One day in 1888 a well-groomed young man approached Gustave Frohman at the Fourteenth Street Theater. He introduced himself as Harry Hewitt. He said to Frohman:
"My name is Hewitt. I would like to get into the theatrical business."
Gustave invited him to come around to the Madison Square Theater the next day, and asked him what he would like to do.
"Oh, I should like to do anything."
Frohman then gave him an imaginary house to "count up."
Rockwood, who was an expert accountant, did the job with amazing swiftness. Whereupon Gustave Frohman telephoned to Charles Frohman as follows:
"I've got the greatest treasurer in the world for you. Send for him."
Charles engaged him for a Madison Square Company, and in this way Rockwood's theatrical career started. It was the fashion of many people of that time interested in the theatrical business to change their names, so he became Harry Rockwood. In the same way Harry Hayman, brother of Al and Alf Hayman, changed his name to Harry Mann.
In 1889 came the separation between Randall and Frohman. Randall set up an establishment of his own at 1145 Broadway, while Charles, who was now an accredited and established personage in the theatrical world, took a suite at 1127 Broadway, adjoining the old St. James Hotel. In making this change he reached a crucial point in his career, for in these offices he conceived and put into execution the spectacular enterprises that linked his name for the first time with brilliant success.
"SHENANDOAH" AND THE FIRST STOCK COMPANY
With his installation in the new offices at 1127 Broadway there began an important epoch in the life of Charles Frohman. The Nemesis which had seemed to pursue his productions now took flight. The plump little man, not yet thirty, who had already lived a lifetime of strenuous and varied endeavor, sat at a desk in a big room on the second floor, dreaming and planning great things that were soon to be realized.
Although staggering under a burden of debt that would have discouraged most people, Frohman, with his optimistic philosophy, felt that the hour had come at last when the tide would turn. And it did. At this time his financial complications were at their worst. Some of them dated back to the disastrous Wallack Company tour; others resulted from his impulsive generosity in indorsing his friends' notes. He was so involved that he could not do business under his own name, and for a period the firm went on as Al Hayman & Company.
One of the very first enterprises in the new offices cemented the friendship of Charles Frohman and William Gillette. While at the Madison Square Theater he had booked Gillette's plays, "The Professor" and "The Private Secretary." Frohman, with Al Hayman as partner, induced Gillette to make a dramatization of Rider Haggard's "She," which was put on at Niblo's Garden in New York with considerable success. Wilton Lackaye and Loie Fuller were in the cast.
Gillette now tried his hand at a war play called "Held by the Enemy," which Frohman booked on the road. Frohman was strangely interested in "Held by the Enemy." It had all the thrill and tumult of war and it lent itself to more or less spectacular production. When the road tour ended, Frohman, on his own hook, took the piece and the company, which was headed by Gillette, for an engagement at the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco. He transported all the original scenery, which included, among other things, some massive wooden cannon.
The San Francisco critics, however, slated the piece unmercifully. The morning after the opening Gillette stood in the lobby of the Palace Hotel with the newspapers in his hand and feeling very disconsolate. Up bustled Frohman in his usual cheery fashion.
"Look what the critics have done to us," said Gillette, gloomily.
"But we've got all the best of it," replied Frohman, with animation.
"How's that?" asked Gillette, somewhat puzzled.
"They've got to stay here."
This little episode shows the buoyant way in which Frohman always met misfortune. His irresistible humor was the oil that he invariably spread upon the troubled waters of discord and discouragement.
It was while selecting one of the casts of "Held by the Enemy," which was revived many times, that Charles Frohman made two more life-long connections.
At the same boarding-house with Julius Cahn lived an ambitious young man who had had some experience as an actor. He was out of a position, so Cahn said to him one day:
"Come over to our offices and Charles Frohman will give you a job."
The young man came over, and Cahn introduced him to Frohman. Soon he came out, apparently very indignant. When Cahn asked him what was the matter he said:
"That man Frohman offered me the part of a nigger, Uncle Rufus, in that play. I was born in the South, and I will not play a nigger. I would rather starve."
Cahn said, "You will play it, and your salary will be forty dollars a week."
The young man reluctantly accepted the engagement and proved to be not only a satisfactory actor, but a man gifted with a marvelous instinct as stage-director. His name was Joseph Humphreys, and he became in a few years the general stage-director for Charles Frohman, the most distinguished position of its kind in the country, which he held until his death.
About this time Charles Frohman renewed his acquaintance with Augustus Thomas. Thomas walked into the office one day and Rockwood said to him:
"You are the very man we want to play in 'Held by the Enemy.'"
Thomas immediately went in to see Frohman, who offered him the position of General Stamburg, but Thomas had an engagement in his own play, "The Burglar," which was the expanded "Editha's Burglar," and could not accept. Before he left, however, Frohman, whose mind was always full of projects for the future, renewed the offer made in New Orleans, for he said:
"Thomas, I still want you to write that play for me."
* * *
With "Held by the Enemy" Charles Frohman seemed to have found a magic touchstone. It was both patriotic and profitable, for it was nothing less than the American flag. Having raised it in one production, he now turned to the enterprise which unfurled his success to the winds in brilliant and stirring fashion.
Early in 1889 R. M. Field put on a new military play called "Shenandoah," by Bronson Howard, at the Boston Museum. Howard was then the most important writer in the dramatic profession. He had three big successes, "Young Mrs. Winthrop," "Saratoga," and "The Banker's Daughter," to his credit, and he had put an immense amount of work and hope into the stirring military drama that was to have such an important bearing on the career of Charles Frohman. The story of Frohman's connection with this play is one of the most picturesque and romantic in the whole history of modern theatrical successes. He found it a Cinderella of the stage; he proved to be its Prince Charming.
Oddly enough, "Shenandoah" was a failure in Boston. Three eminent managers, A. M. Palmer, T. Henry French, and Henry E. Abbey, in succession had had options on the play, and they were a unit in believing that it would not go.
Daniel Frohman had seen the piece at Boston with a view to considering it for the Lyceum. He told his brother Charles of the play, and advised him to go up and see it, adding that it was too big and melodramatic for the somewhat intimate scope of the small Lyceum stage.
So Charles went to Boston. On the day of the night on which he started he met Joseph Brooks on Broadway and told him he was going to Boston to try to get "Shenandoah."
"Why, Charley, you are crazy! It is a failure! Why throw away your money on it? Nobody wants it."
"I may be crazy," replied Frohman, "but I am going to try my best to get 'Shenandoah.'"
Before going to Boston he arranged with Al Hayman to take a half-interest in the play. When he reached Boston he went out to the house of Isaac B. Rich, who was then associated with William Harris in the conduct of the Howard Athenaeum and the Hollis Street Theater. Rich was a character in his way. He had been a printer in Bangor, Maine, had sold tickets in a New Orleans theater, and had already amassed a fortune in his Boston enterprises. He was an ardent spiritualist, and financed and gave much time to a spiritualistic publication of Boston called The Banner of Light. One of his theatrical associates at that time, John Stetson, owned The Police Gazette.
Rich conceived a great admiration for Frohman, whom he had met with Harris in booking plays for his Boston houses. He always maintained that Frohman was the counterpart of Napoleon, and called him Napoleon.
On this memorable day in Boston Frohman dined with Rich at his house and took him to see "Shenandoah." When it was over Frohman asked him what he thought of it.
"I'll take any part of it that you say," replied Rich.
"If I were alone," answered Frohman, "I would take you in, but I have already given Al Hayman half of it."
Frohman was very much impressed with "Shenandoah," although he did not believe the play was yet in shape for success. After the performance he asked Mr. Field if he could get the rights. Field replied:
"Abbey, French, and Palmer have options on it. If they don't want it you can have it."
Frohman returned to New York the next day, and even before he had seen Bronson Howard he looked up his friend Charles Burnham, then manager of the Star Theater, and asked him to save him some time.
Frohman now went to see Howard, who then lived at Stamford. He expressed his great desire for the play and then went on to say:
"You are a very great dramatist, Mr. Howard, and I am only a theatrical manager, but I think I can see where a possible improvement might be made in the play. For one thing, I think two acts should be merged into one, and I don't think you have made enough out of Sheridan's ride."
When he had finished, Howard spoke up warmly and said, "Mr. Frohman, you are right, and I shall be very glad to adopt your suggestions."
The very changes that Howard made in the play were the ones that helped to make it a great success, as he was afterward frank enough to admit.
Frohman now made a contract for the play and went to Burnham to book time. Burnham, meanwhile, had been to Boston to see the play, and he said:
"I saved six weeks for you at the Star for Shenandoah.'"
