PRIOR to leaving America I had watched with considerable interest the beginning of Charles Frohman's career as a theatrical manager. He was the younger brother of Daniel Frohman. It was the latter who first introduced him to me. I had heard of his sensational purchase of "Shenandoah," a play by Bronson Howard which was produced at the old Boston Museum. All of the prominent managers had gone over from New York to see its first performance. At the end of the third act they were convinced that the play was so poor that they would have none of it. The embarrassing feature of their adverse verdict was that they knew the author intimately and felt that he expected one of them at least to bid for the control of the property. In those days a production at the Boston Museum meant merely a local leasing of the play.
Under the circumstances, to meet Howard at the fall of the curtain was the last thing that these gentlemen wished to do.
No explanation of their pocket inertia would then be possible, save by admitting the ghastly and unflattering truth.
Suddenly A. M. Palmer suggested the happy solution of their problem; they could take the ten o'clock train back to New York on some plea of urgent, business.
This brilliant idea was adopted with enthusiasm. They ran from the theatre in a body, congratulating themselves upon their escape from an obviously disagreeable situation.
However., there was one young man from this city who remained. This was Charles Frohman, whose earnings were then very modest. As the curtain fell, he approached a friend in the audience who had come on from San Francisco, a man who had built several theatres through the West and on the Coast; who had been financially successful, and who was looking over the Eastern field with an idea of extending his activities. His name was Al Hayman, While traveling with the Haverly Minstrels, Charles Frohman had run across him. He knew that Hayman stood ready to back his judgment when the proper moment arrived. Frohman had not only an absolute confidence in the value of "Shenandoah," but also the vision which anticipated its success.
Assured by Hayman that he and his friend Hooley would lend him the necessary amount for the venture, Frohman bounded upon the stage, accosted the author and said, "Mr. Howard, I want your play."
Howard who was expecting the powerful fraternity from New York was a little embarrassed by the abrupt method of the unknown visitor. Who was he? Where had he come from? His ignorance was quickly enlightened.
"I am Dan Frohman's little brother," said Charles, "and I am here to buy your play. That is all there is to it. How much do you want for it, Sir?"
At that moment, as all through his life, Charles Frohman's magnetism, his wonderful personality, his dominant individualism, won the day. What he wanted, he got.
That very night the contract was signed. Soon Frohman made the production of "Shenandoah" in this City. Its success was overwhelming and demonstrated that the group of astute managers who had run away from Boston on an early evening train, had also run away from thousands of good dollars.
Thus the foundation was laid of Charles Frohman's subsequent career. His next step was to establish in West Twenty-third Street his stock company of which Maude Adams was a member.
The control of one theatre after another followed. Charles Frohman and I became warm friends. He proved his confidence in my judgment, not once but a hundred times. He became my best customer, purchasing through my intermediary, the majority of the plays he produced. He was the soul of honor. His word was literally as good as his bond. He never forgot a friend, and be never betrayed a trust. He was fearless and prompt in his decision. He thought quickly and acted speedily. He relied upon his first impressions, which as a rule were right.
I have always insisted that had he been brought up in Wall Street instead of on Broadway, Charles Frohman would have been conspicuous as an arbiter of the World's destinies. Frohman's brain and character were those of leadership. His mistakes were never small ones. When he lost money he never winced. The episode was closed. When a play failed, he put another into immediate rehearsal.
Once a box office success was established, Frohman's interest in it ceased. There was nothing more for him to do. He passed on to the next effort. It was this overmastering ambition to achieve which was ever his guiding influence; to go on, never to go back, was his unconscious slogan. It was this which made him conquer London as he had conquered America. His name over a theatre or presenting a star or producing a play was the only way in which it seemed to him of any value. If this sentiment sprang from egotism, the ego was so superb in its forcefulness that one could easily forgive it. It was the egotism of a great man, a man of power and of accomplishment and an egotism far removed from petty vanity, from vain conceit and from self-centred satisfaction.
The old Boston Museum was an institution in its day. Later this educational centre gave place to a theatre of which R. M. Field was the manager. He was a good judge of plays. Many a success owed its original production to his astuteness. I remember how "Shoreacres," by Herne was hawked about in New York, refused by everyone, until we succeeded in persuading Mr. Field of its merits.
The theatre was called after the Museum and retained the glass cases lining the lobby and entrance hall in which were a varied collection of stuffed birds and animals with an occasional exhibit of insects and butterflies. Here and there a dilapidated plaster cast covered with the dust of ages shared the honor.
Another conspicuous theatrical manager in that city was John Stetson. His business interests were varied and not always of a character to be loudly proclaimed. The leasing of theatres involving managerial oversight was merely an incident. In those days schooling was a luxury and one which was unknown to many of our citizens. Stetson had learned to read and write mildly. His special accomplishment was to add, subtract, multiply and divide, so that his accounts always showed a profit. He presided over the destinies of the Globe Theatre on Washington Street where Charles Schroeder was his business manager.
One day as I was walking past, Schroeder hailed me from the doorway, asking whether I spoke French. "Enough to get along," I answered. "Hurrah! " exclaimed Schroeder, "come right in and help the old man out." I found Eleanor Duse's manager with Stetson, but as he could not speak English and as Stetson could barely speak that the conversation was halting.
This was Duse's first tour in America and she was just about to begin her Boston engagement.
When I entered Stetson's office he was at his desk, red-faced and explosive. In front of him stood a little Italian who was talking in French with his lips, head, arms and legs, but all to no purpose. I was hailed by Stetson with delight and relief.
"Gosh! Find out what this dago is saying. He don't speak nothing." I discovered that what the foreigner was trying to convey was the fact that Madame Duse was ill, and overworked and that she couldn't possibly give the extra matinées which Stetson had advertised. He had engaged her on a guarantee and was taking no chances of a deficit. I explained the position to Stetson, but this only infuriated him the more.
"Who's going to pay if the Madame doesn't play? Ask him that," roared Stetson.
Further explanation with many gestures and much volubility on the part of the Italian ended with the assurance that Signor Stetson need fear nothing as Madame's trunks were already in his theatre.
This I translated, whereupon Stetson cried out, "I don't want them immigrant trunks of hers, they ain't worth nothing. Tell that wop I want money, not trunks, unless that dame fills her dates."
I poured further oil on the very troubled water, until Stetson felt that I was talking quite as much as the Italian. So bursting in he exclaimed, "Cut out that talk and get down to business. What I want to know is, doos Doose play or doosn't she?"
I couldn't stand any more so beat a retreat leaving the gentlemen still at it. However, I noticed that Madame Duse did play the matinées and survived both them and Stetson.
Another man whose managerial successes were associated with Boston as well as New York was E. E. Rice, jocosely referred to by his contemporaries as Edward Elusive Rice. It was he who produced "Evangeline," a popular extravaganza made famous by the character of the lone fisherman who never uttered but who sat fishing silently throughout the evening.
