Wednesday, July 29, 2015

(July 27, 1894 - November 20, 1977)

Ms. Lawson wore many hats in the industry.  She was a scenic and costume designer, technical director, actress and theater administrator.

During World War l she drove an ambulance for the American Red Cross in France, when she met another ambulance driver, the playwright
John Howard Lawson. They married in 1918 and produced a son, Alan Drain Lawson who became an artist and a motion picture technician.  Although the marriage was dissolved in 1924 she never stopped loving him.
     In 1922 her first experience on Broadway was as a design assistant and assistant stage manager for Malvaloca, the premiere show at the re-opening of the 48th St. Theatre.  The Theatre Guild offered her the position as its technical and art director which she held until 1931.  She also acted in two of the Guild's productions : The Chief Thing and The Garrick Gaieties in 1930.

Katharine Cornell hired her as a technical director for a tour of her productions of Candida,
The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and Romeo and Juliet.   She also worked for John Houseman to execute the difficult design for Virgil Thompson's Four Saints in Three Acts.  In 1936 she became the head of the Bureau of Research and Publication for the Works Progress Adiministration (WPA)
Federal Theatre Project.  She succeeded Rosamond Gilder as bureau head.    Hallie Flanagan wrote in her autobiography Arena (1940) that Kate Drain Lawson had "cool common sense" when everyone else was in a state of jitters over the production of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. 

In addition to her design work and her technical and administrative duties in the theatre she acted in several films, including Ladies of the Big House (Paramount, 1932); Torchy Blaine and Girls on Probation (WB, 1938); Remember the Night (Paramount, 1940); Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1943); King of the Cowboys (Republic, 1943); Every Girl Should Be Married (RKO, 1948); Thelma Jordan and The Bride of Vengeance (Paramount, 1949); M (Columbia, 1951); and How To Marry A Millionaire (Fox, 1953).

In 1969 when the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) was organized, she was a member of the Steering Committee for the Pacific South Region.  As a result of her involvement, she realized the importance of college and university theatre productions and decided to do what she could to encourage the student artist-designer.  She contributed cash prizes for outstanding costumes and scenic designs by students in her region.  Today, the Southern California Educational Theatre Association carries on design scholarships in her name and memory.

She was one of the outstanding women in technical theatre and theatrical design in America. She was one of the few whose hard, ceaseless, and highly creative labors broke through the tangled undergrowth that for centuries impeded or prohibited the contributions of women to the complete spectrum of theatre art.

To quote John Houseman: "She was solid, professional, devoted, bossy and harrassed but without her, Florine Stettheimer's designs might have never reached the stage." (Run Through (1972)
Referencing Virgil Thompson's Four Saints in Three Acts.

Resource:  Notable Women in American Theatre. 1989.  Jean Prinz Korf

Friday, July 24, 2015

(July 23, 1816 - February 18, 1876)

"She was not a great actress merely; she was a great woman."
             William Winter

Born to middle-class parents in Boston, her mother was probably the greatest influence on her, endowing her with a love of music and singing.

An uncle took her to plays and encouraged her studies in theatre and music. He took her to see the English actor
William Charles Macready,  who was to have an influence on her later career.

To help her family get relief from their dwindling finances, she obtained a job as contralto singer at Second Church, where the young Ralph Waldo Emerson was the junior pastor.  Though only fourteen, she was five feet six and physically mature.   When she visited New York she was trained by James G. Maeder, a singing coach who had married actress Clara Fisher in 1834.  She was inspired by Clara's ideas of singing and acting.

Cushman as Romeo
Her successful operatic debut in 1835 with the Maeders impressed audiences with her range of almost two registers (a full contralto and almost a full soprano), but the low voice was the natural one. Clara Fisher Maeder sang the contralto roles.  Because she was assigned the soprano parts, she experienced such strain on her voice that left her with a weakened and limited contralto range.   And that is how Ms. Charlotte Cushman became an actress. Tragedian James Barton trained her and asked her to appear as Lady Macbeth opposite him in 1836. She was nervous and had to borrow the costumes. Her career was launched.

She accepted a three year contract at the Bowery Theatre with a trunk full of costumes that were not paid for. Disaster struck when the theatre burned down destroying her costumes and her hopes.
Nevertheless as luck would have it, she was offered a five year contract in Albany where she opened in Macbeth with Junius Brutus Booth.  Her repertoire included Romeo and Hamlet for she was most comfortable in "breeches" roles, performing almost forty of them between 1835 and 1861.

Her portrayal of Meg Merrilies, the gypsy fortuneteller, in 1837 was an important milestone in her career.  Her new interpretation of the role (she appeared dressed in rags with gray hair, wrinkled skin, and demented eyes) was favorably recalled by critics throughout her career.

When she appeared in Macbeth opposite William Charles Macready at Philadelphia's Chestnut Theatre, he was impressed with her potential, realized her lack of training and suggested she go to England.
After several frustrating months, she made her London debut in 1845, followed by an engagement with Edwin Forrest.   After a tour of the provinces, she and her sister Susan Cushman were offered the opportunity to perform Romeo and Juliet with Charlotte as Romeo.  The London audiences were ecstatic. Eight performances were extended to eighty.

     During the last years of her life, unable to perform on stage, she turned to readings of her favorite plays. She was able to sit and read, captivating her audience with her portrayals of all the characters. An emotional farewell performance at Booth's Theatre, New York, on November 7, 1874, received a tumultuous ovation.  

