Sunday, March 29, 2015
(March 30, 1901-July 9, 1979)
She was the daughter of the celebrated actor Otis Skinner and his actress wife, Maud Durbin. So it was natural that she should study theatre and she began her stage career in 1921. But she was primarily known for her tours in a one-woman show of character sketches she wrote herself. Her humorous pieces were published by The New Yorker and were eventually compiled into a series of books, including Nuts in May, Dithers and Jitters, Excuse It Please!, and The Ape in Me, among others.
In addition to her solo performances, she continued to appear in stage productions in New York, in summer theatre, and on tour across the country. But it was in the 1940s and 1950s she found roles in a number of noteworthy plays that revealed her talent: The Searching Wind (1944), Lady Windermere's Fan (1946), Major Barbara (1956), and The Pleasure of His Company which she wrote with S. A. Taylor (1958). Her performance as Jessica's mother in the last named play pleased NY Times critic Brooks Atkinson. He wrote: "She plays it with taste and distinction and also with wit--wit not only in the edging of phrases but also in posture, movement and in the silent language of her eyes."
In 1966 she published Madame Sarah, a vivid and affectionate biography of Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress. Harper's Magazine critic Clive Barnes commented, "Miss Skinner is an authority on this period of French theatre, and in addition to the story of Madame Bernhardt, the book also contains lots of information about the stage of the period."
Despite her heavy performance schedule, she found time to serve on many committees and was given special awards for her contributions to American culture. She received the Barter Theatre Award in 1952 and in 1954 was invested as an officer de Academie in Paris. She also received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Tufts University, Emerson College, Bryn Mawr College, Mills College and many others.
It is reported that in a conversation with celebrated pianist/comedian Victor Borge, she told him that she decided to drop the term "disuese" from her act after reading in a Scottish newspaper: "Cornelia Otis Skinner, the American disease, gave a program last night."
Friday, March 27, 2015
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HELEN WESTLEY!
(March 28, 1875 - December 12, 1942)
Born Henrietta Remsen Meserole Manney, Helen who married John Westley, a Broadway actor in 1900 until their divorce in 1912, was a member of the original board of the Theatre Guild, appearing in Peer Gynt, Caesar and Cleopatra, Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, and The Apple Cart. She also appeared in two plays which would be turned into classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals: Green Grow the Lilacs became Oklahoma! and Liliom, which became Carousel. She player Aunt Eller and Mrs. Muskat (who became Mrs. Mullin in Carousel).
After her divorce, she became a member of Greenwich Village's Liberal Club which counted Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Susan Glaspell and Lawrence Langner among its members. In 1915 she and Langner and others founded the Washington Square Players, a troupe that did not hesitate to satirize contemporary issues or figures.
In 1918 she helped found the Theatre Guild, an organization she served until 1941. A direct, honest, and often outspoken woman, she was unswerving in her quest for perfection. Neither the size nor showiness of a role was important to her; whether or not it was a good theatre was her main concern.
She took mainly supporting roles while with the Theatre Guild including Mrs. Higgins in Pygmalion, Lady Britomart in Major Barbara and Mrs. Evans in O'Neill's Strange Interlude.
At the age of 59 she started an eight-year screen career which saw her in character roles in nearly thirty films. Of medium height, she could appear as either fat and frumpy or large and imposing. Her screen personality ran between tart but warm-hearted on one end of the spectrum to shrewish on the other. If you watch old films of the 30s on TCM you will see her in The House of Rothschild (1934); Anne of Green Gables (1934) two Irene Dunne classics, Roberta (1935) and Showboat (1936) in which she may have had her best screen role as the asp-tongued but loving Parthy Hawks; Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938); and Aunt Miranda in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm starring Shirley Temple.
Lawrence Langner remembered Helen Westley as "one of the most refreshing personalities in the theatre, as well as one of its most talented character actresses." But what made her invaluable to the Washington Square Players and later to the Theater Guild, was her simple, direct enthusiasm for the greatest plays, her incisive mind which cut through meretricious work like a surgeon's scalpel, her disregard for appearances, her dislike of mediocrity, and her unwillingness to sacrifice art for money...
Sources: The Magic Curtain by Lawrence Langner. 1951
Notable Women in the American Theatre, A biographical Dictionary. 1989
Before she became Helen Westley, she billed herself as Helen Ransom and joined the touring stock company of Rose Stahl, making her New York debut in The Captain of Nonsuch (1897).
(March 27, 1878-January 10, 1956)
She was a theatre critic who edited Theatre Arts magazine between 1918 and 1946. Starting her writing career as a reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel, she became its literary editor in 1903. During this period she met Lewis M. Isaacs, a New York lawyer and free-lance composer. Early in their relationship she collaborated with him on a children's operetta patterned after the style of the Brothers Grimm. They married in 1904, moved to New York and began a long and fruitful life together, raising three children.
As a free-lance reviewer, she had sent Sheldon Cheney, editor of Theatre Arts, reviews of The Big Show, one of the Hippodrome extravaganzas, as well as The Century Girl, The Cohan Review of 1916, Robinson Crusoe, Jr., and in 1918 The Ziegfeld Follies. It was that year that Cheney invited her to join the editorial board of Theatre Arts. By 1922 her expertise in editorial feature writing gained her the editorship of Theatre Arts and in 1924 the magazine moved from quarterly to monthly publication. She is credited with broadening the spectrum of Theatre Arts to include related areas of dance, mime, and music. In 1946 Rosamond Gilder became the editor.
Edith was instrumental in founding the National Theatre Conference and led the group from 1932-1945. She was also one of the prime movers in 1935 who presented President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a request to charter the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA). "To create a national theatre to bring to the people throughout the country their heritage of the great drama of the past and the best of the present, which was too frequently unavailable to them under existing conditions." (ANTA Charter, 1935).
Theatre Arts' slogan was "A Record and a Prophecy" and this was its achievement. Month by month the contemporary scene was reported in word and picture, document, criticism and comment. The record of the past was also there, in the special articles and issues which brought to bear on particular subjects the resources of historical research, artistic expression and editorial skill, making these special projects of permanent historic value--the issue on Adolphe Appia, for example, is still the best study in English of the great pioneer of modern stage design; the issue devoted to the Negro in the American theatre, the issues on Lope de Vega, on musical comedy, on The World in the Mirror of the Theatre, on Shakespeare and the modern stage remain extraordinarily informative and pictorially captivating.