It was I who sold the rights of "1492" to Rice. The play enjoyed a long run at Wallack's Theatre on the corner of Thirtieth Street and Broadway.
I tried after that to get Rice to produce real dramas and urged him to buy "Madame Sans Gêne," by Victorien Sardou and Emile Moreau. This, however, was beyond him so it fell into the hands of Augustus Pitou and of Katherine Kidder who ultimately gave a wonderful, historically accurate and most successful production of this delightful comedy.
When in the full tide of its glory I happened to meet Rice in front of the Broadway Theatre where it was packing the house; he stopped me, shook bands and exclaimed, "Say, lady, I made a big mistake not to have bought that 'Sanz Geney' piece from you!"
Those were wonderful days, when the present high-browed theatre was unknown. We had no problems which the playhouse was supposed to solve. We understood farces, melodramas and burlesques, with an occasional polite comedy or a romantic drama thrown in, but the sailing was plain and straight and devoid of complications resultant from too much culture.
Bernard Shaw had not begun to write with his pen in his cheek and the present dull triangle had still to be imported. Those were very happy days for the purveyor of plays.
But to return to my opening up of the French market as previously described; Charles Frohman was my first customer. The most conspicuous success running in Paris at the time I met Sardou was a farce by Alexandre Bisson called "Feu Toupinel," or the late Mr. Toupinel. The story was side splitting, written around the marital adventures of a hero who was juggling with a wife and a mistress at the same time, and who were brought face to face in the same scenes.
Not a manager who saw it would risk its purchase. Bisson had had no bid as yet for the American and English rights. I remember my admiration of this cleverly constructed farce. Surely there must be some way of putting it through a moral laundry. Suddenly a bright idea came to me. Make Toupinel a bigamist who had deceived two honorable ladies instead of one and the problem of adaptation was solved. I rushed to Bisson to explain, my inspiration. He was horrified beyond expression. He could not believe that any public would tolerate the capering of a Lothario who had trifled with two confiding ladies, rather than with one legitimate wife and with a temptress of experience who knew exactly what she was doing. I could not change his Gallic viewpoint, but received his consent to make any changes I felt might sell the play.
I wired to Charles Frohman who accepted my endorsement of the property and my assurance that despite the attitude of Augustin Daly, A. M. Palmer and others that I had found the solution of the difficulty. The contracts were signed, a deposit was paid to the French author on account, William Gillette was engaged to make the English version and the despised and discarded "Feu Toupinel" enjoyed a long and prosperous career in this country and in England under the title of "All the Comforts of Home" which was a wholly innocuous entertainment.
Bisson incidentally made fifty thousand dollars in royalties from this production instead of the small sum of four thousand which was the original amount he expected, had he sold the play upon the old system of a cash payment.
Of course my successful manipulation of this farce gave me a prestige beyond words. It was a clear case of money having talked, so that for years I had no rival where French authors were concerned.
One play after another was sold by me. I represented such authors as Feydeau, Meilhac, Halévy, Blum and Toché, Richepin, Bataille, Pailleron, Moreau and others as they came along, in fact every man who wrote material that was marketable for the English speaking stage.
Many an anecdote recurs to my mind connected with these writers. I recall a general rehearsal of Pailleron's "La Souris" which was a dull contrast to his comedy "Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie" (The Society where one is bored) Francisque Sarcey, the eminent critic, came to me as the curtain went down and in reply to my adverse criticism said, shrugging his shoulders as only a Frenchman can: "Ah, Mademoiselle, do not be too hard on poor Pailleron. In some ways he is greatly to be envied. Do you know any other author who could have two plays running at the same time in the same theatre? Yet this is what we have witnessed to-night. We have had 'La Souris' on the stage and 'Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie' in the audience."
Neither Miss de Wolfe nor I were rich in worldly goods at that time. We had made our budget which called for an expenditure of six francs a day. We could afford no more. We owned bicycles and when it became too warm in Paris we determined upon a trip on wheels. Of course Touraine was then the paradise of sightseers, besides it had a special attraction for us in the fact that the country was flat so that there would be no hill climbing. Off we started and I very much doubt whether any girls ever had a better or a healthier time than ourselves. We could not seem to see enough châteaux, yet we saw them all. Each with its traditions, each with its architectural beauty, each full of romance, each rich in inspiration. We rolled along over the hot dusty roads delighting in everything we discovered and amused with every obstacle we encountered. It was indeed a holiday.
Later we found ourselves in Brittany where at Pont Aven, thanks to Mère Julia, we lived well within our means, if you could dignify our monotonous "eats" as food. We had sardines cooked and uncooked at practically every meal. There were no toilet facilities of any kind. Hot water for one's ablutions and hot coffee for one's breakfast were served in the same, well-worn pewter jug. Milk was an extra whereas wine was included in our board. But we found several artists there, who, like ourselves, were seeking atmosphere and economy, and many a merry outing did we all have together. In 1919 out of sheer curiosity I went off of my route to revisit Pont Aven and the little inn where I had passed such happy days. Mère Julia was still alive, the inn showed no changes, the same disorder, the same sardines all were there to greet me.
We were not the only women who enjoyed bicycling. No one was a greater expert at it than Madame Melba who was then Nellie Melba to us.
She left the rôle of prima donna behind her when she came to France in those early days of her success. She was like a rollicking schoolgirl, full of fun and enthusiasm so that we enjoyed many a good time. As I grew older I developed a rooted distaste for grand opera from which prejudice I have never recovered. I agreed with Alphonse Karr who described singing as an expensive kind of noise. It seemed to me senseless to hear fat Italian gentlemen who could hardly be squeezed into their velvet doublets repeating over and over again to the sobbing sopranos that they loved, loved, loved them. There never was the slightest secrecy about it for it was literally shouted from the battlements and listened to by the lady companion who had a contralto voice, which came in handy for a quartette, as well as by the choral mercenaries who stood without, guarding the parapets with flashing steel.
Oddly enough., I knew personally all the great singers and succeeded in retaining their friendship despite the fact that not even wild horses could drag me to hear them.
Melba once persuaded me to attend a performance of La Bohême in Covent Garden, and although she was applauded until the old rafters rang, I infinitely preferred her as my everyday companion on the bicycle. In recent years Mme. Frances Alda, that delightful artist, insisted on one occasion that I should attend a rehearsal of Prince Igor. It was an awful experience which I shall never forget. It was depressing in the extreme.
The opera house was as gloomy as a morgue, the singers were without makeup and costume, the shrieking light of day forced itself through the upper borders, the music without melody of any kind groaned on, while poor Alda seemed tossed about from one Italian gentleman to another in such tragic fashion that it was evident that happiness could never be her lot. She was foredoomed to unrelentless misery. I urged her at the time to quit and to end her days amidst the cheerful surroundings of effervescent musical comedy.
