The very beginning of "Peter Pan," so far as the stage presentation was concerned, was full of romantic interest. Barrie had agreed to write a play for Frohman, and met him at dinner one night at the Garrick Club in London. Barrie seemed nervous and ill at ease.
"What's the matter?" said Charles.
"Simply this," said Barrie. "You know I have an agreement to deliver you the manuscript of a play?"
"Yes," said Frohman.
"Well, I have it, all right," said Barrie, "but I am sure it will not be a commercial success. But it is a dream-child of mine, and I am so anxious to see it on the stage that I have written another play which I will be glad to give you and which will compensate you for any loss on the one I am so eager to see produced."
"Don't bother about that," said Frohman. "I will produce both plays."
Now the extraordinary thing about this episode is that the play about whose success Barrie was so doubtful was "Peter Pan," which made several fortunes. The manuscript he offered Frohman to indemnify him from loss was "Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire," which lasted only a season. Such is the estimate that the author often puts on his own work!
When Frohman first read "Peter Pan" he was so entranced that he could not resist telling all his friends about it. He would stop them in the street and act out the scenes. Yet it required the most stupendous courage and confidence to put on a play that, from the manuscript, sounded like a combination of circus and extravaganza; a play in which children flew in and out of rooms, crocodiles swallowed alarm-clocks, a man exchanged places with his dog in its kennel, and various other seemingly absurd and ridiculous things happened.
But Charles believed in Barrie. He had gone to an extraordinary expense to produce "Peter Pan" in England. He duplicated it in the United States. No other character in all her repertory made such a swift appeal to Miss Adams as Peter Pan. She saw in him the idealization of everything that was wonderful and wistful in childhood.
The way she prepared for the part was characteristic of her attitude toward her work. She took the manuscript with her up to the Catskills. She isolated herself for a month; she walked, rode, communed with nature, but all the while she was studying and absorbing the character which was to mean so much to her career. In the great friendly open spaces in which little Peter himself delighted, and where he was king, she found her inspiration for interpretation of the wondrous boy.
The try-out was made in Washington at the old National Theater. It went with considerable success, although the first-night audience was somewhat mystified and did not know exactly what to say or do.
It was when the play was launched on November 6, 1905, at the Empire Theater in New York, that little Peter really came into his own. The human birds, the droll humor, the daring allegory, above all the appealing, almost tragic, spectacle of Peter playing his pipe up in the tree-tops of the Never-Never Land, all contributed to an event that was memorable in more ways than one.
On this night developed the remarkable and thrilling feature in "Peter Pan" which made the adorable dream-child the best beloved of all American children. It came when Peter rushed forward to the footlights in the frantic attempt to save the life of his devoted little Tinker Bell, and asked:
"Do you believe in fairies?"
It registered a whole new and intimate relation between actress and audience, and had the play possessed no other distinctive feature, this alone would have at once lifted it to a success that was all its own.
This episode became one of the many marvelous features of the memorable run of "Peter Pan" at the Empire. Nearly every child in New York—and subsequently, on the long and successful tours that Miss Adams made in "Peter Pan," their brothers everywhere—became acquainted with the episode and longed impatiently to have a part in it. On one occasion, fully fifteen minutes before Miss Adams made her appeal, a little child rose in a box at the Empire and said: "I believe in fairies."
"Peter Pan" recorded the longest single engagement in the history of the Empire. It ran from November 6, 1905, until June 9, 1906.
But "Peter Pan" did more than give Miss Adams her most popular part. It became a nation-wide vogue. Children were named after the fascinating little lad Who Never Would Grow Up; articles of wearing-apparel were labeled with his now familiar title; the whole country talked and loved the unforgettable little character who now became not merely a stage figure, but a real personal friend of the American theater-going people.
It was on a road tour of "Peter Pan" that occurred one of those rare anecdotes in which Miss Adams figures. Frohman always had a curious prejudice against the playing of matinees by his stars, especially Maude Adams. A matinee was booked at Altoona, Pennsylvania. Frohman immediately had it marked off his contract. The advance-agent of the company, however, ordered the matinee played at the urgent request of the local manager, but he did not notify the office in New York. When Charles got the telegram announcing the receipts, he was most indignant. "I'll discharge the person responsible for this matinee," he said.
In answer to his telegraphed inquiry he received the following wire:
The matinee was played at my request. I preferred to work rather than spend the whole day in a bad hotel.
In connection with "Peter Pan" is a curious and tragic coincidence. Of all the Barrie plays that Charles produced he loved "Peter Pan" the best. Curiously enough, it was little Peter himself who gave him the cue for his now historic farewell as he stood on the sinking deck of the Lusitania.
At the end of one of the acts in "Peter Pan" the little boy says:
To die will be an awfully big adventure.
These words had always made a deep impression on Frohman. They came to his mind as he stood on that fateful deck and said:
Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life.
Having made such an enormous success with "Peter Pan," Miss Adams now turned to her third boy's part. It was that of "Chicot, the Jester," John Raphael's adaptation of Miguel Zamaceis's play "The Jesters." This was a very delightful sort of Prince Charming play, fragile and artistic. The opposite part was played by Consuelo Bailey. It was a great triumph for Miss Adams, but not a very great financial success.
Now came the first of her open-air performances. During the season of "The Jesters" she appeared at Yale and Harvard as Viola in "Twelfth Night." She gave a charming and graceful performance of the role.
* * *
But Maude Adams could not linger long from the lure that was Barrie's. After what amounted to the failure of "The Jesters" she turned to her fourth Barrie play, which proved to be a triumph.
For over a year Barrie had been at work on a play for her. It came forth in his whimsical satire, "What Every Woman Knows." Afterward, in speaking of this play, he said that he had written it because "there was a Maude Adams in the world." Then he added, "I could see her dancing through every page of my manuscript."
Indeed, "What Every Woman Knows" was really written around Miss Adams. It was a dramatization of the roguish humor and exquisite womanliness that are her peculiar gifts.
As Maggie Wylie she created a character that was a worthy colleague of Lady Babbie. Here she had opportunity for her wide range of gifts. The role opposite her, that of John Shand, the poor Scotch boy who literally stole knowledge, was extraordinarily interesting. As most people may recall, the play involves the marriage between Maggie and John, according to an agreement entered into between the girl's brothers and the boy. The brothers agree to educate him, and in return he weds the sister. Maggie becomes John's inspiration, although he refuses to realize or admit it. He is absolutely without humor. He thinks he can do without her, only to find when it is almost too late that she has been the very prop of his success.
At the end of this play Maggie finally makes her husband laugh when she tells him:
I tell you what every woman knows: that Eve wasn't made from the rib of Adam, but from his funny-bone.
This speech had a wide vogue and was quoted everywhere.
Curiously enough, in "What Every Woman Knows" Miss Adams has a speech in which she unconsciously defines the one peculiar and elusive gift which gives her such rare distinction. In the play she is supposed to be the girl "who has no charm." In reality she is all charm. But in discussing this quality with her brothers she makes this statement:
Charm is the bloom upon a woman. If you have it you don't have to have anything else. If you haven't it, all else won't do you any good.
"What Every Woman Knows" was an enormous success, in which Richard Bennett, who played John Shand, shared honors with the star. Miss Adams's achievement in this play emphasized the rare affinity between her and Barrie's delightful art. They formed a unique and lovable combination, irresistible in its appeal to the public. Commenting on this, Barrie himself has said:
Miss Adams knows my characters and understands them. She really needs no directions. I love to write for her and see her in my work.
Nor could there be any more delightful comment on Miss Adams's appreciation of all that Barrie has meant to her than to quote a remark she made not so very long ago when she said:
Wherever I act, I always feel that there is one unseen spectator, James M. Barrie.
Maude Adams was now in what most people, both in and out of the theatrical profession, would think the very zenith of her career. She was the best beloved of American actresses, the idol of the American child. She was without doubt the best box-office attraction in the country. Yet she had made her way to this eminence by an industry and a concentration that were well-nigh incredible.
People began to say, "What marvelous things Charles Frohman has done for Miss Adams."
As a matter of fact, the career of Miss Adams emphasizes what a very great author once said, which, summed up, was that neither nature nor man did anything for any human being that he could not do for himself.
Miss Adams paid the penalty of her enormous success by an almost complete isolation. She concentrated on her work—all else was subsidiary.
Charles Frohman had an enormous ambition for Miss Adams, and that ambition now took form in what was perhaps his most remarkable effort in connection with her. It was the production of "Joan of Arc" at the Harvard Stadium. It started in this way:
John D. Williams, for many years business manager for Charles Frohman, is a Harvard alumnus. Realizing that the business with which he was associated had been labeled with the "commercial" brand, he had an ambition to associate it with something which would be considered genuinely esthetic. The pageant idea had suddenly come into vogue. "Why not give a magnificent pageant?" he said to himself.
One morning he went into Charles Frohman's office and put the idea to him, adding that he thought Miss Adams as Joan of Arc would provide the proper medium for such a spectacle. Frohman was about to go to Europe. With a quick wave of the hand and a swift "All right," he assented to what became one of the most distinguished events in the history of the American stage.
