reflected in the
petition written by a man he-and the audience-must respect and
sympathize with, a developer of the bomb who deplores his involvement
and who was forcibly prevented from del ivering his full message, is
surely the attitude that the play recommends to Everyman. The reading
of the petition brings out the best in the Young Miner and the worst in the
establishment. Moreover, the attractive young woman reads it, while the
assembled plant employees inject the refrain, "Do not deny our
petition!" Even though the young man is killed, the woman is seized as
a rebellious accomplice, and the play ends by echoing the begi n-
ning-" Our lad's not yet ripe for it"-the impression of the professor's
words remains imprinted on the audience's consci ousness.
The play would be almost fully satisfactory if this impression were
strong and positive. The "message" embodied is sound enough: Halt the
arms race and turn nuclear efforts toward benefitting rather than
destroying mankind. Lengyel expresses this wit_h some of his best poetry:
Make chain-reactions not of bright destruction
To blind the last small witness-eye of heaven.
Make chain-reactions of new
Enlightenment to spread from man to man.
Help integrate our alphabets of hope,
Unite our atomized vision
In one great universal stream of l ight-
Atomic Age
Let all who would live become
As one man with two billion hearts in his breast.
In union, not in fission, our faith.
Do not betray the future and beggar the unborn,
Designing the end-world weapon,
The bomb with two billion deaths in its belly.
Transmute the old terrors and let
Our green planet become an island of hope
In the interstellar seas of the night (456).
These lines would be an unequivocally stirring peroration if a flaw in
dramaturgy did not blur and confuse it to a significant degree. The
speech is, structurally, a counterpart of the Young Technician's plea for
the arms race to continue: "Match terror for terror, in hope for peace."
Yet the woman must read the professor's words as if they were her
own-that is, as if she had been converted to his view before reading it.
Furthermore, in effect both speeches are "alphabets of hope." That is,
the general tone of wishful thinking pervades this speech as it pervaded
hers, so that it may be "undercut by association," as it were, in specta-
tors' minds. These factors are at least mildly disconcerting. Nevertheless,
Lengyel's experiment in treating the nuclear situation through non-
realistic, poetic allegory contains more depth and richness than the other
varied experiments we have examined. The Atom Clock perhaps
deserves to be recognized as a kind of capstone to early American
dramatic reactions to the atomic age.
As far as I have been able to determine, a six-year gap exists between
The Atom Clock and the next American play that reflects the atomic age
The cluster of plays we have examined thus constitutes a
unique cultural phenomenon as a discrete group of literary works that are
highly symptomatic of the various ways the dominant preoccupation of
the time imposed itself upon creative artists and caused difficulties for
them. Another cluster of plays emerged in the saber-rattling years of the
early Reagan administration, a much larger group capped by Arthur
Kopit's End of the World (1984). With the ensuing end of the cold war
instead of the world, it will be easy to abide the lack of further
Hiroshimas and their dramatic fallout.
The play is Arch Oboler' s Night of the Auk (1956), another poetic parable.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
"One Finds What One Seeks":
Arthur Miller's The Crucible as a
Regeneration of the American Myth of Violence
Aboard the Arbella en route to the New World in 1630 John
Winthrop delivered his sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity." This
sermon was written to inspire the Puritans, to engender a sense of
stunning prophecy, as they sailed toward their new home. Not only
would the Puritans, if they adhered to the tenets of this sermon "walk
humbly with God," but they would also become such exemplars that
future colonists would exclaim in regard to their new "plantations,"
"Lord make it like that of New England!"
In the very title of this sermon, Winthrop demands that the Puritans
inaugurate a "model" or "shape" for the nature of their mission, and the
shape he persuasively argues for is a circle. Implicitly, this shape is
evoked in the tone of the text, which suggests that the mission as a whole
will be circumscribed by an orblike eye of prophecy. But Winthrop's
sermon is also circular in that it asks each settler to act not as an
individual, but as a round link in a chain of community who "abridge[s]"
his personal "superfluities for the supply of other's necessities."
Winthrop asks each individual "I" to behave as a communal member of
the prophetic "eye." "Abridgement" as a term that suggests the presence
of absence is a particularly apt one in this case, as Winthrop's substitution
or "abridgement" of the i n d i v i d u ~ for the communal is accomplished
through homonyms. A communal "eye" suggests always, through sound,
the individual "I" it has banished.
'John Winthrop, " A Model of Christian Charity," in Perry Miller and Thomas H.
johnson, The Puritans (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), vol. 1. The text has been
modernized for this article by the author.
Miller's The Crucible
This spirit of "abridgement" would prove a very useful tool for the
Puritans once they arrived in the New World, for it lent itself to the
nature of predestination. With this tool in hand, the Puritans could read
the lack of physical promise in a frigid wilderness populated by hostile
Indians not as a sign that they were "undestined" to reassert a "city upon
a hill/' but as a challenge to prove their fitness, worthiness, and status as
predestined. Just as Winthrop had armed the settlers with a communal
tool of "abridgement" as they crossed the literal frontier between England
and America, the neat legerdemain of both thought and rhetoric that the
Puritans employed to keep predestination credible constituted a magical
transformation or "abridgement" that was accomplished at a site of
psychic frontier in each of their heads. It was at this frontier that physical
and literal realities were "abridged" into metaphoric proofs of a promised
This phenomenon is best illustrated in a phrase that Sacvan
Bercovitch employs in The Puritan Origins of the American Self to
explain the strange nature of predestination: " Things are not really what
they are in fact."
Implicit in Bercovitch's statement is an invisible dash
at the locus of contradiction: "Things are not really-what they are in
fact." This dash or frontier line indicates both symmetry and opposition,
balance and tension, the same opposing forces that govern the Puritans'
reading of the American terrain, a reading borne of dashes, or more
specifically of lines, lines drawn, crossed, and erased.
In inaugurating a language of lines one must consider the very literal
overview of the Puritan migration to America. The Puritans crossed the
frontier of ocean, bridged the gap between England and America, but in
so doing they created a tension between the old biblical text that had
inspired them and the new physical reality of America that did not, in
appearance, substantiate that text's promise. In crude constructive terms,
when a bridge is built with too much tension girding it at both sides, a
crack ensues, a fault line. This line, like Bercovitch's statement, is one
based on the oxymoronic premise of symmetry or "sameness" versus
imbalance or "otherness." This Puritanical blueprint of frontier, once
established, set the stage for the American experience as a whole, an
experience in which "settlers" make " things" look the way we want
them to, regardless of the fact that that very appearance may be contribut-
ing to the downfall or "cracking" of the mission as a whole.
The first New England settlers were up against an interesting
theoretical challenge: To adhere to Winthrop's prophetic and circular
Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975), 105.
text demanded that they continue to transpose the reality of increasingly
violent, fatal, and very individualized experiences in America into
communal Puritanical dogma by siphoning it first through Bercovitch's
dash, frontier, or fault line. In a sense, the Puritans were not dissimilar
to their European contemporary Don Quixote who, thoroughly
inculcated with a text of chivalric romance, rode through the Spanish
countryside of the seventeenth century attempting to read his individual
experience in terms of this text. Michel Foucault describes Quixote in
The Order of Things as "a long thin graph ism, language itself," a literary
but also alphabetic "character" who was the progeny of a text that
represented his law and that compelled him to read the "real" world as
a substantiation of this law, or as the very "letter of this law."
The Puritans, likewise, in their "quixotic" frame of mind, began
journeying through their "countryside," and in their efforts to see every
experience as a justification of the Winthropian "romance," they began
to draw steadily executed uniform circles atop a world that was anything
but steady or uniform. The visual model that is perhaps most helpful in
understanding the Puritans' reading of experience once in America is one
of concentric circles, curved "fault" lines or "cracks" closed in upon
themselves, each enclosed circle a bit smaller than the one that preceded
it, unti I the innermost circle is minuscule in comparison with the
outermost. The Puritans, in drawing these circles on the topography of
America, are heeding the Winthropian command, but what is problem-
atic is that as they descend within the concentric ring, each smaller circle
represents an increasingly more individualized experience that is likewise
increasingly more difficult to reconcile with a notion of communality.
For instance, while the outermost circle might represent the theoretical
Winthropian dogma of the prophetic eye inscribed upon the geography,
a smaller circle might represent King Philip's War in which settlers were
engaged in hand to hand combat against Indians. One would imagine
that while fighting for his life against an Indian it was difficult for a man
to value a myth of communality over his individual survival. On each
tier of the circle, then, the prophetic "eye" comes further into opposition
with the Puritan as individual or "1." Homonyms are beginning to fight
each other and this can be attributed to the fact that Puritans are not just
listening to Winthrop's speech, but now they are living it and, more
important, reading it in terms of actual experience.
A progression is made, then, from largest circle to smallest, and yet
does the progression end? Is there, in fact, a smallest circle? In 1692,
this question was answered when the cracked American myth violently
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Random, 1970), 47.
Miller's The Crucible 33
reiterated and re-echoed its most American spirit in Salem, Massachu-
setts, with the hysterical cry of "Witch."
By the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the crack in the myth, the fault
line where prior text did not adhere to reality, had made a long journey.
No longer was this line merely a representation of frontier and difference
on a_ geographical or linguistic plane, now it was a line that had
penetrated and run down the psyche of human beings, a line that divided
one's conscious and subliminal selves, one's visual perceptions from
one's beliefs and vocal assertions, what one saw from what one got.
In essence, the colonists had enacted and re-enacted their violent
myth that both affirmed their righteousness and edited out factors that
might challenge that righteousness, so many times, in so many descend-
ing and microcosmic echoes of their original colonial experience, that
they had finally come to the most microcosmic frontier or line: them-
selves. On this tier of the circle, in other words, the prophetic "eye" has
come face to face with the subjective "I" and is ready to "abridge" it.
The Puritan man of 1692, heeding Winthrop's admonition to
"abridge the superfluities" decided to "abridge" those women who
seemed to take the shape of "superfluities" in that they were too
powerful or vocal. Read in Foucaultian terms, the women or "witches"
of the Salem trials become the "long thin graphism[s] ... language itself.''
Tennessee Will iams, in his short story, "The Yellow Bird," refers to these
women as "circle girls"
because those about whom they talk in their
circular clique, those around whom their discourse "revolves," are
accused of witchcraft. These "circle girls," assuming the circular shape
of the Eye/1 do, in fact, represent the language of the Winthropian myth
in that they will act as the frontier or word through which Puritan men
will speak the myth. But what Puritan men seemed not to take into
account was that this particular re-enactment of "abridgement" or the
prophetic "eye" was about to exterminate their race as a conglomeration
of "I' s," for they were about to ki II off their sources of procreation.
The Puritans realize this at the penultimate moment. They stop
"naming" witches, and if we return once more to Foucault, we might
read this recanting in terms of frontier. Foucault posits that to name is to
ki II discourse, so that most discourse stops short of the boundary or
frontier of "naming" and pushes up this boundary. In this way discourse
may continue chasing this boundary, rather than being swallowed up in
it. In more layman terms, Salem's high officials began to realize that if
they continued "naming" or killing witches there would eventually be no
Tennessee Williams, " The Yellow Bird," in One Arm (New York: New
Directions, 1967), 199.
one else to "name" but themselves, that to allow their own names to
have been spoken would have meant to be "swallowed by the
boundary" of a rhetoric that they themselves had initiated. And so they
pushed Foucault's boundary line of naming further away and with it their
own mythic crack, leaving it for some future pilgrim to grapple with as
the myth grew up once again around it. The future "pilgrim" who
eventually did take up the crack and grapple with it was Arthur Miller in
The Crucible, another incarnation of the Salem crisis and the American
Published and produced in 1953, The Crucible, like the crisis at
Salem, was a re-enactment, a literal"dramatization" or representation of
contemporary discontent. Like the Salemites, Miller began writing his
play spurred on by a sense of personal violation engendered by his
involvement in the McCarthy hearings. Just as colonists feeling dis-
empowered in a new land sought to reaffirm that power by silencing
women, so too Miller sought a similar catharsis in writing The Crucible.
Miller affirmed that his play was only loosely based on the McCarthy
hearings, and rather than creating a one-to-one dynamic between real
circumstances and dramatic ones, he sought to capture a spirit that he
saw resonating between the witch hunts of 1692 and those of the early
It was not only the rise of McCarythism that moved me, but
something which seemed more weird and mysterious. It was the
fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the
far Right was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new
subjective reality. . . . It was as though the whole country had
been born anew, without a memory of even certain elemental
decencies which a year or two e r l i e ~ no one would have
imagined could be altered, let alone forgotten.
What Miller seems to be suggesting at the end of this passage is that
a cultural myth that edits and regenerates must not only stop just short of
the brink of editing or destroying its creators in each re-enactment, but
also it must edit their memory of the experience, so that they are
"doomed to repeat it." This certainly seems to be the case with Miller
whose regeneration of the American myth and whose "re-enactment" of
the Salem trials is plagued with forgetfulness and revision, with a
Bercovitchian spirit of things being what they are not and being what
Gerald Weales, ed., The Crucible: Text and Criticism (New York: Viking, 1971 ),
Miller's The Crucible 35
they are. Like the Puritans who sought to impose the text and promise of
their theology on the reality of a terrain that could not accommodate it,
Miller seeks to superimpose the text and themes of the Salem Witch Trials
onto a "terrain" or genre that requires their factual revision, that of
One finds I suppose what one seeks. I doubt I should have ever
tempted agony by actually writing a play on the subject had I not
come upon a single fact. It was that Abigail Williams, the prime
mover of the Salem hysteria . .. had a short time earlier been the
house servant of the Proctors and now was crying out Elizabeth
Proctor as a witch; but more-it was clear from the record that
with entirely uncharacteristic fastidiousness she was refusing
to include john Proctor, Elizabeth's husband, in her accusa-
tion. . . . Why? I searched the records of the trials in the
courthouse at Salem but in no other instance could I find such a
careful avoidance of the implicating stutter.
"One finds I suppose what one seeks." Miller's "supposition" is
correct. His "findings" are precisely what he sought as a playwright
"seeking" to "fill in the gaps" of motive and momentum necessary for a
drama but absent from the court records. He molds Abigail Williams,
who was eleven years old at the time of the trials, into an eighteen-year-
old adulteress. In Miller's version, Williams seduces John Proctor (a man
estimated by the Peabody Essex Museum to have been in his mid-sixties
by the time of the crisis, but who is described in The Crucible as a
"farmer in his middle thirties") while in his employ. Then, spurned by
the guilty Proctor, who is portrayed as a mere victim at the hands of the
comely and malicious girl, Abigail uses her status as one of the "circle
girls" to cry out on Elizabeth Proctor in an effort to supersede her as
Proctor's wife.