However, she would not take my advice and so is still coping with the melancholy environment of the Metropolitan Opera House. It seems such a pity because she is really a genial and gregarious soul who knows how to laugh, who loves to dance, and who is a real human being outside of her imposing frame of grandeur.
But to return to those vagabond days in France.
Sardou became our very dear friend and whenever we were in Paris, never a week passed that we did not lunch with him there, or if he had removed to his beautiful Château at Marly-le-Roi, we would go out to dine with him, his wife and his family, consisting of three sons and one daughter, Geneviève, who is now the Marquise de Flers, wife of the well-known dramatist whose brilliant comedies, written in conjunction with de Caillavet, are known the world over.
The Sardou estate at Marly-le-Roi stands on the left of the road and opposite the little village church. It is historical and full of reminiscences. Sardou himself was always an ambulating encyclopedia. He knew everything and more. He talked incessantly but held one spellbound, as his rare sense of humor, mingled with fascinating anecdote produced a wonderful combination. His talent for reconstituting a historical ruin was without a rival. One could see the folks of long ago as they moved about in silk and crinoline. The stately minuet was danced before our very eyes. I remember being taken by Sardou to visit the Pavilion at Louvecienne which had belonged to the Comtesse du Barry. There was the very gate through which she was dragged shrieking with fear to face the guillotine in Paris.
The owner of what then remained of Madame du Barry's property was an American, a little old lady who it seemed had been a belle under the Second Empire. She was born in Philadelphia but owing to her spirit of adventure had sailed for France. On the voyage she became acquainted with a pleasant Frenchman whose idea of hospitality was to relieve the pretty American of all further responsibility, either social or financial. He took her to Paris, introduced her to a group of interesting personalities, taught her how to dress, had her learn to play the harp, found her an excellent chef, stocked her cellar with vintage wines, in fact, did all that any gentleman could do to make her life happy.
Madame enjoyed herself thoroughly up to a ripe middle age, when her protector decided to marry her off to an impecunious friend with a title. The Château at Louvecienne was given the lady as a wedding gift, and there she ended her days in 1913. As I sat and studied my aged hostess who welcomed me as a compatriot, I could not but think how extraordinary it was that our own Quaker City had produced a successor to the famous Frenchwoman who had ruled a kingdom and who had destroyed an aristocracy.
Another famous dwelling near Marly was Le Cerf Volant, the châtelaine of which was a Madame Aubernon. She prided herself upon the coterie of eminent men who always gathered around her table. In order that nothing should be lost of the wit and talent which assembled, she insisted that each guest should speak in turn. To control this she had a little silver bell by her plate which she rang as she accorded the right of speech. I remember one very brilliant dinner in this interesting house at which many illustrious people were present. Ernest Renan, one of the guests, tried several times to interrupt, but was prevented from doing so by Madame Aubernon who raised her hand in a gesture of reproachful protest. Finally when Cabanel who was speaking stopped, the hostess graciously turned to Renan saying, "Now, Monsieur, we shall be glad to hear you." "Ah, Madame," answered Renan, "it is, alas! too late. I merely wanted a second helping of spinach!"
The only time I ever saw Alexandre Dumas fils, was in, Sardou's vegetable garden at Marly. The Master, as we called Sardou, was bending over his melon patch with a feverish interest. He had planted some seed which he had received from a friend, and was anxiously waiting for his melons to grow. Suddenly I looked up and there coming down the path was Dumas whom I knew by sight. We were introduced, then Dumas, who was a pessimist, gazing at his friend Sardou, the optimist, exclaimed: "How I envy you who can feel such enthusiasm over a mere melon." To which Sardou replied, 1.'How I pity you my friend who are incapable of such a sentiment!" The opposite character of the two men was exemplified at this meeting. Nothing ever depressed Sardou whereas Dumas' black moments were chronic. I never saw Dumas again for he died shortly after this.
My life for many years seemed a constant journey between New York, Paris and London. Each incident of it was international, so it is impossible to reduce my experiences and impressions to any sequence or dates. I never kept a diary and never had a notebook. It is all haphazard in my mind, it is a living cinema, unraveling the story, introducing the actors, and presenting the close-ups! After all it matters little. It is the personalities and the incidents which are of importance, especially as my chief desire is to convey to my readers my sense of obligation to those wonderful men and women whose paths I was destined to cross. A sponge in a pail soaks up water. To listen often soaks up brains. To meet those who have something to give out is a privilege. It is only the dumb-bells who, believing that their "thinks" are of such vast importance, often miss those of far greater value. Instead of listening to others they are too absorbed in the melody of their own voices and too deeply impressed by the importance of their own aims and interests. As we grow older one of our greatest dangers is that we may drift into garrulity, mistaking it for conversation.
My first office was in West Twenty-fourth Street, in New York. I began with a small room and with the assistance of a young girl, who at sixteen had just finished her course in stenography and typewriting. My obligation was to pay a rental of fifteen dollars a month and her salary of ten per week.
I was bowed down by the sense of this responsibility. Commissions might come in slowly, then where would I be?
But fortune was on my side, so that I began the second month with the addition of a large room and the increase of thirty-five dollars for rental.
For a long while I remained in this locality and until the Empire Theatre was built, whither I removed, occupying for many years a suite of handsome offices directly over Charles Frohman's on the second floor and Al Hayman's on the third.
My business had increased in leaps and bounds for not only was I established in this city, but I had opened offices in London and in Paris, with subsidiary connections in Berlin, Milan and Madrid.
The dream of Monte Cristo seemed to be coming true, for the treasures of the world were drifting my way as one foreign playwright after another became my client.
However, I determined not to neglect our American authors who were increasing and multiplying. The first of importance who placed his work unreservedly in my hands, and who was loyal to me up to the time of his death, was Clyde Fitch.
How well I, recall his initial visit! He had only been graduated from Amherst a short while when he wrote "Beau Brummel." Unluckily, both for himself and for me, he had sold this play outright to Richard Mansfield for the paltry sum of fifteen hundred dollars. It was from the despair caused by the realization of this stupidity that he sought me for future guidance so that never again would he be so foolish. I might add that this was the first and the last time that Clyde Fitch sold a play for a fixed amount. However, every time that we found Mansfield playing to a crowded house we consoled ourselves with the thought of Fitch's sudden entrance into prominence; nor were we ever deceived as to the value of the publicity due to Mansfield's superb performance and stupendous success.
To chronicle the long line of Clyde's ups and downs in authorship would require a volume. He was one of the most industrious men I have ever known, indefatigable in his efforts and undismayed by his rebuffs. He was simply ascending the road, although there were moments when he felt that after all his father might be right when urging upon him a business career.
Captain Fitch was always intolerant of his son's waste of time, as he regarded it. A graduate of West Point, an officer in the Civil War, he spoke a different language and it was not until Clyde had reached the climax of success that his father gave in publicly, although I always believed, that long before he confessed it, that there glowed in his heart a deep and sincere pride in the literary accomplishments of his one and only child.