Cushman's acting style was more intense and natural in delivery because she used intuition more than technique. She was not the first woman to play breeches parts, but she was certainly one of the most successful. Her strong stage presence was due to her intellect, moral strength and personal magnetism.  Her chief interests were the development of her career and the care of her family.  She had written that no one who was an actress should ever marry, and indeed, she never did.

Resource: Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989
                                       Susan S. Cole

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

(July 22, 1830 - March 6, 1868)

"Her soul was in her art."  William Winter

She was born in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey to parents who were also actors. Her grandfather, actor-manager Samuel Drake,
established the midwestern circuit of theatres.

In spite of her family's connections, she started appearing in small parts with Noah Ludlow's theatre company in the Midwest.  Between 1844 and 1845 she performed in Mobile, Alabama as a 'utility' actress earning six dollars a week.

Her friend Joseph Jefferson lll wrote about her in his Autobiography with affection and told how she rose from utility actress to leading lady. When the actress who was to play in Wives as They Were Wives and Maids as They Are fainted and was unable to go on, the prompter suggested Julia Dean.  Years later Jefferson remembered her entrance as Lady Priory:  "The gentle eyes are raised, so full of innocence and truth and now she speaks. . .a voice, so low, so sweet and yet so audible!"

Her New York debut as Julia in Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback (May 18, 1846) occurred at the Bowery Theatre.  According to the New York Herald she was "gifted by nature with a fine figure--a beautiful and expressive face, a voice of great sweetness and considerable power." It was predicted that she would become one of the greatest and most popular actresses of her time.
But in 1855 she married Dr. Arthur Hayne, son of a senator from South Carolina. Soon there was a separation which escalated into public gossip and scandal.  Dean lost her public's support. She made plans to retire from the stage, but then accepted an offer to appear in starring roles from her repertoire in San Francisco. An overnight success, West Coast audiences adored her. She performed in California from Sacramento to the mining camps.  
She traveled as far north as Victoria, British Columbia, where she appeared on stage with a very young David Belasco.  Dewitt Bodeen claimed that "every man was at her feet--from the coarse Sierra miner to the gilded youth of San Francisco."  (Ladies of the Footlights).

After her divorce became final in 1866, she returned to New York, but her earlier brilliance seemed to have diminished.   George C. D. Odell recorded that she was "no longer the radiant star of earlier years, but the saddened woman and rather coarsened artist, whose later work her former admirers deplored."
(Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. VI).

She was highly regarded for her natural style in such roles as Julia (The Hunchback), Juliet, Pauline (Lady of Lyons), and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing).    William Winter summed up her accomplishments in Brief Chronicles: "In person, Julia Dean was tall, stately, graceful, and interesting. Her voice was sweetly plaintive, the soft and gentle expression of her countenance harmonized with her voice.  As an actress, while she always manifested a quick imagination and gave a sense of power, she was not successful in delineating gentle phrases of character and emotion and the milder aspects of human experience. . . Whatever she did was earnestly done. Her soul was in her art, and she neither did nor suffered anything to degrade it."

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre.  Susan S. Cole

Monday, July 20, 2015

       (July 20, 1830 - November 28, 1904)

       Honor and jewels were showered on her everywhere
       she performed!

An actress famous in classic revivals, particularly Lady Macbeth, was born in Prague, the fourth of nine children.  She studied voice at the Prague Conservatory and a professor persuaded her to study acting as well. For ten years she was the leading lady at the Stadtheater in Frankfurt, Germany and toured extensively throughout Austria and Russia.

During  her years in Europe, her repertoire included Schiller''s
 Mary Stuart and Joan of Arc, Goethe's Faust and Egmont and Shakespeare's Macbeth.

In 1867 Jacob Grau brought her to America where she remained until her death.  Her debut on October 9th at the Academy of Music was in Franz Grillparzer's Medea, which she performed in German while the rest of the cast supported her in English.  The New York Times reported: "Mlle. Janauschek has a handsome figure and sumptuous presence, aided by features that are in every sense expressive...
A human tenderness blending with an Eastern picturesqueness of gesture, and a refined sentiment prominent throughout every scene..." (October 10, 1867).

Fanny ad Medea
For several years she toured the United States and acted exclusively in German a number of plays including Medea, Scribe's Adrienne Lecouvreur and Lessing's
Emilia Galotti.

She also appeared with Edwin Booth as Lady Macbeth on several occasions. Booth had tried to sign her for the season, but she decided she would be unable to learn the roles in English. As a result of her warm reception and at the pressing suggestion of Augustin Daly, she began to study English intensively.
On October 9, 1870, three years after her American debut, Daly presented her at the Academy of Music in Deborah, performed in English.  An excerpt from the
New York Daily Tribune claimed "last night she acted an English part, and  surprised everybody by the accuracy of her speech."

After several seasons her control of the English language was complete, although she still retained a foreign accent. The Dramatic Mirror commented that 'she had a strong accent, which she never entirely conquered, but her art was so splendid that all faults of pronunciation were forgiven her."
Her Lady Macbeth, according to John Rankin Towse, was murderous in her ambition and energetic in the prompting of her husband to murder, but she loved him passionately and, in her own tigress fashion, tenderly. (Sixty Years of the Theatre)

The most important addition to her repertoire was the role of Meg Merrilies in the adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's Gay Mannering. She received considerable acclaim as the old gypsy woman, but she often regretted adding the role because it "established her in the public mind as a far older woman than she was."

By the 1890s the American public had lost its taste for her grand style of tragic acting and she lost both her popularity and fortune. In intervals between roles, she gave readings from the classic drama and delivered speeches on various aspects of dramatic art.