Schiller's great poem, "The Maid of Orleans," was selected. In suggesting the battle heroine of France, Williams touched upon one of Maude Adams's great admirations. For years she had studied the character of Joan. To her Joan was the very idealization of all womanhood. Bernhardt, Davenport, and others had tried to dramatize this most appealing of all tragedies in the history of France, and had practically failed. It remained for slight, almost fragile, Maude Adams to vivify and give the character an enduring interpretation.
"Joan of Arc," as the pageant was called, was projected on a stupendous scale. Fifteen hundred supernumeraries were employed. John W. Alexander, the famous artist, was employed to design the costumes. A special electric-lighting plant was installed in the stadium.
Miss Adams concentrated herself upon the preparations with a fidelity and energy that were little short of amazing. One detail will illustrate. As most people know, Miss Adams had to appear mounted several times during the play and ride at the head of her charging army.
This equestrianism gave Charles Frohman the greatest solicitude. He feared that she would be injured in some way, and he kept cabling warnings to her, and to her associates who were responsible for her safety, to be careful.
Miss Adams, however, determined to be a good horsewoman, and for more than a month she practised every afternoon in a riding-academy in New York. Since the horse had to carry the trappings of clanging armor, amid all the tumult of battle, she rehearsed every day with all sorts of noisy apparatus hanging about him. Shots were fired, colored banners and flags were flaunted about her, and pieces of metal were fastened to her riding-skirt so that the steed would be accustomed to the constant contact of a sword.
Although the preparations for her own part were most exacting and onerous, Miss Adams exercised a supervising direction over the whole production, which was done in the most lavish fashion. She had every resource of the Charles Frohman organization at her command, and it was employed to the very last detail.
"Joan of Arc" was presented on the evening of June 22, 1909, in the presence of over fifteen thousand people. It was a magnificent success, and proved to be unquestionably the greatest theatrical pageant ever staged in this country. The elaborate settings were handled mechanically. Forests dissolved into regal courts; fields melted into castles. A hidden orchestra played the superb music of Beethoven's "Eroica," which accentuated the noble poetry of Schiller.
The first scene showed the maid of Domremy wandering in the twilight with her vision; the last revealed her dying of her wounds at the spring, soon to be buried under the shields of her captains.
The battle scene was an inspiring feature. It had been arranged that Miss Adams's riding-master should change places with her at the head of the charging troops and ride in their magnificent sweep down the field. It was feared that some mishap might befall her. When the charge was over and the stage-manager rushed up to congratulate the supposed riding-master on his admirable make-up, he was surprised to hear Miss Adams's voice issue forth from the armor, saying, "How did it go?" Strapped to her horse, she had led the charge herself and had seen the performance through.
"Joan of Arc" netted $15,000, which Charles Frohman turned over to Harvard University to do with as it pleased. There was unconscious irony in this, for the performance aroused great admiration in Germany, and the proceeds were devoted to the Germanic Museum in the university; in the end, the Germans were responsible for his death.
Accentuating this irony was the fact that Charles Frohman had made a magnificent vellum album containing the complete photographic record of the play, and sent it to the German Kaiser with the following inscription:
To His Majesty the German Emperor. This photographic record of the first English performance in America of Friedrich von Schiller's dramatic poem, "Jungfrau von Orleans," given for the Building Fund of the Germanic Museum of Harvard University under the auspices of the German Department in the Stadium, Tuesday, twenty-second of June, 1909, is respectfully presented by Charles Frohman.
There is no doubt that "Joan of Arc" was the supreme effort of Miss Adams's career. She was the living, breathing incarnation of the Maid. When she was told that Charles Frohman had refused an offer of $50,000 for the motion-picture rights, she said:
Of course it was refused. This performance is all poetry and solemnity.
The following June, in the Greek Theater of the University of California, at Berkeley, Miss Adams made her first and only appearance as Rosalind in "As You Like It." Ten thousand people saw the performance. Her achievement illustrates the extraordinary and indefatigable quality of her work. She rehearsed "As You Like It" during her transcontinental tour of "What Every Woman Knows," which extended from sea to sea and lasted thirty-nine weeks.
* * *
Most managers would have been content to rest with the laurel that such a performance as "Joan of Arc" had won. Not so with Charles Frohman. Every stupendous feat that he achieved merely whetted his desire for something greater. He delighted in sensation. Now he came to the point in his life where he projected what was in many respects the most unique and original of all his efforts, the presentation of Rostand's classic, "Chantecler."
It was on March 30, 1910, that Charles crossed over from London to Paris to see this play. It thrilled and stirred him, and he bought it immediately. He realized that it would either be a tremendous success or a colossal failure, and he was willing to stand or fall by it. In Paris the title role, originally written for the great Coquelin, had been played by Guitry. It was essentially a man's part. But Frohman, with that sense of the spectacular which so often characterized him, immediately cast Miss Adams for it.
When he announced that the elf-like girl—the living Peter Pan to millions of theater-goers—was to assume the feathers and strut of the barnyard Romeo, there was a widespread feeling that he was making a great mistake, and that he was putting Miss Adams into a role, admirable artist that she was, to which she was absolutely unsuited. A storm of criticism arose. But Frohman was absolutely firm. Opposition only made him hold his ground all the stronger. When people asked him why he insisted upon casting Miss Adams for this almost impossible part he always said:
"Chantecler" is a play with a soul, and the soul of a play is its moral. This is the secret of "Peter Pan"; this is why Miss Adams is to play the leading part.
Miss Adams was in Chicago when Frohman bought the play, and he cabled her that she was to do the title part. She afterward declared that this news changed the dull, dreary, soggy day into one that was brilliant and dazzling. "To play Chantecler," she said, "is an honor international in its glory."
The preparations for "Chantecler" were carried on with the usual Frohman magnificence. A fortune was spent on it. The costumes were made in Paris; John W. Alexander supervised the scenic effects.
The casting of the parts was in itself an enormous task. Frohman amused himself by having what he called "casting parties." For example, he would call up Miss Adams by long-distance telephone and say:
I've got ten minutes before my train starts for Atlantic City. Can you cast a peacock for me?
Whereupon Miss Adams would say:
Ten minutes is too short.
Never, perhaps, in the history of the American stage was the advent of a play so long heralded. The name "Chantecler" was on every tongue. Long before the piece was launched hats had been named after it, controversies had arisen over its Anglicized spelling and pronunciation. All the genius of publicity which was the peculiar heritage of Charles Frohman was turned loose to pave the way for this extraordinary production. It was a nation-wide sensation.
For the first time in his life Charles had to postpone an opening. It was originally set for the 13th of January, 1911, but the first night did not come until the 23d. This added to the suspense and expectancy of the public.
The demand for seats was unprecedented. A line began to form at four o'clock in the afternoon preceding the day the sale opened. Within twenty-four hours after the window was raised at the box-office as high as $200 was offered in vain for a seat on the opening night.
The Empire stage was too small, so the play was produced at the Knickerbocker Theater. A brilliant and highly wrought-up audience was present. Extraordinary interest centered about Miss Adams's performance as Chantecler. "Will she be able to do it?" was the question on every tongue. On that memorable opening-night Frohman, as usual, sat in the back seat in the gallery and had the supreme satisfaction of seeing his star distinguish herself in a performance that in many respects revealed Miss Adams as she had never been revealed before. She was recalled twenty-two times.
Chantecler literally crowed and conquered!
Just how much "Chantecler" meant to Charles Frohman is attested by a remark he made soon after its inaugural. A friend was discussing epitaphs with him.
"What would you like to have written about you, C. F.?" asked the man.
The brilliant smile left Frohman's face for a moment, and then he said, solemnly:
"All that I would ask is this: 'He gave "Peter Pan" to the world and "Chantecler" to America.' It is enough for any man."
The last original production that Charles Frohman made with Maude Adams was "The Legend of Leonora," in which she returned once more to Barrie's exquisite and fanciful satire, devoted this time to the woman question. In England it had been produced under the title of "The Adored One."
It was in the part of Leonora that James M. Barrie saw Maude Adams act for the first time in one of his plays. He had come to America for a brief visit to Frohman, and during this period Miss Adams was having her annual engagement at the Empire Theater.
Of course, Barrie had Miss Adams in mind for the American production, and it is a very interesting commentary on his admiration for the American star that about the only instructions he attached to the manuscript of the play was this:
Leonora is an unspeakable darling, and this is all the guidance that can be given to the lady playing her.
On her last starring tour under the personal direction of Charles Frohman, Miss Adams combined with a revival of "Quality Street" a clever skit by Barrie called "The Ladies' Shakespeare," the subtitle being, "One Woman's Reading of 'The Taming of the Shrew.'" With an occasional appearance in Barrie's "Rosalind," it rounded out her stellar career under him.
Charles Frohman lived to see Maude Adams realize his highest desire for her success. She justified his confidence and it gave him infinite satisfaction.
Miss Adams's career as a star unfolds a panorama of artistic and practical achievement unequaled in the life of any American star. It likewise reveals a paradox all its own. While millions of people have seen and admired her, only a handful of people know her. The aloofness of the woman in her personal attitude toward the public represents Charles Frohman's own ideal of what stage artistry and conduct should be.
It is illustrated in what was perhaps the keenest epigram he ever made. He was talking about people of the stage who constantly air themselves and their views to secure personal publicity. It moved him to this remark:
"Some people prefer mediocrity in the lime-light to greatness in the dark."