The "prophecy" was there in the words and deeds of young men and women of the theatre who received their first recognition in its pages, the new ideas, the new impulses, the new paths which were advanced and explored in the magazine's constant search for ways in which the theatre might spread to wider fields through wiser methods.
Barrett Clark described it as "the part and parcel of the growing up of the modern American theatre."
Every month! This was one of Mrs. Isaac's success as editor. She was brilliant, clear and firm in judgement. She had the journalist's sense of the immediate values, the critic's sense of permanent values.
Her range of taste and knowledge--stretching from the written word through the fields of painting, music, dance, poetry, architecture--combined with a generosity of spirit made her influence unique.
Under her, Theatre Arts pioneered along practical as well as aesthetic lines, waging an unflagging campaign for better building laws, reform in ticket speculation, new theatre architecture and cooperation among many theatre groups.
Resource: Theatre Arts Anthology eds. Rosamond Gilder, Hermine Rich Isaacs, Robert M. MacGregor and Edward Reed. Theatre Arts Books New York 1950
As a college speech and drama major in California, I subscribed to Theatre Arts Monthly and couldn't wait for the next issue to arrive. It kept me fascinated and informed about the theatre in New York City and throughout the country and the glorious stars who were lighting up the great white way. And it made me more determined than ever to live here some day. Thank you Ms. Isaacs, Ms. Gilder, et al.
Mari Lyn Henry, founder, The Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History
Thursday, March 26, 2015
IN CELEBRATION OF WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
WE PAY TRIBUTE TO MARTHA MORTON.
Martha Morton made history when she spoke to the all male American
Dramatists Club in 1907. She was considered the Dean of American Women Playwrights and had made millions of dollars with her plays before 1900. The photo to the left shows her reading in her library. For her play "A Fool of Fortune" she spent a year on Wall Street researching the plot in order to capture the terminology and dynamic of the stockbroker's office. We are thrilled to re-introduce this amazing pioneer to today's audience.
MARTHA MORTONʼS ADDRESS TO THE AMERICAN DRAMATISTSʼ CLUB, DELMONICOʼS, NEW YORK CITY, JANUARY 20, 1907
The American Dramatistsʼ Club (founded in 1890 by Bronson Howard) invited, for the first time in its history, women playwrights to join them for their yearly dinner. Paying tributes to playwrights Charles Klein and J.I.C. Clarke, Bronson Howard introduced Martha Morton Conheim, who represented the women dramatists. The following is her address to the group.
I take great pleasure, in the name of women writers for the stage, in thanking the president and members of the American Dramatistsʼ Club for the “privilege” of breaking bread with them this evening. A diplomatic function such as this is quite unusual, where representatives of two great dominions come together---dominions so near and alas so far apart. I mean the dominion of the sexes. It is really beautiful, the entente cordiale, which prevails this evening; as we sit together round the same board, holding hands, so to speak, exchanging the most flattering of sentiments, which we mean from our souls, whilst we sip the cup that cheers and inebriates. There is another cup which has been floating in the air above my head during this entire evening---which neither cheers nor inebriates---the cup of Tantalus. The woes of the unfortunate Grecian youth, imprisoned on the borders of the lake, whose sparkling waters arose just to his thirsty lips and receded, have echoed down the centuries and found a response in the hearts of the women dramatists; for whenever they think of the American Dramatistsʼ Club they cannot help seeing that awful cup of Tantalus floating gracefully toward her, and then floating away in an ultra-tantalizing manner. "
I have been named the dean of the women playwrights and I am very proud to be classed among the veterans, in company with my dear friends, Mr. Bronson Howard, Mr. J.I.C. Clarke, Mr. Charles Doremus, Mr. Charles Klein and a handful of others. It was twenty years ago! How does a man feel when he has to say that? Is there a quick, sharp pang of regret, as he looks over his shoulder, and sees Youth and sweet Inexperience scampering away like rabbits with their ears turned backwards? Men have a way of carrying off their age with laughter and jests. I have never known a woman
who could do that, and my excuse for being able to look so far back is that I commenced very young. There is a fine German expression for it ----”Unverschamt jung,” which means neither shamefully nor shamelessly, but just “unashamed young,” so unashamed that I wrote plays and the men shook their heads and said the drama was going to the dogs, then they crept in through the stage door and watched that “green girl” direct a rehearsal and one of them came up to me and said: “Are you going to make a business out of this?” I trembled and felt like Martin Luther before the Council of Worms. I looked him straight in the eyes and answered fervently, “God help me, I must!” Then he put out a friendly hand and crushed my fingers into splinters and gave me the comforting assurance that a woman would have to do twice the work of a man to get one-half the credit.
Since then I have been treated just as well and just as badly as a man. I have been hustled off the stage by the stage manager as the curtain was about to rise; I have been dragged on the stage after the curtain fell to bow my panic-stricken thanks to an applauding audience; I have been roasted, sizzled, frizzled to death, then resurrected and borne on the wings of praise up to a temporary heaven. I have had much success which was sweet, and a little failure which was valuable, and tonight I have reached the zenith of my ambition--I have been present at one of those mysterious Dramatistsʼ Club dinners.
My last sensation will be experienced when The Lambs come and beg me to write a skit for their next gambol---and why not? When once the torch of reason is set to that moldy old fence of tradition it ignites very rapidly; and today is a day of tradition- burning. Bonfires are being lit all over the world. We are beginning to understand many things that were riddles and that riddle of riddles--Woman--is beginning to understand herself. Ibsen is the sign-post where the roads cross between the past and the future. Thousands of Noras have crept silently out of narrow homes into the broad walks of life, crept silently up into every vocation, every profession. As a business factor, as a creator, woman has become a power in our drama.
But still she is at a great disadvantage because she has no guild, and aside from the benefits derived by a people of our profession in having a common meeting place, there is that splendid satisfaction, after the first nightʼs production of oneʼs play, in being able to flee from the frigidity of the managerial office into the warmth of oneʼs own club where oneʼs fellow author slaps one on the back, saying, “My dear boy---I mean, my dear girl--splendid work! Splendid! It was so good I might have written it myself.!”
Jesting aside, the time is ripe, the material at hand, and I am happy to announce officially that an association has been formed by the women writers for the stage, which is called “The Society of Dramatic Authors". Now, gentlemen, donʼt look up, this society will never be a cup of Tantalus to you, but there is something else hanging over your head, suspended by a single hair--the sword of Damocles--and when it falls, I hope it wonʼt hurt you too much.