In 1900 she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her. Her fellow actors raised $5,000 to help her, but she was so destitute that finally her rich costumes and jewels were sold.  When she died in 1904, she was alone and destitute;  actors provided money for her funeral.

The comparison of Janauschek to Charlotte Cushman was in part due to their physical similarities, acting style, and portrayals of Lady Macbeth and Meg Merrilies.   John Rankin Towse insisted that her interpretation of Lady Macbeth was "fully as strong if less savage than Cushman's and manifested the redeeming quality of feminine devotion."

Resource: Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989     Susan S. Cole

Thursday, July 16, 2015

    (July 15, 1905-March 28, 1974)

    The first female lyricist to receive an Oscar (1936), a Tony Award (1959) and membership in the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1971)

 A lyricist, librettist, and screenwriter, Dorothy Fields was born in Allenhurst, New Jersey. She was the youngest child of Lewis Maurice Schoenfeld, better known as Lew Fields, a vaudeville comic, (Weber and Fields) and producer.  He was opposed to show business careers for his four children.

In the early 1920s, encouraged by her playwright-brothers Joseph and Herbert, her ambition was to become an actress.  Due to her father's intervention, she began to write poetry and was persuaded by composer J. Fred Coots to become a lyricist.  While on the staff at Mills Music Company, she began an eight-year collaboration with Jimmy McHugh.

The two achieved success in 1927 with material they devised for black performers at Harlem's famous Cotton Club. The team's first Broadway score was the revue Blackbirds of 1928.
Among the popular songs to emerge from this venture were "Diga-Diga-Doo" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," both of which revealed Fields's ability to approximate common speech patterns to lyrics.  In 1930 the
International Revue included her songs "Exactly Like You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" sung by
Gertrude Lawrence and Harry Richman.

Between 1932 and 1938 she worked primarily in Hollywood, writing memorable lyrics for largely forgettable screen musicals. She and McHugh produced "Don't Blame Me," "I Feel a Song Comin' On," and "I'm in the Mood for Love."
Other Hollywood collaborators included Nacio Herb Brown,
Max Steiner, and most notably, Jerome Kern.

She wrote songs with Kern for the films Roberta (1935), Joy of Living (1938), for which she co-authored the screenplay, and Swing Time (1936), "The Way You Look Tonight," from Swing Time, won for her the 1936 Oscar for best song from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts.
     Her second partnership was with Arthur Schwartz to create the score for Stars In Your Eyes in 1939.  In 1941 she entered another career in the theatre by joining her brother Herbert as co-librettist for eight musicals.  Their earliest collaborations were libretti devised around the songs of other composers. 
Let's Face It! (1941), Something for the Boys (1943), and Mexican Hayride (1944) featured songs by
Cole Porter, while the musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun (1946) had a score by Irving Berlin.
     Teaming again with Arthur Schwartz in the 1950s, she wrote songs for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
By the Beautiful Sea,  which were both tailored for the talents of Shirley Booth.  Then followed the songs for Redhead with Albert Hague and Sweet Charity with Cy Coleman, designed expressly for
Gwen Verdon. Her last musical, Seesaw (1973) reunited her with Cy Coleman.

When she died in 1974 she left unfinished a number of projects, as well as a legacy that includes scores for thirteen Broadway shows and over five hundred songs written for films and television.

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989  Dwight B. Bowers

Monday, July 13, 2015

Clara Fisher at age 6

(July 14, 1811 - November 12, 1889)

"The most perfect and finished actress that has ever trod the American stage. Though not conventionally beautiful, her vivacity and femininity were captivating."
                    Joseph Norton Ireland, Historian

A child prodigy, then leading actress for a seventy-year career, she was born in London, the sixth and youngest child of Frederick George Fisher, a librarian, auctioneer, amateur actor, and theatre enthusiast.

At age five, she was allowed to join her two older sisters in classes taught by the dancing master Dominic Corri who adapted Lilliput,
David Garrick's piece, so that all the roles with the exception of Gulliver, could be played by young girls.
Other roles included a passage from the last act of Richard lll, and a pantomime called Harlequin Gulliver in which she worked with the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi. To her repertoire she added portions of Shylock and Young Norval (from John Home's Douglas).
        Since the heydey of Master Betty ten years before, as she wrote in her Autobiography (1897), there had been no precocious children upon the stage and she had the whole field to herself.

In 1827, perhaps considering her waning popularity as a child star, Fisher's father accepted an offer from Edmond Simpson of the Park Theatre, New York, for American appearances.   When she was sixteen years old, she debuted at the Park Theatre in The Will, a rather ponderous melodrama enlivened by her interpretation of the song, "Hurrah for the Bonnets of Blue."
During her first years in America she toured, accompanied by her mother, to every theatre center in the United States. Her repertoire included Juliet, Ophelia, and other Shakespearean heroines.  Particular favorites were as Clara Douglas in Money and as Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Stratagem.
Her popularity and fame increased with every performance.

The actor-manager Joe Cowell wrote about her first appearance in Baltimore: "The captivating Clara Fisher. . . played with me for six weeks to a succession of overflowing houses. Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm with which this most amiable creature was received everywhere. 'Clara Fisher' was the name given to everything it could possibly be applied: to ships, steamboats, racehorses, mint juleps, and negro babies." (Thirty Years Passed Among the Players)

She married James Gaspard Maeder, composer and voice coach, in 1834. Her husband encouraged her musical talents and wrote the opera Peri, or The Enchanted Fountain for her.