From the very beginning of his association with "Shenandoah" Charles Frohman had an instinct that the play would be a success. He now dedicated himself to its production with characteristic energy.
Scarcely had he signed the contract for "Shenandoah" than occurred one of the many curious pranks of fate that were associated with this enterprise. Al Hayman, who had a half-interest in the piece, was stricken with typhoid fever in Chicago on his way to the coast. He thought he was going to die, and, not having an extraordinary amount of confidence in "Shenandoah," he sold half of his half-interest to R. M. Hooley, who owned theaters bearing his name in Chicago and Brooklyn.
With his usual determination to do things in splendid fashion, Frohman engaged a magnificent cast. Now came one of the many evidences of the integrity of his word. Years before, when he had first seen Henry Miller act in San Francisco he said to him:
"When I get a theater in New York and have a big Broadway production you will be my leading man."
He had not yet acquired the theater, but he did have the big Broadway production, so the first male character that he filled was that of Colonel West, and he did it with Miller.
This cast included not less than half a dozen people who were then making their way toward future stardom. He engaged Wilton Lackaye to play General Haverill; Viola Allen played Gertrude Ellingham; Nanette Comstock was the original Madeline West; Effie Shannon portrayed Jennie Buckthorn; while Dorothy Dorr played Mrs. Haverill. Other actors in the company who later became widely known were John E. Kellard, Harry Harwood, Morton Selten, and Harry Thorn.
Charles determined that the public should not lose sight of "Shenandoah." All his genius for publicity was concentrated to this end. Among the ingenious agencies that he created for arousing suspense and interest was a rumor that the manuscript of the third act had been lost. He put forth the news that Mr. Howard's copy was mislaid, and a city-wide search was instituted. All the while that the company was rehearsing the other acts the anxiety about the missing act grew. A week before the production Frohman announced, with great effect, that the missing manuscript had been found.
When the doors of the Star Theater were opened on the evening of September 9, 1889, for the first performance of "Shenandoah," the outlook was not very auspicious. Rain poured in torrents. It was almost impossible to get a cab. Al Hayman, one of the owners of the play, who lived at the Hotel Majestic, on West Seventy-second Street, was rainbound and could not even see the premiere of the piece.
However, a good audience swam through the deluge, for the gross receipts of this opening night, despite the inclement conditions outside, were nine hundred and seventy-two dollars. This was considered a very good house at the standard prices of the day, which ranged from twenty-five cents to one dollar and a half.
The play was an immense success, for at no time during the rest of the engagement did the receipts at any performance go below one thousand dollars. The average gross receipts for each week were ten thousand dollars.
Charles Frohman watched the premiere from the rear of the house with a beating heart. The crash of applause after the first act made him feel that he had scored at last. After the sensational ending of the third act, which was Sheridan's famous ride, he rushed back to the stage, shook Henry Miller warmly by the hand, and said: "Henry, we've got it. The horse is yours!"
He meant the horse that the general rode in the play.
This horse, by the way, was named Black Bess. It got so accustomed to its cue that it knew when it had to gallop across the stage. One night during the third act this cue was given as usual. Its rider, however, was not ready, and the horse galloped riderless across the stage.
"Shenandoah" led to a picturesque friendship in Charles Frohman's life. On the opening night a grizzled, military-looking man sat in the audience. He watched the play with intense interest and applauded vigorously. On the way out he met a friend in the lobby. He stopped him and said, "This is the most interesting war play I have ever seen."
The friend knew Charles Frohman, who was standing with smiling face watching the crowd go out. He called the little manager over and said: "Mr. Frohman, I want you to meet a man who really knows something about the Civil War. This is General William T. Sherman."
Sherman and Frohman became great friends, and throughout the engagement of "Shenandoah" the old soldier was a frequent visitor at the theater. He then lived at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and often he brought over his war-time comrades.
Not only did "Shenandoah" mark the epoch of the first real success in Frohman's life, but it raised his whole standard of living, as the following incident will show.
When "Shenandoah" opened, Frohman and Henry Miller, and sometimes other members of the company, went around to O'Neil's on Sixth Avenue, scene of the old foregatherings with Belasco, and had supper. As the piece grew in prosperity and success, the supper party gradually moved up-town to more expensive restaurants, until finally they were supping at Delmonico's. "We are going up in the world," said Frohman, with his usual humor. At their first suppers they smoked ten-cent cigars; now they regaled themselves with twenty-five-cent Perfectos.
Unfortunately the successful run of "Shenandoah" at the Star had to be terminated on October 12th because the Jefferson & Florence Company, which had a previous contract with the theater and could not be disposed of elsewhere, came to play their annual engagement in "The Rivals." Frohman transferred the play to Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theater, which was from this time on to figure extensively in his fortunes, and the successful run of the play continued there. Wilton Lackaye retired from the cast and was succeeded by Frank Burbeck, whose wife, Nanette Comstock, succeeded Miss Shannon in the role of Jenny Buckthorn.
Frohman was now able to capitalize his brilliant road-company experience. The success of the play now assured, he immediately organized a road company, in which appeared such prominent actors as Joseph Holland, Frank Carlyle, and Percy Haswell. He established an innovation on October 26th by having this company come over from Philadelphia, where it was playing, to act in the New York house.
The two-hundred-and-fiftieth performance occurred on April 19, 1890, when the run ended. It was a memorable night. Katherine Grey and Odette Tyler meanwhile had joined the company. The theater was draped in flags, and General Sherman made a speech in which he praised the accuracy of the production.
With his usual enterprise and resource, Charles Frohman introduced a distinct novelty on this occasion. He had double and triple relays of characters for the farewell performance. Both Lilla Vane and Odette Tyler, for example, acted the part of Gertrude Ellingham; Wilton Lackaye, Frank Burbeck, and George Osborne played General Haverill; Alice Haines and Nanette Comstock did Jenny Buckthorn; while Morton Selten and R. A. Roberts doubled as Captain Heartsease.
Frohman now put the original "Shenandoah" company on the road. Its first engagement was at McVicker's Theater in Chicago. Frohman went along and took Bronson Howard with him.
Most of the Chicago critics liked "Shenandoah." But there was one exception, a brilliant Irishman on The Tribune. Paul Potter, whose play, "The City Directory," was about to be produced in Chicago, was a close friend of Howard. He wanted to do something for the Howard play, so he got permission from Robert W. Patterson, editor in chief of The Tribune, to write a Sunday page article about "Shenandoah." Frohman was immensely pleased, and through this he met Potter, who became one of his intimates.
Then came the opening of Potter's play at the Chicago Opera House. Although Potter knew most of the critics, there was a feeling that they would forget all friendship and do their worst. Five minutes after the curtain went up the piece seemed doomed.
But an extraordinary thing happened. From a stage box suddenly came sounds of uncontrollable mirth. The audience, and especially the critics, looked to see who was enjoying the play so strenuously, and they beheld Charles Frohman and Bronson Howard. The critics were puzzled. Here was a great playwright in the flush of an enormous success and a rising young manager evidently enjoying the performance. The mentors of public taste were so impressed that they praised the farce and started "The City Directory" on a career of remarkable success. Frohman and Howard were repaying the good turn that Potter had done for "Shenandoah."
* * *
Charles Frohman now had a money-making success. "Shenandoah" was the dramatic talk of the whole country; it did big business everywhere, and its courageous young producer came in for praise and congratulation on all sides.
The manager might well have netted what was in those days a huge fortune out of this enterprise, but his unswerving sense of honor led him to immediately discharge all his obligations. He wiped out the Wallack's tour debts, and he eventually took up notes aggregating forty-two thousand dollars that he had given to a well-known Chicago printer who had befriended him in years gone by. What was most important, he was now free to unfurl his name to the breezes and to do business "on his own."
* * *
Charles immediately launched himself on another sea of productions. The most important was Gillette's "All the Comforts of Home," which he put on at Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theater. Frohman had just acquired the lease of this theater. Already a big idea was simmering in his mind, and the leasehold was essential to its consummation. On May 8, 1890, he produced the new Gillette play, which scored a success.
This production marked another one of the many significant epochs in Frohman's life because it witnessed the first appearance of little Maude Adams under the Charles Frohman management.
Frohman had seen Miss Adams in "The Paymaster" down at Niblo's and had been much taken with her work. He had been unable, however, to find a part for her, so it was reserved for his brother Daniel to give her the first Frohman engagement at thirty-five dollars a week in "Lord Chumley." Subsequently Daniel released her so that she could appear in the same cast with her mother in Hoyt's "The Midnight Bell."