Gentlemen, we are not going to blame you for something of which you were entirely innocent--your sex--we are not going to ostracize you because you are merely men---we invite you all! The president, secretary, treasurer---all who are present tonight, all who are absent, in fact, all dramatists are invited to come in and join us. The drama is universal---its unalterable laws are the same throughout the entire world---its form does not change. It is universal life crystallized into living pictures which differ in the different nations only in color and locality. All dramatists are one in their work; therefore as moderns we may make no restrictions of nationality or sex. The Society of Dramatic Authors has thirty-one charter members, thirty women and one man, a gentleman of broad views and “scientific” principles--Mr. Charles Klein.
And now, returning to the cup of many vintages which life holds to our lips, the wine of which now we sip and now we drain to the dregs--the Society of Dramatic Authors, born yesterday, is as yet only a cup of Promise--we extend to you the privilege of helping make us make it a cup of Fulfillment.
Theatre Magazine, March 1907
(Special thanks to Professor Sherry D. Engle for reprinting this speech in her book, “New Women Dramatists in America, 1890-1920” Palgrave Macmillan, NY 2007)
Martha Morton when she was dreaming about becoming
a playwright in a man's world.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANE CHAMBERS
(March 27, 1937 - February 15, 1983)
Pioneer who wrote theatrical works with openly lesbian characters.
Jane was born in Columbia, South Carolina, grew up in Orlando, Florida, studied at Rollins College and intended to become a playwright. She dropped out of college after she encountered discrimination as a woman there.
In 1971 she began to achieve recognition as a writer. She won the Rosenthal Award for Poetry, and her play Christ in a Treehouse won a Connecticut Educational Television Award. She also received a Eugene O'Neill Fellowship for Tales of the Revolution and Other American Fables, staged at the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater.
Her play, A Late Snow, produced at Playwrights Horizons in 1974, was one of the earliest plays to portray lesbian characters in a positive light. In 1980 she started to work with The Glines, writing Last Summer at Bluefish Cove for their First Gay American Arts Festival, about the impact upon a woman and her lesbian friends after she is diagnosed with cancer. Ironically, she was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. She continued to write, producing My Blue Heaven for the Second Gay American Arts Festival at the Glines, and The Quintessential Image for the Women's Theatre Conference in Minneapolis. Since 1984 there has been an annual award in her name, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BELLA SPEWACK (March 25, 1899 - April 29, 1990) Born Bella Cohen in bucharest, Romania, her family emigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan when she was a child. When she was 23 she was already on her way to a successful career in writing and show business.
In her autobiography, Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side (1995) she wrote: "Just about the ages of 10 and 12, and even much more before then, there burns brightly in every ghetto child's brain the desire to see what lies without the ghetto's walls." After graduation from Washington Irving High School, she worked as a journalist for socialist and pacifist newspapers such as The New York Call. A reporter for The World was attracted to her and in 1922 she became Mrs. Samuel Spewack. Together they worked as news correspondents in Moscow for four years.
When they returned to the United States, they settled in New Hope, PA and began to collaborate on plays. They wrote several plays and screenplays for mostly B-movies throughout the 1930s, earning an Academy Award nomination for best original story for My Favorite Wife in 1940. They also penned a remake of Grand Hotel, entitled Weekend at the Waldorf (1945) starring Ginger Rogers.
Perhaps what they are best known for are some of the most memorable lyrics in musical theater history. Two librettos, Leave It To Me (1938) and Kiss Me Kate (1948) were Cole Porter collaborations. Their musical adaptation of Taming of the Shrew yielded them two Tony Awards, one for best musical, the other for best author of a musical.
Their first play, The Solitaire Man (1927) was seen only in Boston, but Boy Meets Girl (1936) ran for 669 performances in New York. Sam created the plot and action, while Bella wrote most of the dialogue. George Abbott, the legendary Broadway director, said that the Spewacks "know how to write lines which are not only funny to read but which crackle when spoken in the theatre." Their best known straight play was My Three Angels, which is still performed. The screen adaptation is entitled We're No Angels.
Though in later years they distanced themselves from their Jewish roots, they contributed time and money to a variety of Jewish causes, mostly involving children. In 1946, as a representative for the UN, Bella covered the distribution of food in ravaged Europe, where so many jewish communities lay in ruins. In 1960, they founded the Spewack Sports Club for the Handicapped in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Bella was a successful publicist for the Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts of the USA, and claimed to have introduced the idea of selling cookies for the latter as a means of raising revenue for the organization.
A Letter To Sam from Bella, a one-act play by Broadway director and teacher Aaron Frankel, is based on their personal papers from the Theater Arts Collection of Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
(March 18, 1852 - April 2, 1932)
"A ripe and radiant beauty, buxom, blithe and debonair, delightful in high comedy and effective in serious characters or in the high lights of melodrama." George Odell, critic
Born in Peterborough, England, her father was a friend of Charles Dickens. Her brother was Charles Coghlan who was brought to American by Augustin Daly to be a part of his prestigious company.
She made her theatrical debut when she was a child as one of the three sisters in Macbeth. She came to America in 1871 to play in burlesque with Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes.
A career that lasted more than half a century included ten years as the leading lady in Wallack's Company until it disbanded in 1888. Her Lady Teazle in School for Scandal and Rosalind in As You Like It were declared unsurpassed on the American stage. During the 1890s and 1900s she appeared mostly in England. In 1893 she headed her own company and produced the first American production of Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, playing Mrs. Arbuthnot. And in 1908 she toured the U.S. in a controversial production of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession. She specialized in women-centered plays: Arthur Wing Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, and Charles Reade's Peg Woffington. She had a gift for making a woman's life appear richer and more meaningful than the scripts indicated.
Blessed with an approachable beauty, extraordinary taste in costume, and a rich throaty voice, she could play a villainess as well as a socialite or a country wife until her expanding figure in the decade after the turn of century caused managers to retain her only in comic roles.
From the Life and Times of Joseph Haworth: www.josephhaworth.com
An anecdote about playing Orlando in As You Like It opposite Rose's Rosalind.
They performed in an open-air production on the lawn at the Hotel Kenmawr in Pittsburgh on July 24, 1892. The Forest of Arden was represented by three large trees and evergreen branches placed around the stage. There was a line of incandescent lights on the ground forming footlights and fifteen calcium lamps on either side of the stage flooded the playing area. A storm erupted right before curtain, and a steady rain fell throughout the first act. The audience (some one thousand from the highest circles of Pittsburgh society) raised umbrellas and hung in till the second act when the skies cleared.