Herein he summed up the reason why Miss Adams has been an elusive and almost mysterious figure. By tremendous reading, solitary thinking, and extraordinary personal application she rose to her great eminence. With her it has always been a creed of career first. Like Charles Frohman, she has hidden behind her activities, and they form a worthy rampart.
The history of the stage records no more interesting parallel than the one afforded by these two people—each a recluse, yet each known to the multitudes.
THE BIRTH OF THE SYNDICATE
Charles Frohman's talents and energies were very much like those of E. H. Harriman in that they found their largest and best expression when dedicated to a multitude of enterprises. Like Harriman, too, he did things in a wholesale way, for he had a contempt for small sums and small ventures.
Going back a little in point of time from the close of the preceding chapter, the final years of the last century found Frohman geared up to a myriad of activities. He had already assumed the role of Star-Maker, for Drew and Gillette were on his roster, and Maude Adams was about to be launched; the Empire Stock Company was an accredited institution with a national influence; he had started a chain of theaters; his booking interests in the West had assumed the proportions of an immense business; he had begun to make his presence felt in London. Yet no event of these middle 'nineties was more momentous in its relation to the future of the whole American theater than one which was about to transpire—one in which Charles Frohman had an important hand.
Despite the efforts made by the booking offices conducted by Charles Frohman and Klaw & Erlanger, the making of routes for theatrical attractions in the United States was in a most disorganized and economically unsound condition. The local manager was still more or less at the mercy of the booking free-lance in New York. The booking agent himself only represented a comparatively few theaters and could not book a complete season for a traveling attraction.
In New York the manager was an autocrat who frequently dictated unbelievable terms to the traveling companies. Immense losses resulted from small traveling companies being pitted against one another in provincial towns that could only support one first-class attraction. Most theatrical contracts were not worth the paper they were written on.
Charles Frohman had first counted the cost of this theatrical demoralization when his great "Shenandoah" run at the old Star Theater had to be interrupted while playing to capacity because another attraction had been booked into that theater. He and all his representative colleagues in the business realized that some steps must be taken to rectify the situation. Piled on this was the general business depression that had followed the panic of 1893.
One day in 1896 a notable group of theatrical magnates met by chance at a luncheon at the Holland House in New York. They included Charles Frohman, whose offices booked attractions for a chain of Western theaters extending to the coast; A. L. Erlanger and Marc Klaw, who, as Klaw & Erlanger, controlled attractions for practically the entire South; Nixon & Zimmerman, of Philadelphia, who were conducting a group of the leading theaters of that city, and Al Hayman, one of the owners of the Empire Theater.
These men naturally discussed the chaos in the theatrical business. They decided that its only economic hope was in a centralization of booking interests, and they acted immediately on this decision. Within a few weeks they had organized all the theaters they controlled or represented into one national chain, and the open time was placed on file in the offices of Klaw & Erlanger. It now became possible for the manager of a traveling company to book a consecutive tour at the least possible expense. In a word, booking suddenly became standardized.
This was the beginning of the famous Theatrical Syndicate which, in a brief time, dominated the theatrical business of the whole country. It marked a real epoch in the history of the American theater because within a year a complete revolution had been effected in the business. The booking of attractions was emancipated from curb and cafe; a theatrical contract became an accredited and licensed instrument. The Syndicate became a clearing-house for the theatrical manager and the play-producer, and the medium through which they did business with each other. Charles Frohman contributed his growing chain of theaters to the organization and secured a one-sixth interest in it which he retained up to the time of his death.
* * *
Once launched, the Syndicate proceeded to ride the tempest, for the biggest storm in all American theatrical history soon began to develop. Out of the long turmoil came a whole new line-up in the business. It affected Charles Frohman less than any of his immediate associates in the big combination because, first of all, he was a passive member, and, second, he had a kingdom all his own. Yet the story of these turbulent years is so inseparably linked up with the development of the drama in this country that it is well worth rehearsing.
Although the Syndicate standardized the theatrical contract and made efficient and economical booking possible, it did not immediately secure the willing co-operation of some of the best-known traveling stars of the day. They included Mrs. Fiske, Richard Mansfield, Joseph Jefferson, Nat C. Goodwin, Francis Wilson (then in comic opera), and James A. Herne. They were great popular favorites and had been accustomed to appear at stated intervals in certain theaters in various parts of the country. They booked their own "time" and had a more or less personal relation with the lessees and managers of the theaters in which they appeared.
The Syndicate began to book these stars as it saw fit and as they could be best fitted into the country-wide scheme. A scale of terms was arranged that was regarded as equitable both to the attraction and the local manager.
These stars, however, refused to be booked in this way. They denied the right of the new organization to say when and where they should play. Out of this denial came the famous revolt against the Syndicate which blazed intermittently for more than two decades.
Chief among the insurgents was Mrs. Fiske, who had returned to the stage in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," a dramatization of Thomas Hardy's great novel. Her husband and manager, Harrison Gray Fiske, was editor and publisher of The Dramatic Mirror, which became the voice of protest. Mrs. Fiske refused to appear in Syndicate theaters, and she hired independent houses all over the country. Such places were few and far between in those days, and she was forced to play in public halls, even skating-rinks.
Mansfield became one of the leaders of the opposition to the Syndicate. He made speeches before the curtain, denouncing its methods. His lead was followed by Francis Wilson, and subsequently by James K. Hackett, David Belasco, and Henry W. Savage. The fight on the huge combination became a matter of nation-wide interest.
All the while the Syndicate was growing in power and authority. Gradually the revolutionists returned to the fold because desirable terms were made for them. Only Mrs. Fiske remained outside the ranks. In order to secure a New York City stage for her Mr. Fiske leased the Manhattan Theater for a long term.
It was during these strenuous years, and as one indirect result of the Syndicate fight, that a whole new theatrical dynasty sprang up. It took shape and centered in the growing importance of three then obscure brothers, Lee, Sam, and Jacob J. Shubert by name, who lived in Syracuse, New York. They were born in humble circumstances, and early in life had been forced to become breadwinners. The first to get into the theatrical business was Sam, the second son, who, as a youngster barely in his teens, became program boy and later on assistant in the box-office of the Grand Opera House in his native town. At seventeen he was treasurer of the Weiting Opera House there, and from that time until his death in a railroad accident in 1905 he was an increasingly powerful figure in the business.
Before Sam Shubert was twenty he controlled a chain of theaters with stock companies in up-state New York cities and had taken his two brothers into partnership with him. In 1900 he subleased the Herald Square Theater in New York City and thus laid the corner-stone of what came to be known as the "Independent Movement" throughout the country. He had initiative and enterprise. Gradually he and his brothers and their associates controlled a line of theaters from coast to coast. In these theaters they offered attractive bookings to the managers who were outside the Syndicate. The Shuberts also became producers and encouragers of productions on a large scale.
For the first time the Syndicate now had real opposition. A warfare developed that was almost as bitter and costly in its way as was the old disorganized method in vogue before the business was put on a commercial basis. It naturally led to over-production and to a surplus of theaters. Towns that in reality could only support one first-class playhouse were compelled to have a "regular" and an "independent" theater. Attractions of a similar nature, such as two musical comedies, were pitted against each other. In dividing the local patronage both sides suffered loss.
During the last year of Charles Frohman's life the Syndicate and the Shuberts, wisely realizing that such an uneconomic procedure could only spell disaster in a large way for the whole theatrical business, buried their differences. A harmonious working agreement was entered into that put an end to the destructive strife. Theatrical booking became an open field, and the producer can now play his attractions in both Syndicate and Shubert theaters.
* * *
Charles Frohman's activities were now nation-wide. Just as Harriman built up a transcontinental railroad system, so did the rotund little manager now set up an empire all his own. The building of the Empire Theater had given him a closer link with Rich and Harris. Through them he acquired an interest in the Columbia Theater, in Boston, and subsequently he became part owner of the Hollis Street Theater in that city. His third theater in Boston was the Park. By this time the firm name for Boston operation was Rich, Harris, and Charles Frohman. Their next venture was the construction of the magnificent Colonial Theater, on the site of the old Boston Public Library, which was opened with "Ben-Hur." With the acquisition of the Boston and Tremont playhouses, the firm controlled the situation at Boston.
Up to this time Frohman had controlled only one theater in New York—the Empire. In 1896 he saw an opportunity to acquire control of the Garrick in Thirty-fifth Street. He wrote to William Harris, saying, "I will take it if you will come on and run it." Harris assented, and the Garrick passed under the banner of Charles Frohman, who inaugurated his regime with John Drew in "The Squire of Dames." He put some of his biggest successes into this theater and some of his favorite stars, among them Maude Adams and William Gillette. To the chain of Charles Frohman controlled theaters in New York were added in quick order the Criterion, the Savoy, the Garden, and a part interest in the Knickerbocker.
During his early tenancy of the Garrick occurred an incident which showed Frohman's resource. He produced a play called "The Liars," by Henry Arthur Jones, in which he was very much interested. In the out-of-town try-out up-state Frohman heard that the critic of one of the most important New York newspapers had expressed great disapproval of the piece on account of some personal prejudice. He did not want this prejudice to interfere with the New York verdict, so he went to Charles Dillingham one day shortly before the opening and said:
"Can you get me some loud laughers?"
Dillingham said he could.