She was also admirable in breeches parts (men's roles). Viola was one of her greatest successes, and she was the Fool in William Charles Macready's King Lear.  According to Laurence Hutton, she played Hamlet on at least one occasion.  Her Ophelia was considered one of her finest creations and her Hamlets were played by Charles Kemble, Charles Kean, Edwin Forrest and James Murdoch.

During the depression years after the panic of 1837 (in which she lost, through the collapse of the United States Bank, the fortune she had been accumulating since childhood), she suffered, like many other theatre people of the time, a lapse in her career.   Her last performance at the Park Theatre was in a benefit for her oldest sister in 1844. She and her husband moved to Albany and she appeared only occasionally in New York; a notable date was May 10, 1849, when she played the First Singing Witch in the performance of Macready's Macbeth, which was halted by the Astor Place Riot.

The Maeders returned to New York in 1851. When possible she continued playing with the best stock companies, such as the Globe Theatre in Boston and Louisa Lane Drew's Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia and sometimes she toured. When not performing, she offered lessons in elocution and acting to young ladies aspiring to theatrical careers.

By 1856, in her middle years, she began to assume the line of business called the "old women." For the next thirty years she continued performing, finding a whole new range of roles.  She was cast as Prudence in Matilda Heron's Camille and Juliet's Nurse. She also played the Nurse in the production of Romeo and Juliet which starred Maurice Barrymore and Helena Modjeska.  Her last role was Mrs. Jeremiah Joblots in Augustin Daly's production of The Lottery of Love at Ford's Theatre, Baltimore, in 1889.

Clara and James Maeder had a happy marriage and were the parents of seven children. Two died in infancy, the eldest daughter married a British physician, and the other four were variously connected with the theatre.

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989 ed.  Eugene H. Jones

Friday, July 10, 2015

(July 10, 1923 - January 5, 2003)

One of the funniest women of her generation

"Spelunkers of the writer's mind will find no dark pockets in Jean Kerr's memories of her childhood," wrote John McPhee (Time, April 14, 1961), "Norman Rockwell might have painted it, showing an oversized white clapboard house beside a tall elm tree with a tall young girl high in its branches eating an apple and reading a book."

She wrote in an interview with Newsday, (Feb. 4, 1979) "You can't imagine how agonizing it was to be tall in Scranton. Being witty developed partly in compensation for her height. "It was either that or....I was five-eleven, and I never got any shorter, although I did get wider."

In 1941, during her sophomore year at Marywood College in Scranton, Walter_Kerr a young drama instructor from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., attended a campus production of Romeo and Juliet of which Jean Collins was stage manager. A carpenter's son from Evanston, Illinois, he was ten years older and three inches shorter. Despite their difference in height, they were marred in 1943.  They not only produced six children but jointly and separately a stream of plays, books, essays and articles.

"I decided to write plays spurred on by a chance compliment my father had paid me years earlier. 'Look', he exploded one evening at the dinner table, 'the only damn thing in this world you're good for is talk.'  By talk he meant dialogue--and I was off."  Walter Kerr had a more direct influence. "He didn't exactly lock me in my room like Colette's husband, but just about."  He also shared the diaper duties, typed her manuscripts, and critiqued her work-in-progress.   "He was terrific!"

Her first play, written in collaboration with Walter, was an adaptation of Franz Werfel's novel The Song of Bernadette. Like her other early works, it was first produced at Catholic University, where she earned her master's degree in 1945.
Her first solo effort was Jenny Kissed Me, a comedy starring
Leo G. Carroll. that lasted 20 performances.
Undeterred, she wrote ten plays between 1949 and 1980, namely Touch and Go, written with Walter, two sketches, "My Cousin Who?" and "Don Brown's Body", Goldilocks with Walter,
King of Hearts, written with Eleanor Brooke,
Mary, Mary, Poor Richard, Finishing Touches, Lunch Hour.
Two of her plays were made into movies: King of Hearts was filmed as A Certain Smile with Bob Hope,  Mary, Mary was made into a film starring Debbie Reynolds.

By 1961 Kerr's name had become a household word. Her humorous essays appeared in Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, and other leading periodicals; she had published two best-selling collections of humor titled Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1957) and
The Snake Has All the Lines (1960).
In April 1961 her picture appeared on the cover of Time.
Two more humor collections followed: Penny Candy (1970) and How I Got To Be Perfect (1978).

As Broadway regulars on both sides of the curtain, the Kerrs reputedly served Ira Levin as prototypes for his 1960
Broadway comedy, Critic's Choice, which featured
Henry Fonda as a major drama critic faced with reviewing his playwright-wife's flop.  The Kerrs could also see themselves on screen, played by Doris Day and David Niven in the movie version of Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Later it would become a television series (1965-1967).

John McPhee (Time Magazine) felt the writer she was most akin to was Robert Benchley.  "They share the same gently shrugging quality that utterly precludes malice, the same preoccupation with the bizarre edges of the commonplace, the same disarming penchant for self-deprecation, as when the ample Mrs. Kerr compares herself to a 'large bran muffin'.

She was a wicked parodist and a mistress of the "skewed" platitude, as when an aging matinee idol in Mary, Mary describes his recent departure from Hollywood as "the sinking ship leaving the rats."

For twenty five years she served on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, was honored by the National Institute of Science, and received honorary      degrees from Fordham and Northwestern Universities.

Resource:  Notable Women in American Theatre. 1989  C. Lee Jenner

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

(July 1, 1876 - July 27, 1948)

The first lady of American drama, a pioneering feminist writer
and America's first important modern female playwright.