Miss Coghlan was in top form that night. She was frequently interrupted by enthusiastic demonstrations from the audience, and her voice projected in the open air as clearly as in a theatre.
(March 19, 1872 - August 12, 1918)
She was known for her bawdy songs ("I just can't make my eyes behave") flirtatious nature and willingness to show her legs on stage. Touring through Europe, she was appearing in London in 1896 when she met Florenz Ziegfeld who asked her to return to New York City with him. He set about creating what we today would call a 'buzz' about her and feeding stories (mostly untrue) about her to the American press. From 1905 she enjoyed several successes on the Broadway stage and suggested the format for what would become the famous Ziegfeld Follies which debuted in 1907.
She spent the years of World War I working in vaudeville, touring France, performing for French soldiers and raising money for the war effort. She came to be regarded as a war heroine for her contributions and highly praised for the courage she displayed in traveling to the front lines.
Luise Rainer won an Academy Award for her performance as Anna Held in the film The Great Ziegfeld (1936) which was a sanitized version of their relationship. They were never legally married but lived as common law partners. He was known for his infidelity and ultimately married Billie Burke. But it was Anna Held who through her popularity as a musical comedy soubrette helped bolster his career and make millions. The American poet Carl Sandburg wrote a memorial poem for her after her death entitled appropriately An Electric Sign Goes Dark, in the collection Smoke and Steel.
Monday, March 16, 2015
THE AMERICAN BERNHARDT
(March 17, 1847 - November 20, 1925)
Clara Morris is one of the five actresses featured in Stage Struck:
From Kemble To Kate produced by the Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History at the Snapple Theater Center on December 12, 2013. As the founder of the Society and a theatre historian, my love affair with Clara began when I found her three autobiographies in a book barn somewhere in Maine. I devoured the books because they all connected me with the history of the actress's journey in the nineteenth century. According to her biographer, Barbara Grossman, she wrote over 50 volumes of diaries. I have been wanting to do a one woman show about her life, its challenges and triumphs, a sort of Horatio Alger story as she went from severe poverty to financial independence. And the fact that she was a published author of fiction, a prolific writer of magazine features and contributed articles to many publications amazed me. She had not had any formal education. She learned to read and write as a child, but her teacher was the theatre and the people she met and acted with during her lifetime. The one woman show is not a reality yet but the fact that the solo piece I created for Stage Struck might be a starting point is my objective. It is also a possibility for the other actresses who researched and fell in love with their women: Fanny Kemble, Alla Nazimova, Mrs. Fiske and Katharine Hepburn. My feature about Clara today is from the biography I contributed to the Stage Struck program.
Clara performed in over 80 productions for three decades. She traveled throughout the country and Canada and audiences were extremely moved by her emotional power. Camille was among her greatest roles although at first she was against doing it. Palmer convinced her she must to it for a benefit during the season of 1874-75 when the suffering of the poor during a 'dreadful winter' was so horrible that the actors were the first to offer help. Having never played Camille she got the book and studied all night "while my mother worked the coffee pot". After the performance, Palmer wrote a note to her saying she had scored the hit of her life.
Critics have said that she acted with her nerves, shed real tears and felt every part she was playing. However she was known to use so much energy that she experienced cold, fever, and periods of total collapse and disease, suffering untold physical and mental torture. Theatres at which she was playing had to be closed and audiences dismissed because she was unable to appear.
William Winter, the most renowned theatre historian and critic of the nineteenth century, wrote about Ms. Morris in Shadows of the Stage (1893). "Her conquest was through the emotions. Her method was controlled by taste and made symmetrical by repose. Her best moments were those of frenzy, as when love struggles in the heart with knowledge that it is wasted and in vain...but even in the wildest of those moments she displayed an artist's control of herself and her resources."
She retired from the stage in 1900 and began her new journey as an author and also appeared as a lecturer on the vaudeville circuit. Her last stage performance was in 1904 in The Two Orphans and in 1909 she recreated Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene at a star-studded benefit in her honor sponsored by the Twelfth Night Club.
A true Renaissance woman in her era, she sang, wrote songs and screenplays, acted and entertained the troops during World War I. At age 11 she was a headliner on the vaudeville circuit, performing under the name "Little Elsie". As she matured she began perfecting her comedic skills.
She was a tireless advocate for British and American soldiers fighting in World War I, raised funds for Liberty Bonds and took her act on the road, entertaining troops stationed near the front lines--one of the first popular American artists to do so in a war fought on foreign soil. She was immortalized as the "sweetheart of the AEF" (American Expeditionary Force).
Following the war, she maintained her commitment to the fighting men to whom she had become so attached. Charles Dillingham agreed to produced Elsie Janis and Her Gang, a revue which Janis created for returned out-of-work soldiers, some of whom she had entertained during the war. The period following the war was difficult for her. She wrote, in her autobiography, "The war was my high spot and I think there is only one real peak in each life!" (Janis, Elsie. So Far, So Good! An Autobiography. New York, E.P. Dutton and Co. 1932).
She returned to London and Paris periodically through the 1920s for It's All Wrong which she wrote, directed and acted in, and a revue--Elsie Janis At Home. As her stage appearances became less frequent, she continued writing and songwriting, and moved into production supervision with such shows as New Faces of 1934. Her final Broadway appearance was Frank Fay's Show in 1939 with Eva Le Gallienne, whom, as a young actress, Ms. Janis had mentored.
(March 16, 1912 - May 1, 1969) who is considered
a pioneer in the field of theatrical lighting design.
In the early part of the 20th century, the lighting designer was not a formalized position. The set designer or electrician handled the lighting of a production. Ms. Rosenthal helped make the lighting designer an integral member of the design team.
She also said that lighting "was a career in itself". As well as particular lighting innovations, she created an atmosphere specific to the production, and she was in demand as a Broadway lighting designer.
After studying lighting design at the Yale School of Drama with Stanley McCandless, she joined the Federal Theatre Project in 1935 which led to collaborations with Orson Welles and John Houseman. She would later follow Welles to the Mercury Theatre. Some of her major contributions were the elimination of shadows by using floods of upstage lighting and controlling angles and mass of illumination to create contrasts without shadows. She designed lighting for hundreds of productions which included Martha Graham's dances, the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway--West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Take Me Along, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello, Dolly!, Cabaret (1966) and The Happy Time.
