“Star Wagon” Dreams About Life and Time – By Charles Collins (Chicago Tribune 1938)

Chicago Tribune – Sunday 17, April 1938 Page 80

“Star Wagon”

Dreams About Life and Time

By Charles Collins

“The Star Wagon” came to the Chicago stage as welcome relief from the Lenten drougth in drama. It was the first new play, except for two WPA contributions of minor interest, to open here in four weeks, and its premiere was notable for cordiality of audience response. It brought an admirable cast, with Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish as co-stars; and it told a diverting and unusual story of American life with overtones of philosophic brooding over the mystery of life and time and destiny.

The Star Wagon 4

After adventures into the past with his “time machine,” the old inventor who is the central figure in the tale [acted with humor and quiet emotional touches by Mr. Meredith] brings down the curtain with the following speech, which expresses the spirit in which Maxwell Anderson approached his fantastic theme:

[After singing two stanzas of “The Holy City”]: “I never believed much in a golden city, back there in the choir. I don’t believe it now. But they were right about one thing, the old prophets – there is a holy city somewhere. A place we hunt for, and go forward, all of us trying and none of us finding it. Because our lives are like the bird, you remember, in the old reader that flew in from a dark night through a room lighted with candles, in by an open window, and out on the other side.

Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith in fantasy play The Star Wagon

We come out of dark, and live for a moment where it is light, and then go back into the dark again. Some time we’ll know what’s out there in the black beyond the window where we came in, and what’s out there in the black on the other side, where it all seems to end.”

The Star Wagon 1

Bloomers and Trousers of 1902

The second act of “The Star Wagon” is a study in American small town manners in 1902, and as such it contains the exaggerations, tending toward caricature, which are generally found in theatrical reconstructions of the past. Miss Gish’s bloomer costume for bicycle riding has almost a “Hollywood” quality in the extremeness of its design. I can easily remember thousands of bloomer girls of 1902 or earlier, and none of them looked like that. Furthermore, in 1902, the nation had become blasé to bloomers and and they were rapidly going out of fashion.

Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith promo for fantasy play The Star Wagon

The automobile of which Mr. Meredith was the proud creator is patterned after designs that were archaic in 1902. The men’s clothing is truer to the comic sketches of the period that to the suits, hats, neckties and collars actually worn by the average male at the time.

Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith singing in fantasy play The Star Wagon

Songs used in plays of this type are often anachronisms. For example, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” used in the film in “Old Chicago,” was composed years after the date of the Chicago fire. Eager to fix such a “time machine” error on “The Star Wagon,” I dipped into the history of “The Holy City,” but lost my bet. This song was composed in 1892; music by Stephen Adams, words by F.E. Weatherly.

Lillian Gish in - Star Wagon - alfredo valente photo
Lillian Gish in – Star Wagon – alfredo valente photo

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