"All right," said Frohman; "I want you to plant one on either side of Mr. Blank," referring to the critic who had a prejudice against the play.
This was done, and on the opening night the "prop" laughers made such a noisy demonstration that the critic said it was the funniest farce in years.
* * *
Charles Frohman's first foreign star, who paved the way for so many, was Olga Nethersole. His management of her came about in a curious way. A difference had arisen between Augustin Daly and Ada Rehan, his leading woman. Miss Rehan had decided to withdraw from the company, and in casting about quickly for a successor had decided upon Olga Nethersole, then one of the most prominent of the younger English actresses. While the deal was being consummated Daly and Miss Rehan adjusted their differences, and the arrangements for Miss Nethersole's appearance in America were abrogated.
Miss Nethersole was left without an American manager. Daniel Frohman, then manager of the Lyceum Theater, stepped in and became her American sponsor, forming a partnership with his brother Charles to handle her interests. Jointly they now conducted an elaborate tour for her covering two years, in which she appeared in "Denise," "Frou-Frou," "Camille," and "Carmen."
The sensational episode of her tour was the production of "Carmen." The fiery, impetuous, emotional, and sensuous character of the Spanish heroine appealed to Miss Nethersole's vivid imagination, and she gave a realistic portrayal of the role that became popular and spectacular. In all parts of the country the "Carmen Kiss" became a byword. The play, in addition to its own merits as a striking drama, and its vogue at the opera through Madame Calve's performance of the leading role, became a very successful vehicle for Miss Nethersole's two tours. Miss Nethersole was the first star outside of Charles Frohman's own force who appeared at the Empire Theater, where she played a brief engagement with "Camille" and "Carmen."
* * *
From his earliest theatrical day Charles believed implicitly in melodrama. His first production on any stage was a thriller. The play that turned the tide in his fortunes was a spine-stirrer. He now turned to his favorite form of play by producing "The Fatal Card," by Haddon Chambers and B. C. Stephenson, at Palmer's Theater. He did it with an admirable cast that included May Robson, Agnes Miller, Amy Busby, E. J. Ratcliffe, William H. Thompson, J. H. Stoddart, and W. J. Ferguson.
A big melodrama now became part of his regular season. He leased the old Academy of Music at Fourteenth Street and Irving Place in New York, where, as a boy, he had seen his brother Gustave sell opera librettos, and where he became fired with the ambition to make money. Here he produced a notable series of melodramas in lavish fashion. The first was "The Sporting Duchess." This piece, which was produced in England as "The Derby Winner," was a sure-enough thriller. The cast included E. J. Ratcliffe, Francis Carlyle, J. H. Stoddart, Alice Fischer, Cora Tanner, Agnes Booth, and Jessie Busley.
Charles Frohman's next melodrama at the Academy was the famous "Two Little Vagrants," adapted from the French by Charles Klein. In this cast he brought forward a notable group destined to shine in the drama, for among them were Dore Davidson, Minnie Dupree, Annie Irish, George Fawcett, and William Farnum, the last named then just beginning to strike his theatrical stride.
Still another famous melodrama that Charles introduced to the United States at the famous old playhouse was "The White Heather," in which he featured Rose Coghlan, and in which Amelia Bingham made one of her first successes. With this piece Charles emphasized one of the customs he helped to bring to the American stage. He always paid for the actresses' clothes. He told Miss Coghlan to spare no expense on her gowns, and she spent several thousand dollars on them. When she saw Frohman after the opening, which was a huge success, she said:
"I am almost ashamed to see you."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because I spent so much money on my gowns."
"Nonsense!" said Frohman. "You did very wisely. You and the gowns are the hit of the piece."
Frohman here established a new tradition for the production of melodrama in the United States. Up to his era the producer depended upon thrill rather than upon accessory. Frohman lavished a fortune on each production. Any competition with him had to be on the same elaborate scale.
Fully a year before Maude Adams made her stellar debut Frohman put forth his first woman star in Annie Russell. This gifted young Englishwoman, who had appeared on the stage at the age of seven in "Pinafore," had made a great success in "Esmeralda," at the Madison Square Theater. Frohman, who was then beginning his managerial career, was immediately taken with her talent. She appeared in some of his earlier companies. He now starred her in a play by Bret Harte called "Sue." He presented her both in New York and in London.
Under Frohman, Miss Russell had a long series of starring successes. When she appeared in "Catherine," at the Garrick Theater, in her support was Ethel Barrymore, who was just beginning to emerge from the obscurity of playing "bits." In succession Miss Russell did "Miss Hobbs," "The Royal Family," "The Girl and the Judge," "Jinny the Carrier," and "Mice and Men."
In connection with "Mice and Men" is a characteristic Frohman story. Charles ordered this play written from Madeleine Lucette Ryley for Maude Adams. When he read the manuscript he sent it back to Miss Ryley with the laconic comment, "Worse yet." She showed it to Gertrude Elliott, who bought it for England. When Charles heard of this he immediately accepted the play, and it proved to be a success. The moment a play was in demand it became valuable to him.
Spectacular success seemed to have taken up its abode with Charles. It now found expression in the production of "Secret Service," the most picturesque and profitable of all the Gillette enterprises. The way it came to be written is a most interesting story.
Frohman was about to sail for Europe when Gillette sent him the first act of this stirring military play. Frohman read it at once, sent for the author and said:
"This is great, Gillette. Let me see the second act."
Gillette produced this act forthwith, and Frohman's enthusiasm increased to such an extent that he postponed his sailing until he received the complete play. Frohman's interest in "Secret Service" was heightened by the fact that he had scored two tremendous triumphs with military plays, "Held by the Enemy" and "Shenandoah." He felt that the talisman of the brass button was still his, and he plunged heavily on "Secret Service."
It was first put on in Philadelphia. Even at that time there obtained the superstition widely felt in the theatrical business that what fails out of town must succeed in New York. Frohman, who shared this superstition, was really eager not to register successfully in the Quaker capital.
But "Secret Service" smashed this superstition, because it scored heavily in Philadelphia and then had an enormous run at the Garrick Theater in New York. In "Secret Service" Maurice Barrymore had the leading part, and he played it with a distinction of bearing and a dash of manner that were almost irresistible.
William Gillette always proved to be one of Charles Frohman's mascots. Practically whatever he touched turned to gold. He and Frohman had now become close friends, and the actor-author frequently accompanied the manager on his trips to London.
During their visit in 1899, "Sherlock Holmes" had become the literary rage. Everybody was talking about the masterful detective of Baker Street.
"We must get those Doyle stories," said Frohman to Gillette.
"All right," said the author.
Frohman personally went to see Conan Doyle and made a bid for the rights.
"Certainly, Mr. Frohman," replied Doyle, "but I shall make one stipulation. There must be no love business in 'Sherlock Holmes.'"
"All right," said Frohman; "your wishes shall be respected."
Frohman now engaged Gillette to make the adaptation, but he said absolutely nothing about the condition that Doyle had made. Gillette, as most American theater-goers know, wove a love interest into the strenuous life of the famous detective.
A year later, Gillette and Frohman again were in England, Gillette to read the manuscript of the play to Doyle. The famous author liked the play immensely and made no objection whatever to the sentimental interest. In fact, his only comment when Gillette finished reading the manuscript was:
"It's good to see the old chap again."
He referred, of course, to Sherlock Holmes, who, up to this time, had already met his death on four or five occasions.
"Sherlock Holmes" proved to be another "Secret Service" in every way. Gillette made an enormous success in the title role, and after a long run at the Garrick went on the road. Frohman revived it again and again until it had almost as many "farewells" as Adelina Patti. The last business detail that Charles discussed with Gillette before sailing on the fatal trip in 1915 was for a revival of this play at the Empire.
The Frohman Star Factory was now working full time. Next in output came William Faversham. This brilliant young Englishman had started with Daniel Frohman's company at the Lyceum in a small part. At a rehearsal of "The Highest Bidder" Charles singled him out.
"Where did you get your cockney dialect?" he asked.
"Riding on the top of London 'buses," was the reply.
"Well," answered Charles, "I want to do that myself some day."
This was the first contact between two men who became intimate friends and who were closely bound up in each other's fortunes.
During his Lyceum engagement Faversham wanted to widen his activities. He read in the papers one day that Charles was producing a number of plays, so he made up his mind he would try to get into one of them. He went to Frohman's office every morning at half-past nine and asked to see him or Al Hayman. Sometimes he would arrive before Frohman, and the manager had to pass him as he went into his office. He invariably looked up, smiled at the waiting actor, and passed on. Faversham kept this up for weeks. One day Alf Hayman asked him what he wanted there.
"I am tired of hanging round the Lyceum with nothing to do. I want a better engagement," was the answer.
Hayman evidently communicated this to Frohman and Al Hayman, but they made no change in their attitude. Every day they passed the waiting Faversham as they arrived in the morning and went out to lunch, and always Frohman smiled at him.
Finally one morning Charles came to the door, looked intently at Faversham, puffed out his cheeks as was his fashion, and smiled all over his face. Turning to Al Hayman, who was with him, he said:
"Al, we've got to give this fellow something to do or we won't be able to go in and out of here much longer."
