A Pictorial History of the AMERICAN THEATRE 1860-1980
by DANIEL BLUM (Copyright 1950 – ‘81)
FOREWORD – by Helen Hayes
There has been no book up to now which will be as valuable to actors and theatre lovers in years to come as this pictorial history of the American stage by Daniel Blum. Here is a permanent record of all the great plays and players of the last one hundred years. The camera as it has been used by many masters of the photographic art has an ability which is almost uncanny in capturing mood and interpretation as well as likeness. Only the camera was able to capture the grace of Ethel Barrymore in “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,” the charm of Maude Adams in “Peter Pan,” and the sheer beauty of John Barrymore’s “Hamlet.” The camera has provided Mr. Blum with more than a complete and moving history of our stage. It is also a history of acting, its growth and its development which should be an invaluable aid to young performers and students of the theatre. Very often I am asked by young people interested in the theatre as a career, to explain my life in the theatre in terms which would help them on their careers. It is impossible to do so. All you can say is, “I interpreted the role in this or that fashion because this way or that is the way I felt.” But this collection of pictures—and I am very happy that I am so well represented—makes it easy. The camera understands and can adequately explain how things were done and very often why. I wish that when I had been young that there had been such a picture book. I might have had an easier time understanding when I was told, “You should have seen her. She was an actress!”
Barney Bernard played Abe Potash while Alexander Carr was Mawruss Perlmutter. “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” a popular mystery farce by George M. Cohan and with Wallace Eddinger and Gail Kane, had the second longest run. Other successes of the year were “A Good Little Devil” with Mary Pickford, William Norris, Ernest Truex and Lillian Gish; “Joseph and His Brethren,” a Biblical spectacle.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had a substantial success in Maxwell Anderson’s “Elizabeth the Queen,” and other Theatre Guild offerings were Shaw’s “The Apple Cart,” Philip Barry’s “Hotel Universe” and Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country” with Alla Nazimova. Jed Harris produced a memorable revival of “Uncle Vanya” with Lillian Gish, Osgood Perkins, Walter Connelly and Eugene Powers. He also did the Gogol farce, “The Inspector General” with Romney Brent and Dorothy Gish.
Eugenie Leontovich and Moffat Johnston were in “Twentieth Century;” Osgood Perkins. Sally Bates and James Stewart were in “Goodbye Again;” Margaret Sullavan, June Walker and Humphrey Bogart were in “Chrysalis;” Alice Brady, Grace George and A. E. Matthews were in “Mademoiselle;” and Lillian Gish appeared in “Camille” with Raymond Hackett.
George M. Cohan wrote and acted in “Pigeons and People,” Bramwell Fletcher appeared in “Ten Minute Alibi,” and Lillian Gish was seen in “Nine Pine Street” based on the Lizzie Borden case. Mrs. Patrick Campbell was seen in “A Party,” Jean Arthur was in “The Curtain Rises,” Basil Sydney did “The Dark Tower” and Florence Reed was in “Thoroughbred.”
Nicholas Hannen and Irene Purcell. Artistic ventures were Clemence Dane’s fantasy “Come of Age” with Judith Anderson, “Richard of Bordeaux” with Dennis King, “Yellow Jack” with Geoffrey Kerr, James Stewart and Myron McCormick, Sean O’Casey’s “Within the Gates” with Lillian Gish and Bramwell Fletcher, a revival of “L’Aiglon” with Eva Le Gallienne and Ethel Barrymore, and an opera, “4 Saints in 3 Acts,” with a libretto by Gertrude Stein and music by Virgil Thompson.
John Gielgud scored a great success in “Hamlet” with Judith Anderson, Queen Gertrude and Lillian Gish, Ophelia. It ran for 132 performances while Leslie Howard who opened in “Hamlet” a month after Mr. Gielgud was not a success and played only 39 times. Emlyn Williams, appearing in his own play, “Night Must Fall,” shared acting honors with May Whitty. Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence were seen in a series of short plays by Mr. Coward which were billed as “Tonight at 8:30.”
The comedies popular in 1937 were “Room Service” with Eddie Albert and Betty Field, “Yes, My Darling Daughter” with Lucile Watson and Violet Heming, “Susan and God” with Gertrude Lawrence, ” Having Wonderful Time” with John Garfield, “Storm Over Patsy” with Sara Allgood and Roger Livesey, “Excursion” with Whitford Kane and Shirley Booth, “Father Malachy’s Miracle” with Al Shean, “George and Margaret” with Irene Browne, “The Star-Wagon” with Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith, and “French Without Tears” with Frank Lawton and Penelope Dudley Ward.