While trying "All the Comforts of Home" on the road there occurred an amusing episode. Frohman, who had been watching the rehearsals very carefully, said to Henry Miller, who was leading man:
"Henry, you are something of a matinee idol. I think it would help the play if you had a love scene with Miss Adams."
Accompanied by Rockwood, Frohman visited Gillette at his home at Hartford, got him to write the love scene, and then went on to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the "try-out."
That night the three assembled in the bleak drawing-room of the hotel. Frohman ordered a little supper of ham sandwiches and sarsaparilla, after which he rehearsed the love scene, which simply consisted of a tender little parting in a doorway. It served to bring out the wistful and appealing tenderness that is one of Maude Adams's great qualities.
"All the Comforts of Home" ran in Proctor's Theater until October 18th. When the theater reopened it disclosed a venture that linked the name of Charles Frohman with high and artistic effort—his first stock company. With this organization he hoped to maintain the traditions established by Augustin Daly, A. M. Palmer, Lester Wallack, and the Madison Square Company.
He projected the Charles Frohman Stock Company in his usual lavish way. He engaged De Mille and Belasco to write the opening play. This was a very natural procedure: first, because of his intimate friendship with Belasco, and, second, because De Mille and Belasco had proved their skill as collaborators at Daniel Frohman's Lyceum Theater with such successes as "The Wife," "The Charity Ball," and "Lord Chumley." The result of their new endeavors was "Men and Women."
In this play the authors wrote in the part Dora especially for Maude Adams. They also created a role for Mrs. Annie Adams.
The cast of "Men and Women," like that of "Shenandoah," was a striking one, and it contained many names already established, or destined to figure prominently in theatrical history. Henry Miller had been engaged for leading man, but he retired during the rehearsals, and his place was taken by William Morris, who had appeared in the Charles Frohman production of "She" and in the road company of "Held by the Enemy." In the company that Frohman selected were Frederick de Belleville, who played Israel Cohen, one of the finest, if not the finest, Jewish characters ever put on the stage; Orrin Johnson; Frank Mordaunt; Emmet Corrigan; J. C. Buckstone; and C. Leslie Allen, brother of Viola Allen.
In addition to Maude Adams were Sydney Armstrong, who was the leading woman; Odette Tyler; and Etta Hawkins, who became the wife of William Morris during this engagement.
At the dress rehearsal of "Men and Women" occurred a characteristic Charles Frohman incident. When the curtain had gone down Frohman hurried back to William Morris's dressing-room and said, "Will, that dress-suit of yours doesn't look right."
"It's a brand-new suit, 'C. F.,'" he replied.
Frohman thought a moment and said: "Can you be at my office to-morrow morning at eight o'clock? I've got a good tailor."
Promptly at eight the next day they went over to Frohman's tailor, whom Frohman addressed as follows:
"I want you to make a dress-suit for William Morris by eight o'clock to-morrow night."
"Impossible!" said the man.
"Nothing is impossible," said Frohman. "If that dress-suit is not in Mr. Morris's dressing-room at eight o'clock you won't get paid for it."
The dress-suit showed up on time, and in it was a card, saying, "With Charles Frohman's compliments."
Charles inaugurated his first stock season at Proctor's on October 21, 1890. Although the notices were uniformly good, the start into public favor was a trifle slow. One reason was that a big bank failure had just shaken Wall Street, and there was considerable apprehension all over the city. By a curious coincidence there was a bank failure in the play. By clever publicity this fact was capitalized; the piece found its stride and ran for two hundred consecutive performances, when it was sent on the road with great success.
For this tour Charles also introduced another one of the many novelties that he put into theatrical conduct. He ordered a private car for the company, and they used it throughout the tour. It was considered an extravagance, but it was merely part of the Charles Frohman policy to make his people comfortable. With this private car he established a precedent that was observed in most of his traveling organizations.
* * *
With the stock company on tour in "Men and Women," the manager now organized the Charles Frohman Comedy Company to fill in the time at Proctor's. Once more he collected a brilliant aggregation of players, for they included Henrietta Crosman, Joseph Holland, Frederick Bond, and Thomas Wise. Each one became a star in the course of the next ten years.
The opening bill for the comedy company was Gillette's "Mr. Wilkinson's Widows," and was presented on March 30th, immediately following the run of "Men and Women." Henrietta Crosman subsequently withdrew from the cast, and Esther Lyons took her place.
Charles Frohman reopened the theater on August 27th with a revival of this play, in which Georgia Drew Barrymore, the mother of Ethel, appeared as Mrs. Perrin. Emily Bancker, afterward a star in "Our Flat," and Mattie Ferguson were in the cast.
On October 5th the company did Sardou's big drama of "Thermidor" for the first time on any stage, with another one of the casts for which Charles Frohman was beginning to become famous. It included a thin, gaunt Englishman whose name in the bill was simply J. F. Robertson, and who had just come from an engagement with John Hare in London. Subsequently the J. F. in his name came to be known as Johnston Forbes, because the man was Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson.
In this company was Elsie De Wolfe, who later became a star and who years after left the theater to become an interior decorator. Among the male members of the company, besides Forbes-Robertson, was Jamison Lee Finney, who had graduated from the amateur ranks and who became one of the best-known comedians in the country.
In the mean time Charles had commissioned Henry C. De Mille to furnish a play for his stock company which was now on its way back from the coast. This play was "The Lost Paradise," which the American had adapted from Ludwig Fulda's drama. De Mille joined the company in Denver and rehearsals were begun there. By the time the company reached New York they were almost letter-perfect, and the opening at Proctor's on November 16th was a brilliant success. The play ran consecutively until March 1st.
The cast was practically the same as "Men and Women," with the addition of Cyril Scott, Odette Tyler, and Bijou Fernandez.
In "The Lost Paradise" Maude Adams scored the biggest success that she had made up to that time in New York. She played the part of Nell, the consumptive factory girl. This character, with its delicate and haunting interpretation, made an irresistible appeal to the audience.
"There's big talent in that girl," said Frohman in speaking of Miss Adams. He began to see the vision of what the years would hold for her.
* * *
By this time Charles Frohman had begun to make his annual visit to London. Out of one of the earliest journeys came still another success of the many that now seemed to crowd upon him.
He had taken desk space with Abbey, Schoeffel & Grau in Henrietta Street in London. On the trip in question Belasco accompanied him. One night Frohman said:
"There is a little comedy around the corner called 'Jane.' Let's go and see it."
Frohman was convulsed with laughter, and the very next day sought out the author, William Lestocq, from whom he purchased the American rights. Out of this connection came another one of the life-long friendships of Frohman. Lestocq, a few years later, became his principal English representative and remained so until the end.
Frohman was now in a whirlpool of projects. Although he was occupying himself with both the comedy and stock companies at Proctor's, he put on "Jane" as a midsummer attraction at the Madison Square Theater with a cast that included Katherine Grey, Johnstone Bennett, Jennie Weathersby, and Paul Arthur.
"Jane" became such an enormous success that Charles put out two road companies at once. In connection with "Jane" it may be said that his first real fortune—that is, the first money that he actually kept for a time—was made with this comedy.
Production after production now marked the Frohman career. Charles had always admired Henry E. Dixey, so he launched him as star in "The Solicitor" at Hermann's Theater, on September 8, 1891. It was the first time that the famous "Charles Frohman Presents" was used. In this company were Burr McIntosh, Sidney Drew, and Joseph Humphreys. It was the failure of "The Solicitor" that led Frohman to put Dixey out again as star in a piece called "The Man with a Hundred Heads" at the Star Theater. This also failed, so he ventured with "The Junior Partner" at the same theater with a cast that included E. J. Ratcliffe, Mrs. McKee Rankin, Henrietta Crosman, and Louise Thorndyke-Boucicault.
Early the following year he tried his luck at Hermann's with "Gloriana," in which May Robson and E. J. Henley appeared. Hermann's Theater, however, seemed to be a sort of hoodoo, so Frohman returned to the Star, which had been his mascot, and made his first joint production with David Belasco in a musical piece called "Miss Helyett." Frohman had seen the play in Paris, and proceeded at once to buy the American rights from Charles Wyndham. This production not only marked the first joint presentation of Belasco and Charles, but it was the debut of Mrs. Leslie Carter, who had become a protegee of Mr. Belasco. When the piece was moved to the Standard early in January, 1892, Mrs. Carter was starred for the first time.
* * *
By this time Charles Frohman was a personage to be reckoned with. "Shenandoah," the two stock companies, "Jane," and all the other enterprises both successful and otherwise, had made his name a big one in the theater. He now began to reach out for authors.
