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Back in Lafayette, the other McCutcheon's first published works were called "Waddleton Mail". They were letters in dialect written by a gentleman supposedly titled "Mr. William Gunn, Esquire". I read them the other day. They are still amusing, not unlike Ed Streeter's soldier letters to the renowned Mable. The first short story for which Mr. McCutcheon received payment was "The Ante-Mortem Condition of George Ramor". It appeared in Joe Mitchell Chappell's "National Magazine", October, 1896. It was then that the city editor became ambitious to write at greater length. He constructed a full sized romance and sent it to a New York literary agent. It did not find a market. Later, after the success of "Graustark", with a new title, it sold some three hundred thousand copies. It was "Nedra".
When I asked Mr. McCutcheon how he happened to write "Graustark", he found that he could not remember its particular inspiration. "It was the sort of thing people wanted at the time, far flung romance." "The Prisoner of Zenda" had been published, but he had not seen it. Later he attended the play and found it genuinely exciting. "Graustark", published by Stone and Webster in Chicago, was at first a failure. For a time, it looked as if the young author who had accepted payment of five hundred dollars had the best of the bargain; but all of a sudden the novel began to be read, and by its own momentum was carried into many editions. On later reprint editions of it, the author has received royalties, a mark of courtesy and fairness on the part of the publishers, since there is no legal reason for payment. If this had been his "only story", George Barr McCutcheon would probably be a city editor today; but he was more story teller than newspaper man. After he
had turned out another good tale in "Castle Craneycrow", he decided to make a break with regular office hours. His paper, however, preferred to keep him in his old position at half time, and it was not until he moved to Chicago that he decided to give up the daily grind entirely.
The story of the writing of "Brewster's Millions" is an unusual one. He had written "The Sherrods", and it was considered unwise to bring out two novels almost at the same time under one name. Besides, it was an experiment worth trying to see if a story, written by a writer of best sellers, published under another name, could be made a success. It could. It was. Mr. McCutcheon will tell you that "Brewster's Millions" was not an easy book to write. You will remember it as the tale of a young man who is forced to spend a million dollars, without any resulting gain, by a certain date. “I didn't know how to spend a million dollars," says the author, "so my publisher and other friends and I put our heads together and figured it out. I had to have help on the Italian episode because I'd never been to Italy. Then the final climax of the yacht was a rather labored device; but it worked, and there the story was. The publisher sent it out to various great millionaires of the period with a letter asking if they thought it was possible to spend a million in any way. As I remember it, most of them answered in the negative; but the letters were used in what was a very clever campaign of promotion."
Contrary to most popular writers, Mr. McCutcheon says that he actually enjoys writing. "Of course no one likes to work", he adds; "but after I get into a novel, I enjoy seeing it to a finish." Unlike many of the others, he makes only one draft; but it is
founded on a carefully prepared outline. "If a story isn't there in the first place," he says, "what's the use of telling it?" He works much more slowly than many, seldom putting more than a thousand words a day on paper. He is one of the few writers trained in the newspaper office who write with pencil instead of direct on the typewriter, and he prefers to work in the afternoon rather than in the morning. "I like to get any little things I may have to do out of the way, go downtown for lunch, and come back to quiet and peace of mind for the day's writing. If I'm not going out in the evening, I often work after dinner, too."
His plan of life is consistent and proportioned. He turns out an occasional short story; but it is the novels he prefers, the realistic novels above all.
He is writing again now of the Indiana country he knows, and the Hoosier people. He is not afraid to face the facts of life in his work, even
though he dashes off sometimes into realms of purple cloaks and beautiful princesses. Whether he writes of wheat fields, of happiness or tragedy, of this much we may be sure: that he will write a good story. For the boy who conceived the tale of "Panther Jim" was born in the farm land that fosters dreams and nurtured in the newspaper office that crystallizes adventure and dramatizes the parade of events. If his wanderings in mythical kingdoms are greeted by a wider public, he will yet find those who appreciate to the full his knowledge of the soil. We still have an unreasoning love for those who lift us from daily life; but we also have a deepening gratitude for those writers who attempt to tell us of American life as it really is. Whether George Barr McCutcheon writes of Graustark which he has made his own, or of Indiana which has always been his own, he will find a public ready to read with affection and respect.
CLEOPATRA IN ROME
By Elizabeth J. Coatsworth
LEOPATRA, multiminded Cleopatra,
On the left bank of the Tiber, a stately lady,
THE NEW YORKER
A Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Authors - Revivals Continue to be the Thing-Mr. Gleason Plays a Joke on the Dramatic Critics"Processional" Succeeds Despite Everything — A Remarkable Novel — The Play Jury in Operation.
OR some time past there has been a growing need for a new society of humanitarian purpose. There are organizations to prevent cruelty to animals, cruelty to children; there are Bide-a-wee homes for stray dogs and cats; but nothing whatever has been done for the protection of authors, visiting and otherwise. Recently New York has had two visitors who were exposed to unusually cruel and inhuman treatment. They were gentlemen as far apart in outward signs as the two poles, but the treatment accorded them was marked by a uniform mercilessness. What there may be about a writer which is so different from a stock broker or a department store proprietor it is difficult to say; doubtless it is an illusion which flourishes, especially in these days when every hostess must possess a lion or two and the bohemian note must be struck noisily. Indeed, in some cases recently, it is rumored that the competition for the possession of the current lion became so great that ladies were known to have paid good money to secure his presence. This, of course, opens new vistas for the "starving" writer. Let him hire a good press agent and work up enough competition, and he may stop work altogether and simply live upon his earnings as a specimen.