On the other hand, if Captain Fitch seemed to fail in sympathy for his son's chosen profession, his mother made it up to her boy a hundredfold. She idolized him. He could do no wrong in her eyes and the one passport to her affection, and to her interest, was an absolute admiration of Clyde and an unfaltering belief in his genius.
I have always thought that the chief reason why Fitch won out was because he never deceived himself as to the first night's real verdict. No matter how much friendly applause might resound in the theatre, no matter how many times he was forced to come before the curtain, he knew to a certainty whether his play had really scored or not.
He and Charles Frohman were alike in this as well as in some other respects, and when Frohman finally ceased to refer to him as "your pink tea author," he capitulated entirely, and not only gave Fitch opportunities to adapt foreign material, but purchased and produced many of his original plays.
Frohman's judgment was occasionally at fault, for instance when he refused "Nathan Hale" and the "Climbers." But on the whole his appreciation of Fitch as a dramatist was very sincere. The unhappy ending of "Nathan Hale" influenced Frohman's adverse decision, and the first act of the "Climbers," introducing a family in deep mourning after returning from a funeral, seemed to him a scene wholly -impossible for our stage.
Let me state as a matter of data that in both these instances the reaction of the audience was favorable.
Not only were Fitch and Frohman in accord over things theatrical, but they shared many personal tastes. Their love of sweets was abnormal. They could never eat enough to satisfy their appetites, but in public they did not dare to wholly gratify themselves for fear of ridicule.
When in the same city they often made it a practice to sneak off and dine together, ostensibly for the purpose of discussing business but one night I unearthed them in Frohman's apartment at Sherry's, where I found them surrounded by five desserts; rice pudding, ice cream, a layer cake, apple pie and a caramel custard. I shall never forget their expressions of guilty enjoyment.
Fitch adored beauty of landscape, and beauty of architecture. His sense of arrangement in his home produced a delightful atmosphere. He and Elsie de Wolfe were drawn together in a close and lasting friendship, through their mutual love of decoration. They often tramped about in search of objects of art, although Fitch's taste was always the more rococo and florid, and he lacked the just reserve which Miss de Wolfe had early acquired through the distinction of her knowledge and through the cultivation of her mind.
Clyde Fitch was born with what the French describe as "a gift of the theatre."
His dramatic sense was keen. He was rarely mistaken as to the result of his effects.
His characterizations of women were as a rule more convincing than were those of men, for there is no use in blinking the fact that his own nature was a composite one and that possibly he inherited more qualities from his gentle Southern mother than he did from his war-like, Connecticut father.
This commingling of the masculine and feminine is very common in artists. Their super-sensitiveness, their response to color, their vibrant reactions, their emotional impulses invariably spring from a dual organization; so that I have always maintained that the world owes much of its beauty to this combination of feminine sensitiveness and of virile accomplishment. Each attribute supplements the other, and art has often become the richer for this duality. The mind of a man with the heart of the woman makes an ideal exotic that should not be despised, and how frequently they go hand in hand where artists are concerned.
After all sympathy is merely imagination in operation, and who gives greater evidence of imagination than the dramatist who brings character to life, and who supplies to his public an impression of actuality produced through his fiction.
The men and women of his creation must be as real to his audience as they are to him. It is he, the writer, who breathes into them the breath of life. He must feel with them. Their laughter and their tears have sprung from him. His is the harp which bangs beyond the casement, receptive of sobbing winds and warmed by caressing sunshine.
It is the writer, who like the highly-sensitized plate receives and distributes impressions while he is at the same time an unerring chronicler of truth.
A dual nature, a dual understanding, a dual personality often unite in a wedlock which gives birth to genius.
Clyde Fitch died abroad in the year 1909. I was there myself at the time, but by a strange fatality was not with him during his last brief illness; whereas I had frequently taken long journeys to cheer him during his convalescences, for at various times while traveling he had fought attacks of excruciating pain. His physician in America had repeatedly urged the removal of his appendix, but Fitch, like many others, had a horror of the surgeon's knife, besides he had found eminent specialists in Europe who insisted that they could successfully treat his case so that gradually he would be immune from these recurrent conditions.
The summer of his death he had taken a cure in Italy and afterward had toured in his big car through the Dolomites and into Eastern France.
He enjoyed motoring almost more than anyone I have ever known, so that a trip abroad without his car would have robbed him of most of its enjoyment. He had been having a delightful time as his frequent post-cards to me indicated. I was in a little village in Savoie when suddenly I received a wire from Châlons, sent by a friend who had been traveling with Fitch. The news was brief, but poignant, merely relating the fact that Clyde was there at the Hotel de la Haute Mère de Dieu where he was to undergo an immediate operation for appendicitis. I replied offering to go to him at once, although this involved a twenty-four hour journey even with good connections. The answer came saying that Fitch preferred me to wait for a few days until he was recovering and better able to enjoy my companionship.
That was on Tuesday. On Saturday morning, Sept. 4th,. in answer to my constant inquiries, another telegram assured me that the operation had been most successful, and that Fitch was out of all danger.
Three hours later I received the message that he had died of blood poison.
I need not dwell upon the shock, for all those who had known and admired him felt its effect as the news was flashed to America.
Afterwards I learned the circumstances which had influenced the unfortunate choice of entrusting this operation to the skill of the French, small-town surgeon. By driving rapidly the distance between Châlons and Paris could have been covered in three hours, but by the time the little party reached the former place, Fitch was suffering acute pain and insisted upon stopping. This, of course, was a fatal mistake.
That night, he refused to summon a physician, but directed his valet to apply a hot water bag and to give him plenty of brandy. No remedies could have been worse. If only ice packs had been used instead, the inflammation might have been controlled. When the doctor did arrive it was too late to do anything but to perform the operation.
Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph were sent from the local hospital, to act as nurses. Unhappily their services were only required for a short time.
Adjoining the hospital was a little mortuary chapel. This we had lined completely with flowers. In the centre Clyde's body was placed and according to Catholic custom flickering candles lighted the remains.
The sisters with gentle voices sat one at either side of the body reciting the prayers for the dead. I could not but feel that this atmosphere of beauty and of peace would have been Fitch's own selection. In looking back, as I trace that long stretch of white road in France running from Verdun to Varennes and Châlons, I realize that it has become famous through its traditions of recurrent tragedy. Over it once rolled the royal traveling carriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as they fled with their children from the terrors of the Revolution. Tramping over it in 1914 marched the French army which later at Verdun held out for months, giving their allies the steadfast assurance that the enemy should not pass.
It would almost seem that this highway in France was a highway of death, a monument of historical disaster as well as a row of milestones marking Clyde Fitch's last journey. He was in the midst of drama even when he died.
WHILE occupying my small offices in West Twenty-fourth Street there happened an incident worthy of telling because its hero has since become a luminary of our stage.
I had in my employ a shock-haired boy whom I sent on an errand to Charles Frohman's office, which was then at 1127 Broadway.