At the time of her death she was remembered primarily for discovering Eugene O'Neill.   Critical reassessment has led to renewed interest in her career.

She was raised on a rural homestead just below the bluffs of the Mississippi River along the western edge of Davenport, Iowa. Having a fairly conservative upbringing, "Susie" was remembered as a "precocious child" who would often rescue stray animals.

With the family farm compromised by suburban development, her worldview was shaped by the pioneer tales of her grandmother, who told of regular visits by Indians to the farm in the years before Iowa statehood.  Growing up directly across the river from Black Hawk's ancestral village, she was influenced by the Sauk leader's autobiography who wrote that Americans should be worthy inheritors of the land.  During the Panic of 1893, the farm was sold and she moved with her family to the city.

An active student in Davenport's public schools, she took an advanced course of study and gave the commencement speech at her 1894 graduation. By age 18 she was earning a regular salary as a journalist for a local newspaper and by 20 she wrote a 'Society' column which lampooned Davenport's upper class.  She enrolled at Drake University against the prevailing local belief that college made women unfit for marriage. A philosophy major, she excelled in male-dominated debate competitions, winning the right to represent Drake at the state debate tournament her senior year.   Upon graduation she began working full-time for the paper as a reporter, a rare position for a woman.   A few years later she focused on writing fiction with stories published in the most widely read periodicals. A large cash prize from a short story magazine financed her transition to Chicago. Between 1909 and 1915 she published three novels.

      In Davenport she associated with other local writers to form the Davenport group.
George Cram Cook was a member, a classics professor and a farmer. Glaspell fell in love with him and they married in 1913.  They moved to Greenwich Village where they associated with many of the era's most well-known social reformers and activists including Upton Sinclair, Emma Goldman, and
John Reed. She became a leading member of Heterodoxy, an early feminist debating group composed of the premier women's rights crusaders.     Eventually, she and Cook started a nonprofit theatre company in a refurbished fishing wharf across the road from their rented cottage in Provincetown, Cape Cod. The Provincetown Players would be devoted to creating artistic plays which reflected contemporary American issues, in rejection of the more escapist melodramas produced on Broadway.

Her first play, Trifles (1916) was based on the murder trial she covered as a young reporter in Des Moines prior to her resignation.  It has since become one of the most anthologized works in American theatre history. In 1921, she completed Inheritors which followed three generations of a pioneer family, and the same year she finished The Verge, one of the earliest American works of expressionist art.   Though untrained, she would receive further acclaim as an actress.  Legendary French theatre director and critic Jacques Copeau was moved to tears by a Glaspell performance, calling her a "truly great actress."

After her husband's death in 1924, she wrote three best-selling novels, which she considered personal favorites. She also wrote Alison's House (1931) for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.      In 1936 she moved to Chicago after being appointed Midwest Bureau Director of the Federal Theater Project.

She was reluctant to seek publicity and downplayed her accomplishments and her work was seriously neglected for many years.  Internationally she received some attention by scholars who were primarily interested in her more experimental work from the Provincetown years.

In the late 1970s feminist critics began to reevaluate her career and interest in her work has grown ever since.  After a century of being out of print, a large portion of her work has seen republication.  With major achievements in drama, novels, and short fiction, she is often cited as a
"prime example" of an overlooked female writer deserving canonization.

In 2003 the International Susan Glaspell Society was founded, with the aim of promoting "the recognition of Susan Glaspell as a major American dramatist and fiction writer."

Resources:  Wikipedia,  Ben-Zvi, Linda (2005)  Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times. Oxford University Press. Gainor, J. Ellen (2001) Susan Glaspell in Context: American Theater, Culture, and Politics, 1915-1948, University of Michigan Press.
Ozieblo, Barbara (2000) Susan Glaspell: A Critical Biography. University of North Carolina Press.
Makowski, Veronica A (1993) Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of her Work. Oxford University Press.
Glaspell, Susan.  The Road to the Temple (1926) a biography of George Cram Cook

Sunday, July 5, 2015

(June 27, 1862 - October 22, 1938)

One of the top comediennes of the American stage in the 1880s and 1890s

Born Georgia Campbell in Ontario, Canada, she and her sister Ada never completed their education in order to support their family. Their mother built a stage career for them, remaining dominant in their lives for several years.

The sisters worked together in variety theatres for eight years, beginning in 1875 in Buffalo, New York, for Daniel Shelby, who was responsible for their professional names, "May and Flo, the Irwin Sisters,"
In 1877 they became popular attractions in vaudeville for Tony Pastor in New York.  They broke up as a sister act in 1883 when May made the transition to Broadway in Augustin Daly's company. With Daly's company she supported such famous players as Ada Rehan, John Drew, and Otis Skinner. A decade later Charles Frohman hired her to act with Henry Miller in His Wedding Day and The Junior Partner. She became a special favorite in a travesty of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan called
The Poet and the Puppets, in which she sang the popular song After the Ball.

She gained star status in the 1895 production of John J. McNally's The Widow Jones. A famous scene from this play, a prolonged kiss between May Irwin and John C. Rice, was filmed in close-up for Thomas Edison's "Vitascope" in 1896.   It was the first "shocker' of early motion pictures and was denounced by the clergy of the day.

Lewis C. Strang called her "the personification of humour and careless mirth, a female Falstaff, as it were, whose sixteenth century grossness and ribaldry has been refined and recast in a nineteenth century mould." (Famous Actresses of the Day in America)

Plays written especially for her included: Mrs. Black is Back (1902);
Getting a Polish (1910) by Booth Tarkington and Harry Leon Wilson; Widow by Proxy (1913); and
No. 13 Washington Square (1915).  A special performance of the last one was done in Washington, D.C. for President Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet, after which Wilson is said to have remarked that he would like to appoint May Irwin  his "Secretary of Laughter."