In a few moments Frohman emerged again, asked Faversham how tall he was. When he was told, he invited Faversham into his office and inquired of him if he could study a long part and play it in two days. Faversham said he could. The result was his engagement for Rider Haggard's "She." Such was the unusual beginning of the long and close association between Faversham and Charles Frohman.
Faversham became leading man of the Empire Stock Company, and his distinguished career was a matter of the greatest pride to Charles. He now was caught up in the Frohman star machine and made his first appearance under the banner of "Charles Frohman Presents," in "A Royal Rival," at the Criterion in August, 1901.
Charles not only made Faversham a star, but provided him with a wife, and a very charming one, too. In the spring of 1901 an exquisite young girl, Julie Opp by name, was playing at the St. James Theater in London. Frohman sent for her and asked her if she could go to the United States to act as leading woman for William Faversham.
"I have been to America once," she said, "and I want to go back as a star."
When Frohman let loose the powers of his persuasiveness, Miss Opp began to waver.
"I don't want to leave my nice London flat and my English maid," she protested.
"Take the maid with you," said Frohman. "We can't box the flat and take that to New York, but we have flats in New York that you can hire."
"I hate to leave all my friends," continued Miss Opp.
"Well, I can't take over all your friends," replied Frohman, "but you will have plenty of new admirers in New York."
Miss Opp asked what she thought were unreasonable terms. Frohman said nothing, but sent Charles Dillingham to see her next day. He said Frohman wanted to know if she was joking about her price. "Of course," he said, "if you are not joking he will pay it anyhow, because when he makes up his mind to have anybody he is going to have him."
This shamed Miss Opp. She asked a reasonable fee, went to the United States, and not only became Faversham's leading woman, but his wife. Frohman always took infinite delight in teasing the Favershams about having been their matchmaker.
* * *
Charles, who loved to create a sensation in a big way, was now able to gratify one of his favorite emotions with the production of "The Conquerors." Like many of the Frohman achievements, it began in a picturesque way.
During the summer of 1897, Frohman and Paul Potter, being in Paris, dropped in at that chamber of horrors, the Grand Guignol, in the Rue Chaptal. There they saw "Mademoiselle Fifi," a playlet lasting less than half an hour, adapted by the late Oscar Metenier from Guy de Maupassant's short story. It was the tale of a young Prussian officer who gets into a French country house during the war of 1870, abuses the aristocrats who live there, shoots out the eyes of the family portraits, entertains at supper a number of loose French girls from Rouen, and is shot by one of the girls for vilifying Frenchwomen. Frohman was deeply impressed.
"Why can't you make it into a long play?" said Frohman.
"I can," said Potter.
"How?" queried Frohman.
"By showing what happened to the French aristocrats while the Prussian officer was shooting up the place," answered the author.
"Do it," said Frohman, "and I'll open the season of the Empire Stock Company in this drama, and get George Alexander interested for London."
As "The Conquerors" the play went into rehearsal about Christmas. Mrs. Dazian, wife of Henry Dazian, the costumier, was watching a scene in which William Faversham plans the ruin of Viola Allen, the leading woman.
"Well," said Mrs. Dazian, "if New York will stand for that it will stand for anything."
Frohman jumped up in excitement. "What is wrong with it?" he cried. "The manuscript was shown to a dozen people of the cleanest minds. They found nothing wrong. I've done the scene a dozen times. I have it up-stairs on my shelves at this moment in 'The Sporting Duchess.'"
Mrs. Dazian was obdurate. "It is awful," she said.
The first night approached. Potter was to sail for Europe next day. Frohman had provided him with sumptuous cabin quarters on the New York. After the dress rehearsal, Potter appeared on the Empire stage, where he found Frohman. The latter was worried.
"Paul," said he, "the first three acts are fine; the last is rotten. You must stay and rewrite the last act."
Potter had to postpone his trip. At ten next morning the new act was handed in; the company learned and rehearsed it by three in the afternoon, and that night Frohman and the author stood in the box-office watching the audience file in.
"How's the house, Tommy?" demanded Frohman of Thomas Shea, his house manager.
"Over seventeen hundred dollars already," said Shea.
"You can go to Europe, Paul," said Frohman. "Your last act is all right. We don't want you any more."
The American public agreed with Mrs. Dazian. They thought the play excruciatingly wicked, but they were just as eager to see it on the Fourth of July as they had been six months earlier.
A dozen details combined to make "The Conquerors" a storm-center. First of all it was attacked because of its alleged immorality. In the second place the author was charged with having appropriated some of Sardou's "La Haine." In the third place, this play marked the first stage appearance of Mrs. Clara Bloodgood, wife of "Jack" Bloodgood, one of the best-known men about town in New York. Mr. Bloodgood became desperately ill during rehearsals, and his wife divided her time between watching at his bedside and going to the theater. Of course, the newspapers were filled with the account of the event which was agitating all society, and it added greatly to popular interest in the play.
"The Conquerors" not only brought Paul Potter and Frohman a great success, but it sped William Faversham on to the time when he was to become a star. The cast was one of the most distinguished that Frohman had ever assembled, and it included among its women five future stars—Viola Allen, Blanche Walsh, Ida Conquest, Clara Bloodgood, and May Robson.
* * *
By this time Henry Miller had left the Empire Stock Company and had gone on the road with a play called "Heartsease," by Charles Klein and J. I. C. Clark. It failed in Cincinnati, and Miller wrote Frohman about it. A week later the men met on Broadway. Miller still believed in "Heartsease" and asked Frohman if he could read it to him.
"All right," replied Frohman; "come to-morrow and let me hear it."
Miller showed up the next morning and left Klein and Clark, who had accompanied him, in a lower office. Frohman locked the door, as was his custom, curled himself up on a settee, lighted a cigar, and asked for the manuscript.
"I didn't bring it. I will act it out for you."
Miller knew the whole production of the play depended upon his performance. He improvised whole scenes and speeches as he went along, and he made a deep impression. When he finished, Frohman sat still for a few moments. Then he rang a bell and Alf Hayman appeared. To him he said, quietly:
"We are going to do 'Heartsease.'"
Miller rushed down-stairs to where Klein and Clark were waiting, and told them to get to work revising the manuscript.
When the play went into rehearsal, Frohman, who sat in front, spoke to Miller from time to time, asking, "Where is that line you spoke in my office?"
This incident is cited to show Charles's amazing memory. Miller, of course, had improvised constantly during his personal performance of the play, and Frohman recognized that these improvisations were missing when the piece came into rehearsal.
Charles now added a third star to his constellation in Henry Miller. He first produced "Heartsease" in New Haven. Charles Dillingham sat with him during the performance. When the curtain went down on a big scene, and the audience was in a tumult, demanding star and author, Frohman leaned over to speak to his friend. Dillingham thought he was about to make a historic remark, inspired by the enormous success of the play before him. Instead, Frohman whispered:
"Charley, I wonder if they have any more of that famous apple-pie over at Hueblein's?"
He was referring to a famous article of food that had added almost as much glory to New Haven as had its historic university, and for which Frohman had an inordinate love.
Henry Miller now became an established Frohman star. After "Heartsease" had had several successful road seasons, Frohman presented Miller in "The Only Way," an impressive dramatization of Charles Dickens's great story, "A Tale of Two Cities."
* * *
Charles Dillingham's friendship with Frohman had now become one of the closest of his life. He always accompanied Frohman to England, and was regarded as his right-hand man. Frohman had always urged his friend to branch out for himself. The result was that Dillingham assumed the managership of Julia Marlowe.
Dillingham presented Miss Marlowe at the Knickerbocker Theater in New York in "The Countess Valeska." Frohman liked the play so much that he became interested in the management of Miss Marlowe, and together they produced "Colinette," adapted from the French by Henry Guy Carleton, at this theater. "Colinette" inspired one of the many examples of Frohman's quick retort.
The "try-out" was at Bridgeport, and Dillingham had engaged a private chair car for the company. When Frohman tried to get on this car at Grand Central Station the porter turned him down, saying:
"This is the Marlowe car."
Whereupon Frohman spoke up quickly and said: "I am Mr. Marlowe," and stepped aboard.
The production of "Colinette" marked the beginning of another one of Frohman's intimate associations. He engaged William Seymour to rehearse and produce the play. Seymour later directed some of the greatest Frohman undertakings and eventually became general stage-manager for his chief. Frohman was now actively interested in Miss Marlowe's career. Under the joint Frohman-Dillingham management she played in "As You Like It" and "Ingomar."
By this time Clyde Fitch had steadily made his way to the point where Frohman had ceased to regard him as a "pink tea" author, but as a really big playwright. They became great friends. He gave Fitch every possible encouragement. The time was at hand when Fitch was to reward that encouragement, and in splendid fashion.
Once more the Civil War proved a Charles Frohman mascot, for Fitch now wrote "Barbara Fritchie," founded on John G. Whittier's famous war poem. He surrounded the star with a cast that included W. J. Lemoyne, Arnold Daly, Dodson Mitchel, and J. H. Gilmour. The play opened at the Broad Street Theater in Philadelphia. At the dress rehearsal began an incident which showed Charles's ready resource.
In the second act the business of the play required that Miss Marlowe take a gun and shoot a man. No gun was at hand. It was decided to send the late Byron Ongley, assistant stage-manager of the company, to the Stratford Hotel, where the star lived, with a gun and show her how to use it there.