The first author to be approached was Augustus Thomas. He gave Charles a play called "Surrender." It was put on in Boston. The original idea in Thomas's mind was to write a satire on the war plays that had been so successful, like "Shenandoah" and "Held by the Enemy." "Surrender" began as a farce, but Charles Frohman and Eugene Presbrey, who produced it, wanted to make it serious.
The cast was a very notable one, including Clement Bainbridge, E. M. Holland, Burr McIntosh, Harry Woodruff, H. D. Blackmore, Louis Aldrich, Maude Bancks, Miriam O'Leary, Jessie Busley, and Rose Eytinge.
The rehearsals of "Surrender" were marked by many amusing episodes. Maude Bancks, for example, who was playing the part of a Northern girl in a Southern town, had to wear a red sash to indicate her Northern proclivities. This she refused to put on at the dress rehearsal because it did not match her costume. Bainbridge, an actor who played a Southern general, had a speech that he regarded as treason to his adopted country, and quit. But all these troubles were bridged over and the play was produced with some artistic success. It lasted sixteen weeks on the road.
After he had closed "Surrender" Frohman was telling a friend in New York that he had lost twenty-eight thousand dollars on this piece.
"But why did you permit yourself to lose so much money on a play that seemed bound to fail?"
"I believe in Gus Thomas. That is the reason," replied Frohman.
* * *
Although immersed in a multitude of enterprises, Frohman's activities now took a new and significant tack. Through all these crowded years his friendship for William Harris had been growing. Harris, who had graduated from minstrelsy to theatrical management and was the partner of Isaac B. Rich in the conduct of the Howard Athenaeum and the Hollis Street Theater in Boston, now added the Columbia Theater in that city to his string of houses. Charles at once secured an interest in this lease, and it was his first out-of-town theater. Quick to capitalize the opportunity, he put one of the "Jane" road companies in it for a run and called it the Charles Frohman Boston Stock Company.
JOHN DREW AND THE EMPIRE THEATER
The year 1892 not only found Charles Frohman established as an important play-producing manager, but in addition he was reaching out for widespread theater management. It was to register a memorable epoch in the life of Charles and to record, through him, a significant era in the history of the American theater. From this time on his life-story was to be the narrative of the larger development of the drama and its people.
With the acquisition of his first big star, John Drew, he laid the corner-stone of what is the so-called modern starring system, which brought about a revolution in theatrical conduct. The story of Charles's conquest in securing the management of Drew, with all its attendant dramatic and sensational features, illustrates the resource and vision of the one-time minstrel manager who now began to come into his own as a real Napoleon of the stage.
Charles always attached importance and value to big names. He had paid dearly in the past for this proclivity with the Lester Wallack Company. Undaunted, he now turned to another investment in name that was to be more successful.
About this time John Drew had made his way to a unique eminence on the American stage. A member of a distinguished Philadelphia theatrical family, he had scored an instantaneous success on his first appearance at home and had become the leading man of Augustin Daly's famous stock company. He was one of "The Big Four" of that distinguished organization, which included Ada Rehan, Mrs. G. H. Gilbert, and James Lewis. They were known as such in America and England. Drew was regarded as the finest type of the so-called modern actor interpreting the gentleman in the modern play. He shone in the drawing-room drama; he had a distinct following, and was therefore an invaluable asset. The general impression was that he was wedded to the environment that had proved so successful and was so congenial.
Charles knew Drew quite casually. Their first meeting was characteristic. It happened during the great "Shenandoah" run. Henry Miller and Drew were old friends. It was Frohman's custom in those days to have after-theater suppers on Saturday nights at his rooms in the old Hoffman House, and sometimes a friendly game of cards.
One Saturday Miller called Frohman up and asked him if he could bring Drew down for supper.
"Certainly; with pleasure," said Frohman.
That night after the play Miller picked Drew up at Daly's and took him to the Hoffman House. Knowing the way to the Frohman rooms, he started for them unannounced, when he was stopped by a bell-boy, who said, "Mr. Frohman is expecting you in here," opening the door and ushering the guests into a magnificent private suite that Frohman had engaged for the occasion. It was the first step in the campaign for Drew.
Although Frohman was eager to secure Drew, he made no effort to lure the actor away from what he believed was a very satisfactory connection.
As the friendship between the men grew, however, he discovered that Drew was becoming dissatisfied with his arrangement at Daly's. Up to that time "The Big Four" shared in the profits of the theater. Daly canceled this arrangement, and Drew suddenly realized that what seemed to be a most attractive alliance really held out no future for him.
Drew's dissatisfaction was heightened by his realization that Augustin Daly's greatest work and achievements were behind him. The famous old manager was undergoing that cycle of experience which comes to all of his kind when the flood-tide of their success begins to ebb.
Drew was speculating about his future when Frohman heard of his state of mind. He now felt that he would not be violating the ethics of the profession in making overtures looking to an alliance. He did not make a direct offer, but sent a mutual friend, Frank Bennett, once a member of the Daly company, who was then conducting the Arlington Hotel in Washington. Through him Frohman made a proposition to Drew to become a star. The actor accepted the offer, and a three-year contract was signed.
The capture of John Drew by Charles Frohman was more than a mere business stroke. Frohman never forgot that the great Daly had succeeded in ousting him from his first booking-offices in the Daly Theater Building. He found not a little humor in pre-empting the services of the Daly leading man as a sort of reciprocal stroke.
When Drew told Daly that he had signed a contract with Frohman the then dictator of the American stage could scarcely find words to express his astonishment. He assured Drew that he was making the mistake of his life, because he regarded Frohman as an unlicensed interloper. Yet this "interloper," from the moment of the Drew contract, began a new career of brilliant and artistic development.
Frohman's starring arrangement with Drew created a sensation, both among the public and in the profession. It broke up "The Big Four," for Drew left a gap at Daly's that could not be filled.
There was also a widespread feeling that while Drew had succeeded in a congenial environment, and with an actress (Miss Rehan) who was admirably suited to him, he might not duplicate this success amid new scenes. Hence arose much speculation about his leading woman. A dozen names were bruited about.
Charles Frohman remained silent. He was keenly sensitive to the sensation he was creating, and was biding his time to launch another. It came when he announced Maude Adams as John Drew's leading woman. He had watched her development with eager and interested eye. She had made good wherever he had placed her. Now he gave her what was up to this time her biggest chance. The moment her name became bracketed with Drew's there was a feeling of satisfaction over the choice. How wise Charles Frohman was in the whole Drew venture was about to be abundantly proved.
* * *
Charles Frohman not only made John Drew a star, but the nucleus of a whole system. It was a time of rebirth for the whole American stage. Nearly all the old stars were gone or were passing from view. Forrest, McCullough, Cushman, Janauschek were gone; Modjeska's power was waning; Clara Morris was soon to leave the stage world; Lawrence Barrett and W.J. Florence were dead; Edwin Booth had retired.
Frohman realized that with the passing of these stars there also passed the system that had created them. He knew that the public—the new generation—wanted younger people, popular names—somebody to talk about. He realized further that the public adored personality and that the strongest prop that a play could get was a fascinating and magnetic human being, whether male or female. The old stars had made themselves—risen from the ranks after years of service. Frohman saw the opportunity to accelerate this advance by providing swift and spectacular recognition. The new stars that were now to blossom into life under him owed their being to the initiative and the vision of some one else. Thus he became the first of the star-makers.
Charles was now all excitement. He had the making of his first big star, and he proceeded to launch him in truly magnificent fashion.
A play was needed that would bring out all those qualities that had made Drew shine in the drawing-room drama. The very play itself was destined to mark an epoch in the life of a man in the theater. Through Elizabeth Marbury, who had just launched herself as play-broker in a little office on Twenty-fourth Street, around the corner from Charles Frohman's, his attention was called to a French farcical comedy called "The Masked Ball," by Alexandre Bisson and Albert Carre. Frohman liked the story and wanted it adapted for American production. It was the beginning of his long patronage of French plays.
"I know a brilliant young man who could do this job for you very well," said Miss Marbury.
"What's his name?" asked Frohman.
"Clyde Fitch, and I believe he is going to have a great career," was the answer of his sponsor.
Fitch was given the commission. He did a most successful piece of adaptation, and in this Way began the long and close relationship between the author of "Beau Brummel" (his first play) and the man who, more than any other, did so much to advance his career.
For Drew's debut under his management Charles spared no expense. In addition to Maude Adams, the company included Harry Harwood (who was then coming into his own as a forceful and versatile character actor), C. Leslie Allen, Mrs. Annie Adams, and Frank E. Lamb.