She regularly introduced new songs in plays written for her or produced by her. Many of these songs were labeled "coon songs," or "shouting songs," as they featured her interpretation of Afro-American singing, picked up, she said from listening to black servants.  These songs which were derived from the old minstrel music and the new ragtime were the craze in the 1890s.

She is also known among American theatre professionals as a successful businesswoman. She wrote and produced some of her plays, she made wise investments in New York real estate and she successfully managed her dairy farm on one of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River.  Some estimate that she made more than a million dollars and upon her death in 1938 she was one of the wealthiest women associated with the theatre.

(June 27, 1888 - June 28, 1946)

In whose honor Tony awards are named. . .

Though trained as a singer, she began her acting career in 1905 in Mrs. Temple's Telegram at the Powers' Theatre in Chicago.

Her New York credits included Lady Jim,
The Music Master with David Warfield, as Hallie in A Grand Army Man.

In 1909 she left the stage upon marrying Frank Frueauff from a socially prominent family.  As a socialite she was involved in the Liberty Bond drives for world War 1.  After her husband died in 1922 she returned to the stage as Rachel Arrowsmith in Mr. Pitt with Walter Huston and went on to play Clytemnestra in Electra with Margaret Anglin.

She shifted her career focus and began directing and producing, primarily in association with
Brock Pemberton.  During this period she produced Strictly Dishonorable (1929), her first notable success; Personal Appearance (1934); Red Harvest (1937); Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1938); Janie (1942) and Harvey (1944) which won the Pulitzer Prize for playwright Mary Chase.

It has been suggested that she spent two-thirds of her professional life in the service of others. From 1937 to 1939 as chair of the committee on the Apprentice Theatre, under the auspices of the American Theatre Council, she organized and conducted auditions for 5,000 aspiring actors in an effort to bring new talent into the American theatre. These efforts were recognized at a testimonial dinner in 1938, at which time she received a Gold Cross 'for distinguished service in the theatre." In 1941 she served as president of the Experimental Theatre, sponsored by Actors' Equity Association, an early opportunity for younger members of the acting profession to display their talent.

From 1940 to 1944 Perry aided in the development of the American Theatre Wing and served first as its secretary and later as chair of the board of directors.  Her work with the Wing resulted in the creation of Stage Door Canteens.  Most famous of her wartime productions was The Barretts of Wimpole Street with Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne, which played to Allied troops in Europe.  She was a trustee of the Actors' Fund of America and also supported the Stage Relief Fund and the Actors' Thrift Shop.

After she died in 1946, the American Theatre Wing instituted the Antoinette Perry Awards in memory of her tremendous service to the American theatre and her devotion to young artists and artistic excellence.

Friday, July 3, 2015

(June 26, 1890 - Oct. 3, 1929)

"Bernhardt of the Sticks"

With her striking beauty and considerable theatre experience behind her, she made her way to New York in 1911.  Believing herself destined to be great, more than another decade would pass before she enjoyed a brief but brilliant reign as one of America's leading actresses.

In 1916 and 1917 she played opposite George Arliss in Paganini and The Professor's Love Story. He later praised her "unerring judgment and artistry) (Up the Years From Bloomsbury, by George Arliss).

She appeared in some silent films while she was appearing on Broadway at night. She had to use stimulants and sedatives to cope with the emotional demands and rigorous work schedule,

Unquestionably her greatest critical and popular success occurred with the premiere of John Colton and
Clemence Randolph's Rain on November 7, 1922
at the Maxine Elliott Theatre. As Sadie Thompson, the rowdy San Francisco harlot who seduces a minister, she achieved "toast of the town" status during the play's 648 performances. John Corbin's review summarized the acclaim. "Miss Eagels. . .rises to the requirements of this difficult role with fine loyalty to the reality of the character and with an emotional power as fiery and unbridled in effect as it is artistically restrained." (New York Times,
November 8, 1922.)  After the New York run she made a triumphant national tour for two years.

On March 21, 1927, she played her final role for the legitimate stage as Simone, a rich woman who falls in love with a man hired to masquerade as her paramour in a French farce entitled Her Cardboard Lover.  Brooks Atkinson targeted fundamental weaknesses in her performance: "The ironic caprices of a temperamental Parisian lady do not trip lightly from her fingertips, and her voice and gestures lack the subtle grace imperative for such a part." (NY Times, March 22, 1927).  With typical determined effort and diligent study, she improved her performance during the fun to make it one that historians rank among her finest.

Claiming illness due to ptomaine poisoning, she canceled a week of performances in Her Cardboard Lover in Milwaukee as well as another week in St. Louis.  Shortly thereafter the company disbanded, and, after hearings in early 1928, Actors' Equity barred her from appearing with other members of the association until September 1929 and fined her two weeks' salary ($3600).  During the exile, she turned to successful engagements in vaudeville and motion pictures. Her debut in sound came in The Letter, a 1929 Paramount release, based upon the Somerset Maugham story.  Her performance as Leslie Crosbie, considered an acting triumph, earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress.

Her life ended during a visit to New York's Park Avenue Hospital where she had been receiving regular treatments for a "nervous disorder."  On October 3, 1929, while awaiting a consultation with her physician, a convulsion seized her, and she collapsed and died almost instantly.