When Frohman, who came to see the rehearsal, heard of this he had an inspiration for a fine piece of publicity.
"Why can't Ongley pretend to be a crank and appear to be making an attempt on Miss Marlowe's life?"
He liked Ongley, and he really conceived the idea more to play one of his numerous practical jokes than to capitalize the event.
Without saying a word to Ongley, Dillingham notified the Stratford management that Miss Marlowe had received a threatening letter from a crank who might possibly appear and make an attempt on her life. When Ongley entered the hotel lobby innocently carrying the gun he was beset by four huge porters and borne to the ground. The police were summoned and he was hauled off to jail, where he spent twenty-four hours. The newspapers made great capital of the event, and it stimulated interest in the performance.
When "Barbara Fritchie" opened at the Criterion Theater in New York, which had passed under the Frohman control, it scored an immediate success. It ran for four months. Not only was Miss Marlowe put into the front rank of paying stars, but the success of the play gave Clyde Fitch an enormous prestige, for it was his first big triumph as an original playwright. From this time on his interest was closely linked with that of Charles Frohman, who became his sponsor.
In connection with Julia Marlowe is a characteristic Frohman story. The manager always refused to accept the new relation when one of his women stars married. This incident grew out of Julia Marlowe's marriage to Robert Taber.
One day his office-boy brought in word that Mrs. Taber would like to see him.
"I don't know her."
After an interval of a few moments a dulcet voice came through the door, saying, "Won't you see me?"
"Who are you?"
"I don't know Mrs. Taber, but Julia Marlowe can come in."
* * *
Charles was now in a whirlwind of activities. He was not only making stars, but also, as the case of Clyde Fitch proved, developing playwrights. In the latter connection he had a peculiar distinction.
One day some years before, Madeline Lucette Ryley came to see him. She was a charming English ingenue who had been a singing soubrette in musical comedies at the famous old Casino, the home of musical comedies, where Francis Wilson, De Wolf Hopper, Jefferson De Angelis, and Pauline Hall had achieved fame as comic-opera stars. She had also appeared in a number of serious plays.
Mrs. Ryley made application for a position. Frohman said to her:
"I don't need actresses, but I need plays. Go home and write me one."
Mrs. Ryley up to that time had written plays only as an amateur. She went home and wrote "Christopher Jr." and it started her on a notably successful career as a playwright. In fact, she was perhaps the first of the really successful women playwrights.
* * *
Charles Frohman celebrated the opening theatrical season of the new twentieth century by annexing a new star and a fortune at the same time. It was William H. Crane in "David Harum" who accomplished this.
Again history repeated itself in a picturesque approach to a Frohman success. One morning, at the time when both had apartments at Sherry's, Frohman and Charles Dillingham emerged from the building after breakfast. On the sidewalk they met Denman Thompson, the old actor. Frohman engaged him in conversation. Suddenly Thompson began to chuckle.
"What are you laughing at?" asked Frohman.
"I was thinking of a book I read last night, called 'David Harum,'" replied Thompson.
"Was it interesting?"
"The best American story I ever read," said the actor.
Frohman's eyes suddenly sparkled. He winked at Dillingham, who hailed a cab and made off. Frohman engaged Thompson in conversation until he returned. In his pocket he carried a copy of "David Harum."
Frohman read the book that day, made a contract for its dramatization, and from the venture he cleared nearly half a million dollars.
Frohman considered four men for the part of David Harum. They were Denman Thompson, James A. Hearne, Sol Smith Russell, and Crane. Thompson was too old, Hearne had been associated too long with the "Shore Acres" type to adapt himself to the Westcott hero, and Sol Smith Russell did not meet the requirements. Frohman regarded Crane as ideal.
His negotiations with Crane for this part were typical of his business arrangements. It took exactly five minutes to discuss them. When the terms had been agreed upon, Frohman said to Crane:
"Are you sure this is perfectly satisfactory to you?"
"Perfectly," replied Crane.
Frohman reached over from his desk and shook his new star by the hand. It was his way of ratifying a contract that was never put on paper, and over which no word of disagreement ever arose. Crane's connection with Charles Frohman lasted for nine years.
Frohman personally rehearsed "David Harum." Much of its extraordinary success was due to his marvelous energy. It was Frohman, and not the dramatist, who introduced the rain-storm scene at the close of the second act which made one of the biggest hits of the performance. Throughout the play there were many evidences of Frohman's skill and craftsmanship.
* * *
It was just about this time that the real kinship with Augustus Thomas began. Frohman, after his first meeting with Thomas years before in the box-office of a St. Louis theater, had produced his play "Surrender," and had engaged him to remodel "Sue." Now he committed the first of the amazing quartet of errors of judgment with regard to the Thomas plays that forms one of the curious chapters in his friendship with this distinguished American playwright.
Thomas had conceived the idea of a cycle of American plays, based on the attitude toward women in certain sections of the country. The first of these plays had been "Alabama," the second "In Mizzoura." Thomas now wrote "Arizona" in this series. When he offered the play to Frohman, the manager said:
"I like this play, Gus, but I have one serious objection to it. I don't see any big situation to use the American flag. Perhaps I am superstitious about it. I have had such immense luck with the flag in 'Shenandoah' and 'Held by the Enemy' that I have an instinct that I ought not to do this play, much as I would like to."
As everybody knows, the play went elsewhere and was one of the great successes of the American stage.
Frohman now realized his mistake. He sent for Thomas and said: "I want you to write me another one of those rough plays."
The result was "Colorado," which Frohman put on at the Grand Opera House in New York with Wilton Lackaye in the leading role, but it was not a success.
A few years later Frohman made another of the now famous mistakes with Thomas. Thomas had seen Lawrence D'Orsay doing his usual "silly ass" part in a play. He also observed that the play lagged unless D'Orsay was on the stage. He therefore wrote a play called "The Earl of Pawtucket," with D'Orsay in mind, and Frohman accepted it. When the time came to select the cast, Thomas suggested D'Orsay for the leading part.
"Impossible!" said Frohman. "He can't do it."
Thomas was so convinced that D'Orsay was the ideal man that Frohman made this characteristic concession:
"I think well of your play, and it will probably be a success," he said, "but I do not believe that D'Orsay is the man for it. If you can get another manager to do it I will turn back the play to you, and if you insist upon having D'Orsay I will release him from his contract with me."
Kirk La Shelle took the play and it was another "Arizona."
Frohman produced a whole series of Thomas successes, notably "The Other Girl," "Mrs. Leffingwell's Boots," and "De Lancey." To the end of his days the warmest and most intimate friendship existed between the men. It was marked by the usual humor that characterized Frohman's relations. Here is an example:
Thomas conducted the rehearsals of "The Other Girl" alone. Frohman, who was up-stairs in his offices at the Empire, sent him a note on a yellow pad, written with the blue pencil that he always used:
"How are you getting along at rehearsals without me?"
"Great!" scribbled Thomas.
The next day when he went up-stairs to Frohman's office, he found the note pinned on the wall.
Such was the mood of the man who had risen from obscurity to one of commanding authority in the whole English-speaking theater.
THE RISE OF ETHEL BARRYMORE
While the star of Maude Adams rose high in the theatrical heaven, another lovely luminary was about to appear over the horizon. The moment was at hand when Charles Frohman was to reveal another one of his proteges, this time the young and beautiful Ethel Barrymore. It is an instance of progressive and sympathetic Frohman sponsorship that gave the American stage one of its most fascinating favorites. Some stars are destined for the stage; others are born in the theater. Ethel Barrymore is one of the latter. Two generations of eminent theatrical achievement heralded her advent, for she is the granddaughter of Mrs. John Drew, mistress of the famous Arch Street Theater Company of Philadelphia, and herself, in later years, the greatest Mrs. Malaprop of her day. Miss Barrymore's father was the brilliant and gifted Maurice Barrymore; her mother the no less witty and talented Georgia Drew, while, among other family distinctions, she came into the world as the niece of John Drew.
Despite the royalty of her theatrical birth, no star in America had to labor harder or win her way by more persistent and conscientious effort. At fourteen she was playing child's parts with her grandmother. A few years later she came to New York to get a start. Though she bore one of the most distinguished and honored names in the profession, she sat around in agents' offices for six months, beating vainly at the door of opportunity. Finally she got a chance to understudy Elsie De Wolfe, who was playing with John Drew, in "The Bauble Shop," at the Empire. One day when that actress became ill this seventeen-year-old child played the part of a thirty-two-year-old woman with great success. Understudies then became her fate for several years. While playing a part on the road with her uncle in "The Squire of Dames," Charles Frohman saw her for the first time. He looked at her sharply, but said nothing. Later, during this engagement, she met the man who was to shape her career.
About this time Miss Barrymore went to London. Charles had accepted Haddon Chambers's play "The Tyranny of Tears," in which John Drew was to star in America. She got the impression that she would be cast for one of the two female parts in this play, and she studied the costuming and other details. With eager expectancy she called on Frohman in London. Much to her surprise Frohman said:
"Well, Ethel, what can I do for you?"
"Won't I play with Uncle John?" she said.
"No, I am sorry to say you will not," replied Frohman.