For more information: Magic of Light: The Craft and Career of Jean Rosenthal, Pioneer in Lighting For the Modern Stage, (Little Brown & Co.) published after her death in 1972 from tape-recorded dictation sessions with Lael Wertenbaker.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
MARGARET WEBSTER (MARCH 15, 1905-NOVEMBER 13, 1972
The daughter of two famous actors, Ben Webster and Dame May Whitty, she spent the early part of her career in England, where she became well known in the theatre. She worked for several established theatrical companies, including the Old Vic from 1929-1930 (at 24 years of age!!!).
In America she began an impressive reputation when she direct Maurice Evans in Richard ll. It was while she was directed him in Hamlet (1938) that she began her long romantic relationship with Eva Le Gallienne. She directed her as Madame Ranevsky in The Cherry Orchard. In 1943 she directed Othello starring Paul Robeson and Jose Ferrer as Iago, which was a huge hit on Broadway lasting 296 performances, the longest run of a Shakespearean production and she also played Emilia in the production. In 1946 Ms. Webster and Ms. Le Gallienne co-founded the American Repertory Theatre with producer Cheryl Crawford, with Webster's staging of Shakespeare's Henry Vlll
as its premiere production starring Eva as Katharine and Victor Jory in the title role.
Often credited with first having brought Shakespeare to Broadway, and renowned for her bold casting of an African American (Paul Robeson) in the role of Othello, she was a creative force in modern American and British theater.
In Milly S, Barranger's well-researched Margaret Webster: A Life in the Theater (University of Michigan Press: First edition (2004), her story reveals the independent-minded artist undeterred by stage tradition and unmindful of rules about a woman's place in the professional theater. In addition to providing fascinating glimpses into Webster's personal and family life, the book offers a who's-who list of the biggest names in New York and London theater of the time, as well as Hollywood: John Gielgud, Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Uta Hagen, Sybil Thorndike, and John Barrymore, among others, all of whom crossed paths with Webster. Capping her amazing story is her investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy and HUAC, which left her unable to work for a year and from which she never fully recovered.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Her son, Christopher Cohen, said after her death that his mother "was the intellect, and Dad was the bravado." in their Tony work.
She won two Emmy Awards: one in 1980 for producing the 34th Annual Tony Awards and one for producing "The Night of 100 Stars" in 1982. According to an article about her in The New York Times, she was described as both shrewd and down to earth, focusing on getting the awards shows to continue on television by signing on names familiar to TV viewers.
Besides her contributions to causes like housing for the homeless, Greenpeace, the Actors' Fund and animal rights, she was involved with Community Board 5 in Midtown Manhattan and was prominent in continuing efforts to acquire landmark status for all the Broadway theaters. Her involvement with theater lasted for many years. She made her Broadway debut when she appeared in Bathsheba in 1947 with James Mason. A year later she played the Girl in Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke and was the only woman in the London cast of Mr. Roberts.
In the 1983-84 season she worked as a producer or co-producer on the plays Edmund Kean, La Tragedie de Carmen and Play Memory. She and her husband co-produced Dario Fo's play Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
According to Roger Kenvin in Notable Women in American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary (1989) "Any assessment of Hildy Park's career would have to take into account breadth--theatre, television and film--and its diversity--acting, writing, and producing. Another the ease with which Parks works with great numbers of highly individualistic, creative persons to produce successful shows. Her own lively intelligence and flexibility, plus her thorough knowledge of theatre's many aspects, have been her greatest strengths.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
(March 11, 1898 - June 4, 1968)
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Dorothy was the younger sister of Lillian Gish. Their mother supported the family after Mr. Gish abandoned his family. In 1912 Mary Pickford, a childhood friend, introduced the sisters to direct D. W. Griffith and they began acting at the Biograph Studios. Dorothy starred in over 100 short films and features, many of them with Lillian.
In the silent film, Hearts of the World (1918), a film about World War 1 and the devastation of France, Dorothy found her first foothold, striking a personal hit in a comedy role as the 'little disturber", a street singer. Her characterization launched her as a star of comedy films.
She recalled her comedy persona in the article "And So I Am A Comedienne", published in Ladies Home Journal (July, 1925). "Today my objection to playing comedy is that it is so often misunderstood by the audiences in the theater and the picture houses. It is so often thought to be a lesser art and something which comes to one naturally...."
When the film industry converted to talking pictures, she chose to take a respite from film work and return to the American stage where she had spent her childhood. In 1939 both sisters found the role of a lifetime in Life With Father starring Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney. Lillian was introduced to Lindsay backstage and surprised the producers with her desire to head the first company to go on the road, with Dorothy taking the same part for the second road company.
(March 11, 1922-November 5, 2002) An American playwright and actress, Vinnette Carroll was the first African-American women to direct on Broadway, with the 1972 musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope.
In 1948 she accepted a scholarship to attend Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop as the New School for Social Research and studied with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Margaret Barker.
She remains the only African-American woman to receive a Tony nomination for Direction. She founded the Urban Arts Corp, a non -profit, interracial community, where, as artistic director, she was able to provide a professional workshop for aspiring young actors in ghetto areas.
She joined the faculty of the Performing Arts High School in New York where she taught theatre arts and directed productions for eleven years.
Due to the shortage of roles, she created a one-woman show and toured the United States and the West Indies. She also acted in London as Sophia Adams in Errol John's Moon on A Rainbow Shawl for which she received an Obie award in New York. She worked in films and television and received an Emmy Award in 1964 for Beyond The Blues, which dramatized the works of African-American poets.
Today, her body of work signifies a great contribution to the the commercial theatre. She helped to develop "the gospel song-play", in order to capture the richness and variety of life through music, theater and dance. In 1957 she formed her first all-black cast to present Dark of the Moon at the Harlem YMCA. The second production of the play launched the careers of young African-American actors--James Earl Jones, Shauneille Perry, and Harold Scott.
But it was in 1972 that she became the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway with her staging of Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. This hit gospel revue was conceived by Carroll, with music and lyrics by Micki Grant and it was nominated for four Tony awards. Her success was repeated in 1976, collaborating with Micki Grant and Alex Bradford with Your Arms Too Short To Box With God, which garnered three Tony nominations.