With his usual desire to do everything in a splendid way, Frohman arranged for Drew's debut at Palmer's Theater, the old Lester Wallack playhouse which was now under the management of A. M. Palmer, then one of the shining figures in the American drama, and located opposite Drew's former scenes of activity. Thus Drew's first stellar appearance was on a stage rich with tradition.
"The Masked Ball" opened October 3, 1892, in the presence of a representative audience. It was an instantaneous success. Drew played with brilliancy and distinction, and Frohman's confidence in him was amply justified.
The performance, however, had a human interest apart from the star. Maude Adams, for the first time in her career, had a real Broadway opportunity, and she made the most of it in such a fashion as to convince Frohman and every one else that before many years were past she, too, would have her name up in electric lights. She played the part of Zuzanne Blondet, a more or less frivolous person, and it was in distinct contrast with the character that she had just abandoned, that of Nell, the consumptive factory-girl in "The Lost Paradise."
As Zuzanne in "The Masked Ball," Miss Adams went to a ball and assumed tipsiness in order to influence her dissipated husband and achieve his ultimate reformation. The way she prepared for this part was characteristic of the woman. She wore a hat with a long feather, and she determined to make it a "tipsy feather." This feature became one of the comedy hits of the play, but in order to achieve it she worked for days and days to bring about the desired effect. The result of all this painstaking preparation was a brilliant performance. When the curtain went down on that memorable night at Palmer's Theater the general impression was:
"Maude Adams will be the next Frohman star."
The morning after the opening Frohman went to John Drew and said: "Well, John, you don't need me any more now. You're made."
"No, Charles; I shall need you always," was the reply.
Out of this engagement came the long and intimate friendship between Drew and Frohman. The first contract, signed and sealed on that precarious day when Frohman was seeing the vision of the modern star system, was the last formal bond between them. Though their negotiations involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the years that passed, there was never another scrap of paper between them.
Seldom in the history of the American theater has another event been so productive of far-reaching consequence as "The Masked Ball." It brought Clyde Fitch into contact with the man who was to be his real sponsor; it made John Drew a star; it carried Maude Adams to the frontiers of the stellar realm; it gave Charles Frohman a whole new and distinguished place in the theater.
Frohman was quick to follow up this success. With Drew he had made his first real bid for what was known in those days as "the carriage trade"—that is, the patronage of the socially elect. He hastened to clinch this with another stunning production at Palmer's. It was Bronson Howard's play, "Aristocracy."
The play, produced on November 14, 1893, was done in Frohman's usual lavish way. The company included not less than half a dozen people who were then making their way toward stardom—Wilton Lackaye, Viola Allen, Blanche Walsh, William Faversham, Frederick Bond, Bruce McRae, Paul Arthur, W. H. Thompson, J. W. Piggott. "Aristocracy" was Bronson Howard's reversion to the serenity of the society drama after the spectacle of war. The first night's audience was fashionable. The distinction of the cast lent much to the success of the occasion.
* * *
When John Drew called on Charles Frohman for the first time at his offices at 1127 Broadway, his way was impeded by a bright-eyed, alert young office-boy who bore the unromantic name of Peter Daly. He incarnated every ill to which his occupation seems to be heir. Without troubling himself to find out if Mr. Frohman was in, he immediately said, after the grand fashion of theatrical office-boys:
"Mr. Frohman is out and I don't know when he will return."
"But I have an engagement with Mr. Frohman," said Drew.
"You will have to wait," said the boy.
Drew cooled his heels outside while Frohman waited impatiently inside for him. When he emerged at lunchtime he was surprised to find his man about to depart.
Daly was immediately discharged by Julius Cahn, who was office manager, but was promptly reinstated the next day by Frohman, who had been greatly impressed with the boy's quick wit and intelligence.
This office-boy, it is interesting to relate, became Arnold Daly, the actor. No experience of his life was perhaps more amusing or picturesque than the crowded year when he manned the outside door of Charles Frohman's office. Instead of attending to business, he spent most of his time writing burlesques on contemporary plays, which he solemnly submitted to Harry Rockwood, the bookkeeper.
During these days occurred a now famous episode. Young Daly was luxuriously reclining in the most comfortable chair in the reception-room one day when Louise Closser Hale, the actress, entered and asked to see Charles Frohman.
"He is out," said Daly.
"May I wait for him?" asked the visitor.
"Yes," answered Daly, and the woman sat down.
After three hours had passed she asked Daly, "Where is Mr. Frohman?"
"He's in London," was the reply.
Afterward Daly became "dresser" for John Drew, the virus of the theater got into his system, and before long he was an actor.
Thus even Charles Frohman's office-boys became stars.
* * *
Epochal as had been 1892, witnessing the first big Frohman star and a great artistic expansion, the new year that now dawned realized another and still greater dream of Charles Frohman, for it brought the dedication of his own New York theater at last, the famous Empire.
Ever since he had been launched in the metropolitan theatrical whirlpool, Frohman wanted a New York theater. As a boy he had witnessed the glories of the Union Square Theater under Palmer; as a road manager he had a part in the success of the Madison Square Theater activities; in his early managerial days he had been associated with the Lester Wallack organization; he had watched the later triumphs of the Lyceum Theater Company at home and on the road. Quite naturally he came to the conviction that he was ready to operate and control a big theater of his own.
The way toward its consummation was this:
One day toward the end of the 'eighties, William Harris came to New York to see Frohman about the booking of some attractions. He said:
"Charley, I want a theater in New York, and I know that you want one. Let's combine."
"All right," said Frohman. "You can get the Union Square. The lease is on the market."
"Very well," said Harris.
On the way down-stairs he met Al Hayman, who asked him where he was going.
"I am going over to lease the Union Square Theater," he replied.
"That's foolish," said Hayman. "Everything theatrical is going up-town."
"Well," answered Harris, "C. F. wants a theater, and I am determined that he shall have it, so I am going over to get the Union Square."
"If you and Frohman want a theater that badly, I will build one for you," he responded.
"Where?" asked Harris.
"I've got some lots at Fortieth and Broadway, and it's a good site, even if it is away up-town."
They went back to Frohman's office, and here was hatched the plan for the Empire Theater.
"I can't go ahead on this matter without Rich," said Harris.
"All right," said Frohman. "Wire Rich."
Rich came down next day, and the final details were concluded for the building of the Empire. Frank Sanger came in as a partner; thus the builders were Al Hayman, Frank Sanger, and William Harris. Without the formality of a contract they turned it over to Charles Frohman with the injunction that he could do with it as he pleased.
Frohman was in his element. He could now embark on another one of the favorite dream-enterprises.
He was like a child during the building of the theater. Every moment that he could spare from his desk he would walk up the street and watch the demolition of the old houses that were to make way for this structure. Often he would get Belasco and take him up the street to note the progress. One night as they stood before the skeleton of the theater that stood gaunt and gray in the gloom Charles said to his friend:
"David, just think; the great dream is coming true, and yet it's only a few years since we sat at 'Beefsteak John's' with only forty-two cents between us."
Naturally, Frohman turned to Belasco for the play to open the Empire. His old friend was then at work on "The Heart of Maryland" for Mrs. Leslie Carter. He explained the situation to Frohman. As soon as Mrs. Carter heard of it she went to Frohman and told him that she would waive her appearance and that Belasco must go ahead on the Empire play, which he did.
Just what kind of play to produce was the problem. Frohman still clung to the mascot of war. The blue coat and brass buttons had turned the tide for him with "Shenandoah," and he was superstitious in wanting another stirring and martial piece. Belasco had become interested in Indians, but he also wanted to introduce the evening-clothes feature. Hence came the inspiration of a ball at an army post in the far West during the Indian-fighting days. This episode proved to be the big dramatic situation of the new piece.
Then came the night when Belasco read the play to Frohman, who walked up and down the floor. When the author finished, Frohman rushed up to him with a brilliant smile on his face and said:
"David, you've done the whole business! You've got pepper and salt, soup, entree, roast, salad, dessert, coffee; it's a real play, and I know it will be a success."
Having finished the work, which Belasco wrote in collaboration with Franklin Fyles, then dramatic editor of the New York Sun, they needed a striking name. So they sent the manuscript to Daniel, down at the Lyceum, for Charles always declared he had been happy in the selection of play titles. Back came the manuscript with his approval of the work, and with the title "The Girl I Left Behind Me." This they eagerly adopted.