Suddenly a hurry call came for me. I was asked to go at once to the latter place. On arrival I found the whole staff in a state of turmoil, for there in the middle of the room as star actors were an excited Irishwoman holding her sobbing son by the hand, while to one side stood my messenger, sullen and defiant.
It seemed that the lads had had an altercation which ended in the plunging of a pocket-knife into the arm of the tearful victim by the brigand who was in my employ.
During the intervals of voluble recrimination and of angry protest, the onlookers could not discover that any great harm had been done. A slit coat sleeve and lacerated feelings seemed to sum up the damages.
Court was threatened by the outraged mother, the law on the miscreant was invoked, reason was out of order and argument was in vain. 'However, Charles Frohman came to the rescue and asked the woman whether brand new clothes for her offspring would not prove an acceptable settlement. After a while, when peace was restored, she consented, so that I had the honor of buying a gray suit for her child, consisting of knickers and a Norfolk jacket. Above all I had the pleasure of seeing it worn, for the injured boy was Arnold Daly.
We became the best of friends after this episode, and in the subsequent years of his glory as a dramatic star I looked back with pride to the fact that I had enjoyed the privilege of giving him that suit of clothes.
Before dismissing this period of my life I wish to say a few words as to my first impression of William Gillette, the famous actor and author. When he appeared in "Secret Service" his restrained performance and his colloquial method were hailed as a revelation of realism.
However, I felt then about Gillette as I have often felt since, that nothing is so impressive as to produce a melodrama with a few barn-storming old-time thespians as the background, placing in evidence a chosen star or staress who lowers his or her voice as the others shout, who moves slowly when the others run, who seems deliberate when the others rant; altogether it is an excellent and studied system of contrasts which invariably elevates the leading artist to the highest rank. Not that I wish to rob its inventors of any glory, for such a sterling actor as William Gillette did much to improve our standard and, possessing a brilliant intellect, his contribution to the stage was of infinite value.
I desire to chronicle the fact that nevertheless the snobbishness of the theatre was not unknown even at that time.
I doubt by the way whether there is any such flagrant snobbishness in the world as this. We have it to-day accentuated to a degree. A play to succeed now need not be a play at all. If it contains a sufficient number of scenes without dramatic form and devoid of comprehension it is safe to predict that, provided it is imported from abroad and written by an author with a coughing, sneezing, unpronounceable name, it will be hailed as a masterpiece and coin money for its producers.
The less the gullible public understands what the play is about, the greater will be their enthusiasm. The so-called Little Theatre has not been an unmitigated blessing after all. To spend an evening on a hard bench, looking at cubist decorations between the acts, need not necessarily mean that a great contribution has been made to the modern stage.
Possibly in the commercial theatre where one can sit and be comfortable, where expert actors and not ambitious amateurs create the rôles, where the lighting of the stage is based upon tried invention, where the costumes are not made of near-silk nor of painted cotton, we may still be able to enjoy plays that are well and honestly written, that are the direct descendants of a legitimate ancestry, and that do not depend for their success upon high-browed pretense nor upon fashionable patronage; or I might add upon critics whose erudition is gleaned from a. cursory study of the contemporaneous theatre, and who pose to be pioneers in the discovery and unraveling of problems which often remind one of malformations preserved in glass jars,
At the period when I first established an office in London, the English stage was far ahead of our own as regards plays, acting and productions. No one then could have foreseen the rapidity with which we overtook its standards, and then progressed beyond them as we have done.
We were in the period of development. Our group of authors only included some dozen names of dramatists of any prominence. Our productions were carelessly assembled, our costuming inaccurate, our actors indifferent to diction, our voices untrained and uncultivated; in fact it was only such men as the Frohmans who in those days stood ready to spend lavishly and to strive at least to reach the English high level.
Henry Irving (not then knighted), had revolutionized the London stage. He was hailed as the greatest artistic producer of his generation.
George Alexander, of the St. James Theatre, made frequent trips to Paris with the result that in modern comedies, especially, which he usually preferred, the settings were as a rule beautiful and accurate.
Charles Wyndham, John Hare, the Kendals, the Bancrofts and later Beerbohm Tree all vied with each other in their contributions to art in the theatre.
The Drury Lane was the home of melodrama, and I had the good fortune to be the representative in this country of many of its most conspicuous successes. There was one general form in the building of these plays which was usually followed. A swift contrast between high life and the slums was proverbial. A brilliant ballroom peopled with aristocracy in magnificent garb, and a sudden shifting to a cellar under the river. Trap doors were in constant demand. No ship ever safely reached its destination. The hero and heroine had to be seen tossing about upon an angry sea, clinging to an uncertain raft, with faces upturned to the spotlight; then another shifting of scene and the audience would be transported to a Derby race, the life of the favorite horse threatened by poison as he stood in his stall; the honest and fearless jockey given a knockout at the critical moment just before the saddling bell was rung, and the heroine saving the day as she was flung upon the horse. The thrill of the performance was provided either by a burning building, a series of explosions, a balloon destroyed or a whole fleet sunk.
It was rarely that success did not crown the efforts of these authors and producers of blood-curdling drama.
The only interruption of the runs as a rule was caused by the Christmas Pantomime, which was as much of an institution as the Tower of London. I have to-day the portrait of a great aunt who had longings for the stage. She wished to become a real, live actress, but the nearest she ever reached her heart's desire was to elope with the scenic artist of the old Drury Lane Theatre.
I remember so well my meeting with Gilbert and Sullivan who had created a new model in the field of musical comedy. Probably Gilbert's lyrics and exquisite humor contributed the most to the great vogue of these men. Their names were trade-marks for many years and their imitators, though feeble by comparison, are perennial.
I saw Sullivan first at one of those delightful Sundays of Mrs. Ronalds, who was a hostess of international renown. An American by birth, her husband a well-known merchant from Massachusetts, Mrs. Ronalds was one of the pioneers in the denationalization of our women.
This contagion spread so rapidly that there are now many American grandmothers and even great grandmothers whose names appear in the peerage.
For a long while Paris enjoyed supremacy as the magnet of attraction, but the superior advantages of English titles won the day. French marriages were looked upon askance, and, with the wreckage of the Gould-Castellane experiment, had a set-back which has lasted up to the present time.
English titles, however, are still in demand, so let our country not be wholly discouraged because continental aristocracy has crumbled to the dust. There are still a few openings in England.
Mrs. Ronalds gathered the most interesting people in her drawing room. It was so the habit to lionize the successful actors and actresses of the day that a deadly pall of middleclass respectability settled upon the English stage.
The domestic life of the artists became of paramount importance. I recall a remark of a British matron after witnessing a performance of "Anthony and Cleopatra" as presented by Kyrle Bellew and Cora Potter: "How loving they seemed, poor dears! It reminded me of the life of our dear late queen." Such unconscious satire was refreshing.