This was a tragic blow. It was in London that Miss Barrymore received this first great disappointment, and it was in London that she made her first success. Charles Frohman, who from this time on became much impressed with her appealing charm and beauty, gave her a small role with the company he sent over with Gillette to play "Secret Service" in the British capital. Odette Tyler played the leading comedy part. One night when Miss Barrymore was standing in the wings the stage-manager rushed up to her and said, excitedly:
"You will have to play Miss Tyler's part."
"But I don't know her lines," said Miss Barrymore.
"That makes no difference; you will have to play. She's gone home sick."
"How about her costume?" said Miss Barrymore.
"Miss Tyler was so ill that we could not ask her to change her costume. She wore it away with her," was the reply.
Dressed as she was, Miss Barrymore, who had watched the play carefully, and who has an extremely good memory, walked on, played the part, and made a hit.
When the "Secret Service" company returned to America, Miss Barrymore remained in London. She lived in a small room alone. Her funds were low and she had only one evening gown. But she had the Barrymore wit and charm, her own beauty, and was in much social demand. By the time she prepared to quit England the one gown had seen its best days. She had arranged to sail for home on a certain Saturday. The night before sailing she was invited to a supper at the home of Anthony Hope. Just as she was about to dress she received a telegram from Ellen Terry, who was playing at the Lyceum Theater, saying:
Do come and say good-by before you go.
When she arrived at the Lyceum, the first thing that Miss Terry said was, "Sir Henry wants to say good-by to you."
On going into the adjoining dressing-room the great actor said to her:
"Wouldn't you like to stay in England?"
"Of course," said Miss Barrymore.
"Would you like to play with me?" he asked.
Coining at her hour of discouragement and despair, it was like manna from heaven. Her knees quaked, but she managed to say, "Y-e-s."
"All right," said Sir Henry. "Go down-stairs. Loveday has a contract that is ready for you to sign."
With this precious contract stuffed into her bosom, Miss Barrymore now rode in triumph to the Hope supper-party.
"What a pity that you have got to leave England," said Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
"But I am going to stay," said Miss Barrymore.
A gasp ran around the table.
"And with whom?" asked Tree.
"With Sir Henry and Miss Terry," was the proud response.
Miss Barrymore played that whole season most acceptably with Irving and Terry in "The Bells" and "Waterloo," and afterward with Henry B. Irving in "Peter the Great."
When she returned to America in 1898 she had a new interest for Charles Frohman. Yet the Nemesis of the Understudy, which had pursued her in America, still held her in its grip, for she was immediately cast as understudy for Ida Conquest in a play called "Catherine" that Frohman was about to produce at the Garrick Theater. She had several opportunities, however, to play the leading part, and at her every appearance she was greeted most enthusiastically. Her youth and appealing beauty never failed to get over the footlights.
Frohman was always impressed by this sort of thing. It was about this time that he said to a friend of his.
"There is going to be a big development in one of my companies before long. There's a daughter of 'Barry' [meaning Maurice Barrymore] who gets a big reception wherever she goes. She has got the real stuff in her."
Miss Barrymore's first genuine opportunity came when Charles cast her for the part of Stella De Gex in Marshall's delightful comedy "His Excellency the Governor," which was first put on at the Empire in May, 1899. The grace and sprightliness that were later to bloom so delightfully in Miss Barrymore now found their first real expression. Both in New York and on the road she made a big success.
While rehearsing "His Excellency the Governor," Charles sat in the darkened auditorium of the Empire one day. When the performance was over he walked back on the stage and, patting Miss Barrymore on the shoulder, said:
"You're so much like your mother, Ethel. You're all right."
Frohman was not the type of man to lag in interest. He realized what the girl's possibilities were, so early in 1901 he sent for Miss Barrymore and said to her:
"Ethel, I have a nice part for you at last."
It was the role of Madame Trentoni in Clyde Fitch's charming play of old New York, "Captain Jinks." Now came one of those curious freaks of theatrical fortune. "Captain Jinks" opened at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, and seemed to be a complete failure from the start. Although the Quakers did not like the play, they evinced an enormous interest in the lovely leading woman. From the gallery they cried down:
"We loved your grandmother, Ethel, and we love you."
It was a tribute to the place that Mrs. John Drew had in the affections of those staid theater-goers.
Despite the bad start in Philadelphia, Charles believed in Miss Barrymore, and he had confidence in "Captain Jinks." He brought the play into New York at the Garrick. The expectation was that it might possibly run two weeks. Instead, it remained there for seven months and then played a complete season on the road.
Now came the turn in the tide of Ethel Barrymore's fortunes. She was living very modestly on the top floor of a theatrical boarding-house in Thirty-second Street. With the success of "Captain Jinks" she moved down to a larger room on the second floor. But a still greater event in her life was now to be consummated.
During the third week of the engagement she walked over from Thirty-second Street to the theater. As she passed along Sixth Avenue she happened to look up, and there, in huge, blazing electric lights, she saw the name "Ethel Barrymore." She stood still, and the tears came to her eyes. She knew that at last she had become a star.
Charles had said absolutely nothing about it to her. It was his unexpected way of giving her the surprise of arriving at the goal of her ambition.
The next day she went to Frohman and said, "It was a wonderful thing for you to do."
Whereupon Frohman replied, very simply, "It was the only thing to do."
Ethel Barrymore was now a star, and from this time on her stage career became one cycle of ripening art and expanding success. A new luminary had entered the Frohman heaven, and it was to twinkle with increasing brilliancy.
Her next appearance was in a double bill, "A Country Mouse" and "Carrots," at the Savoy Theater, in October, 1902. Here came one of the first evidences of her versatility. "A Country Mouse" was a comedy; "Carrots," on the other hand, was impregnated with the deepest tragedy. Miss Barrymore played the part of a sad little boy, and she did it with such depth of feeling that discriminating people began to realize that she had great emotional possibilities.
Her appearance in "Cousin Kate" the next year was a return to comedy. In this play Bruce McRae made his first appearance with her as leading man, and he filled this position for a number of years. He was as perfect an opposite to her as was John Drew to Ada Rehan. Together they made a combination that was altogether delightful.
It was while playing in a piece called "Sunday" that Miss Barrymore first read Ibsen's "A Doll's House." She was immensely thrilled by the character. She said to Frohman at once: "I must do this part. May I?"
"Of course," he said.
Here was another revelation of the Barrymore versatility, for she invested this strange, weird expression of Ibsen's genius with a range of feeling and touch of character that made a deep impression.
Charles now secured the manuscript of "Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire." He was immensely taken with this play, not only because it was by his friend Barrie, but because he saw in it large possibilities. Miss Barrymore was with him in London at this time. Frohman told her the story of the play in his rooms at the Savoy, acting it out as he always did with his plays. There were two important women characters: the mother, played in London by Ellen Terry, who philosophically accepts the verdict of the years, and the daughter, played by the popular leading woman Irene Vanbrugh, who steps into her place.
"Would you like to play in 'Alice'?" asked Frohman.
"Yes," said Miss Barrymore.
"I would rather have you say," said Miss Barrymore.
Just then the telephone-bell rang. Barrie had called up Frohman to find out if he had cast the play.
"I was just talking it over with Miss Barrymore," he replied.
Then there was a pause. Suddenly Frohman turned from the telephone and said:
"Barrie wants you to play the mother."
"Fine!" said Miss Barrymore. "That is just the part I wanted to do."
In "Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire" Miss Barrymore did a very daring thing. Here was an exquisite young woman who was perfectly willing to play the part of the mother of a boy of eighteen rather than the younger role, and she did it with such artistic distinction that Barrie afterward said of her:
"I knew I was right when I wanted her to play the mother. I felt that she would understand the part."
"Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire" was done as a double bill with "Pantaloon," in which Miss Barrymore's brother, John Barrymore, who was now coming to be recognized as a very gifted young actor, scored a big success. Later another brother, Lionel, himself a brilliant son of his father, appeared with her.
The theater-going world was now beginning to look upon Ethel Barrymore as one of the really charming fixtures of the stage. What impressed every one, most of all Charles Frohman, was the extraordinary ease with which she fairly leaped from lightsome comedy to deep and haunting pathos. Her work in "The Silver Box," by John Galsworthy, was a conspicuous example of this talent. Frohman gave the manuscript of the play to Miss Barrymore to read and she was deeply moved by it.
"Can't we do it?" she said.
"It is very tragic," said Frohman.
"I don't mind," said Miss Barrymore. "I want to do it so much!"
In "The Silver Box" she took the part of a charwoman whose life moves in piteous tragedy. It registered what, up to that time, was the most poignant note that this gifted young woman had uttered. Yet the very next season she turned to a typical Clyde Fitch play, "Her Sister," and disported herself in charming frocks and smart drawing-room conversation.
* * *
Miss Barrymore's career justified every confidence that Charles had felt for her. It remained, however, for Pinero's superb if darksome play "Midchannel" to give her her largest opportunity.
When Frohman told her about this play he said: "Ethel, I have a big play, but it is dark and sad. I don't think you want to do it."
After she had heard the story she said, impulsively: "You are wrong. I want to play this part very much."
"All right," said Frohman. "Go ahead."
As Zoe Blundell she had a triumph. In this character she was artistically reborn. The sweetness and girlishness now stood aside in the presence of a somber and haunting tragedy that was real. Miss Barrymore literally made the critics sit up. It recorded a distinct epoch in her career, and, as in other instances with a Pinero play, the American success far exceeded its English popularity.