Long before "The Girl I Left Behind Me" manuscript was ready to leave Belasco's hands, Frohman was assembling his company. Instead of having a star, he decided to have an all-round stock company. The success of this kind of institution had been amply proved at Daly's, Wallack's, the Madison Square, and the Lyceum. Hence the Charles Frohman Stock Company, which had scored so heavily with "Men and Women" and "The Lost Paradise" at Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theater, now became the famous Empire Theater Stock Company and incidentally the greatest of all star factories. William Morris was retained as the first leading man, and the company included Orrin Johnson, Cyril Scott, W. H. Thompson, Theodore Roberts, Sydney Armstrong, Odette Tyler, and Edna Wallace. The child in the play was a precocious youngster called "Wally" Eddinger, who is the familiar Wallace Eddinger of the present-day stage.
The rehearsals for "The Girl I Left Behind Me" were held in the Standard Theater, which Frohman had already booked for productions, and were supervised by Belasco. Frohman, however, was always on hand, and his suggestions were invaluable.
"The Girl I Left Behind Me" was tried out for a week at Washington. The company arrived there on Sunday afternoon, but was unable to get the stage until midnight because Robert G. Ingersoll was delivering a lecture there. At the outset of this rehearsal Belasco became ill and had to retire to his bed, and Frohman took up the direction of this final rehearsal and worked with the company until long after dawn.
The week in Washington rounded out the play thoroughly, and the company returned to New York on the morning of January 25, 1893. Now came a characteristic example of Frohman's resource. At noon it was discovered that the new electric-light installation was not yet complete. Added to this was the disconcerting fact that the paint on the chairs was scarcely dry. Sanger, Harris, and Rich urged Frohman to postpone the opening. "It will be useless to open under these conditions," they said.
"The Empire must open to-night," said Frohman, "if we have to open it by candle-light."
In saying this Charles Frohman emphasized what was one of his iron-clad rules, for he never postponed an announced opening.
That January night was a memorable one in the life of Frohman. He sat on a low chair in the wings, and alongside of him sat Belasco. His face beamed, yet he was very nervous, as he always was on openings. At the end of the third act, when the audience made insistent calls for speeches, Belasco tried to drag Frohman out, but he would not go. "You go, David," he said. And Belasco went out and made a speech.
"The Girl I Left Behind Me" was a complete success, and played two hundred and eighty-eight consecutive performances.
The opening of the Empire Theater strengthened Charles Frohman's position immensely. More than this, it established a whole new theatrical district in New York. When it was opened there was only one up-town theater, the Broadway. Within a few years other playhouses followed the example of the Empire, and camped in its environs. Thus again Charles Frohman was a pioneer.
The Empire Theater now became the nerve-center of the Charles Frohman interests. He established his offices on the third floor, and there they remained until his death. He practically occupied the whole building, for his booking interests, which had now grown to great proportions, and which were in charge of Julius Cahn, occupied a whole suite of offices. He now had his own New York theater, a star of the first magnitude, and a stock company with a national reputation.
When the Empire Stock Company began its second season in the August of 1893, in R. C. Carton's play, "Liberty Hall," Charles Frohman was able to keep the promise he had made to Henry Miller back in the 'eighties in San Francisco. That handsome and dashing young actor now succeeded William Morris as leading man of the stock company, Viola Allen became leading woman, and May Robson also joined the company. "Liberty Hall" ran until the end of October, when David Belasco's play, "The Younger Son," was put on. This added William Faversham to the ranks, and thus another star possibility came under the sway of the Star-Maker.
The Empire became the apple of Charles Frohman's eye, and remained so until his death. No star and no play was too good for it. On it he lavished wealth and genuine affection. To appear with the Empire Stock Company was to be decorated with the Order of Theatrical Merit. To it in turn came Robert Edison, Ethel Barrymore, Elita Proctor Otis, Jameson Lee Finney, Elsie De Wolfe, W. J. Ferguson, Ferdinand Gottschalk, J. E. Dodson, Margaret Anglin, J. Henry Benrimo, Ida Conquest, and Arthur Byron.
The Empire Stock Company became an accredited institution. A new play by it was a distinct event, its annual tour to the larger cities an occasion that was eagerly awaited. To have a play produced by it was the goal of the ambitious playwright, both here and abroad.
Through the playing of the Empire Company Frohman introduced Oscar Wilde to America, and with the stock-company opportunities he developed such playwrights as Henry Arthur Jones, Haddon Chambers, Sydney Grundy, Louis N. Parker, Madeline Lucette Ryley, Henry Guy Carleton, Clyde Fitch, Jerome K. Jerome, and Arthur Wing Pinero.
Having firmly established the Empire Theater, Charles now turned to a myriad of enterprises. He acquired the lease of the Standard Theater (afterward the Manhattan) and began there a series of productions that was to have significant effect on his fortunes.
In May, 1893, he produced a comedy called "Fanny," by George R. Sims, of London, in which W. J. Ferguson, Frank Burbeck, and Johnston Bennett appeared. It was a very dismal failure, but it produced one of the famous Frohman epigrams. Sims sent Frohman the following telegram a few days after the opening:
How is Fanny going?
Whereupon Frohman sent this laconic reply:
Now came another historic episode in Frohman's career. He was making his annual visit to London. The lure and love of the great city was in him and it grew with each succeeding pilgrimage. He had learned to select successful English plays, as the case of "Jane" had proved. Now he was to go further and capture one of his rarest prizes.
Just about this time Brandon Thomas's farce, "Charley's Aunt," had been played at the Globe Theater as a Christmas attraction and was staggering along in great uncertainty. W. S. Penley, who owned the rights, played the leading part.
Suddenly it became a success, and the "managerial Yankee birds," as they called the American theatrical magnates, began to roost in London. All had their claws set for "Charley's Aunt."
Frohman had established an office in London at 4 Henrietta Street, in the vicinity of Covent Garden. His friendship with W. Lestocq, the author of "Jane," developed. Lestocq, who was the son of a publisher, and had graduated from a clever amateur actor into a professional, conceived a great liking for Frohman. While all the American managers were angling for "Charley's Aunt," he went to Penley, who was his friend, and said:
"Frohman has done so well with 'Jane' in America, he is the man to do 'Charley's Aunt.'"
Penley agreed to hold up all his negotiations for the play until Frohman arrived. A conference was held, and, through the instrumentality of Lestocq, Frohman secured the American rights to "Charley's Aunt."
At the end of this meeting Lestocq said in jest, "What do I get out of this?"
"I'll show you," said Frohman. "You shall represent me in London hereafter."
Out of this conference came one of the longest and most loyal associations in Charles's career, because from that hour until the day of his death Lestocq represented Charles Frohman in England with a fidelity of purpose and a devotion of interest that were characteristic of the men who knew and worked with Charles Frohman.
Frohman now returned to America to produce "Charley's Aunt." In spite of the success of the Empire, Frohman had "plunged" in various ways, and had reached one of the numerous financial crises in his life. He looked upon "Charley's Aunt" as the agency that was to again redeem him. For the American production he imported Etienne Girardot, who had played the leading role in the English production. He surrounded Girardot with an admirable cast, including W. J. Ferguson, Frank Burbeck, Henry Woodruff, Nanette Comstock, and Jessie Busley.
Frohman personally rehearsed "Charley's Aunt." He tried it out first at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the reception was not particularly cordial. He returned to New York in a great state of apprehension, although his good spirits were never dampened. On October 2, 1893, he produced the play at the Standard, and it was an immediate success. As the curtain went down on the first night's performance he assembled the company on the stage and made a short speech, thanking them for their co-operation. It was the first time in his career that he had done this, and it showed how keenly concerned he was. It was another "Shenandoah," because it recouped his purse, depleted from numerous outside ventures, inspired him with a fresh zeal, and enabled him to proceed with fresh enterprises. It ran for two hundred nights, and then duplicated its New York success on the road.
While gunning for "Charley's Aunt," Charles Frohman made his first London production with "The Lost Paradise." He put it on in partnership with the Gattis, at the Adelphi Theater in the Strand. It was a failure, however, and it discouraged him from producing in England for some little time.
These were the years when Frohman was making the few intimate friendships that would mean so much to him until the closing hours of his life. That of Charles Dillingham is an important one.
Dillingham had been a newspaper man in Chicago at a time when George Ade, Peter Dunne, and Frank Vanderlip (now president of the National City Bank) were his co-workers. He became secretary to Senator Squire, and at Washington wrote a play called "Twelve P.M." A manager named Frank Williams produced it in the old Bijou Theater, New York, just about the time that Charles Frohman was presenting John Drew across the street in "The Masked Ball." Dillingham had previously come on to New York, and his hopes, naturally, were in the play. "Twelve P.M." was a dismal failure, but it brought two unusual men together who became bosom friends. It came about in this extraordinary way:
During the second (and last) week of the engagement of "Twelve P.M." at the Bijou, Dillingham, who came every night to see his play, noticed a short, stout, but important-looking man pass into the playhouse.