Proctor and Abigail become both the literal and metaphoric
"characters" in this re-enactment of the American myth; they are the
locus or frontier on which interpretation will occur. They represent the
signifiers that are violently changed for the sake of adhering a prior text
onto a new terrain. This new terrain is that of "dramaturgy," where plot
and characterization are essential. Miller needed his characters to have
motive, an element most decidedly absent from the Salem court
/bid., 41.
documents, and so to adhere his prior text onto the new terrain of the
dramatic world, Miller altered circumstances and demographics a bit.
Like his colonial ancestors, he edits or abridges those facts that he does
not need or that interfere with his ultimate goal. He finds, as he avers
himself, "what [he] seeks."
This is nowhere more evident than in the Salem Trial Records in
which the first line of Proctor's indictment is an accusation by one Miss
Abigail Williams:
1692 Apr. 4. Abig: Williams complained of Goodm proctor &
cryed out w't are you come to ... you can pinch as well as your
wife & more to that purpose.
It seems odd that one as assiduous as Miller, one who "searched the
records of the trials in the courthouse at Salem," was not able, try as he
would, to find Wi II iams's accusation of Proctor. But more to the point,
if we believe Miller, if we believe that in the actual first-hand documents
he was unable to find this information, how still do we explain his
account that not only is Abigail silent, but " fastidious" in her silence. In
Miller's version, the implication is that Abigail not only failed to accuse
Proctor, but that she also vehemently refused to do so. Miller chose
simply to erase or abridge those factual elements that did not serve his
purpose. And, in so doing, like his Puritan forbearers who in using
violence to mold their "city upon a hill" " edited" the whole spirit in
which the venture was initially undertaken, Miller seems to have
forgotten the initial tenets upon which he had inaugurated this proj ect.
In an interview during the rehearsals of the original production,
Miller reiterated his opinion that the central themes of The Crucible are,
first, the handing over of conscience to a communal construct which
frees the individual of blame, and second, the importance of preserving
one's name.
I wished for a way to write a play that would be sharp, that would
lift out of the morass of subject ivism the squi rming, single,
defined process which would show that the sin of the public
terror is that it divests man of conscience, of himself.
Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, eds,. The Sal em Wi tchcraft Papers (New
York: Da Capo Press, 1977), 677.
Weales, 41.
Miller's The Crucible 37
And though Miller upholds these tenets thematically or dramatically
(Proctor, at the play's end, goes to the gallmvs rather than sign his name
to a false confession), he fails to do so historically. In fact, as a writer, he
commits the same atrocities that he decried in light of McCarthyism.
Proctor and Williams are both robbed of their consciences and their
true names. Miller controverts facts and creates a promiscuous she-devil
out of an eleven-year-old girl and a lying lecher out of a sixty-year-old
man. He also consolidates, in many instances, several historical figures
under the rubric of one character in his play. For instance, Samuel Parris,
the minister of Salem and Abigail's uncle, is meant to represent himself,
but also ministers of the day in general. To this end, there are historical
inaccuracies in his characterization, the most glaring being that in The
Crucible Parris affirms that he has been awarded his degree from
Harvard, which is erroneous historically but significant for Miller's
agenda. In the 1600s Harvard was the premiere theological institution.
Had Parris attended this institution, his services as a minister would have
no doubt been in demand. In fact, however, Parris had not attended
Harvard, and his appointment in Salem was regarded mutually by new
parishioner and parish as a last resort. This particular abridgement of
historical fact brings to light another curiosity in Miller's text. It seems
that Miller's editing, his mutating of the truth, is in most cases designed
to portray the male characters in a positive light, even at the expense of
the female ones.
Marcel Ayme wrote of the difficulties of thematically translating for
a French audience a play that relied heavily for its impact on the
sympathies of a patriarchal American one.
The sympathy of the American spectator belongs to the seducer.
The reasons for that preference, though inadmissible for a
Frenchman, are still weighty ones. Rugged pioneer of an earlier
era, one of those resolute New England plowmen who carry in
their Puritan round heads the shining promises of the age of
skyscrapers and the atom bomb, the farmer is an indisputable
hero from the outset. He has only to step on a Broadway stage.
It's .as if he were wrapped in the Star Spangled Banner, and the
public, its heart swollen with tenderness and pride, eats him up.
In the presence of this eminent forefather the girl who has given
herself to him with so much passion is nothing more than a little
slut come to sully the glorious dawn of the U .S.A.
/bid., 240-41 .
In dramatic terms, Miller is as determined as his forefathers to keep the
patriarchal myth breathing, to edit out the marginal female characters
who might interfere with this myth. Though the character Proctor might
be guilty of lechery, he redeems his good name and his place in history
by the end of the play. He perjures himself to save his wife and then
goes to the gallows rather than confessing falsely to witchcraft. Abigail ,
conversely, is still just an evil promiscuous girl by the end of the play, a
girl who has been abridged, who disappears, flees town, and who
appears only one last time in an epilogue to the play, "Echoes Down The
Corridor": "The legend has it that Abigail turned up later as a prostitute
in Boston."
And, if Miller himself is not equal to the task of editing his women,
he has a willing compatriot in John Proctor, who seems to feel, as his
author does, that one can make a woman not exist by merely editing a
fact or a sentence:
PROCTOR: Abby, I may think of you softly from time to
time. But I will cut off my hand before I'll ever reach for you
again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.
ABIGAIL: Aye, but we did.
PROCTOR: Aye, but we did not.
In writing The Crucible, Miller has created a document in which the
names of women from the past are preserved in writing, but they are
preserved only to carry on a sullied memory of those women. Like the
Salem documents themselves, The Crucible suggests that the written
preservation of the historical female must necessarily result in her self-
immolation. And, perhaps, Miller has done these women a worse
disservice still, for dramaturgy possesses a far more immediate and
powerful impact upon its audience than do yellowed historical docu-
ments preserved under glass in a museum. If anyone was dubious before
seeing The Crucible who it was that wanted to tear. apart the American
Dream, they can have no doubt by the time the curtain falls.
But while Miller commits these atrocities in the name of "good
drama," he is no more culpable than those " circle girls" of 1692. Like
Quixote, like the colonists,- like the girls, Miller as a writer represents
merely that amorphous, diaphanous, transparent frontier, language. " A
long thin graph ism" himself, Miller is so inculcated with the experiences
/bid., 146.
/bid., 23.
Miller's The Crucible
of his culture that he unconsciously enacts the sins of his fathers, doing
so ironically while he is attempting to undo them.
Not only does Miller find what he seeks and fail to find that which
he does not seek in perpetuating the American myth of abridgement, but
he also criticizes the theatre of the 1950s precisely for those "sins" that
he himself is committing historically in The Crucible:
All this means to me . . . is that this generation is turning Japa-
nese. The Japanese are said to admire infinite repetitions of time-
hallowed stories, characters, and themes. It is the triumph of the
practical in art. The most practical thing to do is to repeat what
has been done and thought before. But the very l iquor of our art
has always been originality, uniqueness. . . . Japanism, so to
speak, took over Hollywood long ago, and now the movie is
ritual thinly veiled. The practical took command. The
"showman" won. High finance took sterility by the hand, and
together they rolled the product smooth, stripped all of its
offensive edges, its individuality, and created the perfect
circle-namely zero.
So imbued with the American experience that he is merely just
another cipher of it, Miller seems unaware that his play as well is "ritual
thinly veiled," that he too has just created another "perfect circle,"
another tier on the concentric circle of violent abridgement, and that
drawing this circle finally will end in historical reification, death, or as
Miller so succinctly puts it, "zero." If Foucault's statement is correct, if
to name is truly to kill, then to draw this final circle signifying "zero" is
also to assert a definitive, final name, to subsume the Puritans in the
reified and closed circle of the prophetic Eye. Miller kills the historical
"life" of the Salem Witch Trials by having the last word on them; and,
like his Puritan fathers, escapes naming and thus killing his ancestors by
pushing the "boundary" of naming, and thus of responsibility, " up" as
they did. Though he thinks Abigail became a prostitute ("legend has it,"
after all) he is not quite sure, and thus he demurs responsibility or passes
the buck to someone-anyone-else, who might have the courage or
foolhardiness, as it were, to name her definitively as a prostitute. He is
content merely to suggest in an echo down a corridor that perhaps this
is her name.
/bid., 159.
This essay has raised questions about Miller as an inaccurate
historiographer, a sexist, and an exploiter of the past. However, while
the repercussions of his historical abridgements are undeniable, it is
perhaps more fitting to characterize him,_ like the circle girls, as a victim
of the American myth, another mere cipher of this myth unconsciously
performing acts of cultural atrocity because his society has taught him to
do so. If one needs verification that Miller was truly as blinded in his
vision of The Crucible as Quixote, the epic anti-hero, one might look to
"Many Writers: Few Plays," a piece written by Miller for the New York
Is it quixotic to say that a time comes for an artist-and for all
those who want and love theatre-when the world must be left
behind? When like some pilgrim, he must consult only his own
heart and cleave to the truth it utters? For out of the hectoring of
columnists, the compulsion of patriotic gangs, the suspicions of
the honest and the corrupt alike, art never will and never has
found soil.
As he involuntarily reveals here, Miller is light years away from
finding art that leaves the world behind. Employing the metaphor of a
pilgrim to describe himself, he avers that he wishes to leave all those
"Japanese repetitions" behind, those "rituals thinly veiled." He wished
to stop the distant echoing drumbeat of the Winthropian call to arms, a
drumbeat whose rhythmic repetitions or pulse is recorded on the
concentric circle model, each circular tier representing a successive
sound vibration, dissipating, growing smaller, yet echoing on and on,
even as Abigail Williams's reputation as a prostitute will echo on and on
from the "corridor." Even Sir Lawrence Olivier, who starred in a
production of the play, spoke of this "beat."
[There is] a certain marching tempo that starts to get into that play
.. . a drumbeat underneath which begins somewhere- I don't
know exactly where-but in a good production it starts to beat.
Arthur Miller, "Many Writers: Few Plays," New York Times, 10 August 1952,
II, 1 .
Weales, 153-54.
Miller' s The Crucible
Olivier refers to this "beat" specifically in regard to the optional Act
II Scene ii that is sometimes inserted, sometimes deleted in productions.
This scene is one in which Abigail and Proctor confront each other in the
night and Abigail openly discusses her love for Proctor and her motive for
accusing his wife of witchcraft. It is jolting to read not only because it
eerily reveals the demonic psychic underbelly of both characters (Proctor
screams exultantly that he will reveal Abigail for the "whore" she is, and
Abigail accuses Proctor of "singing halleluj ahs" at the prospect of his
w ife's execution), but also because, as Olivier observes, it throws the
production "off beat. " Olivier is not sure why this is, and this is perhaps
because he too is mesmerized by the rhythm of the American " beat" of
successive and regenerative violence that he only heeds, but does not
fully comprehend. The scene works in opposition to an American
tradition of abridgement. It undermines the selective forgetfulness so
essential to that act, for it explains too much, fills in too many gaps.
Specifically, the additional scene fills in those "gaps" of "messy detail"
between concentric circles in which grey space lies the terror of America:
the battered bodies of murdered women and Indians, the stench of
plague and pestilence that beset the first settlers. For after all, even if
Winthrop has commanded us to abridge these things, the ugly remnants
must go somewhere. Without realizing it then, Olivier is referring to a
scene that exposes the hiding place of the dirt and carcasses, the rotting
residue of American abridgement. Olivier is troubled by the adding of
this scene because it fills in the spaces of si lence between "beats,"
undermines the carefully orchestrated rhythm of an idealized " Star
Spangled Banner" as it has been so meticulously arranged by Winthrop
and Miller.
Is it quixotic, "pilgrim" Miller asks, to attempt to leave the world
behind, to create art that is undaunted, unmarred by the very ciphers, the
very language and experiences, that comprise our very beings? The
response to Miller's question is a complicated one. For, on the one hand,
naturally it is foolhardy and quixotic to attempt to leave our past behind,
to make what Fitzgerald refers to as a "clean break" from the fundamen-
tal psychic experiences that have forged our identities both personally
and nationally.
On the other hand, to make such an attempt in
America, a country founded on a Puritan ethic of escapes, of "clean
breaks" in which the "dirtiness," the blood and bone fragments of the
pai nful fracture are "abridged" and swept beneath the carpet, is not
quixotic at all; it is savvy and right on the money. When read against
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up (New York: New Directions, 1956), 81 .
Fitzgerald describes his tenuous mental state as a cracked plate and his psychic
healing process as the result of a clean break with the past.
the history, Miller and his play assist America's Puritan fathers in making
their clean break from culpability; in doing so, Miller re-enacts history,
proving that in America the "beat" goes inevitably on.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
"I Charge Thee Speak":
john Barrymore and His Voice Coach,
Margaret Carrington
In the early days of his career, Barrymore did not need a good voice.
He did not have to meet the challenge of speaking classical verse nor did
he need a particularly good quality stage voice. Even when he began to
tackle serious dramatic roles, such as the desperate Cockney clerk in
justice (1916), or his roles in Peter Jbbetson (1917), Redemption (1918),
and The jest (1919), critical attention focused on his physical realization
of the part, not on his voice.
Theatre reviews suggest that Barrymore's voice was not his best
feature. When he played Dr. Rank in A Doll's House (1907), his
indistinct enunciation and poor projection drew criticism.
In the 1908
production of A Stubborn Cinderella, the audience again had difficulty
hearing him.
Later reviewers faulted Barrymore for vocal monotony and
a tendency to be "overemphatic."
It was only when Barrymore played
Shakespearean roles, Richard Ill (1920) and Hamlet (1922/25), that the
press began to pay as much attention to his voice as to his physical
presence. His critics then gave a collective sigh of gratitude that his voice
had changed for the better.
" 'A Doll's House': Ethel Barrymore Plays An Ibsen Role," (Boston) Globe 1
February 1907, 4.
Amy Leslie, Chicago Daily News, 2 June 1908, 14.
"John Barrymore in Tolstoy Tragedy, " New York Times, 4 Gctober 1918, 11;
John Corbin, " From the New Plays," New York Times, 6 October 1918, sec. 4, 2;
F.H. [Franci s Hackett], "After the Play, " The New Republic 19 (10 May 1919): 55;
Alexander Woollcott, "Second Thoughts on First Nights," New York Times, 28
September 1919, sec. 4, 2.
Broadway director Arthur Hopkins put it best: "Jack had all the
beauties except voice."
Others agreed. Barrymore's brother, Lionel,
noted that although Jack's raspy voice was "good enough for comedy and
an effective reed for most drama, . .. Jack did not then have a full-
rounded voice and his diction was slovenly."