When Miss Barrymore did "The Twelve-Pound Look," by Barrie, the following year, she only added to the conviction that she was in many respects the most versatile and gifted of the younger American actresses. Frohman loved "The Twelve-Pound Look" as he loved few plays. Its only rival in his regard was "Peter Pan." He went to every rehearsal, he saw it at every possible opportunity. Like most others, he realized that into this one act of intense life was crowded all the human drama, all the human tragedy.
Miss Barrymore now sped from grave to gay. When the time came for her to rehearse Barrie's fascinating skit, "A Slice of Life," Frohman was ill at the Knickerbocker Hotel. He was very much interested in this little play, so the rehearsals were held in his rooms at the hotel. There were only three people in the cast—Miss Barrymore, her brother John, and Hattie Williams. It was so excruciatingly funny that Frohman would often call up the Empire and say:
"Send Ethel over to rehearse. I want to forget my pains."
Charles Frohman lived to see his great expectations of Ethel Barrymore realized. He found her the winsome slip of a fascinating girl; he last beheld her in the full flower of her maturing art. He was very much interested in her transition from the seriousness of "The Shadow" into the wholesome humor and womanliness of "Our Mrs. McChesney," a part he had planned for her before his final departure. It was one of the many swift changes that Miss Barrymore has made, and had he lived he would have found still another cause for infinite satisfaction with her.
* * *
Another star now swam into the Frohman ken. This was the way of it:
Paul Potter was making a periodical visit to New York in 1901. David Belasco came to see him at the Holland House.
"Paul," said he, "C. F. and I want you to make us a version of Ouida's 'Under Two Flags' for Blanche Bates."
"I never read the novel," said Potter.
"You can dramatize it without reading it," remarked Belasco, and in a month he was sitting in Frohman's rooms at Sherry's and Potter was reading to them his dramatization of "Under Two Flags," throwing in, for good measure, a ride from "Mazeppa" and a snow-storm from "The Queen of Sheba."
"I like all but the last scene," said Frohman. "When Cigarette rides up those mountains with her lover's pardon, the pardon is, to all intents and purposes, delivered. The actual delivery is an anti-climax. What the audience want to see is a return to the garret where the lovers lived and were happy."
As they walked home that night Belasco said to Potter:
"That was a great point which C. F. made. What remarkable intuition he has!"
Frohman and Potter used to watch Belasco at work, teaching the actors to act, the singers to sing, the dancers to dance.
Then came a hitch.
"Gros, our scene-painter," said Frohman, "maintains that Cigarette couldn't ride up any mountains near the Algerian coast, for the nearest mountains are the Atlas Mountains, eight hundred miles away."
He undertook to convert Mr. Gros. Fortunately for him the author of the play stood in the Garden Theater while Belasco was rehearsing a dance.
"Oh," said he, "if it's a comic opera you can have all the mountains you please. I thought it was a serious drama."
Then Frohman ventured to criticize the mountain torrent.
"What's the matter with the torrent?" called Belasco, while Cigarette and her horse stood on the slope.
"It doesn't look like water at all," said Frohman.
Just then the horse plunged his nose into the torrent and licked it furiously. Criticism was silenced. The play was a big, popular success, and with it Blanche Bates arrived as star.
One day, a year later, Frohman remarked to Potter in Paris, "What do you say to paying Ouida a visit in Florence?"
He and Belasco had paid her considerable royalties. He thought she would be gratified by a friendly call. Frohman and Potter obtained letters of introduction from bankers, consuls, and Florentine notables, and sent them in advance to Ouida. The landlord of the inn gave them a resplendent two-horse carriage, with a liveried coachman and a footman. Frohman objected to the footman as undemocratic. The landlord insisted that it was Florentine etiquette, and shrugged his shoulders when they departed, seeming to think that they were bound on a perilous journey.
Through the perfumed, flower-laden hills they climbed, the Arno gleaming below. The footman took in their cards to the villa of Mlle. de la Ramee. He promptly returned.
"The signora is indisposed," he remarked.
The visitors sent him back to ask if they might come some other day. Again he returned.
"The signora is indisposed," was the only answer he could get.
Potter and Frohman drove away. Frohman was hurt. He did not try to conceal it.
"That's the first author," he said, "who ever turned me down. Anyway, the pancakes at lunch were delicious." He met rebuff—as he met loss—with infinite humor.
* * *
Stars now crowded quick and fast into the Frohman firmament. Next came Virginia Harned. Daniel Frohman had seen her in a traveling company at the Fourteenth Street Theater and engaged her to support E. H. Sothern. She later came under Charles's control, and he presented her as star in "Alice of Old Vincennes," "Iris," and "The Light that Lies in Woman's Eyes."
Effie Shannon and Herbert Kelcey followed. Their first venture with him, "Manon Lescaut," was a direful failure, but it was followed up with "My Lady Dainty," which was a success.
Charles Frohman had various formulas for making stars. Some he discovered outright, others he developed. Here is an example of his Christopher Columbus proclivities:
One day he heard that there was a very brilliant young Hungarian actor playing a small part down at the Irving Place German Theater in New York City. He went to see him, was very much impressed with his ability, sent for him, and said:
"If you will study English I will agree to take care of you on the English-speaking stage."
The man assented, and Frohman paid him a salary all the while he was studying English. Before many years he was a well-known star. His name was Leo Ditrichstein.
Frohman now got Ditrichstein to adapt "Are You a Mason?" from the German, put it on at Wallack's Theater, and it was a huge success. Besides Ditrichstein, this cast, which was a very notable one, included John C. Rice, Thomas W. Wise, May Robson, Arnold Daly, Cecil De Mille, and Sallie Cohen, who had played Topsy in the stranded "Uncle Tom's Cabin" Company, whose advance fortunes Frohman had piloted in his precarious days on the road.
Just as Frohman led the American invasion in England, so did he now bring about the English invasion of America. He had inaugurated it with Olga Nethersole. He now introduced to American theater-goers such artists as Charles Hawtrey, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Charles Warner, Sir Charles Wyndham, Mary Moore, Marie Tempest, and Fay Davis, in whose career he was enormously interested. He starred Miss Davis in a group of plays ranging from "Lady Rose's Daughter" to "The House of Mirth."
In connection with Mrs. Campbell's first tour occurred another one of the famous Frohman examples of quick retort. He was rehearsing this highly temperamental lady, and made a constructive criticism which nettled her very much. She became indignant, called him to the footlights, and said:
"I want you to know that I am an artist?"
Frohman, with solemn face, instantly replied:
"Madam, I will keep your secret."
One of the early English importations revealed Frohman's utterly uncommercialized attitude toward the theater. He was greatly taken with the miracle play "Everyman," and brought over Edith Wynne Mathison and Charles Rann Kennedy to do it. He was unable to get a theater, so he put them in Mendelssohn Hall.
"You'll make no money with them there," said a friend to him.
"I don't expect to make any," replied Frohman, "but I want the American people to see this fine and worthy thing."
The play drew small audiences for some time. Then, becoming the talk of the town, it went on tour and repaid him with a profit on his early loss.
* * *
One of the happiest of Charles Frohman's theatrical associations now developed. In 1903, when the famous Weber and Fields organization seemed to be headed toward dissolution, Charles Dillingham suggested to Willie Collier that he go under the Frohman management. Collier went to the Empire Theater and was ushered into Frohman's office.
"It took you a long time to get up here," said the magnate. "How would you like to go under my management?"
"Well," replied Collier, with his usual humor, "I didn't come up here to buy a new hat."
The result was that Collier became a Frohman star and remained one for eleven years. He and Frohman were constantly exchanging witty telegrams and letters. Frohman sent Collier to Australia. At San Francisco the star encountered the famous earthquake. He wired Frohman:
"San Francisco has just had the biggest opening in its history."
Whereupon Frohman, who had not yet learned the full extent of the calamity, wired back:
"Don't like openings with so many 'dead-heads.'"
* * *
All the while, William Gillette had been thriving as a Frohman star. Like many other serious actors, he had an ambition to play Hamlet. With Frohman the wishes of his favorite stars were commands, so he proceeded to make ready a production. Suddenly Barrie's remarkable play "The Admirable Crichton" fell into his hands. He sent for Gillette and said:
"Gillette, I am perfectly willing that you should play Hamlet, but I have just got from Barrie the ideal play for you."
When Gillette read "The Admirable Crichton," he agreed with Frohman, and out of it developed one of his biggest successes. "Hamlet," with its elaborate production, still awaits Gillette.
* * *
In presenting Clara Bloodgood as star in Clyde Fitch's play "The Girl with the Green Eyes," Frohman achieved another one of his many sensations. The smart, charming girl who had made her debut under sensational circumstances in "The Conquerors," now saw her name up in electric lights for the first time. Frohman's confidence in her, as in many of his proteges, was more than fulfilled.
* * *
Charles Frohman, who loved to dazzle the world with his Napoleonic coups, launched what was up to this time, and which will long remain, the most spectacular of theatrical deals. He greatly admired E. H. Sothern, who had been associated with him in some of his early ventures. The years that Julia Marlowe had played under his joint management had endeared her to him. One day he had an inspiration. There had been no big Shakespearian revival for some time, so he said: