"Ah," said Tree, "America can stand that sort of thing. It is a new country."
"Was," came the laconic reply.
* * *
Frohman's retiring disposition and dislike for putting himself forward was one of his chief traits. An illustration occurred when he controlled the Garden Theater. It was during the presentation of Stephen Phillips's play "Ulysses." There was a new man on the door one night when Frohman dropped into the theater for a few minutes' look at the play. The doorkeeper did not know the producer, his own employer, and would not allow him to enter without a ticket. Instead of storming about the lobby, Frohman simply walked quickly out of the door, around to the stage entrance and through the theater. At the end of the act he walked out of the main entrance. The doorkeeper, recognizing him as the man he had "turned down," was about to ask him how he got in when the manager of the house interposed.
* * *
He liked surprise and contrast. On one occasion his old chum, Anson Pond, wanted to talk over business matters with him.
"Let's go to a quiet place," said Frohman.
They went to a Childs restaurant. Before their luncheon was served an intoxicated man came in, ordered a plate of beans, and then exploded a package of fire-crackers on it.
When he went to pay his check Frohman's comment was:
"I didn't know they had changed the date of the Fourth of July."
* * *
No other theatrical manager in New York had a better news sense than Frohman. He knew just what a paper wanted, and all the matter sent out from his offices was short, newsy, and direct. He knew how to shape a big "story," and could offhand dictate an interview that was all "meat." While he had little time in New York to greet newspaper men personally, he was especially cordial to all that came to see him on the road. He never went out of town without visiting some of the older critics he had known throughout his career, men like George P. Goodale of The Detroit Free Press, and Montgomery Phister of The Commercial Tribune in Cincinnati. When in Baltimore he invariably gave an hour for a long interview to Walter E. McCann, the critic of The News of that city.
Frohman knew a newspaper's wants and limitations as far as theatrical matter was concerned. He knew just how far his press representative could be expected to go, and what his obstacles were.
On one occasion in Cleveland, when he was producing a play by Clyde Fitch for the late Clara Bloodgood, the chief press representative from the New York office was taken along to look after the work. The press agent sent stories to all of the papers for Saturday morning's publication, and to his dismay not a line was used. Feeling that Frohman would be hurt about it (for Charles was hurt and not angered by the failure of any of his men), he wrote a note to his chief, stating that he was sorry nothing had been used in print and did not understand it.
At lunch that day Frohman remarked to the agent:
"Why did you send me that note about the papers?"
"Because," replied the young man, "I feared that you would think I had not attended to my work."
"Well," said Frohman, "you sent matter to all the papers, didn't you?"
"Yes," said the agent, "all of them, of course."
"Then," said the manager, "what else could you do? You are not running the papers."
It was not only an evidence of Frohman's fairness, but an instance of his knowledge of newspapers.
* * *
Frohman had a remarkable memory. One night during Collier's London engagement he asked the actor to meet him at the Savoy the next morning at nine o'clock. Collier, who had been playing bridge until dawn, showed up at the appointed time, whereupon Frohman said:
"How did you do it?"
"I sat up for it," said Collier.
Five years later Frohman asked Collier one night to meet him at nine o'clock the next morning. Then he added, quickly:
"You can sit up for it."
* * *
Frohman got much amusement out of a butler named Max who was employed at his house at White Plains. One of the most original episodes in which this man figured happened on the opening night of "Catherine" at the Garrick Theater.
The play was a little thin, and the whole action depended on a love scene in the third act, in which the hero, a young swell played by J. M. Holland, on telling his mother that he loved a humble girl, gets the unexpected admonition to go and be happy with her. Dillingham had two seats well down in the orchestra. Frohman was to sit in the back of a box. Just before the curtain went up Frohman said to Dillingham, who then had a house on Twenty-fourth Street, "Let us have some of those nice little lamb chops and peas down at your house after the play."
"All right," said Dillingham, and he telephoned the instructions to Max, who had been drafted for town service.
The curtain went up, the first two acts went off all right, and the house was dark for the third act. The seat alongside Dillingham was vacated, so Frohman came down and occupied it. The curtain went up and the action of the play progressed. The great scene which was to carry it was about to begin when Dillingham heard a loud thump, thump, thump down the aisle. Frohman turned to Dillingham and said:
"What in the name of Heaven is that? The play is ruined!"
The thump, thump, thump continued, coming nearer. Just in the middle of the act a German voice spoke up and said:
"Oxkuse me, Meester Dillingham, dere ain't a lam' chop in der house."
It was Max, the butler, who, worried over what seemed the imminent failure of the midnight repast, had come to report to headquarters for further instructions. Fortunately the interruption passed unnoticed and the play made quite a hit.
* * *
On one occasion Nat C. Goodwin invited him to the Goodwin residence in West End Avenue, New York. The comedian wanted to place himself under the management of his guest. Goodwin stated the case, and Frohman then asked how remunerative his last season had been. The host produced his books. After a careful examination Frohman remarked, with a smile:
"My dear boy, you don't require a manager. What you need is a lawyer."
THE MAN FROHMAN
Great as producer, star-maker, and conqueror of two stage-worlds, Charles Frohman was greater as a human being. Like Roosevelt, whom he greatly admired, he was more than a man—he was an institution. His quiet courage, his unaffected simplicity, his rare understanding, his ripe philosophy, his uncanny penetration—above all, his abundant humor—made him a figure of fascinating and incessant interest.
No trait of Charles Frohman was more highly developed than his shyness. He was known as "The Great Unphotographed." The only time during the last twenty-five years of his life that he sat for a photograph was when he had to get a picture for his passport, and this picture went to a watery grave with him. Behind his prejudice against being photographed was a perfectly definite reason, which he once explained as follows:
"I once knew a theatrical manager whose prospects were very bright. He became a victim of the camera. Fine pictures of him were made and stuck up on the walls everywhere. He used to spend more time looking at these pictures of himself than he did attending to his business. He made a miserable failure. I was quite a young man when I heard of this, but it made a great impression on me. I resolved then never to have my photograph taken if I could help it."
Once when Frohman and A. L. Erlanger were in London he received the usual request to be photographed by a newspaper camera man. The two magnates looked something alike in that they had a more or less Napoleonic cast of face. Frohman, who always saw a joke in everything, hatched a scheme by which Erlanger was to be photographed for him. The plan worked admirably, and pictures of Erlanger suddenly began to appear all over London labeled "Charles Frohman."
He could be gracious, however, in his refusal to be photographed. One bright afternoon he was watching the races at Henley when he was approached by R. W. MacFarlane, of New York, who had been on the Frohman staff. MacFarlane asked if he could take a photograph of Frohman and give it to his niece, who was traveling with him.
"No," said the manager, "but you can take a picture of your niece and I will pose her for it."
* * *
Frohman's shyness led to what is in many respects the most remarkable of the countless anecdotes about him. It grew out of his illness. In 1913 he had a severe attack of neuritis in London. Although his friends urged him to go and see a doctor, he steadfastly refused. He dreaded physicians just as he dreaded photographers.
One day Barrie came to see him at his rooms at the Savoy. Frohman was in such intense pain that the Scotch author said:
"Frohman, it is absurd for you not to see a doctor. You simply must have medical attention. As a matter of fact, I have already made an engagement for you to see Robson-Roose, the great nerve specialist, at four o'clock to-morrow afternoon."
Frohman, who accepted whatever Barrie said, acquiesced. Next day, when half-past three o'clock came, the manager was almost in a state of panic. He said to Dillingham, who was with him:
"Dillingham, you know how I hate to go to see doctors. You also know what is the matter with me. Why don't you go as my understudy and tell the doctor what is the matter with you? He will give you a nice little prescription or advise you to go to the Riviera or Carlsbad."
"All right," said Dillingham, who adored his friend. "I'll do what you say."
Promptly at four o'clock Dillingham showed up at the great specialist's office and said he was Frohman. He underwent a drastic cross-examination. After which he was asked to remove his clothes, was subjected to the most strenuous massage treatment, and, to cap it all, was given an electric bath that reduced him almost to a wreck. He had entered the doctor's office in the best of health, He emerged from it worn and weary.
When he staggered into Frohman's rooms two hours later and told his tale of woe, Frohman laughed so heartily over the episode that he was a well man the next day.
* * *
Frohman had a great fund of pithy sayings, remarkable for their brevity. With these he indicated his wishes to his associates. His charm of manner, his quick insight into a situation, and his influence over the minds of others were great factors in the accomplishment of his end, often attaining the obviously impossible.
For example, when he would tell his business manager to negotiate a business matter with a man, and it would come to a point where there would be a deadlock, he would say:
"I will see him. Ask him to come down to my hotel."
The next morning he would walk into the office with a smile on his face, and the first thing he would say perhaps would be:
"I fixed it up all right yesterday; it is going your way."
"You are a wonder!" his associates would exclaim.
"Oh no! I just talked to him," was the reply.
* * *
Frohman disliked formality. He wanted to go straight to the heart of a thing and have it over with. Somebody once asked him why he did not join the Masonic order. He said:
"I would like to very much if I could just write a check and not bother with all the ceremony."
* * *
Although he never spoke of his great power in the profession, occasionally there was a glimpse of how he felt about it as this incident shows:
Once, when Frohman and Paul Potter were coming back from Atlantic City, Potter picked up a theatrical paper and said:
"Shall I read you the theatrical news?"