Their uncle, john Drew,
a polished and accomplished actor in his own right, lamented, "Jack talks
like a stable hand."
Constance Collier, a British actress and friend of
Barrymore, witnessed how his voice d i s ~ y e d people in British theatre
circles. In later years, when he negotiated with London theatre managers
to remount his production of Hamlet, Barrymore adopted a tough-talking
Bowery speech:
[The managers] would say, 'How can you expect in England, the
home of Shakespeare, a man with a voice like that, to be any
good in Shakespeare's plays?' You couldn't make Jack not put
that voice on. He would do it deliberately to shock them.
Collier herself made arrangements for the lease of the Haymarket before
the manager had an opportunity to hear Barrymore's voice and to renege
on the agreement.
John Barrymore's. vocal problems could hardly be attributed to his
upbringing: He was born into a family of actors. His sister Ethel was
lauded by theatre critic Alexander Woollcott for her enchanting, lovely
Until the age of fifteen, Barrymore spent most of his time with his
grandmother, the forbiddingly correct Mrs. john Drew, who had
managed the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia for over thirty years, and
Arthur Melancthon Hopkins, Reference Point: Reflections on Creative Ways in
General with Special Reference to Creative Ways in Theatre (New York: Samuel
French, 1948), 117.
Lionel Barrymore and Cameron Shipp, We Barrymores: As Told to Cameron
Shipp (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), 202, 158.
Aiexander Woollcott, Interviewed by Gene Fowler, Bomoseen, Vermont, 1942.
Gene Fowler Collection, Special Collections, University of Colorado at Boulder
Libraries, Boulder, Colorado.
Constance Collier, unpublished manuscript. Gene Fowler Collection, Special
Collections, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries, Boulder, Colorado, 6.
Aiexander Woollcott, quoted in Ethel Barrymore, Memories: An Autobiography
(London: Hulton Press 1956), 168; Gene Fowler, Good Night, Sweet Prince: The Life
and Times of john Barrymore (New York: The Viking Press, 1943), 135.
john Barrymore 45
had acted ever since she was a young child.
Ethel Barrymore reminisced
about the speech standards laid down by their grandmother:
I came from people who spoke well, from a family where purity
of speech was a matter of course, where there was no such thing
as a provincial accent. If I brought a provincialism home from
school, eyebrows were raised so far that they disappeared into
that thick Drew hair, and that particular provincialism would
never be uttered again. In running her stock company at the Arch
Street Theatre, Mummum had absolutely no patience, no
tolerance whatever, for slipshod speech. At home she and
everyone else spoke well. Nothing was ever said about rt. It was
just done.
Barrymore had a flair for accents, which means he had a good ear for
intonation, vocal placement,_ and subtle phonetic differences. He was
praised for his Cockney accent in the productions of Pantaloon (1906)
and justice (1916).
He studied with a White Russian to perfect an
accent for Redemption (1918).
Barrymore proved he could mimic
speech patterns, proved he had the requisite skills to get rid of his sloppy,
nasal sound. What he needed was a compelling reasqn to change the
vocal habits of a lifetime.
Lionel Barrymore recalled that by the 1920s his brother had a group
of self-appointed advisors, the "Barrymore Board of Strategy," composed
of Edward Sheldon, Constance Collier, Alexander Woollcott, Robert
Edmond Jones, and Margaret Carrington. Anxious as his friends were for
Barrymore to leave the byways of comedy and establish himself as an
actor in serious roles, the Board supported Hopkins's plans to launch a
classical repertory with Richard Ill. The only stumbling block was Jack's
Lionel Barrymore, We Barrymores, 85.
Ethel Memories, 47.
New York Dramatic Mirror, 6 January 1906, 3; " Justice, " New York Times, 23
April 1916, sec. 2, 8;" 'Justice' Done Here with Superb Cast," New York Times, 4
Apri I 1916, 11 .
Arthur Mel ancthon Hopkins, To A Lonely Boy (New York: Book League of
America, 1937), 168- 169.
Barrymore apparently agreed, for years later he told his friend
Anthony Quinn that "speech was the most important thing in the world
for the actor."
He confessed that it was the prospect of a Shakespear-
ean role which finally forced him to deal with his nasal Bowery accent.
The voice specialist Barrymore turned to was Margaret Carrington.
As a young woman Margaret Carrington was a concert singer in
Europe. When World War I began, she settled in New York and
established a reputation as a vocal coach for actors. She counted among
her students her younger brother Walter Huston and Lillian Gish. She
was a very successful dramatic coach who could bring out the best in an
actor. Huston credtted her with teaching him how to act.
john Huston, the film actor and director, described Carrington as a
"consummate actress in a drawing room."
john Huston's wife r-ecalled
a "riveting" performance of Carrington's when " this thing . . came out
of her when she was reading Shakespeare-one could understand how
she was sought after as a coach."
Carrington, married to a wealthy broker, took only pupils who
interested her and never accepted any payment for her lessons.
taught how to improve voice quality, diction and breathing, and how to
make the words come alive. She was not interested in "vocal gymnas-
tics," but rather in how to link the sound and sense of words to create
clear and emotionally. expressive speech.
Lionel Barrymore, We Barrymores, 202; Fowler, Good Night, Sweet Prince,
190; Hopkins, To A Lonely Boy, 199.
Anthony Quinn, The Original Sin: A Self-Portrait (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972),
john Weld, "September Song," unpublished biography of Walter Huston.
National Fi lm Information Service, Academy Foundation, Center for Motion Picture
Study, Beverly Hil.ls, CA, 88, 128.
John Huston, An Open Book (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 37.
Lawrence Grobe! , The Hustons (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989),
Lillian Gish and Ann Pinchot, Lillian Gish: The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hal l, 1969), 317; Lillian Gish, manuscript, Special
Collections, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washi ngton, D.C., 27.
Margaret Carrington, "The john Barrymore I Knew." Gene Fowler Coll ection,
Special Collections, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries, Boulder, Colorado,
John Barrymore 47
When Barrymore began to study with Margaret Carrington he was
already rehearsing Richard Ill. In an unfinished essay, "The John
Barrymore I Knew," Carrington said that he came to see her, shyly
explained his fears of acting Shakespeare and with "devastating charm"
asked for her help.
At first, Carrington hesitated to take him. The
production was slated to open in s-ix weeks and that was precious little
time to change the vocal habits of a lifetime. Assessing his problems, she
observed that "His voice was tired, and in spite of its rare individual
quality was of short range due to a complete lack of breath control."
Unable to resist the challenge, she took him as a pupil.
Carrington did not begin lessons with breathing or vowel exercises.
Instead, she asked him to take-a piece of fruit from a bowl on the table.
As Anthony Quinn tells in The Original Sin, as soon as Barrymore picked
up an apple, Carrington began an inquisition:
"Mr. Barrymore, what do you have in your hand?"
"I got a red apple."
"You have what?"
"I got a red apple."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"You don't understand? I got a red apple in my hand."
Then he laughed and said his speech lessons for the first two or
three weeks consisted of making that apple sound like the
juiciest, reddest apple in the world. She wasn't satisfied until he
had created not only the imagery, but the fullness of each word.
He said, "She taught me to make love to the words. Don't get
carried away with the emotion, kid. Caress the word."
Carrington taught Barrymore to respond to the imagery and meaning
of every word to make the language clear. She gave him exercises to
increase his breath capacity and improve vocal quality and diction. She
recalled that he practiced vowel sounds as he walked along the street
until he could speak a complete Shakespearean sentence on a single
In order to play Richard Ill, Barrymore also had to deal with the
challenge of classical verse. Later, in his memoirs, he referred to his
/bid., 2.
Quinn, 206.
Carri ngton, " The John Barrymore I Knew," S-6.
struggle to master intonation, which confirms that Carrington was
teaching him stress and rhythm in the verse.
Director Arthur Hopkins
heard improvement:
John . . . whose voice was furry and not best suited to Shake-
speare, had been studying diligently with Mrs. Margaret -
Carrington, who by some magic, entirely her own, had turned his
faulty instrument into a medium of ease and beauty.
The role of Richard Ill became a demarcation line, dividing the old
Barrymore sound from the new. Critics heralded the star's new rich vocal
quality, his range and control, and his clear enunciation. Francis Hackett,
in the New Republic, was delighted the actor had eliminated his nasality
and developed a voice that was "beautifully placed, deep and sonorous
and free."
Alexander Woollcott remarked in the New York Times:
Now he has acquired, out of space, a voice. His voice three
years ago was dry and monotonous, his speech slovenly and
sometimes common. All that is largely changed. He entered
upon the Shakespearean task with a patiently acquired voice, one
rich, full and flexible. This is really the advance of which he
may be proudest. P
Carrington and Hopkins treated Richard Ill as a modern play.
Barrymore brought the verse alive with a contemporary vitality and
passion. The New York Call observed that Barrymore did not use
John Barrymore, Confessions of an Actor (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1926),
np. Margot Peters identifies Karl Schmidt as the author of Barrymore's memoirs in
Margot Peters, The House of Barrymore (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 290.
Hopkins, To A Lonely Boy, 199.
F.H. [Francis Hackett], "After the Play," The New Republic 22 (24 March
1920): 122.
Aiexander Woollcott, "At 'Richard Ill,' " New York Times, 21 March 1920, sec.
6, 6.
John Barrymore
The role of Richard Ill was the dividing line
between the old John Barrymore sound and the new.
From the Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library
"rhetorical sing-song .. . . [He] lives and thinks and speaks with the sharp
enunciation and natural inflections of flesh and blood."
Broun, writing for the Tribune, added that Barrymore had "fire and life"
and was no longer guilty of "false emphasis," of stressing whatever
arbitrarily chosen word suited him.
One critic voiced his doubts that
a comedian like Barrymore could do a credible job of speaking verse.
Nevertheless, a hallmark of Barrymore's Shakespearean work was his
intelligent, clear line delivery. Reviewers made much of the fact that they
could understand every word he spoke. The critic for the New York
Dramatic Mirror must have delighted Carrington when he praised the
actor's impeccable diction and delivery and his clear understanding of
the lines.
Barrymore's next project with Hopkins and Carrington was the 1922
production of Hamlet. This time Hopkins asked Carrington to prepare
Barrymore for the role. She agreed on condition that she would have at
least a month to work with Barrymore and that the opening date would
be set only when she felt he was ready. Barrymore appeared on the
doorstep of her Connecticut home one summer's day with an armload of
books about Hamlet. This visit turned into a stay of two and a half
months. They worked tirelessly together, in the gardens and in the
woods, six to eight hours a day and sometimes into the night. Just as she
had done with Richard Ill, Carrington asked him to treat Hamlet as a
modern play that had never been performed and to disregard all previous
interpretations of the script. They studied only the Temple edition of
Hamlet. She also asked him not to memorize the part until they had
explored every nuance of meaning in the script. Carrington attributed the
spontaneous quality of his performance to this method.
At the same time Barrymore was wrestling with the meaning of the
lines, he continued his voice training. Carrington wanted to rebuild his
voice from the ground up, and he was willing to throw himself into more
Louis Cardy, "The Stage: Barrymore's 'Richard Ill ,' " New York Call, 9
1920, 6.
HeyWood Broun, (New York) Tribune, quoted in "Barrymore's Bout witr
Richard," Literary Digest, 65 (3 April 1920): 37.
J. Ranken Tawse (New York) Evening Post quoted in " Barrymore' s Bout
'Richard,' " Literary Digest 65 (3 April 1920): 36-37.
Louis R. Reid, "The New Plays on Broadway: 'Richard Ill,' " New Yorl
Dramatic Mirror, 13 March 1920, 466.
Carrington, "The John Barrymore I Knew," 3-4.
John Barrymore 51
vowel and breath exercises. The day Carrington felt Barrymore was
ready, she notified Hopkins.
Carrington's work did not end with the preliminary coaching; her
services were called on during the run of Hamlet. Hamlet is a vocally
demanding role and when performed eight times a week, as Barrymore
had to do, a vocally exhausting one. Barrymore's incessant smoking
added to the strain of a heavy performance schedule. A trail of half-
smoked cigarettes followed him everywhere backstage. He took two or
three drags on a cigarette before every entrance. Lark Taylor, who played
the roles of Bernardo and the First Player in the New York production,
noted that Barrymore had vocal problems that plagued him all season:
Paul, his devoted yellow valet, was kept busy with ice-bags and
various remedies. Sundays Margaret Carrington worked with him
most of the day to get him in good shape for Monday.
The work paid off handsomely:
[He] spoke his lines with ease and convincing naturalness,
showing he had worked carefully and earnestly. Margaret
Carrington had almost entirely obliterated his monotonous
delivery and Bowery pronunciation, and his voice had a surpris-
ing range and quality.
Hamlet opened in New York on 16 November 1922, and played for
101 performances that season, breaking Edwin Booth's record of 100
performances. The next season Barrymore toured the United States with
Hamlet, and in 1925 he successfully remounted the production at the
Haymarket Theatre in London.
Barrymore's voice and speech came under critical scrutiny once
more. Critics agreed his voice quality and text delivery continued to
improve, giving an impression of greater emotional expressiveness and
depth. Walter Prichard Eaton, who had reviewed Barrymore as far back
as The Yellow Ticket in 1914, commented on the actor's progress in
J. Lark Taylor, "With Hey Ho!," unpublished autobiography. Special
Colledions, University Archives, The Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt
University, Nashville, Tennessee, 339.
/bid.' 336.
vocal skills and in handling the rhythm.
In Theatre Arts, Kenneth
Macgowan wrote of the "most brilliant Prince of this generation ...
lovely of voice and poignant with emotion."
John Corbin thought
Barrymore's deeper, lower pitches now made his voice worthy of
Heywood Broun praised the actor's vocal skills:
Somebody ought to write a tale about Barrymore called 'The
Story of a Voice.' It is one of the most amazing adventures in our
theatre. Here was a peculiarly pinched utterance distinctly
marred by slipshod diction. Today it is among the finest voices
in the American theatre. We don't mean that it vibrates and
rumbles and roars, but that isn't our notion of a fine voice. It is
attuned to talking. Hamlet never deafens the members of his
family, the audience, or even himself.
All agreed that Barrymore made the meaning of every line clear, but
critics parted company on the question of how well he handled the verse.
Whitford Kane, who played the Grave Digger, felt that Barrymore was
too modern and naturalistic and was better in the prose scenes, especially
the scenes with Polonius.
Maida Castellun in the New York Call found
the "splendors of passions and the soaring organ tones of Elizabethan
rhetoric" lacking in Barrymore's "colloquial, casual" performance.
lack of rhetorical punch or emotional fire was a charge also leveled by
George Bernard Shaw, J. Ranken Towse, Glenn Hughes, and Edmund
Walter Prichard Eaton, "Mr. Barrymore's Hamlet, " The Freeman (10 January
1923): 424. Clipping from the Theatre Arts Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, University of Texas, Austin, Texas.