Vinnette Carroll's work served as the stepping stone for future aspiring directors. Too often, her contributions as a successful artist and playwright are widely overlooked and not acknowledged. She set the tone for professionalism in theatrical arts. Her theater was about life and the reaffirmation of life and its people. Frustrated by the common perceptions and stereotypes of African-Americans inspired her to create and direct new works that positively and artistically represented people of color in theater and art. She gave a voice to minority communities that had been culturally and artistically silent.
Monday, March 9, 2015
Speech written by Julia Marlowe for the Woman's Congress of the Chicago World's Fair, May 17, 1893
This powerful speech delivered by Miss Marlowe deals with the history of the appearance of women on the stage after Shakespeare's day and a discussion of women's right to an exalted position in the art of acting which was won by courage, industry and perseverance.
This speech was timely then and is still relevant now and we thank Julia Marlowe for her research and powerful communication to those who attended the Congress.
Appendix B: Julia Marlowe Her life and Art by Charles Edward Russell. D. Appleton & Co. 1926
Clearly and fully to show womanʼs relation to, and influence on, dramatic art it would be necessary to treat comprehensively of the whole history of the drama, which it will be impossible for me to do at this time because of the necessary brevity of this paper.
I do hope to show, however, by a few historical examples and a brief discussion of womanʼs peculiar adaptability to the needs of the drama, not only her special fitness for dramatic expression and her powerful and beneficial influence, but her right by accomplishments to an exalted position in this art which she has won--and won by courage, industry and perseverance and the pains of martyrdom.
The struggle that actors have undergone for recognition and for a respectable established position in society since the modern drama first appeared, for religious purposes, in the tableau and spectacles of the early Christian church, is now a matter of history. But it is not generally known how much more fierce has been the strife in regard to women on the stage, and how much more difficult it has been for them to convince the world at large of the importance of their hard-won position, and their beneficial influence in dramatic art. I am speaking now of the past. Happily at the present stage of dramatic development and for many years back, womanʼs standard is and has been as high, and her position (and the right to maintain it) as assured and certain as manʼs.
Unfortunately, however, it was not always so and looking back to the age of oppression and intolerance, when in 1660 woman first appeared in dramatic representations, we find her entrance marked an era in dramatic advancement. The first record of womanʼs appearance upon the stage is December 6, 1660, when Shakespeareʼs “Othello” was given. Desdemona on this occasion was played by a woman, though there seems to be considerable doubt to whom this honor belongs; some have given it to Anne Marshall, though the general supposition is that it was Margaret Hughes. We have Pepysʼs authority that women appeared in Killigrewʼs company in London on January 3, 1661 in Beaumont and Fletcherʼs “Beggarʼs Bush.”
It is clearly shown, however, that their earlier appearances were received with great disfavor, for Dr. Doran says that by writers of the time the first actresses were styled unwomanish and graceless, though not meaning them to be ungainly and unfeminine, but that play-acting in itself was below their dignity, and “unbecoming” as he says “woman born in an era of grace.” “Glad am I to say,” remarked Thomas Brand, speaking of these actresses, “that they were hissed, hooted and pippin-pelted from the stage so that I do not think they will soon be ready to try the same again.” He asserts that well-disposed persons were righteously indignant at these women, whom Prynne, a rigorous Puritan of the time, styled “monsters.”
Yet, notwithstanding the marked disfavor with which they were first received, reasonable-and serious-minded persons could not fail to see the propriety of Juliet and Desdemona being acted by a girl rather than a boy. The need for innovation is well expressed in these lines taken from the prologue written for the introduction of the first actress:
“Our women are defective and so sized, Youʼd think that were some of the guard, disguised, For to speak truth, men act (that are between forty and fifty) wenches of fifteen, With bones so large and nerve so incompliant, When you call Desdemona, enter Giant.”
The work that should have properly belonged to women, in being given to men, often caused ridiculous incongruities; and the idea in itself is so truly fantastic that I cannot refrain from citing the apology that was made to Charles the Second when during a prolonged wait at one of the theatrical performances at which this sovereign was present, the delay was explained and indulgence begged on the plea that “the Queen was not shaved.” It would appear that immediately upon the important progressive step, the substitution of women for boys in the advancement of dramatic illusion, the importance and artistic need for womanʼs appearance must have been generally felt, for we read that soon after actresses were in great demand; and it was found that they not only increased the popularity of the theaters in which they performed, but that their cooperation was indispensable to the proper presentation of any play. They made possible a fullness and a beauty of interpretation which had not been dreamed of.
Take for a single example the women of Shakespeare. They stand as vivid types of truth and beauty, so alive, indeed, with the living warmth of femininity that their expression by other than woman is in itself a monstrous sacrilege. A play performed by men only can hardly be conceived today; and the wonder is that such an absurdity ever existed. The feeling of the need of womanʼs cooperation with man for dramatic purposes grew rapidly, for menʼs minds were at this time too highly susceptible to advancement to remain in ignorance of this necessity, and it was not long before actresses were recognized and highly respected.
This was true in the case of Mrs. Betterton, for instance, that when in the year 1674 “Calista” was performed at court, this actress was chosen as instructress to Lady Mary and Lady Anne, and much of the subsequent graceful elocution and dignity of bearing of these princesses, which showed itself at court, was accredited to this lady. We read that in company with her distinguished husband she made her home the abiding place of “charity, hospitality and dignity.”
What a vast work has been accomplished by women in the drama since then and what a lasting monument of art she has reared for herself in the annals of the stage! To those whose souls are filled with sacred reverence for creative genius, what wealth of delight in looking back upon the dazzling record of the theater when the allurements of Mrs. Betterton, Nell Gwynne, Woffington, Oldfield, Siddons, and more latterly Rachel, Ristori, Fanny Kemble, Ellen Tree, Charlotte Cushman, Helen Faucit, Adelaide Neilson, and a host of others, stand forth as irrefutable proofs of the dignified importance of womanʼs work in the line of true artistic dramatic advancement!
In evidence of her serious devotion to this art in particular, and that it has absorbed her very being as no other calling has ever done, and that it has not been a fancy, nor in the higher expression even a gratification of vanity, and has been, and is, a life devotion, an art to which she has given her best intellectual and emotional self, the history of the theater will show.
Courage and perseverance have been womanʼs battle-cry since the year 1660. What greater instance of courageous perseverance in all history than the sad and grim experience of the great Rachel, who, when a wretched child, traveled in poverty, squalor and cold from place to place in the smaller towns of Europe, and who, at the time, in order to possess a volume of the great Racine, was obliged, though trudging through wet and rain, to pawn her umbrella for the pitiful sum of twenty sous to secure this treasure.