"No," said Frohman. "I make theatrical news."
* * *
In that supreme test of a man's character—his attitude toward money—he shone. Though his enterprises involved millions, Frohman had an extraordinary disregard of money. He felt its power, but he never idolized it. To him it was a means to an end. He summed up his whole attitude one day when he said:
"My work is to produce plays that succeed, so that I can produce plays that will not succeed. That is why I must have money.
"What I would really like to do is to produce a wonderful something to which I would only go myself. My pleasure would be in seeing a remarkable performance that nobody else could see. But I can't do that. The next best thing is to produce something for the few critical people. That is what I'm trying for. I have to work through the commercial—it is the white heat through which the artistic in me has to come." It was his answer to the oft-made charge of "commercialism."
No one, perhaps, has summed up this money attitude of Frohman's better than George Bernard Shaw, who said of him:
"There is a prevalent impression that Charles Frohman is a hard-headed American man of business who would not look at anything that is not likely to pay. On the contrary, he is the most wildly romantic and adventurous man of my acquaintance. As Charles XII. became an excellent soldier because of his passion for putting himself in the way of being killed, so Charles Frohman became a famous manager through his passion for putting himself in the way of being ruined."
In many respects Frohman's feeling about money was almost childlike. He left all financial details to his subordinates. All he wanted to do was to produce plays and be let alone. Yet he had an infinite respect for the man to whom he had to pay a large sum. He felt that the actor or author who could command it was invested with peculiar significance. Upon himself he spent little. He once said:
"All I want is a good meal, a good cigar, good clothes, a good bed to sleep in, and freedom to produce whatever plays I like."
He was a magnificent loser. Failure never disturbed him. When he saw that a piece was doomed he indulged in no obituary talk. "Let's go to the next," he said, and on he went.
He lost in the same princely way that he spent. The case of "Thermidor" will illustrate. He spent not less than thirty thousand dollars on this production. Yet the moment the curtain went down he realized it was a failure. He stood at one side of the wings and Miss Marbury, who had induced him to put the play on, was at the other. With the fall of the curtain Frohman moved smilingly among his actors with no trace of disappointment on his face. But when he met Miss Marbury on the other side of the stage he said:
"Well, I suppose we have got a magnificent frost. We'll just write this off and forget it."
* * *
Frohman played with the theater as if it were a huge game. Like life itself, it was a great adventure. In the parlance of Wall Street, he was a "bull," for he was always raising salaries and royalties. Somebody once said of him:
"What a shame that Frohman works so hard! He never had a day's fun in his life."
"You are very much mistaken," said one of his friends. "His whole life is full of it. He gets his chief fun out of his work." Indeed, work and humor were in reality the great things with him.
One of the best epigrams ever made about Frohman's extravagance was this:
"Give Charles Frohman a check-book and he will lose money on any production."
To say that his word was his bond is to repeat one of the trite tributes to him. But it was nevertheless very true. Often in discussing a business arrangement with his representatives he would say:
"Did I say that?" On being told that he did, he would invariably reply, "Then it must stand at that."
On one of these occasions he said:
"I have only one thing of value to me, and that is my word. I will keep that until I am broke and then I'll jump overboard."
* * *
In starting a new venture his method was first to ascertain not how much it would enrich him, but how much it would cost. Thus fortified, he entered into it with enthusiasm, and if he lost he never murmured. Having settled a thing, for good or ill, he would never refer to the negotiations or anything that might have led up to the culmination of that business, either for or against. If his attention was afterward called to it, he would quietly say, "That's yesterday," and in this way indicate that he did not wish the matter referred to again.
* * *
Frohman's great desire was to make money for other people. One of his young authors had had a bad failure in London and was very much depressed. Frohman finally worked out a plan to revive his spirits and recoup his finances. He took Alfred Sutro in his confidence and invited the young man to dine. He was like a child, eager to do something good and pleasing. All through the dinner he chaffed the young man, who visibly grew more despondent. Finally he said:
"I have decided to revive a very good play, and I have booked an American tour for it." Then he told the young man that this play was his first success.
* * *
Charles Frohman's ignorance of money matters was proverbial. One day just as he was about to take the train for Washington a friend stopped him and said:
"I've got a great investment for you."
"No," said Frohman, "I never invest in anything except theaters."
"But this is the real thing. The only possible fact that can spoil it is war, and we are widely remote from war."
In order to get rid of the man Frohman consented to a modest investment. When he got to Washington the first thing that greeted him was the announcement that we were on the verge of war with Mexico.
* * *
William Harris once gently remonstrated with Frohman for such lavish expenditure of money.
"It's simply awful, Charley, the way you spend money," he said.
Frohman smiled and said:
"It would be awful if I lost a finger or a foot, but spending money on the things that you want to do and enjoy doing is never money wasted."
* * *
At one time he owed a great deal of money to actors and printers, but he always scorned all suggestions that he go through bankruptcy and wipe these claims out. He said he would pay in full some day, and he did, with interest. An actor to whom he owed some four hundred dollars came to him and offered to settle the claim for one hundred dollars. Frohman said he did not believe in taking advantage of a man like that. He advanced the actor one hundred dollars, and eventually paid the other three hundred dollars.
* * *
Like every great man, Frohman's tastes were simple. He always wore clothes of one pattern, and the style seldom varied. He wore no jewelry except a Napoleonic ring on his little finger.
* * *
Frohman never married. A friend once asked him why he had chosen to be a bachelor.
"My dear fellow," he answered, "had I possessed a wife and family I could never have taken the risks which, as a theatrical manager, I am constantly called upon to do."
He lived, in truth, for and by the theater; it was his world. His heart was in his profession, and no enterprise was too daring, no venture too perilous, to prevent him from boldly facing it if he believed the step was expected of him.
* * *
To his intimates Frohman was always known as "C. F." These were the magic initials that opened or shut the doors to theatrical fame and fortune.
* * *
Frohman loved sweet things to eat. Pies were his particular fondness, and he never traveled without a box of candy. As he read plays he munched chocolates. He ate with a sort of Johnsonian avidity. When he went to Europe some of his friends, who knew his tastes well, sent him crates of pies instead of flowers or books.
He shared this fondness for sweets with Clyde Fitch. They did not dare to eat as much pastry as they liked before others, so they often retired to Frohman's rooms at Sherry's or to Fitch's house on Fortieth Street, in New York, and had a dessert orgy.
Frohman almost invariably ate as he worked in his office. When people saw sandwiches piled upon his table, he would say:
"A rehearsal accompanied by a sandwich is progress, but a rehearsal interrupted by a meal is delay."
* * *
Frohman's letters to his intimates were characteristic. He always wrote them with a blue pencil, and on whatever scrap of paper happened to be at hand. Often it was a sheet of yellow scratch-paper, sometimes the back of an envelope. He wrote as he talked, in quick, epigrammatic sentences. Like Barrie, he wrote one of the most indecipherable of hands. Frequently, instead of a note, he drew a picture to express a sentiment or convey an invitation. One reason for this was that the man saw all life in terms of the theater. It was a series of scenes.
* * *
With regard to home life, Frohman had none. He always dwelt in apartments in New York. The only two places where he really relaxed were at Marlow, in England, and at his country place near White Plains in Westchester County, New York. He shared the ownership of this establishment with Dillingham. It entered largely into his plans. Here his few intimates, like Paul Potter, Haddon Chambers, William Gillette, and Augustus Thomas, came and talked over plays and productions. Here, too, he kept vigil on the snowy night when London was to pass judgment on the first production of "Peter Pan" on any stage.
The way he came to acquire an interest in the White Plains house is typical of the man and his methods. Dillingham had bought the place. One day Frohman and Gillette lunched with him there. Frohman was immensely taken with the establishment. He liked the lawn, the garden, the trees, and the aloofness. The three men sat at a round table. Frohman beamed and said:
"This is the place for me. I want to sit at the head of this table." It was his way of saying that he wanted to acquire an ownership in it, and from that time on he was a co-proprietor.
With characteristic generosity he insisted upon paying two-thirds of the expenses. Then, in his usual lavish fashion, he had it remodeled. He wanted a porch built. Instead of engaging the village carpenter, who could have done it very well, he employed the most famous architects in the country and spent thirty thousand dollars. It was the Frohman way.
Out of the Frohman ownership of the White Plains house came one of the many Frohman jests. Its conduct was so expensive that Frohman one day said to Dillingham, "Let's rent a theater and make it pay for the maintenance of the house."
Frohman then leased the Garrick, but instead of making money on it he lost heavily.
The factotum at White Plains was the German Max, whom Dillingham had brought over from the Savoy in London, where he was a waiter. Max became the center of many amusing incidents. One has already been related.
One night Max secured some fine watermelons. As he came through the door with one of them he slipped and dropped it. He repeated this performance with the second melon. Frohman regarded it as a great joke, and roared with laughter. Just then Gillette was announced.
"Now," said Frohman, quietly, to Dillingham, "we will have Max bring in a watermelon, but I want him to drop it." In order to insure the success of the trick they stretched a string at the door so that Max would be sure to fall. Then they ordered the melon, and Max appeared, bearing it aloft. He fell, however, before he got to the string, and the joke was saved.
All this jest and joke was part of the game of life as Frohman played it. Whatever the cost, there is no doubt that the charming white-and-green cottage up in the Westchester valley gave him hours of relaxation and ease that were among the pleasantest of his life.