Kenneth Macgowan, "And Again Repertory, " Theatre Arts Magazine 7 (April
1923): 97.
John Corbin, "The Twentieth Century Hamlet," New York Times, 17 December
1922, sec. 7, 1.
Heywood Broun, "Mr. Shakespeare, Meet Mr. Tyson," February 1923, 33,
unidentified clipping in the Theatre Arts Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, University of Texas, Austin, Texas.
Whitford Kane, Are We All Met? (London: Elkin Mathews & Marrot, 1931 ), 232.
Maida Castellun, "The Stage: John Barrymore is Intelligent and Beautiful as a
Hamlet Without Fire," New York Call, 18 November 1922, 4.
john Barrymore 53
Wilson. For them, his low-keyed speech and his thoughtful style of
delivering soliloquies made the play too long and too tame.
Most reviewers, however, applauded Barrymore's delivery precisely
because he eschewed "soaring organ tones" and rant. They found his
colloquial style vital and persuasive. Heywood Broun and Alexander
Woollcott approved of the way Barrymore seemed to think his way
through the part, declaring the soliloquies did not strike the ear as
familiar set pieces but rather as the artless expression of a man wrestling
with a problem.
John Corbin of the New York Times described the
"flawless" line readings as restoration of a lost art. He liked Barrymore's
conversational manner that, in his opinion, served the rhythm of the
Stark Young liked the simple honesty of Barrymore's readings,
"no idle tricks of the voice."
Young did take the actor to task for
occasionally stressing a word in a verse line not meant to take the stress.
Such misplaced stress, Young argued, disrupted the rhythm of the verse
and the continuity of the thought. Barrymore, in Young's opinion, had
not entirely renounced his old habit of exploding on "meaningful"
Other reviewers felt Barrymore had delivered the verse with entirely
too regular a beat, too predictable a stress.
This is at odds with those
who censured Barrymore for breaking up the rhythm of the line with an
indulgence in misplaced stress. Walter Prichard Eaton said that the actor
emphasized words "at the end of lines, or just before the caesura!
By making the audience too conscious of the rhythm, Eaton
charged, Barrymore did not allow the music of the words to set the
George Bernard Shaw, quoted in John Barrymore, Confessions of an Actor, np;
J. Ranken Tawse, "'Hamlet' Spectacle and Little Else," Evening Post (New York), 17
November 1922, 7; Glenn Hughes, "Repressed Acting and Shakespeare," Drama 13
(March 1923): 211; Edmund J. Wilson, "The The Dial 74 (March 1923):
Broun, " Mr. Shakespeare, Meet Mr. Tyson," 33; Alexander Woollcott, "The
Reviewing Stand," New York Herald, 17 November 1922, 8.
John Corbin, "A New Hamlet," New York Times, 17 November 1922, 14.
Stark Young, "Hamlet," The New Republic 33 (6 December 1922): 45.
Cuthbert Wright, "Mr. Barrymore's ' Hamlet,'
The Freeman (3 January 1923):
401. Clipping from the Theatre Arts Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research
Center, University of Texas, Austin, Texas.
Eaton, "Mr. Barrymore's ' Ham let, '
In London, The Sphere brought up the point the British found most
remarkable, that in Hamlet Barrymore did not have an accent.
4 7
than sounding American or British he used " unmarked" English. Some
reviewers extolled the precision of his diction and delivery and his
thoughtful readings.
Others praised the verse speaking: " The wonderful
verse of the poet could not have been delivered with finer intelligence or
more charming music."
William Poel believed the way that Barrymore "talked his way
through the part and got the other actors to do the same" made the
production superior to either Irving's or Forbes-Robertson's.
Coli ier later wrote that 1/Jack's exquisi te diction and lovely voice
absolutely overwhelmed the English audience and his triumph was
The Bard's own countrymen then accorded the
audacious Yankee the tribute of an extended run.
Critics agreed that Barrymore's voice was up to the demands of
Shakespeare. The issue of rhythm and stress in his verse was more
problematic. Critics who approved of Barrymore's line delivery usually
did so on the grounds that he was colloquial, not ranting, not using old-
style declamation. Those who disapproved of his delivery generally
charged he was too tame and lacked emotional fire. Perhaps they missed
the grandeur of old-fashioned declaiming.
Evidence from several quarters-fellow actors, a director, and a critic-
agree that Barrymore was an erratic performer, very intense and focused
one night and lackadaisical other nights. He husbanded his strength in
Herbert Farjeon, "The Play's the Thing," The Sphere, (7 March 1925): 272.
James Agate, " Hamlet," Brief Chronicles: The Contemporary Theatre, 7925
(1926; reprint, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1969), 12; " Barrymore's Hamlet in
London," The Christian Science Monitor, 10 March 1925, 10. Clipping, Theatre Arts
Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Center, University of Texas, Austin, Texas;
(London) Daily News, quoted in " Barrymore Wins London as Hamlet," New York
Times, 20 February 1925, 20; "Entertainments: A New American Hamlet," (London)
Times, 20 February 1925, 12; Desmond McCarthy, " Drama: The New Ham let, " New
Statesman, 7 March 1925, 627; The Morning Post, quoted in " John Barrymore Stirs
London," The Literary Digest 84 (28 March 1925): 30.
The Daily Telegraph, quoted in " Barrymore Wins London as Hamlet," New
York Times, 20 February 1925, 20.
William Poel , " letter to Reginald Pole, 1925" quoted in Robert Speaight,
William Poe/ and the Elizabethan Revival, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1954), 27-28.
Collier, unpublished manuscript, 7.
John Barrymore 55
some scenes of Hamlet and committed himself to full energy in other
scenes. During the New York run of Hamlet Barrymore began to take
longer pauses until he had added thirty minutes to the playing time.
Low vocal energy and a slow pace could account for the fact that some
critics heard a tame and lackluster vocal delivery. In other words,
judgments of how well or poorly Barrymore handled verse may have
been confounded by variation in his vocal energy and rate of speech.
The reviews fall into one of two camps. Some critics applauded
Barrymore's style of "talking" the verse; and other critics, like Castellun,
missed the over-the-top rhetorical energy. The rhetoric the two camps
used clearly reveals a difference in taste: One camp liked a modern style
of verse delivery and the other camp liked an older style. Ultimately such
an aesthetic debate cannot be resolved, either in Barrymore's day or in
later times. Some liked Barrymore's verse delivery and others did not.
Two great Hamlets of this century commented on Barrymore: John
Gielgud, who was twenty when he saw Barrymore's production at the
Haymarket, and Lawrence Olivier, who was seventeen. Gielgud said that
Barrymore's grace made his "brilliantly intellectual performance classical
without being unduly severe." He found it an enthralling and in some
ways "ideal production.
Olivier acknowledged a debt to Barrymore
for his own later Hamlets. Barrymore had breathed life into the part and
swept away a poetic languor that had emasculated the rol since the days
of Irving:
Everything about him was exciting. He was athletic, he had
charisma and, to my young mind, he played the part to perfec-
tion. Although American, his English was perfect. He was
astonishing .... Some critics knocked him for his verse speaking,
as indeed, was to happen to me in later years. They were wrong.
I know they were wrong. He had a way of choosing a word and
then exploding it in a moment of passion. Perhaps you did not
always agree with the choice, but it was constantly riveting. He
would vary the pace, but never gabble, always understandable.
There would be a sudden burst and then again a lull, rather like
Hopkins, To a Lonely Boy, 231; Taylor, "With Hey Ho!, " 344-345; Woollcott,
"At 'Richard Ill,'" New York Times, 21 March 1920, sec. 6, 6; Blanche Yurka,
Bohemian Girl: Blanche Yurka 's Theatrical Life (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press,
1970), 100.
John Gielgud, Notes Inscribed on Program for Hamlet at the Theatre Royal,
Haymarket, 26 March 1925. The Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Theatre
Collection, Beckenham, Kent, courtesy of Dr. Martin F. Norden, University of
the wind freshening up before a squall. For my money he really
seemed to understand Hamlet.
Lionel Barrymore acknowledged that it was Margaret Carrington who
enabled Barrymore to meet the unique demands of classical acting:
Jack had gone to Mrs. Carrington to get a rasp out of his throat.
He went to her humbly acknowledging his fault, conquered that
fault, and emerged stronger in every other department. 5
The success of the Barrymore and Carrington partnership was
summed up by Hopkins:
Mrs. Carrington had the kind of derision that Jack appreciated.
He took her most merciless barbs and went back for more. To
her, he was the great opportunity that she long had sought. Just
to find one voice that was really worth freeing, to hear just once
the grandeur of Shakespeare's lines with unobstructed accompan-
iment. So, after long perseverance, two dreams were real-
ized-Mrs. Carrington's and Jack's.
A long time friend-of Barrymore's, Gene Fowler, wrote that Margaret
Carrington was Barrymore's "principal and only real advisor" when he
was preparing the role of Hamlet.
She had worked with him roughly
six hours a day for more than two months before rehearsals began, and
under her tutelage he had memorized his lines and set a great deal of the
Barrymore did experiment with stage business during
rehearsal with Hopkins, but he had shaped the basic path he was to
follow in the months of work with Carrington.
Barrymore told Mary Astor that Carrington "was a truly great
dramatic coach" and he credited her "for the fullness of his own
Lawrence Olivier, On Acting (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986), 36.
Lionel Barrymore, We Barrymores, 203, 206.
Hopkins, Reference Point, 118.
Gene Fowler, "Letter to Dr. Harold Thomas Hyman," quoted in Will Fowler>
The Young Man from Denver (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962), 208.
Taylor, "With Hey Ho!," 332, 334; Yurka, Bohemian Girl, 98.
John Barrymore 57
development as an actor."
Shortly before his death, Barrymore told
Dorothy Gish he was indebted to Margaret Carrington for hi.s growth as
an actor: "Everything he had done that was worthwhile was because of
Margaret Carrington ... . Without her, he claimed, he would have been
a fifth-rate actor ."
This is the story of a collaboration that has slipped out of the pages
of history, perhaps because Barrymore took pains to craft a public artistic
persona in which he was the sole author of his success. In his memoirs
he does not credit Carrington for his amazing new voice. However,
during the run of Hamlet in New York, he confided to Lark Taylor how
much Margaret Carrington had helped him.
Certainly those close to
Barrymore acknowledged the role of this particular coach in the famous
actor's career.
Stark Young marked Carrington's passing in 1942 with a salute to:
one among the half-dozen most distinguished and brilliant figures
of the theatre of the last two decades. . . . [She was a] teacher
and authority and inspiration such as few of our flat, flim-flam
stage favorites either perceive or hunger after. She was indeed a
gift from heaven for certain actors who had the possibility, as it
were, of surpassing themselves.
This was a fitting tribute to the woman who charged Barrymore to
speak and enabled him to surpass himself and achieve greatness in his
two most important stage roles.
Mary Astor, My Story: An Autobiographv (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959),
Gish and Pinchot, Lillian Cish, 317.
Taylor, 332, 339.
Stark Young, " Distinction and Theatre," The New Republic 107 (24 August
1942): 227.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
"Torchbearers of the Earth":
Women and Pageantry Between the World Wars
After the armistice ending World War I was declared on 11 Novem-
ber 1918, Americans sighed their relief and prepared to move on with
their lives. Soldiers returned from the battlefields to glorious parades and
festivities and then were promptly forgotten and joined the ranks of the
unemployed. Women, who had been extolled for their service during
the war years and for their willingness to take on roles to which they
were unaccustomed, such as working in munitions factories, conducting
streetcars, and even serving in hospitals and as ambulance drivers at the
front, were now shuffled back into their more acceptable domestic roles.
A nation that had been woven into unified action unraveled. Attacks on
liberals and socialists and on blacks and suspect ethnic groups increased
as the citizenry struggled with its postwar frustration and the growing
feel ing that all was not as glorious as it had seemed in the first flush of
battle. As the nation mourned the men who never returned and coped
with those who did, shattered mentally and physically by their experi-
ences, many people began to question the merit of war in general and of
this war in particular.
For a detailed look at the pageants written by women before and during World
War I see Frances Diodato Bzowski, " 'Torchbearers of the Earth' : Women, Pageantry,
and World War 1,'-
The journal of American Drama and Theatre (Spring 1995): 88-
111 .
The postwar years and the decade of the 1920s in Amer ica have probably been
analyzed from every possible point of view. For some general social histories of the
period see Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday, an Informal History of the 1920s
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1931 ); Mark Sull ivan, Our Times, 1900-1925 (New York:
Charles Scribner' s Sons, 1936) vol. 6, The Twenties; Frederic L. Paxson, American
Democracy and the World War (Boston: Houghton Miffl in, 1948), vol. 3, Postwar
Years: Normalcy, 1918-1923; Joseph C. Furnas, Great Times: An Informal Social
History of the U.S., 1914-1928 (New York: Putnam's, 1974); Ethan Mordden, That
jazz! An Idiosyncratic Social History of the American Twenties (New York: G.P.
Putnam's Sons, 1978); Ellis Wayne Hawley, The Great War and the Search for a
Modern Order: A History of the American People and Their Institutions, 191 7-1933
Women and Pageantry 59
Such questions had not arisen while the nation was at war and its
citizens were consumed by a patriotic fervor that was carefully nurtured
by the government. During the war years government agencies had used
all forms of media-posters, films, and a variety of dramatic presentations,
including community pageants-to persuade Americans that the war was
Now that the war was over, the committees that had been formed
to create the propaganda to justify American involvement and to stir the
citizens to willing and loyal service attempted to reassure a disillusioned
public that their sacrifices had not been in vain. Thus, the military and
community agencies responsible for wartime entertainments for the
soldiers and patriotic pageants and performances for the nation's cities
and towns continued to provide dramatic productions, at least in the
immediate postwar years. The War Camp Community Service (WCCS),
which had been formed as a part of the Playground and Recreation
Association of America (PRAA) to provide community recreational
activities for the soldiers, dropped its reference to war in 1919 and
(New York: St. Martins Press, 1979); Geoffrey Perrett, America in the Twenties, a
History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982); and Page Smith, Redeeming the
Time: A People's History of the 1920s and the New Deal (New Y<?rk: McGraw Hill,
1986). .
For the best general histories dealing with women during the postwar years see
William O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave: A History of American Feminism (Chicago:
Quadrangle Books, 1969); William Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing
Social, Economic and Political Role, 1920-1970 (New York: Oxford University Press,
1972); j. Stanley Lemons, The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973); and Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of
Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).