The greatest success of the year and the longest run in the history of the New York theatre was achieved by “Life With Father” with 3,224 performances. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse wrote it and Mr. Lindsay with his wife Dorothy Stickney played the leads in the original production.Other plays and players of the year were “The American Way” with Fredric March and Florence Eldridge, “The Primrose Path” with Betty Field, Helen Westley, Russell Hardie and Betty Garde, “The Gentle People” with Franchot Tone and Sylvia Sidney. “The White Steed” with Barry Fitzgerald and Jessica Tandy, “Family Portrait” with Judith Anderson, “Ladies and Gentlemen” with Helen Hayes and Philip Merivale, “Key Largo” with Paul Muni. “Dear Octopus” with Lillian Gish, Lucile Watson and Jack Hawkins, “The Mother” with Nazimova and Montgomery Clift.
Flora Robson, Margaret Douglass, Myron McCormick, Celeste Holm and Zachary Scott were in “The Damask Cheek;” Gladys Cooper, Gregory Peck and Wendy Barrie in “The Morning Star;” Eddie Dowling and Julie Haydon in a double bill of “Magic” and “Hello, Out There;” and Dorothy Gish and Louis Calhern in “The Great Big Doorstep.” Alec Guinness and Nancy Kelly were in “Flare Path;” Rhys Williams, Dudley Digges, Colin Keith-Johnston and Whitford Kane in “Lifeline;” and Lillian Gish, Stuart Erwin and Enid Markey in “Mr. Sycamore.”
Judith Anderson received the greatest acclaim of her career for her acting in Robinson Jeffers’ adaptation of “Medea.” In her supporting company were Florence Reed and John Gielgud who was replaced later by Dennis King. Mr. Gielgud was also seen in “Crime and Punishment” with Lillian Gish and Dolly Haas and revivals of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Love For Love.”
Helen Hayes acted in “The Wisteria Trees;” Fredric March and Florence Eldridge were in “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” and later in the year in Arthur Miller’s version of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People;” Dorothy Gish was in “The Man;” Basil Rathbone and Valerie Taylor were in “The Gioconda Smile;” Lillian Gish was in “The Curious Savage;” Barbara Bel Geddes and Kent Smith were seen briefly in “Burning Bright,” a play by John Steinbeck; Martha Scott supported by Charlton Heston, Carroll McComas and Charles Nolte appeared briefly in “Design For A Stained Glass Window;” Jessica Tandy starred in “Hilda Oane;” and “Ring Round The Moon” featured Lucile Watson.
Two plays were recipients of both the Pulitzer III Prize and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award: William Inge’s “Picnic” for the 1952-53 season, and John Patrick’s “The Teahouse Of The August Moon” for the 1953-54 season. Both had great success. “Picnic” had a National company touring the country, and the John Patrick prize winner had two companies on the road. Lillian Gish starred in “The Trip to Bountiful”.
Among the outstanding hits were Archibald Mac-Leish’s “J. B.” which won a Pulitzer Prize, “Two For The Seesaw,” “Sunrise At Campobello,” O’Neill’s “A ouch Of The Poet,” “The Pleasure Of His Company,” Lillian Gish, Florence Reed and Fritz Weaver starred in “The Family Reunion.”
One of Broadway’s most disastrous years proved that stars such as Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, and David Wayne could not make poor productions pay off. Lillian Gish, Colleen Dewhurst, Thomas Chalmers, Aline MacMahon and Tom Wheatley were in “All The Way Home.”
Only 9 productions played over 200 performances, and none were worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. The only solid hits were the comedies “Barefoot In The Park” and “Enter Laughing.” Glynis Johns and Lillian Gish starred in “Too True to be Good.”
More stars and more productions opened on Broadway than in several years. Unfortunately, few tarried long. The Pulitzer Prize and a Tony were garnered by “That Championship Season” that too late in 1972 for consideration. Conrad Bain, Barnard Hughes, George C Scott, Nicol Williamson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Lillian Gish, Elizabeth Wilson and Julie Christie were in Mike Nichols “Uncle Vanya.”
Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly,” from Off-Broadway’s Circle Repertory Theatre, was this year’s recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle citation. Tonys went to Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God” (best play), and to its stars John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich. For outstanding featured performances, Tonys were given Dinah Manoff in “I Ought to Be in Pictures” and David Rounds of “Morning’s at Seven,” which was voted outstanding revival.
*** Note: Photographs placed to illustrate Miss Gish’s stageography were not part of Mr.Blum’s original work. In this brief presentation, one can find mostly references to Miss Lillian Gish’s stage career.