John D. Williams, her director in Rain, praised her thorough apprenticeship in the tent theatres, her keen sense of listening on stage, her careful and controlled diction, and her unflagging loyalty to the author's intent. (Eulogy, NY Times, Oct. 12, 1929).
Her natural ability to strike a fine balance of fire and discipline in her roles brought justified acclaim to her meteoric career.

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989  Landis K. Magnuson

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Mary Morris as Abbie and Walter Huston as Eben
Premiere of Desire Under the Elms 1924

(June 24, 1895 - Jan. 16, 1970)

She was encouraged in her acting aspirations by her mother who took her to a dinner of the Millenium Society at which she met the guests of honor
Minnie Maddern Fiske and George Arliss.  (In later years she was to appear with Arliss in Alexander Hamilton.   

While a student at Radcliffe, she studied Shakespeare with George Kittredge and participated in George Pierce Baker's 47 Workshop.
She left Radcliffe in 1915 and went to New York, where, with support from her parents, she made the rounds of theatrical agencies. A letter of introduction from Baker won her a place with the Washington Square Players, where she served as "understudy, prop girl, and general factotum". She made her New York debut with this group in 1916, playing the farm wife in Lewis Beach's The Clod and winning recognition from the critics.  Following Baker's advice, she then spent two years in stock companies including one season in Northampton, Massachusetts, with Jessie Bonstelle's municipally supported theatre. In 1918 she went on tour with George Arliss in Alexander Hamilton. "I played a small part, and understudied two leads, " she remembered. "Mr. Arliss sometimes conducted understudy rehearsals which was of great benefit to us younger players."

     During World War 1 she acted in a series of one-act plays in the military camps around New York.
In 1924 she joined the Provincetown Theatre (then under the direction of Robert Edmond Jones, Eugene O'Neill, and Kenneth Macgowan.) where she played the Dark Lady in August Strindberg's The Ghost Sonata and Gertrude in Anna Cora Mowatt's Fashion. During this same year she was cast to play Abbie Putnam opposite Walter Huston in Desire Under the Elms. In later years she wrote, "I never worked so hard as at rehearsals of Desire Under the Elms. It was eight hours a day going into the psychology of the characters and no play has ever seemed difficult to me since then." O'Neill cast her for the role of Abbie Putnam without having read her for the part. In a letter to Kenneth Macgowan he wrote, "The important thing is her whole attitude and conception and there she's O.K."

     Other noteworthy roles included Dorimene in Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory production of
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme; Barbara in The Cross Roads directed by Guthrie McClintic. In 1931 she played Mrs. Connelly in the Group Theatre's production of Paul Green's House of Connelly under the direction of Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford.  She also acted with Lillian Gish in a Central City, Colorado revival of Camille.  One of her most famous roles was the sinister Victoria Van Brett in the 1933 production of Elizabeth McFadden's Double Door.   She also starred in the film version.
The New York Times critic reported: "Miss Morris's highly effective performance as the mad Victoria is a model of up-to-date witchcraft."

In 1939 she was appointed assistant professor of drama at the Carnegie Institute's School of Fine Arts, but she continued to perform by giving readings and appearing in summer theatres throughout the country. She was granted leave in 1951 to play the Nurse in Judith Anderson's Medea at the International Theatre Festival in Berlin and in 1956 to play Anna in
Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country with Uta Hagen.
She had written:  "It is fine to be in a place so liberal that they will let me get away to act once in a while."

As a teacher and director of young actors, Mary Morris relied on her years of training in professional theatre while gaining experience in her new role of drama professor.  In a 1941 interview she said, "Teaching is new to me and I am unacademic, but I know the greatest joy a teacher can have is to find ability in a student. . .As for criticizing the work of the students, I have found that they will take any amount of adverse comment if you first let them understand that you believe in them and want to help them."
                           Always stressing the important of solid training and experience, she felt the demise of stock companies provided a hardship for young actors and advised her students not to head for New York but to work in any group that is putting on plays. "I am a believer in little theatres, experimental theatre, and experimental acting groups as substitutes for the stock company."

                          In both professional and educational settings, she sought to understand and practice the powers of that art.  In the midst of World War ll she wrote, "Now, if ever, is the time for the theatre, along with all the other great arts which serve life, to make itself of worth and significance to the world. Theatre can speak to mankind as no other art can speak, most directly, most movingly. People are hungry for the word that illumines, the idea that inspires, the emotion that warms and strengthens. Now is the time for all to go forward who believe in the theatre as a place of revelation and communication.
(Theatre Arts, July 1941).

Resource:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989.  Judith L. Stephens

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

                         LEST WE FORGET  IRENE WORTH
                         (June 23, 1916 - March 9, 2002)

"Miss Worth is just possibly the best actress in the world."
            Walter Kerr, The New York Times Theater critic

She received a Bachelor of Education degree from UCLA and taught kindergarten for two years.  Despite her lack of formal training for the stage, she set out on a theatre career in 1942 with the road company of Escape Me Never, directed by the Russian director, Theodore Komisarjevsky.  The following year she made her Broadway debut in The Two Mrs. Carrolls with Elizabeth Bergner.   Bergner advised her to go to England to broaden her experience of English classical theatre and to study with the voice teacher Elsie Fogerty in London.   "In those days we had no Off-Broadway, no Phoenix Theatre, no stock companies, not even a Stratford Connecticut Shakespeare Festival. Nothing but Broadway."
        She very quickly found employment in the English theatre, and for the next thirty years, she played a diverse range of roles on stage, radio, television and film, with actors and actresses of the stature of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, Ralph Richardson, Alec Guinness, and Peggy Ashcroft, and earning a reputation as one of the great actresses of her generation.
She was awarded Tonys for her portrayal of the lead in Edward Albee's Tiny Alice.  Best Actress in Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams,  and for Best Featured  Actress in Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers, for which she also won the Drama Desk Award.  She appeared several times at the acclaimed Stratford Shakespeare Festival and in 1962 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Goneril in Peter Brook's critically acclaimed King Lear, with Paul Scofield.