On another occasion I sat behind a stodgy couple when Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss, his wife, were delighting their admirers. The man looking approvingly at the scene, remarked that he always liked them as they seemed so young and gay; whereupon the woman replied: "That is so my dear, but I always enjoy them because they lead such a beautiful home life and because they have such dear little children."
This reminded me of a time when in our own household we had fallen upon a very bad cook. My father had stood her administration as long as he could, until one night at the breaking point of his patience and incidentally of his stomach when a thoroughly good dish had gone wrong, he exclaimed: "We must get rid of this woman. She spoils more than her wages." Whereupon my gentle mother answered, "I know that she is a very poor cook, but she is such a nice person, and so respectable."
Virtue was carried to such an excess by the Kendals that gradually a rebellious reaction set in, although the reign of thespian propriety lasted for a very long while in England.
Madge Kendal particularly was a whole vice commission in herself.
I was present on one occasion at a most amusing conversation between her and Sarah Bernhardt. She had gone to the latter's dressing room to congratulate her upon her very fine performance, but qualified her approval by saying: "It is a pity, Madame, that your plays always deal with passion, so that I cannot take my young daughters to see them." Whereat Bernhardt gave her the retort courteous by remarking, "Ah, Madame, you should remember that were it not for passion you would have no daughters to bring."
While I admired Mrs. Kendal's art extremely, I confess that her constant use of toilet vinegar, instead of perfume, rather annoyed me. She considered that perfume, like the French language, savored of immorality. I had barely known her when she warned me against certain prominent actresses with whom I should never be seen in public. This list was so long and so inclusive that I decided that I would enjoy myself more if I didn't memorize it. I often wonder what Mrs. Kendal thinks to-day when she studies modern manners, and modern standards. As the dear lady is not yet in her grave, she can neither turn nor perform the daily dozen in it. How many bad hours she must pass!
However, her censoriousness was good-naturedly forgiven even by her contemporaries, for they felt the debt of gratitude due to Madge and Willie Kendal for all that they had done for the English stage. They were without exception the most delightful comedians of their day.
The majority of the managers who were my friends in London were subsequently knighted, and great was the heart-burning when those on the list for this honor were obliged to wait, while another more favored had the privilege of bearing the coveted title.
To dearly love a lord was a general habit, and I remember one young director with an ambitious wife who never allowed his visitors to forget that the Princess Christian had dropped in to see them informally the day before.
When lunching at various times at this same house I observed that the meal was invariably interrupted by a note requiring an answer, brought in and announced as written by a Royal Highness, or by a Duke or Duchess.
This little comedy was staged with an automatic precision and served its purpose as a rule by impressing the guests gathered around the table.
Nothing was more disturbing to the equanimity of the theatrical profession in England than this recurrent scramble for knighthood. From the day when that honor was conferred upon Henry Irving, it became an annual upheaval. One after the other the simple misters with ambitious wives dreamed of the new visiting cards they might soon be privileged to have engraved.
When H. Beerbohm Tree became a successful candidate for royal recognition a member of the Garrick Club having read the happy announcement in the Court Circular, and knowing that at least three days must elapse before the investiture could take place, accosted Max Beerbohm saying:
"Old Chap, this is very confusing about your brother. For the next few days how am I to address him? What is he now anyway.
Max with an inimicable twinkle in his eye answered: "While he is Mr. Tree in the sight of the Law, he is now Sir Herbert in the sight of Almighty God."
But nothing of this kind could exceed the story relating to a youth, well-known in New York, who was always climbing socially. His father by the way was a retail haberdasher and sold my grandfather, the Vice Chancellor, very excellent shirts. My young friend had just returned from a trip abroad when, two days after his arrival home, he had a cable from Lily, Duchess of Marlborough, inviting him to spend the week-end a fortnight hence. Whereupon he booked an immediate return passage, arrived at Blenheim in time and had the supreme joy of writing fifty letters to his friends on stationery bearing the magic name of this wonderful ducal estate.
PROBABLY the most conspicuous figure in England with whom I came in contact during the formative period of my business was Oscar Wilde. I had met him in America while he was there on his first lecture tour. He was dressed, as has often been described, in brown velvet knickerbockers, a soft silk shirt with a Byronic collar, a flowing scarlet tie and a huge white boutonnière in the lapel of his coat. His appearance seemed ridiculous, but nevertheless it was well conceived, and of value in stimulating curiosity and in providing copy for the press.
I met him at the house of Professor Doremus, holding a cup of tea which he courteously offered me. At the time I felt little interest in the poet, and it was not until I really began to know him in later years, that I realized Wilde's intellectual potentialities. Like many others I fell under the thrall of his gifts as a conversationalist and could listen with delight to the brilliancy of his talk. His wit scintillated incessantly. His joy in the phrases he compiled was always evident though never offensive.
Wilde's egotism, which eventually wrecked his life, was far too deep rooted to be of any passing importance. It was so obvious as to be beyond comment. It was so fundamental that it had become assimilated and an integral part of his being. It was such a magnificent gesture that it frequently inspired one to admiration. Nothing could exaggerate the importance of his rule in London society over a period of several years. There he reigned supreme, flattered, honored, sought after and imitated. His sway over the imagination of the British public was undisputed. He was literally without a rival. His self-confidence was abnormal. The atmosphere in which he lived supplied the virus, of which he, its victim, was sublimely unconscious. Nothing short of an upheaval such as he finally experienced would ever have torn Oscar Wilde from his social moorings. While mocking and excoriating society, it was his very life. The adulation and servility which it exhaled was his daily diet. He reached the zenith of his success when his first modern play was produced, "Lady Windermere's Fan." This paved the way to a long line of dramatic triumphs. One comedy after another glittered from his pen. Epigrams became the keynote of conversation. From the very offset I was his representative in this country. The plays reproduced here echoed his London fame. Their first nights were eagerly anticipated. Daniel Frohman was presenting "An Ideal Husband" at the moment of Wilde's downfall.
At the St. James' Theatre, where this play was then running, the manager, George Alexander, determined that he would withdraw it shortly after Wilde's arrest. He lacked the courage to continue, for like many others he was afraid of public opinion and dared not be classed with the few friends who stood loyally by Wilde even in his darkest moments. Frohman, on the contrary, kept "An Ideal Husband" at the Lyceum until the play no longer attracted patronage.
Although I had heard incessant innuendoes as to the flagrant offenses of Wilde's private life, nevertheless knowing as I did that he was the centre of a circle which was powerful in its connections and influence, I never believed that Wilde would be the scapegoat of this band, yet such was the case. I could not reconcile myself to the fact that he alone was signalled out to pay the penalty; he, who from his prison cell was able to give the world "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," and "De Profundis." Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in a common prison until his brain power was crushed and his spirit broken. Upon the testimony of science, he should have been sent to a sanatorium and not to a penitentiary. His was a clear case of psycho-perversity. Long before the final blow was struck it would have been a more humane thing to have placed him under the care of physicians rather than to have delivered him over to jailers. But British justice was appeased when Oscar Wilde was condemned to pick okum in a prison yard.