For the propaganda techniques used by the War Department see George Creel ,
How We Advertised America (New York: Harper & Bros., 1920); Harold L. Lasswell,
Propaganda Techniques in the Great War (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1927); James R.
Mock and Cedric Larson, Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on
Public Information, 1917-1919 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1939);
Horace C. Peterson, Propaganda for War; the Campaign Against American Neutrality,
7914-1917 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939); Larry Wayne Ward, The
Motion Picture Goes to War: The U. S. Government Film Effort During World War
I (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985); Craig W. Campbell, Reel America and
World War I Uefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1985); and Walton Rawls, Wake Up
America! World War and the American Poster (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988).
The best general sources on pageantry are Martin S. Tacke!, "Women and
American Pageantry: 1908-1918" (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1982);
David Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early
Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); and
Naima Prevots, American Pageantry: A Movement for Art & Democracy (Ann Arbor:
UMI Research Press, 1990).
became simply, Community Services.
Constance D'Arcy Mackay, the
head of the Division of Community Drama for the WCCS during the war,
now was in charge of the newly named Community Services. The
agency continued to distribute texts and production information about
pageants, as well as announcements of insti tutes taught by pageant
masters. Mackay, along with other leaders of pageantry, realized not
only that drama and pageantry could provide a patriotic justification for
the war to a weary population, but also that, if the new interest in such
dramatic forms was to continue, leaders of the movement must seize the
opportunity that the war had provided. As Mackay explained:
The World War has kindled a greater love for drama than we
have ever had before; it has revealed its power for service as wel l
as for recreation. We cannot let this power die. After the war it
must go on. It must continue to be a force for patriotism and
Women not only had written and directed many of the pageants used
by the WCCS and other community agencies during the war, but they
also had created pageants, masques, and allegories for their own
neighborhoods and clubs. These pageants served a variety of purposes
depending on when they were written. For instance, in the early years
of the European War, before the United States became involved, women
wrote many pacifist pageants. These pageants reflected the common
belief of the time that women were "natural" pacifists; that is, because
of their nurturing nature and their concern for children and the home, by
their very gender in fact, women espoused peaceful arbitration, coopera-
tion and understanding, both within their homes and throughout the
world. After the sinking of the Lusitania, as the nation prepared to take
an active part in the war, and during the actual war years, women wrote
pageants that were used to Americanize immigrants, arouse patriotism,
and encourage willing service to the country. However, even while they
placed their pageants at the service of a nation at war, women never
stopped envisioning, and portraying in their pageants, a postwar world
peace and an international league.
For activities of the PRAA see Richard F. Knapp, "The Playground and Recreation
Association of America in World War 1," Parks and Recreation 7 Uanuary 1972): 27-
31 ff.
Constance D'Arcy Mackay, Patriotic Drama in Your Town (New York: Henry
Holt, 1918).
Women and Pageantry
At the end of the war, however, many feminist/pacifist women were
not as naive as this faith in the future would make them seem. For
instance, in the midst of their joy at the armistice, women faced a
sobering realization. The basic issue had not changed-masculine power
had led to war and would most likely lead to war again. What was
needed in the United States and the world at large was the moral
influence and the political strength of women. Despite their past
experiences with a male-dominated government and their failure to
promote peace during the war years, women remained hopeful that, if
they could attain real power, they would effect lasting change by
instilling their womanly values into the laws of the land and by ending
war forever. The New York branch of the Woman's Peace Party stated
the matter clearly:
War to end war has proved a failure. The war is won, yet
nowhere is there peace, security or happiness. Hate, fear and
greed still rule the world . . .. We failed not because we were
wrong, but because we had no power. The control of the world
is still in the hands of men who have no respect for human life,
or for the counsel and need of women.
Simi larly, women who had relied on pageantry to promote their
message of peace and internationalism throughout the bitter war years
also felt that they were still needed and that pageants and drama should
continue to be used for the nation's benefit after the war. Fanny Ursula
Payne, in the introduction to her Plays and Pageants of Democracy,
published in 1919, addressed her " Dear Young Friends" about how
drama could keep the value of democracy uppermost in American minds:
There are many ways in whi ch this may be kept before our eyes;
but perhaps no agency reaches so many people as does the
drama. All through the war the drama, in all its branches, played
a large and very important part in keeping before the publ ic the
ideal s for which we were fighting; and in the difficult period j ust
ahead the drama will still have an important part to play. By
drama I mean not only Broadway and the " movi es," but also
Quoted i n Harriet Hyman Al onso, Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of t he
U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse
University Press, 1993), 92. Of course, the WPP and other suffragi sts felt that the vote
woul d enabl e women to bri ng about this change. Unfortunately, even though the
nineteenth amendment granting suffrage to women was rati fied in 1920, the nation
di d not become more peaceable.
pageantry and amateur drama, which arouse so keen an interest,
because the people themselves take part.
And so, women continued to write pageants after the war. In general
the pageants written in the first year or two after the armistice were super-
patriotic. They extolled the recent victory achieved through the proper
use of force. But as the twenties progressed, more often pageants
expressed a rekindled hope that international organization, particularly
through the League of Nations and a World Court, would bring a lasting
peace. Finally, some pageants written by women later in the twenties
revealed a clear-eyed recognition of the forces within the country that
contributed to violence and mi I itarism, but even these pageants trusted
that women's influence could end all national disharmony. Right up to
the renewed hostilities in Europe that led to the second world war,
women wrote their pageants extolling womanly values, universal
cooperation, and a worldwide organization to ensure peace.
Victory pageants, tableaux, and masques appeared almost as soon as
the armistice was declared in November, 1918. Constance D'Arcy
Mackay, who had provided several appropriate pageants during the war,
now wrote A Victory Pageant, "for Neighborhood Production."
Probably because this pageant was intended for use by modest commu-
nity organizations, it traces world events in a very uncomplicated way,
from Episode I, "The joy of the World Before the Darkness of the World
War"; through Episode II, "The Coming of Tyranny"; to Episode Ill,
"Victory." The pageant ends with a grand procession of the nations and
children led by their savior America, following Victory.
Probably the most outstanding example of the communHy victory
pageant was one organized by Mrs. Moore Forrest in Washington, D.C.,
as part of the International Festival of Peace on 4 july 1919. The pageant
was the culminating activity for the Washington School of Recreation,
which had been formed by WCCS as a recreational outlet for war and
government workers. Forrest was the school's director, and certainly one
of her purposes in preparing this spectacular pageant was to justify the
Fanny Ursula Payne, Introduction, Plays and Pageants of Democracy (New York:
Harper & Bros., 1919).
Coristance D'Arcy Mackay, II A Victory Pageant," Delineator 94 Oune 19.19): 78-
Women and Pageantry
continuance of drama and pageantry now that the war was over. Already
the newly named Community Service envisioned a postwar role as the
provider of the talent and expertise needed to promote pageantry in a
nation at peace:
These workers will sooner or later be going back home to Idaho
or Nevada or Tennessee. And each of them, by virtue of the
training received will return a potential producer, director, or
playwriter, with a working knowledge of the essentials of New
Theatre technique. He or she will go back to show the home
town its own potentialities, and hasten the day when America
shall find the ultimate expression of her democracy in the
If anything could convince the unbeliever of the glory of pageantry,
this performance would be it. Mrs. Forrest threw in everything that could
possibly stir the heart and arouse the soul-color, children, symbolism,
music, a perfect setting, lights, doves, flags, and crowds. Beginning at
5:00 pm, eight scenes were presented simultaneously before or near
famous buildings in Washington: "The Call to World Service" at the Red
Cross Building; "The Call of Labor" at the White House; "The Call of
Liberty" at the D.A.R. Building; "The Call of Commerce, Business, and
the Professions" at the Pan-American Building; "The Call of the
Children" on the White House lawn; "The Call of Art" at the State, War
and Navy Building; "The Call to Labor" on the agricultural grounds; and
"The Offering of Peace" at the National Museum. These scenes were
followed by a massive parade called " The World at Peace," which ended
at the Capitol Building. There, twenty-eight community choruses sang
such songs as "America the Beautiful," "Ri ng Out Sweet Bells of Peace,"
and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." At 9:00, as "late twilight was
thickening into dusk," 199 heralds dressed in "rose pink" and blowing
trumpets cleared the way for Peace, who released a dove as young gi rls
danced about her symbolizing "the joy that follows Peace on earth." As
darkness fell and lights were lit, America descended the steps to lend a
helping hand to small nations lost in darkness and depression and to lead
them to Liberty. Later, as the lights became brighter and revealed the
brilliant colors of the costumes, Capital and Labor met in the dazzling
lights with Intelligence and Unselfishness. The States, each bearing its
own flag, formed a circle around Columbi a, a circle that was opened to
This quote and all information about Forrest's pageant come from Margaret
Candler, " Washington's Community Pageant, " Theatre Magazine 30 (October 1919):
admit the sons of America, men in uniform who knelt before Columbia.
Then the Marshals of Peace placed robes representing the professions and
the trades over the soldiers, symbolizing that they would continue to
serve Columbia as civilians. The whole pageant concluded with a
spectacle titled the "Spirit of Love."
During 1919, the first full year of peace, many other victory pageants
were written by women, although none equaled the magnificence of
Forrest's "Washington Community Pageant." In fact, most of them were
unpretentious, and there is no evidence that they were even presented as
community productions. Rather, they may have been written as exercises
to be used by schools, local organizations, and camps to celebrate
patriotic holidays. These pageants reviewed the events of the war;
praised the many contributors to victory, such as the men in the armed
forces, the Red Cross, the Land Army, the Girl and Boy Scouts, even
Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps; and glorified America and the victory
that she had won. When Fannie Rebecca Buchanan wrote Daughters of
Freedom: A Patriotic Ceremonial "for use in the various War Camp
Community Service districts of greater New York," she purposely kept
it simple, because she planned it "for presentation by business and
industrial girls who have not time for the rehearsals and practice
necessary in the production of dramatics requiring the spoken word."
Basically a tableau, Buchanan's ceremonial presented characters
illustrating the countries involved in the war. America, according to
Buchanan's directions, was to be portrayed as a Red Cross nurse, from
the "Albert Herter poster in the February Woman's Home Companion."
Similarly, Edith Burrows's Patriotic Pictures presented four uncom-
plicated scenes that represented the four years of the war: 1914-1915,
''The Allies Gather'l; 1915-1916, "The Red Cross, Greatest Mother in the
World"; 1916-1917, "America Awakes"; and 1917-1918, "Victory.n
Victory is unquestionably the result of America's answering the call of her
European allies:
Yea, slow to wrath, but swift to smite,
Arose our nation in her might,
And 'gainst the tyrant's boastful pride,
With sister countries, side by side,
Fought the good fight till war was done,
Till victory and peace were won.
Fannie Rebecca Buchanan, Daughters of Freedom, A Patriotic Ceremonial (New
York: Samuel French, 1919).
Edith Burrows, Patriotic Pictures U. Fischer & Bros., 1919).
Women and Pageantry 65
Two years later Burrows wrote Our Motherland, which was a bit more
involved as it traced not the history of the war but the history of America,
portraying in a series of eight episodes the colonization and development
of the nation, the Civil War, the industrialization and growth in America
during the nineteenth century, "The Time of Darkness, 1914-1919," and
finally, "Victory and Peace." In the final episode Victorious Peace leads
war workers, including the men of the military, the Red Cross, and the
farmerettes in a pledge of loyalty to the flag.
These victory pageants served a need in the years right after the war
ended. First, they provided some measure of appreciation to the
American workers and soldiers who had brought about the victory; and
second, they glorified the nation at a time when it was undergoing a great
deal of disruption and disillusionment. Although Americans probably did
feel pride in their victory, already some people had doubts about the
reasons for the war and about its long-lasting effect. Although these
doubts are not expressed overtly in the texts of these early postwar
pageants, neither is there any assurance that the tremendous sacrifice of
men and money would guarantee a peace that would last forever. Only
one pageant written in 1919 showed a real feeling of unity and the
expectation of a lasting peace. The Hope of the World by Sadie Brewster
is similar to the other pageants of that year in tracing the events of the war
and the response of America, but it ends with Peace and Prophecy
foreseeing a better future.
Perhaps it was still too soon in 1919 for
many pageant writers to look far beyond the immediate present, but
during the next decade women did write pageants that predicted the
inevitability of a peaceful world. These pageants, like the ones written
by women pacifists before the war, expressed a faith that eternal peace
was possible if men would just follow their conscience and the advice of
Edith Burrows, Our Motherland (Philadelphia: The Penn Publ ishing Co., 1921).
Sadie B. Brewster, The Hope of the World, a Pageant (Brooklyn: T.J . McEvoy,
1919). Geoffrey Perrett comments that, during the twenties, " There was a general
conviction that another war, even bloodier than the last was inevitable," (America in
the Twenties, 147). He refers the reader to articles in popular magazines, such as
Frederick Palmer, "Where the Next European War Will Start," Harper's (November
Throughout the decade of the twenties many women realized that
something must be done to ensure a permanent peace, and they truly
believed that it was up to the women of the country to do it. just as in
prewar years, they began by forming their own organizations: the
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Women's
Peace Society, the Women's Peace Union, and the National Committee
on Causes and Cure of War. Although these organizations often
disagreed on tactics and on whether or not to support the League of
Nations, all were founded with an explicit assertion that women
possessed a special understanding that was necessary to bring peace to
the world and an implicit belief that men could not be trusted to keep the
nation from another war. Women must unite as "the mothers of the
world" to revolt against man-made wars and insist on world peace. As
one impassioned woman wrote in the New York Times:
If I could gather into one voice the voices of all the mothers of
the world, I would cry aloud in trumpet tones to all the Govern-
ments of the world. "This is the last war the women of the
world will help to fight. If the man-handled Governments of the
world continue to -prepare for wars in the expectation of using up
the lives of our sons in their conflicts, they are hereby fore-
warned that not a woman of us all will give aid and godspeed
when the call to arms comes, and we will teach our daughters
this revolt against war, world without end."
One way that women disseminated their message of peace was through
their pageants. Even though their prewar peace pageants had failed to
prevent the conflict, women still believed that dramatic creations could
influence people to ad in a peaceful manner. Despite the government's
refusal to join the League of Nations, most women who wrote pageants
Margarita A. Stewart, New York Times, 20 Apri l 1921, 12. For a history of the
WILPF see Catherine Foster, Women for All Seasons: The Story of the Women's
International League for Peace and Freedom (Athens: University of Georgia Press,
1989); for the WPU see Harriet Alonso, The Woman's Peace Union and the Outlawry
of War, 1921-1942 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989); for the NCCCW
see Susan Zeiger, " Finding a Cure for War: Women's Politi cs and the Peace
Movement in the 1920s," journal of Social History 24 (1990): 69-86. For an article
that deals with the problems faced by feminist peace groups during the 1920s see joan
Jensen, "All Pink Sisters: The War Department and the Feminist Movement in the
1920s," in Decades of Discontent: The Women 's Movement, 7920-7940, ed. Lois
Scharf and Joan M. jensen (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983), 199-222.