"Who is that man?" he asked.
He was told it was Charles Frohman.
A few days later he received a letter from Frohman, which said:
Your play lacks all form and construction, but I like the lines very much. Would you like to adapt a French farce for me?
Dillingham accepted this commission and thus met Frohman. Dillingham was then dramatic editor of the New York Evening Sun. One day he called on Frohman and asked him to send him out with a show.
"When do you want to go?"
"Very well," said Frohman, who would always have his little joke. "You can go to-morrow. I would like to get you off that paper, anyhow. You write too many bad notices of my plays."
Dillingham first went out ahead of the Empire Stock Company and afterward in advance of John Drew, in "That Imprudent Young Couple." He left the job, however, and soon returned to Frohman, seeking other work.
"What would you like to do?" asked Frohman.
"Take my yacht and go to England," said Dillingham, facetiously.
"All right," said Frohman. "We sail Saturday," and handed him fifty thousand dollars in stage money that happened to be lying on his desk. Dillingham thought at first he was joking, but he was not. They sailed on the St. Paul. Frohman had just established his first offices in Henrietta Street. There was not much business to transact, and the pair spent most of their time seeing plays. Dillingham acted as a sort of secretary to Frohman.
One day a haughty Englishman came up to the offices and asked Dillingham to take in his card.
"I have no time," said Dillingham, whose sense of humor is proverbial.
"What have you to do?" asked the man.
"I've got to wash the office windows first," was the reply.
The Englishman became enraged, strode in to Frohman, and told him what Dillingham had said. Frohman laughed so heartily that he almost rolled out of his chair. After the Englishman left he went out and congratulated Dillingham on his jest. From that day dated a Damon and Pythias friendship between the two men. They were almost inseparable companions.
The time was at hand for another big star to twinkle in the Frohman heaven. During all these years William Gillette had developed in prestige and authority, both as actor and as playwright. The quiet, thoughtful, scholarly-looking young actor who had knocked at the doors of the Madison Square Theater with the manuscript of "The Professor," where it was produced after "Hazel Kirke," and whose road tours had been booked by Charles Frohman in his early days as route-maker, now came into his own. Curiously enough, his career was to be linked closely with that of the little man he first knew in his early New York days.
Frohman, who had booked and produced Gillette's play "Held By the Enemy," now regarded Gillette as star material of the first rank. Combined with admiration for Gillette as artist was a strong personal friendship. Gillette now wrote a play, a capital farce called "Too Much Johnson," which Frohman produced with the author as star. In connection with this opening was a typical Frohman incident.
The play was first put on at Waltham, Massachusetts. The house was small and the notices bad. Frohman joined the company next day at Springfield. Gillette was much depressed, and he met Frohman in this mood.
"This is terrible, isn't it? I'm afraid the play is a failure."
"Nonsense!" said Frohman. "I have booked it for New York and for a long tour afterward."
"Why?" asked Gillette in astonishment.
"I saw your performance," was the reply.
Frohman's confidence was vindicated, for when the play was put on at the Standard Theater in November, 1894, it went splendidly and put another rivet in Gillette's reputation.
Frohman now had two big stars, John Drew and William Gillette. A half-dozen others were in the making, chief among them the wistful-eyed little Maude Adams, who was now approaching the point in her career where she was to establish a new tradition for the American stage and give Charles Frohman a unique distinction.
MAUDE ADAMS AS STAR
When Charles Frohman put Maude Adams opposite John Drew in "The Masked Ball" he laid the foundation of what is, in many respects, his most remarkable achievement. The demure little girl, who had made her way from child actress through the perils of vivid melodrama to a Broadway success, now set foot on the real highway to a stardom that is unique in the annals of the theater.
Brilliant as was his experience with the various men and women whom he raised from obscurity to fame and fortune, the case of Maude Adams stands out with peculiar distinctness. It is the one instance where Charles Frohman literally manufactured a star's future.
Yet no star ever served so rigorous or so distinguished an apprenticeship. Her five years as leading woman with John Drew tried all her resource. After her brilliant performance as Zuzanne Blondet in "The Masked Ball," she appeared in "The Butterflies," by Henry Guy Carleton. She had a much better part in "The Bauble Shop," which followed the next year.
John Drew's vehicle in 1895 was "That Imprudent Young Couple," by Henry Guy Carleton. This play not only advanced Miss Adams materially, but first served to bring forward John Drew's niece, Ethel Barrymore, a graceful slip of a girl, who developed a great friendship with Miss Adams. Following her appearance in the Carleton play came "Christopher Jr.," written by Madeline Lucette Ryley, in which Miss Adams scored the biggest hit of her career up to this time.
It remained for Louis N. Parker's charming play, "Rosemary," which was produced at the Empire Theater in 1896, to put Miss Adams into the path of the man who, after Charles Frohman, did more than any other person in the world to give her the prominence that she occupies to-day.
"Rosemary" was an exquisite comedy, and packed with sentiment. Maude Adams played the part of Dorothy Cruikshank, a character of quaint and appealing sweetness. It touched the hidden springs of whimsical humor and thrilling tenderness, qualities which soon proved to be among her chief assets.
Just about that time a little Scot, James M. Barrie by name, already a distinguished literary figure who had blossomed forth as a playwright with "Walker London" and "The Professor's Love Story," came to America for the first time. For three people destined from this time on to be inseparably entwined in career and fortune, it was a memorable trip. For Barrie it meant the meeting with Charles Frohman, who was to be his greatest American friend and producer; for Miss Adams it was to open the way to her real career, and for Frohman himself it was to witness the beginning of an intimacy that was perhaps the closest of his life.
Barrie's book, "The Little Minister," had been a tremendous success, and, not having acquired the formality of a copyright in America, the play pirates were busy with it. Frohman, after having seen the performance of "The Professor's Love Story," had cabled Barrie, asking him to make a play out of the charming Scotch romance. Barrie at first declined. Frohman, as usual, was insistent. Then followed the Scotchman's trip to America.
Under Frohman's influence he had begun to consider a dramatization of "The Little Minister," but the real stimulus was lacking because, as he expressed it to Frohman, he did not see any one who could play the part of Babbie.
Now came one of those many unexpected moments that shape lives. On a certain day Barrie dropped into the Empire Theater to see Frohman, who was out.
"Why don't you stop in down-stairs and see 'Rosemary'?" said Frohman's secretary.
"All right," said Barrie.
So he went down into the Empire and took a seat in the last row. An hour afterward he came rushing back to Frohman's office, found his friend in, and said to him, as excitedly as his Scotch nature would permit:
"Frohman, I have found the woman to play Babbie in 'The Little Minister'! I am going to try to dramatize it myself."
"Who is it?" asked Frohman, with a twinkle in his eye, for he knew without asking.
"It is that little Miss Adams who plays Dorothy."
"Fine!" said Frohman. "I hope you will go ahead now and do the play."
The moment toward which Frohman had looked for years was now at hand. He might have launched Miss Adams at any time during the preceding four or five seasons. But he desired her to have a better equipment, and he wanted the American theater-going public to know the woman in whose talents he felt such an extraordinary confidence. He announced with a suddenness that was startling, but which in reality conveyed no surprise to the few people who had watched Miss Adams's career up to this time, that he was going to launch her as star.
Some of his friends, however, objected.
"Why split and separate a good acting combination?" was their comment, meaning the combination of John Drew and Miss Adams. To this objection Frohman made reply:
"I'll show you the wisdom of it. I'll put them both on Broadway at the same time."
He therefore launched Miss Adams in "The Little Minister" at the Empire and booked John Drew at Wallack's in "A Marriage of Convenience." His decision was amply vindicated, for both scored successes.
* * *
Charles Frohman now proceeded to present Miss Adams with his usual lavishness. First of all he surrounded her with a superb company. It was headed by Robert Edeson, who played the title role, and included Guy Standing, George Fawcett, William H. Thompson, R. Peyton Carter, and Wilfred Buckland.
With "The Little Minister" Charles Frohman gave interesting evidence of a masterful manipulation to make circumstances meet his own desires. He realized that the masculine title of the play might possibly detract from Miss Adams's prestige, so he immediately began to adapt several important scenes which might have been dominated by Gavin Dishart, the little minister, into strong scenes for his new luminary. These changes were made, of course, with Barrie's consent, and added much to the strength of the role of Lady Babbie.
To the mastery of the part of Lady Babbie Maude Adams now consecrated herself with a fidelity of purpose which was very characteristic of her. Then, as always, she asked herself the question:
"What will this character mean to the people who see it?"