The history of Charlotte Cushman is too well known to make a review of her untiring perseverance necessary, and the heartrending episodes of her life; when poor, the supporters of others, lacking beauty and charm, she strove to influence managers to give her the opportunity of expressing the genius she felt burned within her.
Consider the life of Mrs. Lander, who, besides her valuable services in the dramatic field, in commemoration of the death of her husband (who died from wounds received in battle) took upon herself, with the assistance of her mother, the entire charge of the hospital department of Port Royal, South Carolina. She lives in memory to us as the blessed name of Florence Nightingale does to the English.
It is unnecessary to go back to the history of the stage for such examples; we have them about us; the struggle of Mme. Modjeska and her final and lasting artistic victory are well known to all that have watched with interest and sympathy the lives of artists on the stage.
The executive ability in women of the theater has been quite as remarkable as the courage they have shown. In touching on this point, one at once recalls the experience of Laura Keene, who was a successful manager as well as a delightful comedienne, and particularly one instance when her aptness and nerve were amusingly shown. The play was “Much Ado About Nothing,” and at the last moment it was discovered that the costumes were not ready. Calling before her the stolid and gaping supers whose dresses were in a sad state of incompleteness, with a paint brush hurriedly brought from the paint frame, she finished the decorations on their doublets and trunks with black paint, at the same time exclaiming with the rapid delivery peculiar to her: “Now, keep apart, donʼt sit down; donʼt brush against the ladies,” and immediately was off herself to dress for Beatrice.
Innumerable instances may be given of women in the profession who have shown rare administrative ability. The history of the English stage affords many examples of women who have been successful managers, and it is true in this country; Mrs. Conway, for instance, and Mrs. John Drew, who aside from her fine ability as comedienne, for years conducted the Arch Street Theater, Philadelphia, with dignity and success. It is often stated that woman is lacking in most walks of life in the faculty of creative genius, and that indeed in this particular, in comparison with man she is decidedly inferior; this is perhaps a reasonable conclusion in view of her history; but not so, emphatically in regard to dramatic work.
It is by no means a new thought that man is by nature more intellectual and woman by nature more emotional. Of course it is not meant by this that man is never emotional nor woman never intellectual, yet it is surely fair to assume that to man belongs the quality of intellectuality and to woman the emotional quality. Was it not therefore the very possession by nature of this latter quality, which is certainly an absolute necessity in dramatic art, that made her inherently suited for dramatic expression?
Mr. Ruskin, in speaking of the necessary qualities that go to form great artists, says: first, sensibility and tenderness; second, imagination, and third, industry. Womanʼs nature is peculiarly alive to all of these conditions. It is then no wonder that women on the stage have accomplished great things and will accomplish greater things in future, when such women as Modjeska, Terry, Duse, and the matchless Bernhardt continue through inspiration to show their genius to the world.
Womanʼs work in literature has with few exceptions been denied any claim to greatness. In music and in other arts she is admitted not to have shown any particular creative power. But her place upon the stage is as absolutely unquestioned as manʼs. In having thus secured for herself an eminent position in the drama, the actress has advanced the whole cause of woman, since every individual triumph raises the estimation in which the intellectual achievements of a whole class are held. Woman is better understood because she is faithfully portrayed; she is more highly regarded because of the ability to make that portrayal and that faithful portrayal has, I feel, a powerful moral influence in an educational sense. I thoroughly believe it is the duty of mothers to foster in the hearts of their children, while at a tender age, a serious consideration for the better forms of dramatic literature and dramatic representation, avoiding the unhappy tendency of the present age, which is to regard acting merely as a form of amusement, rather than as it should be regarded, an amusement combining a means for intellectual control and artistic suggestion, presented in an attractive and suggestive manner.
That woman is capable of arduous effort and untiring devotion has been fully demonstrated upon the stage. She has helped to elevate the drama to its rightful place among the educational forces of life and to make true what Morley says that, “At the playhouse door then we may say to the doubting, enter boldly, for here, too, there are gods.”
Thursday, March 5, 2015
MEET LENA ASHWELL, OBE (1872-1957)
Bringing Cultural Relief to the soldiers in World War 1
A special thanks to Karen Eterovich, co-chair of the Heritage Committee, The League of Professional Theatre Women and a member of the STAGE STRUCK cast produced by the Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History. On a recent trip to London, she found an article in the Telegraph Weekend about this brave actress, impresario and suffragette who brought music and theatre to the trenches in World War 1.
"Born in 1872 on board a ship, the Wellesley, she grew up in Canada before studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she became a dedicated member of the pre-war suffrage campaign. By the time the war broke out, as a theatre impresario with a track record of successful concerts and drama productions under her belt, she was determined that the soldiers should not be deprived of culture. Actors and musicians, she believed, should be expected to don their gumboots and head for the mud.
By 1914, however, the War Office did not share her views on "entertaining troops". Generals believed that the soldiers made their own amusement: cards, dominoes and writing letters, interspersed with a little football. However, boredom among the troops led to bawdy concert parties with skit and song routines performed by soldiers in drag with substantial cleavage; nothing like the entertainments Lena Ashwell envisioned.
Seriously concerned about the risque nature of the their jollity, she headed for the War Office and suggested that every camp should have its own theatre--and benefit from the work of professional actors and musicians. Still the War Office was deaf to the idea. Unperturbed, she sought out some of her former suffrage campaigners. In the Women's Auxiliary Committee of the YWCA she found a royal patron, Princess Helena Victoria, and a cautious enthusiasm for sending concert parties to France.
The YWCA's main concerns about hiring "theatrical people" were not about risk or hardship but probity and modesty: there would be no self-promotion and every artist would be guaranteed for suitability by Ashwell, as well as being "known" to her Royal Highness, who was responsible for their conduct.
'There is a great prejudice among a section of the nation against artists, especially actors, "wrote Ashwell. "To them we are a class of terribly wicked people who drink champagne all day long, and lie on sofas, receiving bouquets from rows of admirers who patiently wait in queues to present these tokens of rather unsavory regard. I think some expected us to land in France in tights, with peroxide hair, and altogether to be a difficult thing to a religious organisation to camouflage.'