Women and Pageantry 67
during the twenties envisioned America as the leader of some kind of
international organization. These women conveyed their faith in
international unity and equality of all nations as the path to peace, at the
same time, however, that they portrayed America as the savior of the
world, implying that it was superior to other nations.
One of the earliest pageants to promote international ism after the war
was written by Ethel Allen Murphy, an English teacher at the Girls' High
School, Louisville, Kentucky. In 1919 she wrote The Triumph of
Humanity: A Pageant of Victory, Reconstruction, and Democracy, which
was issued by the Woman's Committee Council of National Defense,
Kentucky Division.
Designed to be performed by school children from
sixth grade through high school, the pageant shows "symbolically the
story of Tyranny's downfall and Humanity's triumph and of America's far-
reaching activities, with a vision of Reconstruction and the World League
of Peace." The first two episodes are typical: Tyranny, War and Death
seize control over Humanity and are then overcome by Right, Liberty and
Love led by the Allied nations, especially America. They are aided by
YWCA, Camp Service, Liberty Bonds, the American Library Association,
and War Mother, dressed in a classical white gown with purple drapery,
a gold star in her hair and carrying a service flag. The last episode shows
"Humanity Triumphant," a scene in which Humanity clothed in the
Mantle of Democracy, flanked by Peace and Life, is approached by the
Nations of the Earth, both the old nations and the new ones. The number
of new nations is deliberately left vague, since it was still not known how
many there would be. The nations are joined by Childhood and Hope
as children dance their ethnic folk dances and everyone lifts hands to the
This pageant was but one of many written by women from 1919 to
1929 promoting international cooperation and understanding in order to
create a lasting worldwide peace. Many of these pageants were written
for children. As the nurturers of the young, women were only too aware
of their responsibility to promote tolerance and global unity among the
next generation of citizens in order to prevent any. recurrence of war in
future years. Florence Brewer Boeckel, the Education Director of the
National Council for the Prevention of War (NCPW), publ ished a guide
titled A Handbook for Peace Workers, which acknowledged the
importance of "Fetes and pageants, performances of music; in fact, all
appeals to the artistic sense that will encourage a mutual knowledge of
Ethel Allen Murphy, The Triumph of Humanity: A Pageant of Victory,
Reconstruction, and Democracy, William Chauncy Langdon Papers, john Hay
Library, Brown University. The following description and quotations are from this
different civilizations and peoples."
She recommended using national
holidays, such as Armistice Day, Columbus Day, and Goodwill Day (18
May, the anniversary of the opening of the First Hague Peace Conference
in 1899), to teach children the spirit of international cooperation. She
published two volumes of plays and activities for -children called Books
of Goodwill for the NCPW, an organization that was instrumental in
publishing pageants, programs, and songs to be used in schools and
youth groups. Hazel MacKaye, a leading innovator in pageantry during
the prewar years, as well as an active suffragist and pacifist, also
contributed a children's pageant as a celebration for Good Will Day,
Good Will, the Magician, a Peace Pageant for Children, written for the
National Child Welfare Association and the NCPW. The character Good
Will introduces the children of many lands to each other and sings:
In hearts too young for enmity
There I ies the way to make men free;
When childrens friendships are world-wide
New ages will be glorified.
Let child love child, and strife will cease.
Disarm the hearts, for that is Peace.
So many pageants about international peace were written during the
twenties, aimed at both children and adults, that it seemed that America
would never go to war again. Sometimes the pageants traced the
worldwide development of civilization from prehistory to the present. At
other times they commemorated some major historical moments of peace
in world history, thereby giving credit for peace to humanity rather than
to any particular nations. Where individual nations were represented, the
emphasis was usually on the cumulative contribution of all, but even here
America was singled out for special praise. For instance, Maud C.
Newberrys The Gifts of Nations, a Pageant for Rural Schools, traces the
development of democracy and civilization from the Greeks to modern
times, with particular emphasis on the contributions of the Allied
nations-Italy, England, France, and Holland. America, the culmination
Fiorence Brewer Boeckel, Between War and Peace: A Handbook for Peace
Workers (New York: Macmillan Co., 1928), 64.
Hazel MacKaye, Good Will, the Magician, a Peace Pageant for Children, Harris
Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University. For more on MacKaye see Tackel ,
"Women and American Pageantry"; Bzowski, " ' Torchbearers of the Earth' : Women,
Pageantry, and World War I"; and Karen). Blair, " Pageantry for Women's Rights:
The Career of Hazel MacKaye, 1913-1 923," Theatre Survey, 31 (May 1990): 23-46.
Women and Pageantry
of all these efforts, accepts the gifts of the other nations and returns them
to the world through her own inventions, her agriculture, and her
participation in the war.
In the majority of these postwar pageants there is a rallying of the
countries that were involved in the war (although Germany is not very
often depicted) and a mutual resolution to put aside disagreements and
follow Peace, or Christ, who is the personification of Peace.
despite the emphasis on equality among nations, America is singled out
for a special role. Many times in such pageants America is given one of
the few speaking parts, and her words are the most serious and moving
in the pageant. (America in the abstract is almost invariably a woman, as
is Peace.)
Some of these pageants were obviously written as propaganda or
praise for the League of Nations. Esther Willard Bates shows the
countries of the world coming together in her A Pageant of the League of
Free Nations. Although many of the nations join for selfish reasons,
America's reasons are purely selfless. She sees this league as a mere
extension of the family:
And now that we have suffered,
All with each and each with all, can we not, too,
Build our great hall of government and dwell,
As once the Family, the Town, the State,
In One Great League, which shall in God's good time,
Take all the world?
Because the pageants promote internationalism they are usually
generous in their portrayal of all the nations; some even accept a contrite
Maud C. Newberry, The Gifts of Nations, a Pageant of Rural Schools (Washing-
ton, D.C. : Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, 1923). See also Winifred
Ayres Hope, Horizons, a Pageant Play in the Interests of International Amity (Katonah,
N.Y.: published by the author, 1926); Dorothy Elderdice, The Sheathing of the
Sword, a Pageant of Peace (publ ished by the author, 1922); Alice CD. Riley, The
Brotherhood of Man, a Pageant of International Peace (New York: A.S. Barnes and
Co., 1924); and Mabel Wain, Conquests of Peace, a Pageant (The Lyceum and
Chataqua Managers Assoc., 1922).
1t is almost impossible to separate the peace pageants from the Christian
mi ssionary movement. Most of the women who wrote these pageants saw the
connection between Christianity and pacifism as vital and indisputabl e.
Esther Willard Bates, A Pageant of the League of Free Nations (Boston: Joi nt
Committee for a League of Free Nati ons, September 1919).
Germany in the league. However, a few do suggest that some discrimi-
nation existed even in the midst of good fellowship. For instance, in
Madeleine Sweeny Miller's The Fruits of Peace Japan is described as "not
a 'yellow peril' but a nation of human beings in whose hearts, as in those
of most of humanity there can be discovered some of the yellow gold of
good will." And in Honor at the Bar by Elizabeth M. Bartlett, at a
_Convention of Nations, Turkey is portrayed as a comic, clumsy character
dressed in baggy pants and a turban. He announces, "Our beloved ruler
bade me say to you first of all that Turkey would have gladly fought by
the side of the Allies in the late war [loud whisper] had we known they
would win!" Later he even pulls a knife on Uncle Sam.
In the first years after the war many people believed that America
would join the League of Nations and provide her leadership to the
world. However, with America's refusal to participate and its endorse-
ment of isolationism rather than internationalism, the League was
doomed almost from the start to be nothing but a symbol. Nonetheless,
the peace groups worked on in their efforts to prevent any future wars,
and they did not diminish their faith in the League throughout the
twenties. Esse V. Hathaway celebrated the tenth anniversary of the
League of Nations with a pageant titled The March of the Nations, setting
forth the accomplishments of the League over the previous decade in the
areas of health, human welfare, disarmament, financial reconstruction,
security, and boundary disputes. In a review of the years, this pageant
also shows the new hope among pacifists at the end of the 1920s that the
recently signed Kellogg-Briand Pact (in which eventually sixty-two nations
agreed to outlaw war) would truly bring a lasting peace. In the pageant,
the pact is presented to the Spirit of the League of Nations by World
Security in the year 1929. The pageant ends with the Spirit of the League
For what these past ten years have done our hearts are fi lied with
gratitude, for on that work we have a hope for better understand-
ing among the peoples of the earth. Through that understanding
we have faith the world will come at last to be secure and find
Madeleine Sweeny Miller, The Fruits of Peace: A Pageant for Young People
(New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1925); Elizabeth M. Bartlett, Honor at the
Bar, a Civic Drama (Norwood, Mass.: Ambrose Press, Inc. , 1922).
Women and Pageantry
a sounder peace-a-peace that never can be broken. May power
be given us to bring this gift to all mankind.
Women pacifists realized that internationalism was not the only
means of eliminating war. They also understood that peace begins at
home. In another group of pageants women looked less at relations
between nations than at some of the more hidden reasons contributing
to their own nation's unrest. In these pageants women renewed their
prewar pacifist awareness that many" institutions contribute to the dangers
of militarism and to disturbances that may lead to violence and dissen-
sion throughout the nation. Because they believed that war damages the
whole body of society, women argued that it must be eliminated as
decisively as any physical disease. In 1926 Constance D'Arcy Mackay
wrote another pageant, America Triumphant: A Pageant of Patriotism, to
be used for patriotic holidays. Although the wars of the past are
presented in this pageant, by this time there is no glory in them. The
horror of war was too evident by 1926. Similarly, the villains that must
be vanquished are no longer as tangible as an evil nation or an inhuman
Hun, but instead are incorporeal. Science admonishes America: "Yours,
too, America, Greed, Ignorance, Poverty, Disease threatening the ways
of your life. One half the energy and wealth you spend on war used
against these would bring true Freedom." America, ashamed, cries out
passionately, "Oh, War, cease from all other wars! Make war on these."
The pageant ends with War, Arts and Sciences joining together to
vanquish these ancient scourgesY
In the same vein, but from a different perspective, Miller's The Fruits
of Peace shows the benefits of a world at peace, free of all the evils that
attend war. Spirit of Peace shows the youth of the world the abundance
that can be theirs if war is ended-the fruits of the harvest, good health,
Christian education. At the end of this pageant the audience is asked to
Esse V. Hathaway, The March of the Nations (New York: Committee for the
Tenth Anniversary of the League of Nations, 1929). For another pageant that extols
a "League of Peace" and a "Court of Law" see Clover Hartz Seelig, The Choice, a
Peace Pageant (192?), Harris Collection, john Hay Library, Brown University.
Constance D'Arcy Mackay, America Triumphant: A Pageant of Patriotism (New
York: D. Appleton and Co., 1926). This pageant is unique because it portrays War
as a female, described as "like a streak of flame, in scarlet, tattered, wind-blown
draperi es, with wildly floating maenad-like red hair and reaching arms ... a red
domino mask over her burning eyes."
recite the "Warless World Creed of Federated Council of Churches of
Christ in America" and dedicate themselves to follow God's moral law,
offer unselfish service, and work for Christian internationalism and a
warless world.
These pageants that promoted pacifism in a more abstract way than
just a call for a league of nations sometimes showed a sophisticated
awareness of the internal enemies of peace within America itself. All was
not right in paradise, and the women who wrote these pageants, whether
because of their belief in peace or their faith in Christianity, felt called
upon to show the nation its flaws. It is sometimes surprising to find in the
midst of these allegorical presentations outspoken references to labor
disputes, discrimination toward certain nationalities, and fears of
socialistic or communistic takeovers.
Women pageant writers did not hesitate to show that Americans did
not always practice what they preached. While many people espoused
tolerance of all nations and nationalities, they sometimes showed a
disturbing tendency to discriminate against particular ethnic groups. In
Daughters of Liberty, Lura Warner Callin first praises the nation for its
fairness in dealing with its ethnic mix and providing schools and a just
legal system for all. But in the last scene she shows her concern for
certain groups-such as the Negro, the Indian, the Polish and Italian who
call out for the blessings of education and freedom but are ignored. In
this pageant Columbia, shamed by these unanswered calls, enlists the
Daughters of Liberty to light torches and spread their light to the world.
Even more surprising in the postwar pageants is the suggestion of
labor unrest and unfair employment practices that disturb the picture of
a peaceable nation. Fanny Ursula Payne included The Highway of the
King, "a pageant play of the rise of the common man," in her 1919
collection of Plays and Pageants of Democracy. In this play Andrew,
who represents Everyman, travels the highways of the past and the
present and finally the future. There he finds working men rebelling
against Capital . and demanding better pay and working conditions.
Working women demand more safety and cleanliness on the job and a
chance for their children to play rather than work. Andrew, the common
man, becomes king and calls on Arbitration, Liberty and justice to settle
Miller, The Fruits of Peace.
Lura Warner Callin, Daughters of Liberty: a Pageant (New York: Lorenz
Publishing Co., 1923).
Women and Pageantry 73
the disputes between Labor and Capital. The pageant ends with the
entrance of Peace, Love and Joy.
Adria Barkuloo deals briefly with ethnic discrimination in her
pageant, My America, but she is even more explicit about other fai I ures
of her country. One character explains what the nation needs:
Love that makes a nation work together for the common good;
love for my neighbor that means not exploitation but my
recognition of his right to live in comfort, receiving a decent
wage for his labor. Love for little children that makes me see
that they must be freed from the curse of hazardous, harmful,
unhealthful labor, which will hamper them in their endeavor to
become happy, useful men and womenY
Barkuloo ends her pageant by challenging Religion and Industry to work
together to instill the golden rule in the work place. At the end America
is confident that all these problems can be eliminated by her handmaid-
ens, ''the Christian womanhood of our dear land."
Another pageant that promotes tolerance of all nationalities in
America also shows that such tolerance is more an ideal than a reality.
In Florence M. Eldridge's The Growth of a Nation, the Spirit of a National
Ideal is confronted by Japanese, Negroes, Child Laborers, Day Laborers,
and Working Girls who describe their mistreatment in America. The
Spirit then speaks out about the failure of the country:
America, wili you, too, drive me on?
Have you forgotten the ideals that quickened people's hearts
When first they sought these shores?
Have you forgotten the different races that fought as one
And founded this republic?
America, I look across your land,
Ordained to brotherhood and service,
And I see childhood debased.
On every side, I hear intoiPrance's voice
Mouthing insidious lies on creed,
On thought, on race.
Fanny Ursula Payne, "The Highway of the King" in Plays and Pageants of
cl Adria D. Barkuloo, My America: A Pageant (Cincinnati: The Woman's Home
Missionary Society, 192?J. In this pageant a Jew, a Negro, and an Indian complain of
the discrimination they face.
Class division and racial pride
Are building deadly walls
Of hate and strife, unless I still intolerance's voice
What can I do? Justice and Goodwill
Are not enough!
However, according to the ending of this pageant, Justice and Goodwill ,
along with Understanding and Love, will prove enough in the future.
Even in Bates's A Pageant of the League of Free Nations, which
ostensibly depicts a world of unity, there is a disturbing admission of
conflict. The League is threatened by Autocracy and his henchman
Anarchy, who maintain they are abetted by Labor. Anarchy claims credit
for the labor unrest in every land:
For I foment thy strikes,
Shootings and riots, bombing, the Black Hand
Hiding the red. Aha, you cannot kill me,-
For ten lives grow from every one that's slain.
To woo Labor to his side Anarchy offers him "the very world .. . the
equal distribution of wealth." His methods of attaining this wealth will
So simple! A riot here!
A mill put to the torch, and then
The road made easy; arm the mob;
Machine guns at the corner,-
And thou shalt all the earth inherit,
So thou destroy it first-
But Labor refuses Anarchy, saying his job is to build, not destroy. He
pledges to defend the League, but he also issues his demands, which
include an eight-hour work day, one day off a week, the right to organize,
a living wage, an end to child labor, equal pay for men and women doing
equal work, and fairness to foreign-born workers. As all the countries
agree to his demands, Labor saves their lives when Anarchy tries to throw
a bomb. Even Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey renounce
Autocracy and join the League but only after facing Truth.
Fiorence M. Eldridge, The Growth of a Nation (New York: The Womans Press,
Women and Pageantry 75
What is common in all these pageants of peace and internationalism
is the hopefulness at the end. No matter how serious the international or
national problem may be, it can be overcome with love, understanding
and, particularly, womanly reason. Surely, the writers implied, a world
that had undergone the butchery of the past war, would never allow itself
to follow the path to military action again. Unfortunately, as we know
from the perspective of the 1990s, all these pageants intended to educate
and influence humanity and to glorify internationalism could not prevent
history from repeating itself. The hopefulness expressed in these pageants
of the twenties was short-lived. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and
the world began its unbroken slide into another war. As one historian
said, "In a broad sense, collective security died and World War II was
born in 1931 on the wind-swept plains of Manchuria."
The worsening world situation was certainly evident by 1934 when
another pageant, The Summoning of the Nations, a Short Pageant of the
Changing World, was written by Elizabeth Woodbridge Morris under the
auspices of the league of Nations. This pageant included a quote from
playwright Charles Rann Kennedy on its cover, revealing all too clearly
that the pleas for international understanding, a league of right-minded
nations, and the outlawry of war had failed. However, even at this late
date, there was still the hope that pageants could influence people
toward peace.
This eloquent and moving plea for a New Deal among the
nations is written in a form so simple as to be well within the
dramatic capacity of any amateur group. In view of the present
world emergency, it should be put on AT ONCE in every
church, school, club, and public playground throughout the
Perhaps then, the women who wrote peace pageants after World
War I were left with what they had before the war began, nothing but a
reliance on their own womanhood, motherhood and a belief in Christian
pacifism. Men had failed again; even internationalism had failed.
Perhaps the best women could do was to continue insisting that their
unique female view be considered in world diplomacy. Two postwar
Thomas A. Bailey, The American Pageant, A History of the Republic (Boston:
D.C. Heath Co., 1956), 829.
Eiizabeth Woodbridge Morris, The Summoning of the Nations, a Short Pageant
of the Changing World, written under the auspices of the League of Nations
Association, Inc. (New York: Samuel French, 1934).
pageants seem to suggest this. The Way of Peace, a Pageant by Laura
Scherer Copenhaver, Katharine Scherer Cronk, and Ruth Mougey Worrell
presents mothers and children as the providers of happiness and as the
voices calling for peace:
Let the mothers of earth cry out for Peace,
Say ye to the rulers, Wars must cease;
For the sake of the hopeless mothers who mourn
For the sake of the children yet unborn
Although the nations of the world presented in this pageant speak of
peace, they do not cease their nationalistic songs and marches. The
authors show that Militarism is certainly not the answer. Nor are
Industrialism, Science, Education, or the Artsl an of which can be coerced
to join the cause of war. Only the spirit of Christ along with the wisdom
of Motherhood can change them into implements of peace.
The voice of Motherhood, like the rushing of a mighty wind,
spreads over the thrones and council halls of earth. Before it are
swept the clamor of selfish state-craft and the hysteria of fear.
The nations meet in friendly courts where justice rules and
where the voice of wisdom speaks in the spirit of co-operation.
The hands of men meet, not in hate, but in brotherhood, and the
disputes of men and of nations are settled, not by gunpowder
and steel and poison gas but by just and friendly councilsY
And finally, at the time that the peace organizations must have
realized that their efforts were going to fail again, Marion Holbrook wrote
The Distaff-A Pageant Play of Woman 's Progress. This pageant was
predominantly a history of great women, beginning with Sappho and
continuing to the most recent times, showing women's professional and
political gains. Although it did not really deal with the issue of war and
peace, the fina:'l episode reveals the Woman of the Future who is
synonymous with Peace. Her words serve as a summary of the faith
shown throughout the peace pageants from 1914 to the end of the 1920s
that women, not men in power, and not governments or institutions, but
only women offer hope for the future:
Laura Scherer Copenhaver, Katharine Scherer Cronk, and Ruth Mougey Worrell,
The Way of Peace, a Pageant (Philadelphia: Women' s Missionary Society, 1924).
Women and Pageantry 77
WOMAN OF THE FUTURE: I am that deathless hope of all the
world whom men call "peace." When shall I come to walk
the earth forever? Angels heralded my coming once, but men
rejected me. For when Peace comes to earth, men must give
up so much that they hold dear. I ask a sacrifice they wi II not
make-a sacrifice of power and vainglory. My symbols are
the pen, the plough, the star (with outstretched hands). Take
them, and with your minds and hands and hearts make you
the sacrifice. I shall be waiting for you in the future.
ALL WOMEN: (with arms outstretched) We come! We come! We
have been seeking you throughout the ages. 0 Peace, we
seek you still!
In the decade after the end of World War I women continued to
write pageants with renewed purpose, even though pageantry itself
changed during this decade. The great community pageants of the teen
years of America were over. Except for some magnificent victory
celebrations, most cities in the United States did not present any more
pageants that drew upon all the resources of the community. During the
twenties, pageantry, like so many aspects of American life, became
commercialized as large companies such as the John B. Rogers Producing
Company of Fostoria, Ohio, provided ready-made pageants that could be
rented out to any community that wanted them. Most communities that
did continue to present dramatic shows of their own changed from the
one-time form of the pageant to the yearly portrayal of some event of
local interest presented in a historical festival.
The writing of pageants did not end, however. Women in particular
kept the art alive, but the pageants that they wrote during the twenties
were designed more for presentation in schools and as celebrations of
national holidays than as the massive outdoor spectacles of the prewar
years. Women also kept the cause of peace alive through their pageants.
After the glow of victory had worn off, women wrote pageants that called
for serious efforts to achieve an international league of nations. In their
pageants they also recognized the need for justice toward ethnic groups
and economic classes within the country. And, finally, women never lost
their faith in themselves, as women, to serve as instruments of peace.
Although the woman of the late twenties had traveled a long way from
Marion Holbrook, The Distaff-A Pageant Play of Woman's Progress (1931 ?),
Harris Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University.
See Glassberg for the best summary of the demise of the community pageant.
her foremothers of the late nineteenth century and the early years of the
twentieth, she retained her belief in " Womanhood" to provide the torch
that would light the world to peace.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 199 5)
Alan Schneider on Broadway
Whether CHfford Odets praised the potential of film or damned the
influence of movies depended usually on whether he was. heading for
Hollywood or coming home to New York. Alan Schneider was more
consistent in his attitude toward Broadway. The intensity of his language
did change, however, according to the occasion. In Entrances, that
spirited account of his career up to the mid-1960s, he called Broadway
"that rather rancidj ungle" and put flesh on the metaphor with the stories.
he had to tell. Falling somewhere between recolfectron in tranquility and
a look back in anger, Entrances was written after more than a decade of
infrequent and disastrous returns to Broadway, but even when Schneider
was successfully clearing a space for himself in that "rancid jungle," he
knew that Broadway was not a likely home for " the impossible possible
theatre" for which he worked, of which he dreamed. When his first
Broadway production, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, was midway
in its successful run, he used an interview in the New York Times (21
March 1954) to indicate how Broadways's cash consciousness affected
the mounting of a play. "You wake up every day and you think: 'My
God! There's $75,000 tied up in this!'" During the run of Anastasia, his
second hit, he told Emory Lewis in Cue (7 May 1955), "Broadway itself
is not so much a theatre as a series of shows, with each production the
same dice game routine-hit or flop gambling."
In the years that followed, as escalating costs made Pennypacker's
$75,000 sound like petty cash, Schneider continued in interviews,
speeches, and articles to condemn "a system concerned with prices but
not with values; with profit not benefit; that recognizes only success or
failure not achievement; that plays a vicious game of Russian roulette
with talents and I ives and work; that always ends by corrupting its own
eaters and eating its own corruption." Those are Schneider' s words, his
contribution to one of those symposia that the New York Times Arts and
Leisure section used to dote on. It was 1969; only six new plays had
0 rigi nall y prepared for presentation at the Alan Schneider Conference at the
University of Wisconsin, 8-11 March 1990.
opened by 23 November and the Times asked, "Has Broadway Had It?"
Schneider answered, "Not yet," and then went on to explain why. it was
"just a matter of time." His explanation-the description of the system
I have just quoted-is pure Schneider, but so, too, was the " Not yet. "
Back in 1963, despite the success of his " present enterprise'' (Who 's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), he gave an acid characterization of Broadway
practices in a lecture at the University of Texas in which he said that
Broadway theatre "appeals to the lowest common denominator" but
added " and I know I have been a part of it and am a part of it. "
Schneider's relationship to Broadway, then, is more complex than his
vigorous and generally accurate diagnoses of its ills suggest. He knew
Broadway was a demirep, but he had a lech for the old girl. What's
more, he thought that the love of a good man could reform her although
whenever they got together, she turned out to be as demanding and
difficult as she had always been. But he did keep coming back-28 times
between 1953 (Pennypacker) and 1980 (The Lady from Dubuque). Thirty
times, if you count the limited run at the ANTA Theatre of his " Salute to
France" production of The Skin of Our Teeth (1955) and the Helen
Hayes The Glass Menagerie at the City Center (1956), but neither of these
shows was fueled by the standard Broadway desire-to run forever and
to make everyone involved rich and happy.
Before I consider Schneider's Broadway shows, let me enter a caveat.
It may seem odd in a discussion of a celebrated director, but I cannot say
much about his directorial contributions to the hits and flops that make
up his Broadway career. If I had consulted his preparatory notes on these
productions, which I assume rest secure in some archive or other, I might
have been able to sort out the contributions of author, director, and
performer. Schneider would have been the last man to trust a critic's eye
or his memory. Back in 1948, after his first New York production,
Schneider had a piece in the New York Times (8 August), in which,
borrowing a remark from GeorgeS. Kaufman, he insisted that only the
playwright and the director know who does what to a production. In
preparation for this paper, I read through the dai ly reviews of all
Schneider's Broadway shows-a sobering experience-and it is clear that
reviewers do not have the ability or the space or the inclination to talk
about direction. For the most part, Schneider was ignored or handed a
meaningless compliment. Reviewers would occasionally get specifi c for
a sentence or two, but as often as not even these would edge into the
amorphous; see Martin Gottfried's ritual attacks on Schneider in
Women's Wear Daily. Richard Watts, in the New York Post, a sometimes
perceptive and usually congenial reviewer, provides a perfect example
of how to kill a director with kindness. In his review of Ballad of the Sad
Cafe (31 October 1963), Watts wrote, " Alan Schneider's direction and
Alan Schneider 81
Ben Edwards's set are helpful." In his notices for Tiny Alice (30
December 1964), and Box-Mao-Box (1 October 1968), he used almost
exactly the same words, substituting William Ritman for Ben Edwards, of
course. My favorite critical nod to Schneider comes from Whitney
Bolton's review of You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's
Running (Morning Telegraph, 15 March 1967): "Alan Schneider's
direction has the sure-footedness of a puma on the prowl." To be fair to
the reviewers, I should mention that, although Entrances has much about
the pains and the occasional pleasures of getting a play on stage,
Schneider says very little about the details of production. In 1963, for
Alan Levy's profile of him in the New York Times Magazine (20
October), Schneider deplored obvious inventiveness from directors and
said, "I really am my most satisfied when nobody knows I was there at
Schneider's first "sort of Broadway" production came in 1948, a
staging for ANTA's Experimental Series of A Long Way Home, the
Randolph Goodman-Walter Carroll transfer of The Lower Depths to a
black flophouse in the South. "This was my introduction to the New
York syndrome," Schneider says in Entrances, "The maneuvering that
goes on along the sidelines, the double-talk, the sparring for every
possible advantage, the playing of one person off another." Although
the notices were not at all bad, Schneider says that ANT A. abandoned him
and the play, and he returned to Catholic University, to the summer
theatres where he usually worked and finally to the new Arena Stage. It
was more than five years before he made his real Broadway debut-with
the "wrong play," as he says in Entrances. He had optioned Robert
Anderson's All Summer Long and persuaded Zelda Fichandler to let him
stage it at the Arena as a prelude to Broadway production, only to watch
the plans collapse when Brooks Atkinson's favorable review (New York
Times, 29 January 1953) doubted that so slight a play could go on
Broadway. Enter The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker. All Summer Long
did make it to Broadway in 1954, presumably because Tea and Sympathy
had been such a hit, but it lingered for only a couple of months. Had
Schneider been the kind of theatre professional who made judicious
career choices and had he known what he had in Pennypacker, Liam
O'Brien's comedy would have been the proper debut for Broadway and
not simply a happy accident.
By the mid-1960s, after his baptism by Samuel Beckett, Schneider
had become adamant about the primacy of the playwright in production.
"What a director does do is try to understand what the playwright wants
to say. . .the play should be the star," he told an interviewer in 1964
(Gaslight Review, January). A year earli er, Edward Albee told Alan Levy
that Schneider's "main concern is with getting the playwright's work on
the stage the way the playwright intended it. " In the mid-1950s,
however, working in the theatre in which Elia Kazan and Joshua Logan
were the directorial stars, Schneider had less compunction about fixing
a playwright's work. In an appearance at the Overseas Press Club in
1965, he said that he and Robert Whitehead had written the last act of
Pennypacker, and he has a funny scene in Entrances in which the director
and the producer, like the loony screenwriters in Boy Meets Girl,
improvise the last act while the ostensible author takes down their gems
on the typewriter. "Mr. O'Brien supplies the kind of solution that would
melt the hardest heart, " wrote Brooks Atkinson in his review of the
"uproarious show" (New York Times, 31 December 1953). In another
mild mea culpa in 1971, Schneider told Emory Lewis (Piayfare, May) that
Anastasia was "an inferior script, and only important for that wonderful
recognition scene in the final act. [He meant in the second act.] There I
did try to improve matters and to add a thing or two. But generally this
is the wrong approach." Of changes in that scene, he says in Entrances
only that he persuaded Guy Bolton to make a few cuts. He says, too, that
he worked on rewrites with Lorenzo Semple Jr., on his adaptation of
jacques Deval's Tonight in Samarkand (1955), but the magic of
Pennypacker had melted away. As late as 1965, he was making
suggestions to Joe Orton about "cutting or rewriting his script [Entertain-
ing Mr. Sloan] for American consumption, "but presumably by then he
was doing it for the sake of the play and not in quest of "the biggest hit
of the season," which he said was all the producers wanted of
"I was now a real Broadway director," he said in Entrances, at the
end of the chapter on Anastasia. "And now I felt that I had 'made it' with
something approaching quality material." He had made it with a period
comedy (Pennypacker) and a romantic melodrama (Anastasia) , both of
which he accepted reluctantly, and despite the brief run of All Summer
Long, which, however diffuse and sentimental, was his own choice. I
was not yet a professional playgoer in those days, but I did see all three
of Schneider's frrst Broadway productions. The one that I remember best
is Pennypacker-its atmosphere, not its details. A notoriously amiable
play, it bathed audiences in benignity. At intermission, playgoers did not
do the usual instant dissections; they stood around, smiling, as though
they had been hypnotized by good feeling. I recently re-read the play
and found it an efficient comedy, but an unlikely vehicle to carry the
heavy load of geniality that I recall. I like to think that the
prowling puma, had a lot to do with that lobby full of good humor.
At this point, Schneider was primed for success as a conventional
director, " the poor man's josh Logan," as he says in Entrances. Even a
mistake like Tonight in Samarkand was not likely to hold him back;
Alan Schneider 83
everyone is allowed his flops-or "errors of judgement," as Schneider
calls them, his tongue only slightly in his cheek. In the Times Magazine
profile, written when Schneider was riding high with Virginia Woolf, Alan
Levy tells how the director's first Broadway success stopped cold for two
reasons. Mary Martin, annoyed that Helen Hayes was getting more
laughs that she was in the Paris production of The Skin of Our Teeth,
hired her own director to second-guess Schneider before the play filled
its American engagements. Waiting for Godot, which Schneider had so
much wanted to direct, became a painful, if farcical, disaster when the
producer, selling Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell as stars, tried to package
Beckett for the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. After the Codot
fiasco in 1956, he had only three Broadway shows in the next six years.
All of them were flops, although only two of them were what I would call
errors of judgment. Hugh Mills's The Little Glass Clock (1956), a bogus
French farce that Schneider did just for the money, and Howard
Teichmann's Miss Lonelyhearts (1957), a wooden adaptation of Nathaniel
West's novel, probably deserved their quick closings, although
Teichmann's play was at least attempting to deal with serious material.
The third Schneider offering was Shimon Wincelberg's Kataki
(1959L a good play and a good production that, in a better world, would
have lasted for more than twenty performances. Kataki is a World War
II piece, a two-character work in which an American .. and a Japanese
soldier find themselves isolated on an island in the Pacific and form a
community of sorts-not a simple accomplishment since they do not
speak each others's language. Brooks Atkinson (New York Times, 10
Apri I 1959) found the American "monumentally uninteresting," which
may be one reason the show folded, and Walter Kerr's review (New York
Herald Tribune, 10 April) was mainly a love letter to Sessue Hayakawa,
who played the Japanese soldier. For me, the play's strength was the
weakness Atkinson found in it. Essentially a long monologue, beautifully
performed by Ben Piazza, the play is all Alvin-a nice guy, a slob, a
bigot, a bit of an idiot. His verbal shifts, from self-pity to braggadocio,
from important matters to trivialities, from accusation to buddy-buddy
chat, give the play a richness that the plot and situation cannot command.
I do not know what Schneider did exactly, but he kept his two characters
working off each other so effectively that a gimmick play became a
truthful one.
Kataki , which would have been more comfortable in a small house,
really belonged off-Broadway, and it was there or in regional theatres that
Schneider was doing the work that helped define him as a serious
director. His productions of Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Happy
Days had expunged the stain of the Miami Godot, and he had begun the
long partnership with Edward Albee that would bring him back to
Broadway. In the early 1960s, he served for a year as drama critic on the
New Leader. In the last of his New Leader pieces (4 March 1963),
pondering the failure of Max Frische's Andorra and Jack Richardson's
Lorenzo, he wondered if such plays "could serve the needs of an ultra-
sophisticated, ultra-blase mass audience. Broadway's patrons are attuned
to sensation, speed and sentimentality .. . The New York theatregoer is
generally disinclined to allegory (sweet or sardonic), irony (bitter or
otherwise), moral fervor, or poetry (whether subtle or overblown) ." The
unusual thing about the review is that it was published more than three
months after the opening of Who' s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when the
play, pleasing that twice-ultra-ed audience, had clearly settled in for a
long run. Perhaps it had sensation enough to make up for its irony, its
moral fervor, its poetry, but the success of Virgina Woolf was the
exception not the rule. As usual, Schneider had correctly diagnosed
Broadway tastes and, not surprisingly, he would go on to make choices
to confound Broadway expectations.
"Since 'Virgina Woolf' opened a year ago, I've been offered more
Broadway plays to direct than in my previous 10 years in New York, "
Schneider told Alan levy. These included "practically every serious play
that's being put on" and "almost every unintelligible and esoteric
imitation of Be-ckett, Pinter, Albee or lonesco" (New York Times
Magazine, 20 October 1963). Richard P. Cooke, reviewing The Birthday
Party a few years later (Wall Street journal, 5 October 1967), called
Schneider "a specialist in plays of non-meaning," and he seems to have
meant the phrase positively. For the most part, what Schneider chose to
do on Broadway in the 1960s was Albee. He did all of Albee's plays
from Virginia Woolf to Box-Mao-Box, except for Albee's adaptation of
Giles Cooper's Everything in the Garden and the musical Breakfast at
Tiffany's, which closed during previews. The relationship between Albee
and Schneider is too complex, too extended for consideration here; it
deserves a paper-or a book-of its own. For an account of Schneider on
Broadway, it is enough to say that the two men had one smash hit
(Virginia W o o n ~ three respectable runs (Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Tiny
Alice, A Delicate Balance), and two "errors of judgement" (Malcolm,
Box-Mao-Box) .
If Albee's work did not conform to Broadway's tastes as Schneider
defined them in the New Leader, most of the director' s other choices in
the mid-1960s were even less likely to ring chimes in the box office. Joe
Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloan, which has since come into its own, was
an unpleasant surprise to most of the reviewers and largely unseen by
New York audiences. It was gone after thirteen performances, but even
so it lasted almost twice as long as Slapstick Tragedy (1966), the first
Tennessee Williams work to suggest that the playwright might be
Alan Schneider 85
forsaking Delta country for more experimental territory. The Williams
double-bill is one of the few Schneider productions about which I am
certain of my immediate reaction to the director. My review (The
Reporter, 24 March 1966), which dismissed The Mutilated and seemed
to like Gnadiges Fraulein, faulted Schneider for punching too hard for
laughs in the latter play: by painting clown faces on Polly and Molly, for
instance, and by making the pantomime dinner at the end so busy that it
obscured the Fraulein's preparations for her race to the dock. In
retrospect, I can see the logic of Schneider's choices. Clown makeup is
only a visual extension of the way Williams conceived of the comic pair,
a conception that recurs in so many of his plays (he described Flor and
Bessie in The Rose Tattoo as ''two female clowns
), and his stage
direction in Fraulein says that the exit whistle is "delayed a bit for interior
Still, I wonder if the grotesque comedy might have
worked better if it had not so strenuously declared its cartoon quality.
Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (1967) might seem to be one with
the Orton and Williams plays, but at the time it came to Broadway, it was
already popular around the country; Pinter had acquired an ardent band
of admirers; and Schneider's off-Broadway productions-The Dumb-
waiter, The Collection, The Lover-identified the playwright and the
director as a winning pair. The Birthday Party ran for about four months
although the people who came to it may not have .. been the usual
Broadway audience. They, presumably, were busy with another
Schneider offering, an anomaly among his 1960s directorial
choices-Robert Anderson's You Know I Can/t Hear You When the
Water's Running (1967) . In Entrances, Schneider calls Water a "fairly
conventional new play, or rather four one-act and says that he was
"mildly amused
when he first read them-comments that evince more
enthusiasm than I felt when I saw them. He suggests that the production
was risky because evenings of short plays were not what Broadway
expected, a!though a revival of Noel Coward's Tonight at 8:30 at the
same time was a reminder that such a program had Broadway forbears.
Not that the reception of Coward's anthology-originally or in re-
vival-could have prepared anyone for the extent of Anderson's
commercial triumph. Water ran for almost two years-Schneider' s
greatest Broadway success and a testimony to the accuracy of his New
Leaderpiece. Schneider and Anderson were together again the next year
(1968) with I Never Sang for My Father, which one good irascible
character could not save from stereotype. The play, which did well but
never ran like Water, marked Schneider's last comfortable berth on
Broadway. After that, it was disaster time.
In 1971, in an excellent article in Arts in Society, Schneider wrote:
"In the past two years, among other happy days, I've had three produc-
tions, at least one of them demonstrating work as good as any I' ve ever
done, close in one night." These were Lyle Kessler's The Watering Place
(1969), a bizarre play about a troubled family left more troubled by the
visit of a soldier who had known the dead son in a Vietnam prison camp;
La Strada (1969), a musical based on the Fell ini fi lm; and Blood Red
Roses (1970), " a play with songs, " an anti-war piece with the Crimea as
its setting, Vietnam as its target. While he was working on Blood Red
Roses, he told Variety (4 February 1970), " I don't necessarily wait around
for a masterpiece." Back in 1963, commenting on the theatricality and
sensuousness of the genre, Schneider told Alan Levy, "I'd love to do a
musical on Broadway" (New York Times Magazine, 20 October 1963).
When he finally got around to it, either he failed or the material fai led
him, as it did again in 1972 with the musical version of Lorraine
Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. During the string of
one-night stands, he directed two other plays that quickly disappeared -
from Broadway, that is, not from the world at large. Lanford Wilson's
later reputation has kept The Gingham Dog (1969) alive-well, sort
of-and Donald Freed's Inquest (1970) has found a place in the l iterature
of the Rosenberg trial, if not in the American dramatic repertory.
After Sidney Brustein, Schneider appeared i nfrequently on Broadway
and with material he had done elsewhere. Michael Weller's
Moonchildren and Elie Wiesel's Zalmen, or the Madness of God (1976)
came from earlier productions at the Arena, and Preston jones's Texas
Trilogy (1976) followed on a well-received run at the Kennedy Center in
Washington. In his review in Women's Wear Daily (24 September 1976),
Howard Kissel described the second of the Texas plays, The Last Meeting
of the Knights of the White Magnolia, as a nothing-happens play in the
modernist mode, but he never followed through on his insight-if that is
what it was. Given Schneider's reputation as Beckett' s American voice,
it might have been amusing to contemplate the direction of the jones play
as a product of the Beckett-Schneider alliance. Unhappi ly, I am not in a
position to do that, since I did not see the production, but from what I
know of the play-from television, from the page-Beckett does not seem
to have been a major influence on jones. Although neither the play-
wright nor the director may have thought so, with Texas Trilogy
Schneider was back in Pennypacker country.
There was a coda. In 1980, for the first time since Box-Mao-Box,
Albee and Schneider were together again on Broadway with The Lady
from Dubuque. Given the record of both men since the glory days of the
mid-1960s, they were probably not surprised when the play closed after
twelve performances. In his preface to Entrances, Albee says that
Schneider "almost never directed a play he did not respect, and on those
occasions when he persuaded himself that one was worthy when it was
Alan Schneider 87
not, the results were calamitous." I am not sure whether Albee is
speaking of the direction or the reception, but if the latter, there were
calamities enough with material one might respect. The Lady from
Dubuque for one. The story of Schneider on Broadway is the tale of a
man caught in a love-hate relationship, wanting Broadway but wanting
it to be better than it is and constantly discovering that it has no inclina-
tion for reform. It is even more difficult to get an unconventional play on
Broadway today than it was during Schneider's last years. I am sure,
however, that-had he lived-he would have heard the siren song again
and come back to the doxy with a fistful of wild flowers. After all , as
Fred says in The Lady from Dubuque, "Where else can you come in this
cold world, week after week, as regular as patchwork, and be guaranteed
ridicule and contempt?"
FREDA SCOTT GILES earned her Ph.D. in Theatre at the City
University of New York Graduate School and is now Associate
Professor in the Department of Drama and Theatre at the Univer-
sity of Georgia in Athens. She has previously contributed to ]ADT
(VII: 1 ).
CHARLES A. CARPENTER is Professor Emeritus in the Department of
English at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is
working on a book on drama of the Nuclear Age.
CRISTINA C. CARUSO is a Ph.D. candidate at the State University
of New York at Albany. Her dissertation explores theoretical
issues of horror in the American experience through texts ranging
from Puritan sermons to the novels and films of Stephen King.
BARBARA F. ACKER is Assistant Professor in the Department of
Theatre at Arizona State University in Tempe, and is vocal coach
for the MFA acting program. She has previously published in the
journal of Voice.
FRANCES DIODATO BZOWSKI contributed several entries on
American women playwrights to both the Cambridge Guide to
World Theatre and the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre.
She was also the compiler of American Women Playwrights, 1900-
1930, published by Greenwood Press in 1992. Ms. Bzowski died
in October 1995.
GERALD WEALES is Professor Emeritus at the Department of English
at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He has
previously contributed to }ADT (I: 1; IV: 1; and Vl:2, 3).
journal of American Drama and Theatre 7 (Fall 1995)
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