In other words, here, as throughout all her career, she put herself in the position of her audience. She devoted many weeks to a study of Scotch dialect. She fairly lived in a Scotch atmosphere. One of her friends of that time accused her of subsisting on a diet of Scotch broth.
As was his custom, Frohman gave the piece an out-of-town try-out. It opened on September 13, 1897, a date memorable in the Charles Frohman narrative, in the La Fayette Square Opera House in Washington. It was an intolerably hot night, and, added to the discomfort of the heat, there was considerable uncertainty about the success of the venture itself. This was not due to a lack of confidence in Miss Adams, but to the feeling that the play was excessively Scotch. A brilliant audience, including many people prominent in public life, witnessed the debut and seemed most friendly.
Miss Adams regarded the first night as a failure. Financially the play limped along for a week, for the gross receipts were only $3,500. Yet when the play opened in New York two weeks later it was a spectacular success from the start.
Here is another curious example of the importance of the New York verdict. "Hazel Kirke," which became one of the historic successes of the American stage, tottered along haltingly for weeks in Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore. In the Quaker City, "Barbara Fritchie," with Julia Marlowe in the title role, came dangerously near closing because of discouraging business. Yet she came to New York, and with the exception of "When Knighthood was in Flower," registered the greatest popular triumph she has ever known. This was now the case with "The Little Minister."
Miss Adams was irresistible as Lady Babbie. As the quaint, slyly humorous, make-believe gipsy, she found full play for all her talents, and she captured her audience almost with her first speech.
Charles Frohman sat nervously in the wings during the performance. When the curtain went down his new star said to him:
"How did it go?"
"Splendidly," was his laconic comment.
"The Little Minister" ran at the Empire for three hundred consecutive performances, two hundred and eighty-nine of which were to "standing room only." The total gross receipts for the engagement were $370,000—a record for that time.
On the last night of the run Miss Adams received the following cablegram from Barrie:
Thank you, thank you all for your brilliant achievement. "What a glory to our kirk."
Maude Adams was now launched as a profitable and successful star. Like many other conscientious and idealistic interpreters of the drama, she had a great reverence for Shakespeare, and she burned with a desire to play in one of the great bard's plays. Charles Frohman knew this. Then, as always, one of his supreme ambitions in life was to gratify her every wish, so he announced that he would present her in a special all-star production of "Romeo and Juliet."
Charles Frohman himself was always frank enough to say that he had no great desire to produce Shakespeare. He lived in the dramatic activities of his day. It was shortly before this time that his brother Daniel, entering his office one day, found him reading.
"I am reading a new book," he said; "that is, new to me."
"What is that?" was the query?
"'Romeo and Juliet,'" he replied.
When Maude Adams dropped the role of Babbie to assume that of Juliet some people thought the transfer a daring one, to say the least. Even Miss Adams was a little nervous. Not so Frohman. To him Shakespeare was simply a playwright like Clyde Fitch or Augustus Thomas, with the additional advantage that he was dead, and therefore, as there were no royalties to pay, he could put the money into the production.
When Frohman went to rehearsal one day he noticed that the company seemed a trifle nervous.
"What's up?" he asked, abruptly.
Some one told him that the players were fearful lest all the details of the costume and play should not be carried out in strict accordance with history.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Frohman. "Who's Shakespeare? He was just a man. He won't hurt you. I don't see any Shakespeare. Just imagine you're looking at a soldier, home from the Cuban war, making love to a giggling school-girl on a balcony. That's all I see, and that's the way I want it played. Dismiss all idea of costume. Be modern."
The production of "Romeo and Juliet" was supervised by William Seymour. It was rehearsed in two sections. One half of the cast was in New York, with Faversham and Hackett; the other was on tour with Miss Adams in "The Little Minister." Seymour divided his time between the two wings, with the omnipresent spirit of Frohman over it all.
Miss Adams had made an exhaustive study of the part. After his first conference with her, Seymour wrote to Frohman as follows:
I thought I knew my Shakespeare, but Miss Adams has opened up a new and most wonderful field. An hour with her has given me more inspiration and ideas than twenty years of personal experience with it.
As usual, Frohman surrounded Miss Adams with a magnificent cast. William Faversham played Romeo; James K. Hackett was Mercutio; W. H. Thompson was Friar Lawrence; Orrin Johnson played Paris; R. Peyton Carter was Peter. Others in the company were Campbell Gollan and Eugene Jepson.
"Romeo and Juliet" was produced at the Empire Theater May 8, 1899, and was a distinguished artistic success. Miss Adams's Juliet was appealing, romantic, lovely. It touched the chords of all her gentle womanliness and gave the character, so far as the American stage was concerned, a new tradition of youthful charm.
A unique feature of the first night's performance of "Romeo and Juliet" was the presence of Mary Anderson. This distinguished actress, who had just arrived from London for a brief visit, expressed a desire to see the new Juliet, and to feel once more the thrill of a Broadway first night. Miss Anderson herself had, of course, achieved great distinction as Juliet. She was regarded, in her day, as the physical and romantic ideal of the role.
When her desire to see the play was communicated to Charles, it was found that every box had been sold except the one reserved for his sisters. He therefore purchased this from them with a check for $200.
At the conclusion of the performance Miss Anderson was introduced to Miss Adams, and congratulated her on her success.
* * *
It was in 1900 that Miss Adams first played the part of a boy, a type of character that, before many years would pass, was to give her a great success. Her debut as a lad, however, was under the most brilliantly artistic circumstances, because it was in Edmond Rostand's "L'Aiglon," adapted in English by Louis N. Parker. As the young Eaglet, son of the great Napoleon, she had fresh opportunity to display her versatility. It was a character in which romance, pathos, and tragedy were curiously entwined. Bernhardt had done it successfully in Paris, but Miss Adams brought to it the fidelity and brilliancy of youth. In "L'Aiglon" she was supported by Edwin Arden, Oswald Yorke, Eugene Jepson, J. H. Gilmour, and R. Peyton Carter.
* * *
When Charles Frohman put Miss Adams into "Romeo and Juliet" she received a whimsical letter from J. M. Barrie, saying, among other things:
Are you going to take Willie Shakespeare by the arm and l'ave me?
The time was now at hand when she once more took the fascinating Scot by the arm. She now appeared in his "Quality Street," a new play with the real Barrie charm, in which she took the part of an exquisite English girl whose betrothed goes to the Napoleonic wars. She thinks he has forgotten her, and allows herself to externally fade into spinsterhood. When he comes back he does not recognize her. Then she suddenly blooms into exquisite youth—radiant and beguiling—and he discovers that it is his old love.
"Quality Street" was tried out in Toledo, Ohio, early in the season of 1901. On the opening night an incident occurred which showed Frohman's attitude toward new plays. The third act dragged somewhat toward the end, evidently on account of an anti-climax. On the following day Frohman asked his business manager to sit with him during the third act, saying:
"Last night Miss Adams played this act as Barrie wrote it. This afternoon she will play it as I want it."
The act went much more effectively, and it was never changed after that matinee performance.
"Quality Street" was another of what came to be known as a typical "Adams success."
For her next starring vehicle, Charles presented Maude Adams in "The Pretty Sister of Jose," a play which Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett made of her well-known story. She was supported by Harry Ainley, at that time England's great matinee idol. Here Miss Adams encountered for the first time something that resembled failure, because she was not adapted to the fiery, passionate character of the impetuous Spanish girl. The play, however, made its usual tour after the local season, and with much financial success.
The tour ended, Miss Adams suddenly disappeared from sight. There were even rumors that she had left the stage. As a matter of fact, she had retired to the seclusion of a convent at Tours, in France. There were two definite reasons for her retirement. One was that she wanted time for convalescence from an operation for appendicitis; the other, that she wished to perfect her French in order to fulfil a long-cherished desire to play Juliet to Sarah Bernhardt's Romeo. Unfortunately, this plan was never consummated, but it gave Miss Adams a very rare experience, for she lived with the simple French nuns for months. Later, when they were driven from France, she found them quarters near Birmingham, in England, saw to their comfort, and got them buyers for their lace.
* * *
Brilliant as had been Miss Adams's success up to this time, the moment was now at hand when she was to appear in the role that, more than all her other parts combined, would complete her conquest of the American heart. Once more she became a boy, this time the irresistible Peter Pan.
As Peter Pan she literally flew into a new fame. This play of Barrie's provided Frohman with one of the many sensations he loved, and perhaps no production of the many hundreds that he made in his long career as manager gave him quite so much pleasure as the presentation of the fascinating little Boy Who Never Would Grow Up.