This house at White Plains was indirectly the means through which Dillingham branched out as an independent manager. At this time he was in Frohman's employ. One day he said to himself:
"This establishment is costing so much that I will have to send out some companies of my own."
He thereupon got "The Red Mill," acquired Montgomery and Stone, and thus began a new and brilliant managerial career. No one rejoiced over Dillingham's success more than Frohman. When Dillingham opened his Globe Theater in New York Frohman addressed a cable to "Charles Dillingham, Globe Theater, U. S. A."
It is a curious fact about Charles Frohman that though he had millions of dollars at stake, he was never a defendant in litigation. Yet through him foreign authors were enabled to protect their plays from the customary piracy by the memorization of parts. It used to be accepted that if a man went to a play and memorized its speeches he could produce it without paying royalty. N. S. Wood did this with a play called "The World," that Frohman produced. He took the matter to court as a test case and won.
* * *
Charles was not good at remembering people's names or their addresses. This is why he was much dependent upon his stenographers. His secretary in England, Miss Frances Slater, was so extraordinary in anticipating his words that he always called her "The Wonder." He used to say:
"Miss Slater, I want to write to the man around the corner," which turned out to be Arthur Bouclier, the manager of the Garrick Theater, which was not really around the corner; but when the subject of the letter came to be dictated, Miss Slater knew whom he meant. He would never express any surprise on these occasions when the letter handed him to sign contained the right name and address. He seemed to take it as a matter of course.
* * *
One day Frohman entered his London office and said to Lestocq:
"You would never guess where I have just come from. I have been to your Westminster Abbey."
Lestocq expressed surprise, whereupon Frohman continued:
"Yes, I just walked in and spoke to a man in a gown and said, 'Where is Mr. Irving buried?' He showed me, and I stood there for a few minutes, said a couple of things, and came on here."
* * *
Frohman's office at the Empire Theater was characteristic of the man himself. It was a room of considerable proportions, with the atmosphere of a study. It was lined with rather low book-shelves, on which stood the bound copies of the plays he had produced. Interspersed was a complete set of Lincoln's speeches and letters.
On one side was a large stone fireplace; in a corner stood a grand piano; the center was dominated by a simple, flat-topped desk, across which much of the traffic of the American theater passed.
Near at hand was a low and luxurious couch. Here Frohman sat cross-legged and listened to plays. This performance was a sort of sacred rite, and was always observed behind locked doors. No Frohman employee would think of intruding upon his chief at such a time.
Here, as in London, Frohman was surrounded by pictures of his stars. Dominating them was J. W. Alexander's fine painting of Miss Adams in "L'Aiglon." On a shelf stood a bust of John Drew. There were portraits of playwrights, too. A photograph of Clyde Fitch had this inscription:
"To C. F. from c. f."
There was only one real art object in the office, a magnificent marble bust of Napoleon, whom Frohman greatly admired. He was always pleased when he was told that he looked like the Man of Destiny.
His sense of personal modesty was a very genuine thing. Shortly before he sailed on the fatal trip he had a request from a magazine writer who wanted to write the story of his life. He sent back a vigorous refusal to co-operate, saying, among other things:
"It is most obnoxious to me in every way. It is forcing oneself on the public so far as I am concerned, and I don't want that, and, besides, they are not interested. It is only for the great men of our country. It is not for me. It looks like cheek and presumption on my part, because it is, and I ask you not to go on with it."
* * *
He believed in system. One day he said:
"We must have on file in our office the complete record of every first-class theater in the United States, together with the name of every dramatic editor and bill-poster." Out of this grew the famous "Theatrical Guide" compiled by Julius Cahn.
* * *
Charles always provided special sleepers for his company when they had to leave early in the morning. He felt that it was an imposition to make the people go to bed late after a play and rise at five or six to get a train. It not only expressed his kindness, but also his good business sense in keeping his people satisfied and efficient.
* * *
One of Frohman's eccentricities was that he never carried a watch. On being asked why he never carried a timepiece, he replied, tersely, "Everybody else carries a watch," meaning that if he wanted to find out the time of day he could do it more quickly by inquiring of his personal or business associates than by looking for a watch that he may have forgotten to wind up.
"Frohman," said a friend, "made it a rule in life not to do anything that he could hire somebody else to do, thus leaving himself all the time possible for those things that he alone could do. He probably figured it out that if he carried a watch he would be obliged to spend a certain amount of time each day winding it.
"And on the same principle he refused to worry as to whether he left his umbrella behind or not, by simply not carrying one. If he couldn't get a cab—a rare occurrence, doubtless, considering the beaten track of his travel—he preferred to walk in the rain."
Some time before his death Frohman said to a distinguished dramatist who is one of his closest friends:
"Whenever I make a rule I never violate it."
A visitor to his place at White Plains came away after spending a night there, and declared that the "real Charles Frohman had three dissipations—he smokes all day, he reads plays all night, and—" He stopped.
"What is it?" was the breathless query.
"He plays croquet."
* * *
Frohman had a rare gift for publicity. More than once he turned what seemed to be a complete failure into success. An experience with "Jane" will reveal this side of his versatility.
The bright little comedy hung fire for a while. One reason was that newspaper criticism in New York had been rather unfavorable. Conspicuous among the unfriendly notices was one in the Herald which was headed, "Jane Won't Go."
Frohman immediately capitalized this line. He had thousands of dodgers stuck up all over New York. They contained three sentences, which read:
"Jane won't go." Of course not. She's come to stay.
From that time on the piece grew in popularity and receipts and became a success.
* * *
In summing up the qualities that made Frohman great, one finds, in the last analysis, that he had two in common with J. P. Morgan and the other dynamic leaders of men. One was an incisive, almost uncanny, ability to probe into the hearts of men, strip away the superficial, and find the real substance.
His experience with Clyde Fitch emphasized this to a remarkable degree. Personally no two men could have been more opposite. One was the product of democracy, buoyant and self-made, while the other represented an intellectual, almost effeminate, aristocracy. Yet nearly from the start Frohman perceived the bigness of vision and the profound understanding that lurked behind Fitch's almost superficial exterior.
In common, too, with Morgan, Roosevelt, and others of the same type, Frohman had an extraordinary quality of unconscious hypnotism. Men who came to him in anger went away in satisfied peace. They succumbed to what was an overwhelming and compelling personality.
He proved this in the handling of his women stars. They combined a group of varied and conflicting temperaments. Each wanted a separate and distinct place in his affections, and each got it. It was part of the genius of the man to make each of his close associates feel that he or she had a definite niche apart. His was the perfecting understanding, and no one better expressed it than Ethel Barrymore, who said, "To try to explain something to Charles Frohman was to insult him."
"WHY FEAR DEATH?"
And now the final phase.
The last years of Charles Frohman's life were racked with physical pain that strained his courageous philosophy to the utmost. Yet he faced this almost incessant travail just as he had faced all other emergencies—with composure.
One day in 1912 he fell on the porch of the house at White Plains and hurt his right knee. It gave him considerable trouble. At first he believed that it was only a bad bruise. In a few days articular rheumatism developed. It affected all of his joints, and it held him in a thrall of agony until the end of his life.
Shortly after his return to the city (he now lived at the Hotel Knickerbocker) he was compelled to take to his bed. For over six months he was a prisoner in his apartment, suffering tortures. Yet from this pain-racked post he tried to direct his large affairs. There was a telephone at his bedside, and he used it until weakness prevented him from holding the receiver.
He could not go to the theater, so the theater was brought to him. More than one preliminary rehearsal was held in his drawing-room. This was particularly true of musical pieces. The music distracted him from his pain.
Though prostrate with pain, his dogged determination to keep on doing things held. Barrie sent him the manuscript of a skit called "A Slice of Life." It was a brilliant satire on the modern play. Frohman picked Ethel Barrymore (who was then playing in "Cousin Kate" at the Empire), John Barrymore, and Hattie Williams to do it, and the rehearsals were held in the manager's rooms at the Knickerbocker.
Frohman was as much interested in this one-act piece as if it had been a five-act drama. His absorption in it helped to divert his mind from the pain that had sadly reduced the once rotund body.
With "A Slice of Life" he introduced another one of the many innovations that he brought to the stage. The play was projected as a surprise. No announcement of title was made. The advertisements simply stated that Charles Frohman would present "A Novelty" at the Empire Theater at eight o'clock on a certain evening.
Frohman was unable to attend the opening performance, so he wrote a little speech which was spoken by William Seymour. The speech was rehearsed as carefully as the play. A dozen times the stage-director delivered it before his chief, who indicated the various phrases to be emphasized.
It was during the era of the New Theater when the so-called "advanced drama" was much exploited. Frohman had little patience with this sort of dramatic thing. The little speech conveys something of his satirical feeling about the millionaire-endowed theatrical project which was then agitating New York.
Here is the speech as Frohman wrote it:
Ladies and Gentlemen:—My appearance here to-night is by way of apology. I am here representing Mr. Charles Frohman—you may have heard of him—the manager of this theater, the Empire.
His idea in announcing a novelty in connection with Miss Barrymore's play, "Cousin Kate," was really for the purpose of getting you here once in time for the ringing up of the curtain. This will be a special performance of a play to be given by a few rising members of the School of Acting connected with this theater, the Empire, of which he is proud—very proud. It is not an old modern play, but what is called to-day "The Advanced Drama," made possible here to-night by the momentary holiday of the New Theater, and it is called "A Slice of Life."