In January 1915 the first concert tour got under way, with 39 concerts in a fortnight. For the performers, life behind the front line was tough. They often found themselves wading knee-deep in mud towards candlelit huts, barns or tents, lugging props and musical instruments and costumes only to find their stage a pile of suitcases.
Ashwell describes performances where the rapt faces and emotional response from the troops were wellnigh overwhelming. In the Harfleur valley she watched Ivor Novello, who had just written Keep the Home Fires Burning, singing in a smoke-filled room jam-packed with soldiers. "When he sang it, the men seemed to drink it in at once and instantly sang the chorus, and as we drove away at the end of the concert, in the dark and the rain and the mud, from all parts of the camp one could hear the refrain."
Violin solos, string quartets, operatic arias, all were delivered across the vast area behind the front lines. Three concerts a day were usually attempted in line with Ashwell's view that culture should be available to everyone. Drama presented a particular challenge: contemporary comedies and romances were played with canteen furniture, and the scenery was often a backdrop of night sky. On one occasion, Shakespeare was declaimed at a horse hospital and on another Sheridan was performed on the dockside in a blowing gale. It was not unusual for the audience to be in their hospital beds, wheeled out of the wards, and happily soaked as the rain beat down on them and Lady Macbeth.
After concerts, performers spent time with the wounded, sometimes sitting quietly singing to just one man. As the performers proved their worth, there was increasing demand for "firing-line parties"--willing to go much further towards the front line rather than perform at the base camps. It was not for the faint-hearted. Heavy artillery, anti-aircraft fire, and sundry explosions punctuated performances. But the show went on, whether it was an aria from Tosca or a poetry recitation by Ashwell. "I found myself in a tent which seemed in the darkness to be far away from everything and everybody. I stood on a table and recited all the poems I knew, but wished with all my heart that I had learnt many more, as the audience grew and grew, and they sat silently around like hungry children. It was a quaint, gentle, peaceful evening, and curious that on that night I should have been nearer the firing line than at any other moment."
More than 600 artists--including nearly 350 women--travelled for four years in France, Malta and Egypt. They gave impromptu performances at railway stations, on ships, and in the desert. Tens of thousands came to their concerts: in one week in Ismailia on the Suez Canal, more than 13,000 men came for the music. by 1917 many of the concert parties were women--only, so great was the effect of the conscription, even though the authorities thought this a "grave innovation". However, Ashwell quaintly observed that the soldiers were always overjoyed "to see a pair of slippers".
Biographical information: Her acting debut was in 1891 in The Pharisee; in 1895 she appeared in King Arthur with Dame Ellen Terry and Sir Henry Irving. She went on to appear in a number of Shakespearean productions, Quo Vadis, Mrs. Dane's Defence and Leah Kleschna.
In 1906 she took up theatre management, initially at the Savoy Theatre and in 1907 established her own theatre known as the Kingsway.
Most recent biography. Fighting on the Home Front by Kate Adie (2014)
Autobiography: Lena Ashwell, Myself A Player (London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1936)
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANNA CORA MOWATT
MARCH 5, 1819 - JULY 21, 1870
Born in Bordeaux, France, she was the 10th of 14 children. Her father was an American merchant; her mother was a granddaughter of a signatory to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. From a young age she was encouraged to read and showed a passion for writing and acting. When she was six years old, her family returned to the United States. At age 15 she eloped with James Mowatt, a prominent and wealthy New York lawyer. They moved to an estate in Flatbush, New York and her husband encouraged her to continue her education and write. Her first book (The Cavern of Covadonga) was published in 1836, then Reviewers Reviewed for which she used the pseudonym "Isabel". Other than novels there were plays. Gulzara was published in New World. Using the psuedonym Henry C. Browning, she wrote a biography of Goethe. But in 1841, due to financial problems, she became a public reader. Her first performance was attended by Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote of her, " A more radiantly beautiful smile is quite impossible to conceive." Her best known play, Fashion, was published in
1845 and received rave reviews. Later she made her acting debut
as Pauline in The Lady of Lyons with great success. She also
performed leading roles in Shakespeare, melodramas and her
own plays. After her husband died in 1851, she took a short
break, resumed her acting career and published her book
Autobiography of an Actress in 1853. Her last appearance on
the stage was June 3, 1854. She would write six more novels
before she died in Twickenham England in 1870.
Monday, March 2, 2015
CELEBRATING WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS
Helen Gahagan Douglas (November 25, 1900-June 28, 1980)
She was an American actress and politician and was the third woman and first Democratic woman elected to Congress from California; her election made California one of the first two states (along with Illinois) to elect female members to the House from both parties. She was also married to actor Melvyn Douglas from 1931-1980. After she died, Senator Alan Cranston of California eulogized her on the floor of the Senate: "I believe Helen Gahagan Douglas was one of the grandest, most eloquent, deepest thinking people we have had in American politics. She stands among the best of our 20th century leaders, rivaling even Eleanor Roosevelt in stature, compassion and simple greatness."
Her autobiography, A Full Life, was published after she died. In it she chronicles her life as a Broadway actress, her political life, opposition from Richard Nixon, her three terms in Congress from 1944-1951 and her crusade for women's rights.
The following speech from her autobiography was given at Marlboro College in Vermont to address the commencement in 1976.
We have the capability of destroying life on this planet. As I see it, nothing will come right if we do not stop the arms race. Nations still talk of peace and the need to control nuclear weapons but the arms race that began in the fifties between the Soviet Union and the United States goes on at an accelerated pace--and the nations around the world that can ill afford to do so have been buying non-nuclear weapons at an accelerated rate.
Albert Einstein had this to say about the arms race of the fifties: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophes..." The United States and the Soviet Union together have already stockpiled nuclear weapons with the force of ten tons of TNT for every man, woman and child on earth. But apparently that's not enough...In this bicentennial year, we must reeducate ourselves to the American dream. Ideas are powerful in the evolution of the human family. We will not strengthen democracy by the power of our weapons but by the example we set here at home of a vital democracy.
Graduation is not the end of learning. Learning goes on daily or one stagnates. As you go through life you will have to make, at times, decisive decisions, under strain, which will affect your future and your character. . .
Success, more often than not, depends on the fulfillment of one's maximum potential, rather than on competition with one another. If one is trustworthy, if one's word is one's bond, he or she will have stature. It is so with a nation.
Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action. If one lets fear or hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains. The challenge to us all is to stay alive in life, to remain open, receiving, responding to nature, friends, passersby; to learn the art of love, of giving one's self, and asking nothing in return.