Directly after he was taken to Pentonville, I became troubled about his royalties which had been accumulating, and which were in my hands. I was waiting until I could communicate with him, for I thought that at least these sums might be saved from the wreck in order to keep his wife and his two boys. Wilde had spent lavishly and without any recognition of his family responsibilities, therefore his list of creditors was long. When interrogated in court as to his assets, he referred to me as his American agent, stating that doubtless I had funds which could be appropriated toward the liquidation of his debts. I was soon notified that from that time on all money collected for Wilde would have to go through the legal channels. I confess to a sneaking disappointment at this turn of affairs, for sentimentally I felt the deepest sympathy for that wife and those little lads upon whom the sad fate of the husband and father had fallen. How well I recall that house on Tite Street, Chelsea, full of charm and infinite taste. It was there before his own friends that Wilde was at his best. Many were the plots of plays which he thought out aloud.
He almost wrote them as he talked. I remember one terrible tragedy, brutally conceived, which revolved around a most revolting theme. It took me many days before I could prove to him that despite the dramatic value of the story that the managers and public would never tolerate the motive. Wilde was so totally devoid of any ethical sense that, while he accepted my verdict, he was not in the least convinced by it. Form and treatment were everything to him. Matter and morals meant nothing. I once complained that I had spent a dreary evening at dinner in the society of some dull but eminent people, saying that the neighbor on my right was a member of the City Council, and that I had failed utterly in my attempt to interest him. "Bless my soul," exclaimed Wilde, "it isn't possible that you care whether you interest your neighbor or not. The only thing of consequence when one dines out is whether one interests oneself!"
How often in life I have been reminded of this. Again when I was sending him letter after letter urging him to come to New York to attend the rehearsals of a certain play which required most careful direction, he refused to sail. Afterward, in London, when I reproached him for not realizing the logic of my arguments that should have brought him over to this country, he remarked that in my logic lay the whole difficulty, that I was so convincing and impelling that it made him stuff cotton in his ears, and put blinders on his eyes, and that after each appeal from me he had become more and more determined not to allow so reasonable a human being as myself to become his mentor. I never again tried to make Wilde reasonable. Heaven knows that all of the stupid blunders of which he was guilty during the last days of his liberty could have been avoided, and his freedom assured, had he not wallowed in the morass of conceit, wilfulness and lack of common sense.
From time to time he wrote to me from prison; then one day I received from him a roll of manuscript in his own handwriting. It was the "Ballad of Reading Gaol." He said he had scribbled it down and wondered whether I would be his good angel and get him a few pounds for it, as he needed some personal articles which the sale of this poem might supply.
As I read it, it seemed like a voice from the dead. I remember that the tears rolled down my cheek. Then I realized that to sell it might, after all, be difficult. My fears were justified, for after peddling it about unsuccessfully, as no editor was willing to revive Wilde's memory in his magazine, I sold it to the New York World, which paid me $250.00 for it. This money I sent to Wilde, together with the manuscript which he wished returned. I have often wondered whether this original is still in existence. Then came the moment of his liberation. The story has been too often told. Shortly afterwards he sought me out in Paris unkempt, forlorn and penniless. He told me that he had just staged a miracle play in the Latin Quarter.
I knew that Charles Frohman stood ready to commission a comedy from him, and had even authorized me to prepare the contract, and to advance Wilde $500.00 on account, which I did. But when I presented the agreements to him for signature, his hand trembled and he wrote "Sebastian Melmoth," a fanciful name he had chosen to conceal his identity. I looked at him fixedly and said, "This contract is being made with Oscar Wilde, who alone has the talent to fulfill it. I will accept no understudy, my friend. This is to be your recall to honor and to fame." His tears blotted the page. The first name was erased, and with firmness his own was affixed to that contract, which alas, was never productive, as he died shortly after its execution.
The last time I ever saw him was in Paris, living in a wretched room in the attic of a squalid little hotel, and the last letter I ever received from him was written to warn me against a youthful adventurer who was then exploiting stray Americans.
The bed on which his bulky form was stretched was covered with a hideous brown blanket. The furniture was of the ugliest and plainest description. Not a creature comfort of any sort was visible. I recalled the house in Tite Street. The contrast was appalling.
His few remaining friends had given until they could give no more. They at least had kept the roof over his head and had provided him with the necessities of life.
He barely recognized me. The memory of that visit is still painful.
One of the Fathers from St. Joseph's Church, in the Avenue Hoche, was with him at the end, but whether Oscar Wilde was finally a convert to that faith, in which even in his most clouded moments he had a mystical belief, will always remain an unsolved problem until the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed. It was said that when the priest leaned over to hear his dying confession, he found that the throat had become contracted, and that the lips had lost all power of speech. It seems a sinister fact that he who had revelled in irresponsible volubility all his life was unable at the end to proclaim a broken and a contrite heart.
Yet possibly at no time in his career had this poor soul been so near the recognition of truth which is eternal, as at this bitter moment of his physical disintegration and of his final detachment from that world from which he had been outcast.
I have always maintained that "De Profundis" was his masterpiece and a rich contribution to the treasure house of English literature.
It was conceived and written in the depths. It was given to the world as Oscar Wilde's last message to save others from the depths.
The English theatre in those days was unique. The list of managers included men of strong personalities. Henry Irving was the active dean of his profession. His productions became world renowned. I recall trivial effects which at that time were considered a sensation, but which to-day would be rejected and ridiculed. For instance, flames of fire were made by strips of ribbon upon which red and yellow lights were thrown. These were blown about incessantly by an electric fan operating from beneath the stage---a most simple, yet successful device.
Irving had as his right and left hand men, Bram Stoker and Harry Loveday. Money was spent lavishly, and I might add, wasted in the Lyceum Theatre. Economy there seemed sordid. I remember the indifferent expression on Irving's face when I once pointed out to him a certain saving of a thousand dollars in the handling of his scenery and costumes between London and New York. He heeded my suggestion by a characteristic elevation of his eyebrows.
When a new production was nearing completion the rehearsals were incessant and exhausting. I had a rare opportunity of being present on many such occasions because, as Sardou would never risk the discomfort and, from his viewpoint, the peril of crossing the Channel, he appointed me as his deputy to follow the rehearsals of "Dante" and of "Robespierre," both of which plays Irving had commissioned him to write in collaboration with Emile Moreau.
Henry Irving never rehearsed himself until the very end. An assistant stage manager, always with a book and pencil in hand, was his understudy. This nation's idol would sit in the auditorium, watching every movement, and calling out suggestions, which would be at once scribbled upon the manuscript; especially was close attention paid to the position of the wandering spot-light.
Despite my expostulations, "Dante" was played almost in semi-darkness, with the sole exception of one scene which was conceived in the spirit of Botticelli's Spring.