During those desperate days when, like Heinrich Heine, he seemed to be lying in a "mattress grave," his dauntless humor never forsook him, as this little incident will show: Some years previous, Gillette suffered a breakdown from overwork. When the actor-playwright went to his home at Hartford to recuperate his sister remonstrated with him.
"You must stop work for a long while," she said. "That man Frohman is killing you." Gillette afterward told Frohman about it.
Frohman now lay on a bed of agony, and Gillette came to see him. The sick man remembered the episode of the long ago, and said, weakly, to his visitor:
"Gillette, tell your sister that you are killing me."
With the martyrdom of incessant pain came a ripening of the man's character. Frohman developed a great admiration for Lincoln. Often he would ask Gillette to read him the famous "Gettysburg Address." Simple, haunting melodies like "The Lost Chord" took hold of him. Marie Doro was frequently summoned to play it for him on the piano. Although his courage did not falter, he looked upon men and events with a larger and deeper philosophy.
During that first critical stage of the rheumatism he sank very low. His two devoted friends, Dillingham and Paul Potter, came to him daily. Each had his regular watch. Dillingham came in the morning and read and talked with the invalid for hours. He managed to bring a new story or a fresh joke every day.
Potter reported at nine in the evening and remained until two o'clock in the morning, or at whatever hour sleep came to the relief of the sick man. One of the compensations of those long vigils was the phonograph. Frohman was very fond of a tune called "Alexander's Rag-Time Band." The nurse would put this record in the machine and then leave. When it ran out, Potter, who never could learn how to renew the instrument, simply turned the crank again. There were many nights when Frohman listened to this famous rag-time song not less than twenty times. But he did not mind it.
In his illness Frohman was like a child. He was afraid of the night. He begged Potter to tell him stories, and the author of so many plays spun and unfolded weird and wonderful tales of travel and adventure. Like a child, too, Frohman kept on saying, "More, more," and often Potter went on talking into the dawn.
Potter, like all his comrades in that small and devoted group of Frohman intimates, did his utmost to shield his friend from hurt. When Frohman launched a new play during those bedridden days Potter would wait until the so-called "bull-dog" editions of the morning papers (the very earliest ones) were out. Then he would go down to the street and get them. If the notice was favorable he would read it to Frohman. If it was unfriendly Potter would say that the paper was not yet out, preferring that the manager read the bad news when it was broad daylight and it could not interfere with his sleep.
The humor and comradeship which always marked Frohman's close personal relations were not lacking in those nights when the life of the valiant little man hung by a thread. When all other means of inducing sleep failed, Potter found a sure cure for insomnia.
"Just as soon as I talked to Frohman about my own dramatic projects," he says, "he would fall asleep. So, when the night grew long and the travel stories failed, and even 'Alexander's Rag-Time Band' grew stale, I would start off by saying: 'I have a new play in mind. This is the way the plot goes.' Then Frohman's eyes would close; before long he would be asleep, and I crept noiselessly out."
Occasionally during those long conflicts with pain Frohman saw through the glass darkly. His intense and constant suffering, for the time, put iron into his well-nigh indomitable soul.
"I'm all in," he would say to Potter. "The luck is against me. The star system has killed my judgment. I no longer know a good play from a bad. The sooner they 'scrap' me the better."
His thin fingers tapped on the bedspread, and, like Colonel Newcome, he awaited the Schoolmaster's final call.
"You and I," he would continue, "have seen our period out. What comes next on the American stage? Cheap prices, I suppose. Best seats everywhere for a dollar, or even fifty cents; with musical shows alone excepted. Authors' royalties cut to ribbons; actors' salaries pared to nothing. Popular drama, bloody, murderous, ousting drawing-room comedy. Crook plays, shop-girl plays, slangy American farces, nude women invading the auditorium as in Paris."
"And then?" asked Potter.
"Chaos," said he. "Fortunately you and I won't live to see it. Turn on the phonograph and let 'Alexander's Rag-time Band' cheer us up."
He got well enough to walk around with a stick, and with movement came a return of the old enthusiasm. A man of less indomitable will would have succumbed and become a permanent invalid. Not so with Frohman. He even got humor out of his misfortune, because he called his cane his "wife." He became a familiar sight on that part of Broadway between the Knickerbocker Hotel and the Empire Theater as he walked to and fro. It was about all the walking he could do.
He kept on producing plays, and despite the physical hardships under which he labored he attended and conducted rehearsals. With the pain settling in him more and more, he believed himself incurable. Yet less than four people knew that he felt that the old titanic power was gone, never to return.
The great war, on whose stupendous altar he was to be an innocent victim, affected him strangely. The horror, the tragedy, the wantonness of it all touched him mightily. Indeed, it seemed to be an obsession with him, and he talked about it constantly, unmindful of the fact that the cruel destiny that was shaping its bloody course had also marked him for death.
Early during the war he saw some verses that made a deep impression on him. They were called "In the Ambulance," and related to the experience of a wounded soldier. He learned them by heart, and he never tired of repeating them. They ran like this:
"Two rows of cabbages; Two of curly greens; Two rows of early peas; Two of kidney-beans."
That's what he's muttering, Making such a song, Keeping all the chaps awake The whole night long.
Both his legs are shot away, And his head is light, So he keeps on muttering All the blessed night:
"Two rows of cabbages; Two of curly greens; Two rows of early peas, And two of kidney-beans."
It was Frohman's intense feeling about the war, that led him to produce "The Hyphen." Its rejection by the public hurt him unspeakably. Yet he regarded the fate of the play as just one more phase of the big game of life. He smiled and went his way.
The rheumatism still oppressed him, but he turned his face resolutely toward the future. War or peace, pain or relief, he was not to be deprived of his annual trip to England. He was involved in some litigation that required his presence in London. Besides, the city by the Thames called to him, and behind this call was the appeal of old and loved associations. With all his wonted enthusiasm he wrote to his friends at Marlow telling them that he was coming over and that he would soon be in their midst.
Frohman now made ready for this trip. When he announced that he was going on the Lusitania his friends and associates made vigorous protest, which he derided with a smile. Thus, in the approach to death, just as in the path to great success, opposition only made him all the more decided. With regard to his sailing on the Lusitania, this tenacity of purpose was his doom.
Whether he had a premonition or not, the fact remains that he said and did things during the days before he sailed which uncannily suggested that the end was not unexpected. For one thing, he dictated his whole program for the next season before he started. It was something that he had never done before.
When Marie Doro came to his office to say good-by he pulled out a little red pocket note-book in which he jotted down many things and suddenly said:
"Queer, but the little book is full. There is no room for anything else."
Just as he was warned not to produce "The Hyphen," so was he now cautioned by anonymous correspondents (and even by mysterious telephone messages) not to take the Lusitania. But all this merely tightened his purpose.
He met the danger with his usual jest. On the day before he sailed he went up to bid his old friend and colleague, Al Hayman, good-by. Hayman, like all his associates, warned him not to go on the Lusitania.
"Do you think there is any danger?" asked Frohman.
"Yes, I do," replied Hayman.
"Well, I am going, anyhow," was the answer.
After he had shaken hands he stopped at the door and said, smilingly:
"Well, Al, if you want to write to me just address the letter care of the German Submarine U 4."
Those last days ashore were filled with a strange mellowness. Ethel Barrymore came down from Boston to see him. They had an intimate talk about the old days. When she left him she saw tears in his eyes. That night, just as she was about to go on in "The Shadow" in Boston, she received this telegram from him:
Nice talk, Ethel. Good-by. C. F.
The Lusitania sailed at ten o'clock on Saturday morning, May 1, 1915. Even at the dock Frohman could not resist his little joke. When Paul Potter, who saw him off, said to him:
"Aren't you afraid of the U boats, C. F.?"
"No, I am only afraid of the I O U's," was the reply.
In his farewell steamer letter to Dillingham, written as the huge ship was plowing her way down the bay, he drew a picture of a submarine attacking a transatlantic liner. The last lines he wrote on the boat were prophetic of his fate. Ann Murdock had sent him a large steamer basket in the shape of a ship. The lines to her, brought back by the ship's pilot, were:
The little ship you sent is more wonderful than the big one that takes me away from you.
Like most of his distinguished fellow-voyagers, and they included Charles Klein, Elbert Hubbard, Justus Miles Forman, and Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Frohman had frequently traveled on the Lusitania. By a curious coincidence he had once planned to use her sister ship, the Mauretania, for one of his daring innovations. He had a transatlantic theater in mind. In other words, he proposed to produce whole plays on shipboard. He took over a small company headed by Marie Doro to try out the experiment. Early on the voyage Miss Doro succumbed to seasickness and the project was abandoned.
The last journey of the Lusitania was uneventful until that final fateful day. Frohman had kept to his cabin during the greater part of the trip. He was still suffering great pain in his right knee, and walked the deck with difficulty. Occasionally he appeared in the smoking-room, and was present at the ship's concert on the night before the end.
At 2.33 o'clock on the afternoon of May 7th the great vessel rode to her death. Eight miles off the Head of Kinsale, and within sight of the Irish coast, she was torpedoed by a German submarine. She sank in half an hour, with frightful loss of life, including more than a hundred Americans.
Frohman's hour was at hand, and he met it with the smiling equanimity and unflinching courage with which he had faced every other crisis in his life. When the crash came he was on the upper promenade deck. He had just come from his luncheon and was talking with George Vernon, the brother-in-law of Rita Jolivet, the actress, who was also on board. They were now joined by Captain Scott, an Englishman on his way from India to enlist. When Miss Jolivet reached them Frohman was smoking a cigar and was calm and apparently undisturbed.
Scott went below to get some life-belts. He returned with only two. He had started up with three, but gave one to a woman on the way. Miss Jolivet had provided herself with a belt.
Scott started to put one of the life-preservers on Frohman, who protested. Finally, with great reluctance, he acquiesced. There was no belt left for Scott. Frohman insisted that he get one, whereupon the soldier said:
"If you must die, it is only for once."
There was a responsive look and a whimsical smile on Frohman's face at this remark. He kept on smoking. Then he started to talk about the Germans. "I didn't think they would do it," he said. He was apparently the most unruffled person on the ship.
The great liner began to lurch. Frohman now said to Miss Jolivet:
"You had better hold on the rail and save your strength."
The ship's list became greater; huge waves rolled up, carrying wreckage and bodies on their crest. Then, with all the terror of destruction about him, Frohman said to his associates, with the serene smile still on his face:
"Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure of life."
Instinctively the four people moved closer together, they joined hands by a common impulse, and stood awaiting the end.
The ship gave a sudden lurch; once more a mighty green cliff of water came rushing up, bearing its tide of dead and debris; again Frohman started to say the speech that was to be his valedictory. He had hardly repeated the first three words—"Why fear death?"—when the group was engulfed and all sank beneath the surface of the sea.
No situation of the thousands that he had created in the theater was so vividly or so unaffectedly dramatic as the great manager's own exit from the stage of life. Smilingly he had made his way through innumerable difficulties; smilingly and with the highest heroism he met his fate.
The only survivor of the quartet that stood hand in hand on those death-cluttered decks was Miss Jolivet, and it was she who told the story of those last thrilling minutes.
Charles Frohman's body was recovered the next day and brought to Queenstown. A fortnight later it reached New York. On the casket was the American flag that the dead man had loved so well. Though princes of capital, famous playwrights, and international authorities on law and art went down with him, the loss of Frohman overshadowed all others. In the eyes of the world, the loss of the Lusitania was the loss of Charles Frohman.
His noble and eloquent final words, so rich with courageous philosophy, not only joined the category of the great farewells of all time, but wherever read or uttered will give humanity a fresher faith with which to meet the inevitable. In a supreme moment of the most colossal drama that human passion ever staged, fate literally hurled him into the universal lime-light to enact a part that gave him an undying glory. The shyest of men became the world's observed.
The last tribute to Charles Frohman was the most remarkable demonstration of sorrow in the history of the theater. The one-time barefoot boy of Sandusky, Ohio, who had projected so many people into eminence and who had himself hidden behind the rampart of his own activities, was widely mourned.
The principal funeral services were held at the Temple Emanu-El in New York. Here gathered a notable assemblage that took reverent toll of all callings and creeds. It was proud to do honor to the man who had achieved so much and who had died so heroically.
At the bier Augustus Thomas delivered an eloquent address that fittingly summed up the life and purpose of the greatest force that the English-speaking theater has yet known. Among other things he said:
"A wise man counseled, 'Look into your heart and write': 'C. F.' looked into his heart and listened. He had that quoted quality of genius that made him believe his own thought, made him know that what was true for him in his private heart was true for all mankind. That was the secret of his power. It was the golden key to both his understanding and expression.
"He was a fettered and a prisoned poet, often in his finest moments inarticulate. Working in the theater with his companies and stars, with the women and the men who knew and loved him, he accomplished less by word than by a radiating vital force that brought them into his intensity of feeling. In his social intercourse and comradeship, telling a dramatic or a comic story, at a certain pressure of its progress where other men depend on paragraphs and phrases he coined a near-word and a sign, and by a graphic and exalted pantomime ambushed and captured our emotions.
"His mind was clear and tranquil as a mountain lake, its quiet depths reflecting all the varied beauty of the bending skies. He had the gift of epitome. The men who knew him best valued his estimate, not only of the things in his own profession, but of any notable event or deed or tendency. Often his spontaneous comment on a cabled utterance or act laid stress upon the word or moment that next day served as captions for the significant review. The printed thought of the leading statesman, the outlook of the financier, the decision of the commanding soldier, or the vision of the poet found kinship in his sympathy, not because he strove tiptoe to apprehend its elevation, but because his spirit was native to that plane."
Coincident with the New York funeral, services were held at Los Angeles at the instigation of Maude Adams; at San Francisco under the sponsorship of John Drew; at Tacoma at the behest of Billie Burke; at Providence under the direction of Julia Sanderson, Donald Brian, and Joseph Cawthorn. Thus a nation-wide chain of grief linked the stars of the Frohman heaven.
Nor did foreign lands fail to render homage to the memory of Charles Frohman. A memorial was held at St.-Martins-in-the-Fields, in London, almost within stone's-throw of the Duke of York's Theater, in which he took so much pride. In the presence of a distinguished company that included the chivalry and flower of the British theater, the sub-deacon of St. Paul's conducted services for the self-made American who had risen from advance-agent to be the theatrical master of his times.
In Paris the French Society of Authors eulogized the man who had been their sympathetic envoy and sincere sponsor at the throne of American appreciation.
Thus fell the curtain on Charles Frohman. As in life he had joined two continents by the bonds of his daring and courageous enterprise, so on his death did those two worlds unite to do him honor. He had not lived in vain.
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking off.
—"Macbeth," I, vii.
THE LETTERS OF CHARLES FROHMAN
Unlike many men of achievement, Charles Frohman was not a prolific letter-writer. He avoided letter-writing whenever it was possible. When he could not convey his message orally he resorted to the telegraph. Letters were the last resort.
He had a sort of constitutional objection to long letters. The only lengthy epistles that ever came from him were dictated and referred to matters of business. They all have one quality in common. As soon as he had concluded the discussion of the topic in mind he would immediately tell about the fortunes of his plays. He seldom failed to make a reference to the business that Maude Adams was doing (for her immense success was very dear to his heart), and he always commented on his own strenuous activities. He liked to talk about the things he was doing.
The really intimate Frohman letters were always written by hand on scraps of paper, and were short, jerky, and epigrammatic. Most of these were written, or rather scratched, to intimates like James M. Barrie, Paul Potter, and Haddon Chambers.
As indicated in one of the chapters of this book, Frohman delighted in caricature. To a few of his friends he would send a humorous cartoon instead of a letter. He caricatured whatever he saw, whether riding on trains or eating in restaurants. If he wanted a friend to dine with him he would sketch a rough head and mark it "Me"; then he would draw another head and label it "You." Between these heads he would make a picture of a table, and under it scrawl, "Knickerbocker, Friday, 7 o'clock."
Frohman seldom used pen and ink. Most of his letters were written with the heavy blue editorial pencil that he liked to use. He wrote an atrocious hand. His only competitor in this way was his close friend Barrie. The general verdict among the people who have read the writing of both men is that Frohman took the palm for illegible chirography.
Frohman could pack a world of meaning into his letters. To a fellow-manager who had written to Boston to ask if he had seen a certain actress play, he replied: "No, I have had the great pleasure of not seeing her act."
His letters reflect his moods and throw intimate light on his character. He would always have his joke. To William Collier, who had sent him a box for a play that he was doing in New York, he once wrote: "I do not think I will have any difficulty in finding your theater, although a great many new theaters have gone up. Many old ones have 'gone up' too."
His swift jugglery with words is always manifest. To Alfred Sutro he sent this sentence notifying him that his play was to go into rehearsal: "The die is cast—but not the play."
Through his letters there shines his uncompromising rule of life. Writing to W. Lestocq, his agent in London, in reference to the English failure of "Years of Discretion," he said: "It is a failure, and that is the end of it. You can't get around failure, so we must go on to something else."
* * *
The number of available Frohman letters is not large. The following, gathered from various sources, will serve to indicate something of their character:
To an English author whose play, a weak one, was rapidly failing:
No; it is not the war that is affecting your business. It is the play—nothing else.
To Cyril Maude, whose penmanship is notably indecipherable:
I can't read your handwriting very well; but I wonder if you can read my typewriting. Just pretend I typed this myself.... Speaking of hits, Granville Barker arrived yesterday, and the city suddenly became terribly cold—awful weather. Barker will do well.
To Haddon Chambers:
Last night we produced "Driven" against your judgment. The press not favorable. But still I'm hoping.
To a colleague:
I announced "Driven" as a comedy. Next day I called it a play. But soon I may call it off.
To W. Lestocq:
The American actors over here are worried about so many English actors in our midst. I employ both kinds—that is, I want good actors only.
To an English author:
As to conditions here being bad for good plays; that is a joke. The distressful business is for the bad plays that I and other managers sometimes produce.
To one of his managers:
Do not use the line "The World-Famous Tri-Star Combination." Just say "The Great Three-Star Combination." It is easier to understand. And all will be well.
To one of his managers who spoke of the superiority of an actress who had replaced another about to retire to private life:
But now that her stage life is over we should remember her years of good work. She had a simple, childish, fairy-like appeal. I write this to you to express my feeling for one who has left our work for good, and I can think now only of pleasant memories. I want you to feel the same.
To an English author, January, 1915:
Over here they say the real heroes of the year are the managers that dare produce new plays.
To a business colleague about a singing comedian who was laid up with a serious illness:
I am sorry he is sick. But that was a rotten thing for him to do—to steal our song. I suppose he is better. Only the good die young.
To Marie Doro:
I saw you in the picture play. It and you were fine. What a lot of money you make! When I return from London I'm going to see if I can earn $10 a day to play in some of the screens. We are all going up to the Atlantic Ocean Island to see them taking you in the "White Pearl" pictures.
Refusing to go to a public banquet:
That's the first free thing that has been offered me this year. But there are three things my physician forbids me from doing—to eat, drink, or talk.
To a manager:
There are no bad towns—only bad plays!
On hearing that an actress in his employ had reflected on his management:
In this message I am charged with neglecting your interests. This is a shock to me, because when one neglects his trust, he is dishonest. This is the first time I have ever been so accused, and I am wondering if you inspired the message. I think it important that you should know.
Being adjured by one of the family to take more exercise:
I drove out to Richmond. Then I walked a mile. Now I hope you'll be satisfied.
To his sisters (he lived then at the Waldorf, but joined the family at a weekly dinner up-town):
I am sending you a cook-book by Oscar of this hotel. You may find some use for it.
When he came to the next weekly dinner he was offered several choice dishes prepared from Oscar's recipes. "I see my mistake," he said. "I wanted my usual home dinner. You give me what I receive all the time at the hotel."
To Alfred Sutro, in London:
Give us something full of situations, and we will give you a bully time again in America.
To William Seymour, his stage-manager, about a performance of one of his plays:
When you rehearse to-day will you try and get the old woman out of too much crying; get some smiles, and stop her screwing up her face every time she speaks. Of course, it's nervousness, but it looks as if she were ill.
To one of his associates:
Miss Adams's receipts last week in Boston were the largest in the history of Boston theaters or anywhere—$23,000. But I had some others which I won't tell you about.
To an English author in 1913:
At present the taste is "down with light plays, down with literary plays." They want plays with dramatic situations, intrigue, sex conflict. There is no use in giving the public what it does not want and what they ought to have. I am just finding that out, with much cost.
To a French agent:
It seems a little reckless to be asked to pay $2,500 for the privilege of reading a new French play. The author seems to want to get rich quickly. I would be willing to add to his wealth if he has something that can be produced without such a preliminary penalty.
To W. Lestocq:
When one talks to an English author about "Diplomacy," he says, "Oh, that's a theatrical play!" I wish I could get another like it.
To an English manager:
A hundred theaters here are a few too many. Houses have closed on a Saturday night without any warning. Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia have been better. You see we have this wonderful country to fall back on, which makes it different from London.
To an author in London:
What you say is quite true; a good play is a good play; but the difficulty I find is to ascertain through the public and the box-office what they think is a good play. Our opinion is only good for ourselves. But give me a dramatic play and I'll put it at once to the test.
To Hubert Henry Davies, the dramatist, during an interim of that author's activities:
It grieves me when I can't get your material going, especially as I want to come over as soon as I can and get one of those nice lunches in your nice apartment.
To the manager of an up-state New York theater regarding an impending first-night performance:
I hope we shall draw a representative audience the first night. I know audiences with you are sometimes a little reluctant about first nights. I can't understand this myself. In my opinion there is an extra thrill for them in the experience of a first performance, as it is a special event.
To Granville Barker, January, 1913:
I am very jealous of the Barrie plays, and I do want them for my own theater for revivals.... I hear such good reports about your Shakespearian work that I am awfully pleased. I have had a Marconi from Shakespeare himself, in which he speaks highly of what you have done for his work. I am sure this will be as gratifying to you as it is to me.
Alluding to his painful rheumatism in a letter to George Edwardes, the producer, in England, January, 1913:
I can't run twelve yards, but I can drink a lot of that bottled lemonade of yours when I get over. In fact, at the moment I think that is the best thing running in London.
In February, 1913, Frohman made frequent trips to Baltimore to rehearse and superintend the production of his plays in that city. He has this to say of Baltimore in a letter to Tunis F. Dean, manager of a theater there:
I was glad to have an opportunity of seeing your fine theater, for I have decided on a very important production with one of our leading stars there next season. So that I shall spend a week in Baltimore. I like that. There is no one living in Baltimore that has a greater regard for that fine, dignified city. I have had it for years, and with the beautiful theater and my feeling for Baltimore and you at the head of that theater, I am looking forward with pleasure to coming to you next season.
Frohman was simple, direct, and forcible in his criticism of plays. In rejecting a French play, he wrote to Michael Morton in defense of his judgment, New York, February, 1913:
I was awfully glad you made arrangements for the play, the one I don't like, and I hope the other fellow is right. These three-cornered French plays are going to have a hard time over here in the future unless they contain something that is pretty big, novel, or human. The guilty wife is a joke here now, and they have lots of fun when they play these scenes in these plays. The American and English play is different. They get there quicker in a different manner instead of the old-fashioned scheme. Of course, French plays, as you say, may be laid in England and in America. I understand that. But even then it seems to be about the same as if they were in France.
His brief, epigrammatic style of criticism is evident in a letter to Charles B. Dillingham, wherein he speaks of a certain play under consideration:
I think the end of the play is not good. It is that old-time stand-around-with-a-glass-of-wine-in-your-hand and wish success to the happy people.
Extracts from an interview with Frohman which he wrote for the London papers, March, 1913:
There will be no change in my work of producing for the London stage. I shall continue to do so at my own theaters or with other London managers just as long as I am producing on any stage, and I fear that will be for a long time yet, as I am younger now than I was twenty years ago.
Prior to his departure for England he wrote the following to John Drew in March, 1913:
Thanks for your fine letter. It is like this, John: I hope to get off next week, but I don't seem to be able to get the accommodations I want on either one of the steamers that I should like to travel on, and that sail next week. I need a little special accommodation on account of my leg, which still refuses to answer my call and requires the big stick.
To Alfred Sutro, in January, 1913, on the current taste in plays:
These American plays with thieves, burglars, detectives, and pistols seem to be the real things over here just now. None of them has failed.
Memorandum for his office-boy, Peter, for a week's supply of his favorite drinks:
Get me plenty of orange-juice, lemon soda, ginger ale, sarsaparilla, buttermilk.
To Alfred Sutro, 1913:
Haddon Chambers sails to-day. You may see him before you see this. He leaves behind him what I think will give him many happy returns (box-office) of the season, as Miss Barrymore is doing so well with his "Tante."
To W. Lestocq, concerning one of his leading London actresses:
Miss Titheridge is all right, as I wrote Morton, if her emotions can be kept down, and if she can try to make the audience act more, and act less herself.
To Michael Morton regarding an actress:
She needs to be told that real acting is not to act, but to make the audience feel, and not feel so much herself.
To the editor of a popular monthly magazine upon its first birthday:
I understand that your September issue will be made to mark ——'s first birthday. Judging from your paper your birthday plans miss the issue; because—— becomes a year younger every September. I do not congratulate you even upon this fact; because you cannot help it. I do not congratulate your readers because they get your paper so very cheap. I do congratulate myself, however, for calling attention to these wonderful facts.
To W. Lestocq, referring to a statement made by R. C. Carton, the dramatist:
I don't quite understand what he means by "holding up" the play. Over here it is a desperate expression—one that means pistols and murder, and all that. I presume it means something different in London, where Carton lives.
To Mrs. C. C. Cushing, the playwright, declining an invitation:
It is impossible to come and see you because I haven't got Cottage No. 4, but I've got Cell No. 3 on the stage of the Empire Theater, where I am passing the summer months.
Even Frohman's cablegrams reflected his humor. In 1913 Billie Burke was ill at Carlsbad, so he cabled her some cheering message nearly every day. Here is a sample:
Drove past your house to-day and ran over a dog. Your brother glared at me.
When Blanche Bates's first baby was born (she was at her country house near Ossining at the time), Frohman sent her this message:
Ossining has now taken its real place among the communities of the country. Congratulations.
To Alfred Sutro, January, 1913:
I was glad to hear from you. First let me strongly advise you to take the comedy side for the Alexander play. I honestly believe, unless it is something enormous, and for big stars and all that, the other side is no good any more. For the present, anyway, I speak of my own country. The usual serious difficulties between a husband and wife of that class—really they laugh at here now, instead of touching their emotions. They have gone along so rapidly. Take my advice in this matter, do! I am glad you have dropped that scene from the third act of your Du Maurier play.
Now that I am back to town I intended writing you about it. I assure you I had a jolly good time for the first two acts of that farce, and I can see Gerald Du Maurier all through it. The third act worries me for this country, as I wrote you. But the performance may change all this. It is so difficult to judge farcical work where it is so thoroughly English in its scene that I speak of to get any idea from the reading of it for this country. Everything is going along splendidly.
To Haddon Chambers, March, 1913:
I propose, and the troupes dispose! We had a lot of floods and things here which keep us on the move, or keep our troupes moving so much that I am compelled to postpone my sailing until April 12th on the Olympic, which makes it just a little later when I have the joy of seeing you. My best regards.
To Richard Harding Davis, July, 1913:
All right, we'll fix the title. I am glad they are asking about it. About people, they all seem to want Collier salaries. As you have chiefly character parts, and they are so good, I think it would be a good idea for us to create a few new stars through you, and
To George Edwardes, July, 1913:
First, I am glad to hear that you are away giving your heart a chance. I am back here trying to give my pocket-book a chance.
To William Collier, September, 1913:
All right, all arranged, Thursday night in New York; Monday and Tuesday in Springfield, Massachusetts. I shall leave here Monday ready to meet the performance and anything else! I hope all is well.
To Viola Allen, September, 1913:
I was awfully glad to get your letter. First let me say you had better come to see "Much Ado About Nothing" this Saturday, because it is the last week. We withdraw it to-morrow night and produce a new program at once. "Much Ado" wouldn't do for more than two weeks. After that it fell. Of course I find on Broadway it is quite impossible to run Shakespeare to satisfying "star" receipts. So come along to-morrow if you can. It would be fine to have you, and fine to have some of the original members of the Empire company to play in this house, and I should like it beyond words. I don't, however, believe in that sex-against-sex play. In these great days of the superiority of woman over mere man I don't think it would do.
Referring to a young actress he wished to secure, he writes to Col. Henry W. Savage in January, 1913:
My dear Colonel: I want to enter on your works in this way. You have a girl called——. I know she is very good, because I have never seen her act, but I understand she is not acting just as you want her to, and therefore not playing, either because she is laying off, or that you have stopped her from playing. I have a part for which I could use this girl. Will you let me have her, and in that way do another great wrong by doing me a favor? If she doesn't, or you do not wish her to play, perhaps it would be as much satisfaction to you if you thought you were doing me a favor and let her play in my company as if she were not playing at all. My best regards, and I hope this letter will not add much to the many pangs of the season to you.
To Sir James M. Barrie, October, 1913:
As I wrote you, I felt we had a good opportunity here under the conditions here, and I produced your "The Dramatists Get What They Want" last night. It went splendidly with the audiences, and has very good press. Of course the class of first-night audience that we had last night understood it. The censor is a new thing over here. The general public don't understand it, and it may on that account not make so strong an impression on further audiences. However, that is all right. I am delighted with the way it went, and you would have been delighted had you been present. I think the press was very good when you consider the subject is so new to us. The three plays have all, I assure you, been nicely done, well produced and cast, and you would be pleased with them as I am pleased in having had them to produce. It helped considerably with plays that would not have made much of an impression without them. It has helped the general business of these plays, which, although it is not great, is good, and makes a fair average every week. It is chiefly what you would call "stall" business. "The Will" has been a fine thing for John Drew, and he is very happy in it. He has made a very deep impression indeed. I think the part with the changes of character as played by him has made it really a star part. If you have any more of them, send them along.
To W. Somerset Maugham, October, 1913:
Regarding the first act of "The Land of Promise," this is what I think, and maybe you will think the same, and, if you do, give me a good speech. Send it as soon as you can. I think that we should have a different ending to the first act, uplifting the ending. After the girl tells about her brother being married, wouldn't it be a good idea for her to say something like this, in your own language, of course: "Canada! Canada! You are right." (Turning to Miss Pringle), "England, why should I stay in England? I'm young, I want gaiety, new life. Then why not go to a young country where all is life and gaiety and sunshine and joy and youth—the land of promise, the land for me?" Remember, in the last act she speaks of all she expected to find and how different the realization. This new idea of the end of the first act will help this speech, I think. And besides uplifting the ending, gives the great contrast we want to show in the play and is driven into the minds of the audience at the end of the first act. Give the girl a good uplifting speech at the end of the first act, instead of a downward one. That is what I mean. Then after that we get the contrast of the countries. I hope this is clear and you will understand what I mean.
To J. E. Dodson, October, 1913:
My greatest regret is that my profession takes me to Baltimore on the day that you are giving the dinner at the Lotus Club to my friend Cyril Maude. It would give me the greatest pleasure to eat his health with you. I rejoice that you are giving recognition on his first arrival here in New York to such a sincere actor and such a real man. He belongs to all countries.
To Haddon Chambers, June, 1911:
Had a fine trip over. Found it hot here. Started in building your scenery. Am only dropping you a line because I want to ask you, while I think of it, if you will get a copy of that special morning dress that Gerald wears at the beginning of the second act, for Richard Bennett. I think it would be a good idea to bring it over. Bennett is not quite as tall as Du Maurier and just a bit thicker, and as it is a sort of loose dress there will be no difficulty in fitting it here.
Now our cast is in good shape for your play, and I am very pleased with it. We have an asylum full of children awaiting your selection on your arrival.
To Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, August, 1911:
The man I selected to produce your play is Charles Frohman. He is not only good at producing plays that have never been staged before, but he likes your play thoroughly. He has made such a careful study of it that he believes that he knows it in every detail. He feels confident of his ability to handle it and to make the changes you have made just as he thinks you and your public over here would like to have it done.
To Sir James M. Barrie, London, September, 1911:
This will be signed for me, as I am still confined to my bed—fighting rheumatism. I thought I would not write you until you return to London. All goes well here. So far my new productions have met with success. Miss Barrymore began in Mason's play last night in Trenton, New Jersey. The play was well received before a large audience. Miss Adams begins the new season in Buffalo next Monday night. I am hoping within the next two weeks to be able to get out on crutches. I have been to many rehearsals. They carry me in a Bath chair to and from the theater.
To Somerset Maugham, September, 1911:
Thanks for yours. I am still down with rheumatism—partly on account of the weather, but more especially because you are not doing any work.
To a New York critic, October, 1911:
I hope in two or three weeks to be able to see myself as other good critics, like you, would see me—well and about again in my various theaters.
To Sir James M. Barrie, November, 1911:
Your letter was a delight, and it will be fine news for Miss Adams. I hope you will send the material as soon as you can. Here I am dictating to you from bed; so I will be brief. My foot is now tied to a rope which is tied to the bed with weights. They are trying to stretch the leg. I am hoping that in three or four weeks I may be able to sit around. Five months on one's back is not good for much more than watching aeroplanes.
To Sir James M. Barrie, December, 1911:
I was very glad to get your letter. I am still in bed, so that I am obliged to dictate this letter to you. The manuscript arrived, but found me out of condition to read it. I sent it on at once to Maude Adams. She telegraphed me how delighted she is with it, and I have had a letter from her telling me what a remarkable piece of work it is. When she gets back to town I shall read the manuscript. Any plan you work out for London will be fine. I should judge, without knowing, that your idea for matinees is the best.
I am hoping that in another month I will be out; I am living on that hope. Then I will commence to think about coming over to you. I dare not think of it until I once more get out, I am afraid. All this has naturally disturbed my London season. I am happy in the thought that we will soon have "Peter" on again in London. What a difference your plays made to my London season!
I shall write you again soon. "Peter and Wendy" is fine. My most affectionate remembrances.
To Sir James M. Barrie, January, 1912:
I cabled you on receiving your letter because my voice was leaving me rapidly. It was a case of a bad throat, and I wanted to get some reply to you quickly. My throat is better now. I have had about everything, and I fear I shall have to keep to my rooms for some time to come. I hope to see you around the end of March.
I think your Shakespearian play is a most wonderful work. I quite appreciate all you say about its chances. I rather felt that a Shakespearian novelty of this kind would be most striking if produced by Tree on top of his newspaper claim of having lost over 40,000 pounds on Shakespeare.
I am all bungled up here. I don't know quite what to do about London this season. As I understood what you wanted, I replied as I did. You know how I hate to lose any of your work for anybody or anywhere. Now you understand. That is splendid about the Phillpotts play, and I thank you. I am hoping about the Pinero play. I shall be glad to see you.
This is all the voice I have left for dictation; so I end with my best regards.
To David Belasco, February, 1912:
This is written for me. I am still confined to my rooms, and, although able to sit up during the day for work, I do not get out in the evening. I was glad to hear from you, and I hope you will telephone that you will come round any old night that suits you.
I wish you could play "Peter Grimm" up here; I'd like to see it.
To Sir James M. Barrie, February, 1912:
I haven't written you because lately I have been having a lot of pain. I sent you papers which will tell you how wonderfully your fine play—"A Slice of Life"—has been received. It has caused a tremendous lot of talk; but I just want to tell you that there is absolutely no comparison, in performance, as the play is given here and the way it was given in London. Fine actors, although the London cast had, my people here seem to have a better grasp of what you wanted. They have brought it out with a sincerity and intelligence of stroke that is quite remarkable. Ethel Barrymore never did better work. Her emotional breakdown, tears, her humiliation—when she confesses to her husband that she had been a good woman even before she met him, all this is managed in a keener fashion, and with even a finer display of stage pathos than she showed in her fine performance in "Mid-Channel."
As the husband, Jack Barrymore is every inch a John Drew. He feels, and makes the audience feel, the humiliation of his position. When he confesses, it is a terrible confession. Hattie Williams, in her odd manner, imitated Nazimova—as Nazimova would play a butler.
So these artists step out into the light—before a houseful of great laughter; one feels that they have struck the true note of what you meant your play should have. I think the impossible seriousness of triangle scenes in modern plays has been swept off the stage here—and "A Slice of Life" has done it....
The effect of "A Slice of Life" is even greater and more general than "The Twelve-Pound Look." All agree that each year you have given our stage the real novelty of its theatrical season. And the fine thing about it is that you have given me the opportunity of putting these before the public.
I am getting along very slowly. I am able to do my work in my rooms and go on crutches for a couple of hours at rehearsals. But always I am in great pain. I hope to see you by the end of March. I don't know whether you will shake my hand or my crutch. But I expect to be there. We can take up the matters of "A Slice of Life," etc., then.
I am so delighted about "Peter Pan" this season. I am wondering if you have done anything about that Shakespeare play, which I believe would be another big novelty.
To Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, March, 1912:
Perhaps this will reach you on your return from the Continent. I hope you have made a good trip and that you are happy.
I hope to give you for the "Mind the Paint Girl" Miss Billie Burke, who is an enormous attraction here. She played in her little piece from the French last week in St. Louis to $15,700. All the way along the line her houses are sold out completely before her appearance. Her play is only a slight thing—an adaptation from the French, but play-goers seem to have gone wild over her. Besides this, she is not only handsome, but every inch the very personification of the "Paint Girl." Moreover, she is a genuinely human actress. It will be a big combination for me to make—the large cast required for the "Paint Girl," together with this valuable star and your great play.
To John Drew, March, 1912:
I am glad to hear from you and to know that you are having freezingly cold weather in the South. The joke is on the people here. They think you are having such nice warm weather.
I am getting along pretty well. I am about the same as when you left me except that there is great excitement among my doctors because I can now move my small toe.
To Sir James M. Barrie, September, 1913:
"Half an Hour" has been going splendidly and had a fine reception the first night. The majority of the press were splendid indeed, one or two felt an awakening to see the change in the work that you have been doing. I am awfully pleased the way it came out. I am delighted to see that you have added another act to the "Adored One." That makes it a splendid program for Miss Adams. Making it a three-act play is fine for this side, as I cabled you. All the Americans coming home who have seen your play are delighted with it in every way. Hope all is going well. I am leaving to-morrow to meet Maude Adams and see the piece that she is now playing called "Peter Pan." I shall be away from New York for perhaps a week, and on my return I will write you again fully.
To Alfred Sutro, September, 1911:
You know how happy your success has made me. You know how I longed for it. You know all that so thoroughly that words were not necessary. My illness prevented me from reading the play. I shall read it in eight or ten days. But it is all understood, and when I get up and out I shall fix up all the business.
John Drew, who is now free of worry concerning his new production, is to read "The Perplexed Husband" next week. I shall write you then. But the main thing is, we have the success and can take care of it. And I am extremely happy over it.
To J. A. E. Malone, the London manager, regarding the American presentation of "The Girl from Utah" and its instantaneous success:
Believe me that the success is due entirely to the American members, the American work, and, of course, the American stars.... The English numbers went for nothing. In short, the American numbers caught on.
To Haddon Chambers, in London in 1914:
There have been a number of failures already, but they would have failed if every day was a holiday. There has been just now a new departure here in play-writing—a great success—"On Trial." This is by a boy twenty-one years of age. The scenes are laid in the court-room, and as the witness gets to the dramatic part of the story the scene changes and the characters are shown to act out the previous incidents of the story that is told in court, and then they go back to the court and work that way through the play. It has been a great sensation and is doing great business.
Concerning one of his English productions in London, he writes Dion Boucicault:
I want on my side to have you understand, however, that as far as I am concerned I am keeping the theater open for the company and the employees, and not for myself. I should have closed positively if I had not my people in mind. That was my only reason....
To Dion Boucicault:
It seems to me that there are too many English actors coming over here, and I fear some of them will be in distress, because there don't seem to be positions enough for all that are coming, and people are wondering why so many are coming instead of enlisting. It might be well for you to inform some of these actors that the chances are not so great now, because there are so many here on the waiting-list. I use a great many, but I also use a great many Americans, as merit is the chief thing.
To Otis Skinner:
I felt all that you now feel about the vision effect when I saw the dress rehearsal. It looked to me like a magic-lantern scene that would be given in the cellar of a Sunday-school.
To Dion Boucicault, October, 1914:
I am despondent as to what to do in London. I'd rather close. I don't want to put on things at losses, because I do not wish to send money to cover losses to London now. The rates of exchange are something terrific, and therefore I don't want to be burdened with this extra expense. Twelve pounds on every hundred pounds is too much for any business man to handle. Over here we are feeling the effects of the war, but the big things (and I am glad to say I am in some of them) are all right.
To an English actor about to enlist in the army:
I have your letter. I am awfully sorry, but I haven't anything to offer. So therefore I congratulate the army on securing your services.
Declining an invitation for a public dinner:
I thank you very much for your very nice invitation to be present at the dinner, but I regret that, first, I do not speak at dinners, and, next, I do not attend dinners.
One of the lines that Frohman wrote very often, and which came to be somewhat hackneyed, was to his general manager, Alf Hayman. It was:
Send me a thousand pounds to London.
To W. Lestocq, in 1914, regarding another manager:
I notice that Mr. Z—— has a man who can sign for royalties I send him. I wonder why he can't find some one to sign for royalties that are due me!
Of a production waiting to come to New York:
Broadway may throw things when we play the piece here, still I have failed before on Broadway.
To James B. Fagan, in London, December, 1912, referring to his production of "Bella Donna" in this country:
Mr. Bryant is giving an exceptionally good performance of the part, and is so much taken with my theater and company that I have the newspapers' word that he married my star (Nazimova).
To Alfred Sutro, November, 1914:
It seems to me that a strong human play, with good characters (and clean), is the thing over here; and now, my dear Sutro, I do believe that throughout the United States a play really requires a star artist, man or woman—woman for choice....
To W. Lestocq, in November, 1914:
I have just returned from Chicago, where Miss Adams has a very happy and delightful program in "Leonora" and "The Ladies' Shakespeare." "The Ladies' Shakespeare" is delightful, but very slight. The little scenes that Barrie has written that are spoken before the curtain are awfully well received, but the scenes from Shakespeare's play when they are acted are very short and the whole thing is played in less than an hour. Miss Adams, of course, is delightful in it, and it goes with a sparkle with her; and as it is so slight and so much Shakespeare and so little Barrie, although the Barrie part in front of the curtain is fine, I cannot say how it would go with your audiences [referring to the London public]. I am happy in the thought, however, that Barrie has furnished Miss Adams with a program that will last her all through the season and well into the summer.
To Haddon Chambers:
Hubert Henry Davies's "Outcast" has made a hit, but he really has a wonderful woman—I should say the best young emotional actress on the stage—in Miss Ferguson. So he is in for a good thing.
To Cyril Maude, in Boston, November, 1914:
Yours to Chicago has just reached me here in New York. As soon as I heard that you were going to write me to Chicago I immediately left for New York.
I am glad you are doing so very big in Boston. They say you are going to stay all season. Things are terrible with me in London, and the interests I had outside of London have been shocking. I am hoping and believing, however, that all will be well again on the little island—the island that I am so devoted to.
In this letter, it is worth adding, Frohman made one of his very rare confessions of bad business. He only liked to write about his affairs when they were booming.
To Margaret Mayo Selwyn, New York, November 30, 1914:
I was glad to receive your letter. I have been thinking about the revival of the play you mentioned. In fact, the thought has been a long one—three years—but I haven't reached it yet. I have been thinking more about the new play you are writing for me. I know you now have a lot of theaters, a lot of managers, and a lot of husbands and things like that, but, all the same, I want that play. My best regards.
Frohman loved sweets. He went to considerable trouble sometimes to get the particular candy he wanted. Here is a letter that he wrote to William Newman, then manager of the Maude Adams Company, in care of the Metropolitan Opera House, St. Paul:
Will you go to George Smith's Chocolate Works, 6th and Robert Streets, St. Paul, and get four packages of Smith's Delicious Cream Patties and send them to me to the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York?
Frohman had his own way of acknowledging courtesies. A London friend, Reginald Nicholson, circulation manager of the Times, sent him some flowers to the Savoy. He received this reply from the manager, scrawled with blue pencil on a sheet of hotel paper:
A lot of thanks from Savoy Court 81.
Frohman's apartment for years at the Savoy Hotel was Savoy Court 81.
To Paul Potter, written from the Blackstone, Chicago, in February, 1915:
I received your telegram, and was glad to get it. The sun is shining here and all is well. I hope to see you Saturday night at the Knickerbocker.
This is in every way a typical Charles Frohman personal note. He usually had one thing to say and said it in the fewest possible words.
One day Frohman sent a certain play to his brother Daniel for criticism. On receiving an unfavorable estimate of the work he wrote him the following memorandum:
Who are you and who am I that can decide the financial value of this play? The most extraordinary plays succeed, and many that deserve a better fate fail; so how are we to know until after we test a play before the public?
In reply to Charles Burnham's invitation to attend the Theatrical Managers' dinner, he wrote:
Thank you very much, but my condition is still such that my game leg would require at least four seats, and as we now have at least several managers to every theater, and several theaters in every block, I haven't the heart to accept the needed room, and thus deprive them of any.
Writing to E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe, in April, 1915, he said:
I wonder why you don't both sail with me May 1 (Lusitania). As far as I am concerned, when you consider all the stars I have managed, mere submarines make me smile. But most affectionate regards to you both.
Writing to John Drew, who was willing to prolong his touring season in 1915, he says:
All right. Why a young man like you cares to continue on his long tours, I don't know. I hope to get away on May 1st and to return shortly after you reach New York. Am in quest of something for you. Our last talk before you left gave me much happiness.