Irene Worth has received many honors, but especially notable is the honorary award of Commander of the British Empire, presented by Queen Elizabeth in 1975 for her distinguished contribution to dramatic art.  She received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Queens College, New York.

She was passionately interested in the craft of acting, and in her interviews she gave selflessly of her knowledge and experience for the benefit of young performers. She deprecated the assumption that actors cannot (and should not) read, write, or think too much.  "They should study painting and sculpture and music. They should know what Titian was doing; what a Bellini sky is like; they should know the cast of a Giotto figure.  They should know history. . .They should know what is going on in terms of human values and human experience."
(Village Voice, August 27, 1979).  Above all, Irene Worth was a fine human being, whose talents touched whole generations of dedicated playgoers. Of her chosen profession she has said, "Everything I have done has always been a choice, and I don't regret what I've chosen.  I've very rich inwardly, I've had such a fulfilled career, even if I were never to act again." (Women's Wear Daily, March 7, 1984).

Reference:  Notable Women in the American Theatre. 1989    Sam McCready

(June 22, 1912 - May 21, 2006)

"The matriarch and queen mother of black dance."

She had one of the most successful dance careers in America and theater of the 20th Century and directed her own dance company for many years.

During her heydey in the 1940s and 1950s, she was renowned throughout Europe and Latin America and was widely popular in the United States, where the Washington Post called her "dancer Katherine the Great".  For almost thirty years she maintained the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, the  only self-supported American black dance troupe at that time and over her long career she choreographed more than ninety individual dances. She was an innovator in African-American modern dance as well as a leader in the field of dance anthropology, or ethnochoreology.

Her theatrical career was can be divided into three stages: training and research (1926-1939); American and world tours (1939 - 1967); and community service beginning in 1967.  Her older brother, having experienced obstacles to growth and achievement because of race, carefully prepared the way for her to join the Little Theatre Group of Harper Avenue (Chicago). He felt the stage provided a forum for the active expression of black creativity.  Ms. Dunham taught dance at the Little Theatre, and a friend, Ruth Attaway, taught drama. Their productions drew guests like Louis Armstrong, actor Canada Lee, writers Frank Yerby, James Farrell, and Langston Hughes, painter Charles White, and one of the primary movers of the Harlem Renaissance, Alaine Locke.

Her university studies in anthropology were combined with dance and theatre education off campus.  She met Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page of the Chicago opera who, with Ludmilla Speranzeva, became her primary teachers.  Speranzeva, a Kamerny-trained modern dancer from Russia, emphasized dance and theatre techniques.    Dunham's Ballet Negre presented Negro Rhapsody at the annual Chicago Beaux Arts Ball in 1931 and in 1934 she danced a solo in Ruth Page's La Guiablesse at the Chicago Civic Opera.     During one of her concerts with the Negro Dance Group, a member of the Rosenwald family discovered her and with encouragement from Erik Fromm and the anthropologist Robert Redfield and the Rosenwald Foundation, she spent eighteen months in the Caribbean observing and participating in the dance culture of Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti .  Her master's thesis, entitled "Form and Structure in the Dance," focusing primarily on the dances of Haiti, was completed in June, 1939.   Her research trip led to doctoral studies in anthropology that became the basis for the unique Afro-American style she created.

In 1945 she opened and directed the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre near Times Square after her dance company was provided with rent-free studio space for three years by an admirer; Lee Shubert. It had an initial enrollment of 350 students.  The program included courses in dance, drama, performing arts, applied skills, humanities, cultural studies, and Caribbean research and in 1947 it was expanded and granted a charter as the Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts.

Her alumni included many future celebrities, such as Eartha Kitt, who, as a teenager won a scholarship to her school and later became one of her dancers before moving on to a successful singing career.  Other alumni were James Dean, Gregory Peck, Jose Ferrer, Jennifer Jones, Shelley Winters, Sidney Poitier, Shirley MacLaine, Doris Duke, and Warren Beatty.  Marlon Brando frequently dropped in to play the bongo drums and jazz musician Charles Mingus held regular jam sessions with the drummers. The Dunham Technique won international acclaim and is taught as a modern dance style in many dance schools.

Katherine Dunham's career served as a model in American modern dance and dance theatrical history.  She was given the Dancemagazine Award in 1969, the Albert Schweitzer Award in 1979, the John F. Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award in 1986.  Her devotion to inner city communities in East St. Louis, to the elderly, and to youth is one of her most valued achievements. As one of the great pioneers in restoring the black cultural heritage to American dance and to the American musical theatre, she brought African-derived dances to American audiences who had never seen them on stage.

Resources: Notable American Women in the Theatre. 1989.  Veve A. Clark
Katherine Dunham.  A Touch of Innocence: Memoirs of Childhood. 1959
Katherine Dunham. Island Possessed. 1969
Kasamance: A Fantasy, fictional work basked on her African experiences. Katherine Dunham. 1974
Ruth Biemiller. Dance: The Story of Katherine Dunham. 1969
Ruth Beckford. Katherine Dunham: A Biography. 1979
James Haskins. Katherine Dunham. 1982
Internet:  Katherine Dunham