The play moved lugubriously, which I insisted was due to the lack of lighting as much as to anything else. Irving could not be reasoned with. He had at this period of his career become infected with the New Art, and feared above all to be considered a victim of the old régime and its influences. It is always dangerous when an elderly man overthrows his traditions and makes a dash towards tolerance and license.
During these rehearsals, I further discovered that Irving would never stand in the dark himself, nor speak from the shadow.
I proved this fact by often drawing his attention to his understudy who, at that particular moment, was in obscurity.
Immediately Irving would call to him and to the spotlight man to be more careful. They were rehearsed to be inseparable. It was an amusing insight into character, which I have never forgotten.
Henry Irving was nothing of a musician, which I observed when Xavier Leroux came over from Paris with his score. It was he who had been selected to write the incidental music of these Sardou-Moreau productions. When cuts were found necessary in the manuscript, Irving could never understand why in the world Leroux should not bluepencil his orchestral score in the same way. He insisted that when dialogue was shortened, the corresponding bars of music should be also taken out.
We all had many futile arguments with him on the subject, with the result that Leroux returned to Paris, a very disgruntled and disappointed composer.
On one memorable occasion I enjoyed my brief moment of importance with Irving. There were some legal difficulties covering "Madame Sans-Gêne," by Sardou, the English rights of which he had purchased. I knew every detail of the case as I had studied it carefully; besides, I was fairly familiar with the questions concerning international copyrights, plagiarisms and piracies.
Sir George Lewis was then the great lawyer of the members of the theatrical profession.
He was their rock of strength and acted proverbially as their mentor in personal as well as in public affairs.
Irving, who had retained the services of Lewis in this particular contention, took me with him to the latter's office. I found Sir George extremely well-dressed, alert and courteous. He had a searching expression and a direct attack. His personality suggested a man who was a thorough master of himself and to whom all the world was a stage with the people merely its puppets. The eminent barrister, at Irving's suggestion, asked me to relate the facts as I had gathered them. I stated concisely and clearly each point of the argument, explaining much that was confused and giving evidence of much that helped to clarify.
When I had finished my summing up, Sir George Lewis turned to Irving and said, "Instead of employing me to prepare your brief, I strongly advise you to engage Miss Marbury, for I am convinced that even without my aid, she can win our case in any court in the Empire."
Naturally I flushed with pride---but afterwards thought of the many mornings when I as a young girl had sat in my father's office at 64 Wall Street, reading Blackstone's Commentaries and studying case after case in the leather bound law books which stood along his shelves. My training had been thorough and my legal mind was a direct inheritance.
It is with confessed timidity that I approach my early acquaintance with G. Bernard Shaw. The first time my eyes ever fell upon him was at the Criterion Theatre. He wore a soft flannel shirt. I was told who he was and that his cult for socialism made him opposed to starched linen and other conventionalities. He was then just beginning to write for the stage, and was far from being rich in worldly goods at the time when he entrusted his American interests to me.
After the success of Richard Mansfield's performance in the "Devil's Disciple," which success was duplicated in "Arms and the Man," I began to send drafts to Shaw as a result.
It was not very long before I received an amusing letter from him which began, "Rapacious Elisabeth Marbury: As you persist in asking these large terms from American Managers, and as you persist in sending me fat checks, I am compelled to do a thing utterly abhorrent to me, namely, open a bank account."
The two plays above mentioned were followed by "You Never Can Tell," "Captain Brassbound's Conversion," "John Bull's Other Island," "Fanny's First Play," "Candida," "Caesar and Cleopatra", "Man and Superman," "Major Barbara," "The Man of Destiny," "How He Lied to Her Husband," "Getting Married," et cetera.
The Shaw drama was established. His success as a playwright was beyond dispute. Even the intellectual snobs could not kill it. An occasional manager like an occasional listener would complain of the long stretches of involved dialogue. A few were honest enough then as now to confess that they couldn't discover whether Shaw was being funny to please himself or funny to confuse others.
However, this very query proved a good box office asset, so that there is always to be found an eager public for any play Bernard Shaw writes, no matter what he writes or how he writes it, and the early habit which he acquired of indulging in a bank account has become chronic. He could not avoid his fate.
Shaw, as everyone knows, is a vegetarian, but no one can lunch or dine at a table more replete with delicious food than at his house in Adelphi Terrace. Vegetables and cereals, as there prepared for the great author, are succulent and tempting. The menus would have delighted Brillat-Savarin. Each course is more delicate and appetizing than its predecessor and personally I always felt that I gained pounds every time I enjoyed his hospitality.
I cannot refer, however, to this home without expressing an ardent admiration for Mrs. Bernard Shaw, who was a widow when Shaw married her. A more charming and gracious lady it would be difficult to find. She is so extremely intelligent that at first this is not a too obvious fact. I often wonder whether she has ever allowed her brilliant husband to discover it. Under her influence, Shaw no longer eschewed linen shirts and stiff collars. He no longer refused to own an automobile, and he no longer believed that Felix Holt would have been less radical had he consented to wear a necktie.
Socialism is an inspiring theme for either the pen or the platform but, like the Eighteenth Amendment, it seems to be recommended with more enthusiasm for one's neighbor than for oneself.
One of the most successful of Shaw's early plays was "You Never Can Tell." I had arrived in London shortly after its production, and was walking down the Strand towards the theatre where it was being given. Near the Charing Cross Hospital, I met et the author who greeted me with a pleasant friendliness and asked whither I was bound. "To see your play," I replied. "Foolish Elisabeth," he answered, "your afternoon will be wasted. No one will buy a play in which the opening scene takes place in a dentist's office and having the hero a dentist."
"If he is a skilled operator who doesn't charge too much, the play might be produced as propaganda against extortion," I replied.
I need not dwell upon the real fate of this comedy. Liebler and Company were the managers who risked a production before the American public and were well rewarded for their courage.
One of the best critics in London at this period was Clement Scott. He was called the Sarcey of England.
He and William Archer were the two men whose favorable opinions were the most anxiously coveted.
Scott was a delightful companion, bubbling over with humor. He was a loud advocate of the Catholic Church, to which he belonged. He never allowed the fact of his faith to be lost sight of, so far as it could be emphasized in speech.
On one occasion after attending a matinée at Brighton and reaching London as late as nine o'clock, this being a Friday, he hastened to Simpson's on the Strand where fish dinners were a specialty.
Failing listlessly into a chair, and loathing fish as only Catholics can loathe it, he called the waiter and murmured, "Serve the regular Friday dinner," whereas the man apologetically informed him that they were out of fish, owing to the lateness of the hour.
Scott gleefully shouted, "Then bring me a fat, juicy steak." But raising his eyes piously toward Heaven, he exclaimed, "God knows, I asked for fish."
There was never any doubt as to the truth of this anecdote as it was so entirely characteristic of Clement Scott.