The visit of James Stephens was in all respects a remarkable success. One cannot help feeling that if some of those who came to see would stay to
buy and read, the tribute would be more deeply appreciated by Mr. Stephens. He proved to be a charming fellow, swarthy, small, with a long Velasquez face and an irresistible manner. There is a quaintness and whimsicality (oh, abused words!) about the author of "The Crock of Gold” which is overwhelming. When he is reciting his own poetry, even in a lecture room crowded with dowagers, one cannot help feeling that he is first cousin to a leprechaun.
The visit of Michael Arlen has been, doubtless, treated elsewhere in THE BOOKMAN. He is, in many respects, the antithesis of Stephens. He is small but more elegantly made, and about him there is that note of silky finish which marks his writing. The crowds which attended the urbane, supercivilized Arlen differed greatly from those which surrounded Stephens. Mr. Arlen attracted the people about town town-actors, writers, journalists, and a sprinkling of the social element. There were teas, lunches, dances, dinners, in an endless procession. In odd moments (Mr. Arlen, like Thomas Edison, needs only two hours' sleep), he attended rehearsals of "The Green Hat" which has caused the defection of Katharine Cornell from that beautiful production which the Actors' Theatre has made of "Candida". Her place, however, is being well taken by Peggy Wood, too good an actress to be wasted upon sugary musical shows.
The same group which outdid itself on "Candida" has made a splendid job in the revival of Ibsen's "The Wild Duck". It is probably the first adequate presentation (Edwin Booth and Mrs. Siddons notwithstanding) of the piece that has been made in America. Nazimova's performance suffered as always from a sort of St. Vitus dance, which disturbed the contour (see Mr. Stark Young) of the piece. In her rôle, that of Hedvig, Helen Chandler gives a performance truly remarkable in its pathos and beauty. Also, it may be said with thanksgiving, she looks like a girl of fourteen. The part, as it is written, is a little wooden, perhaps through some deficiency in Ibsen's understanding of children. In Miss Chandler's hands it catches fire and lives. But the best performance is probably that of Blanche Yurka as the patient, ageless Gina. It dominates the whole piece, even in the moments when she is not on the stage. Tom Powers as the detestable Gregers Werle presents at times the aspect of an American go-getter, yet his performance must be excellent, for never was a villain more loathed by an audience. Clare Eames and Dudley Digges made a superb job of the staging and direction. It seems that these two, so unflaggingly excellent as actors, have a talent as directors which is almost greater.
"Processional", that ugly duckling of the Theatre Guild, has meanwhile turned the corner and become a very successful swan. Nevertheless, it is so violent a cause for disagreement that the town has been torn asunder and homes otherwise peaceful have been threatened by disruption. It is destined apparently to live and thrive upon dissension. The New Yorker, without recanting a word of his earlier profession, wishes to restate his case
- that, whether or not the play be
"drayma", it provided him with nearly three hours of entertainment. The nearest approach to his sensations can be obtained by visiting Coney Island in an hilarious condition.
Under cover of the smoke and flame of the above mentioned warfare, "Ariadne", a mild little comedy by A. A. Milne, crept into the Garrick under the ægis of the Guild. The piece is referred to usually as "slight" and "meagre", etc., etc.; but why shouldn't we have, among the salvos of "Desire Under the Elms" and "Processional" and a dozen others, an occasional bright little package of firecrackers. "Ariadne", like "She Had to Know" and the lamented "Isabel", is delightful entertainment for persons of average intelligence or better. It skims briskly along, with the hand of the delightful Laura Hope Crews on the tiller steering it safely past the shallows of sentimentality. Needless to say, "Ariadne" might, without the excellent direction and cast, have proved thin fare. But it isn't. In the cast is Frieda Inescort whom some day a wise manager will discover and turn into a star.
Boredom, it seems, has become the goal of a certain school of "experimenters" in the arts. The latest example of this theory was the production of "Michel Auclair" staged, after much beating of drums, at the Provincetown Playhouse. It is difficult to judge the piece because, in the original French, it may have possessed a certain colloquial reality sufficient to justify it. On an American stage, with an American cast which found six distinct ways of pronouncing the name "Suzanne" (not to mention other French words which made their appearance), this piece by Charles Vildrac lacked authenticity and degenerated at times into a sort of French
Pollyanna. Waldo Frank writes in the program a breathless eulogy of the author, who, it must in justice be said, wrote an excellent play, "The Steamboat Tenacity", produced here a year or two ago; but how a man of such good taste and theatrical sense Sidney Howard became involved in the endless nonsense is a mystery. It has not even the merit of being experimental, which could be said of "Beyond", done a week or two earlier with the same attendant solemnity.
One of the annual jokes at the expense of the dramatic critics occurred a month or two ago, when a play called "Is Zat So?" opened with all the critics absent at the first night of one or the other of the many muchheralded pieces which have disappeared with such disturbing frequency during the winter into the storehouses of Eighth Avenue. It was a comedy by two actors, James Gleason and Richard Taber, products of stock company training. A week or two later gossip began to circulate that here was a fine comedy, done in New Yorkese with an authentic sense of asphalt and subways. The talk grew and grew until now "Is Zat So?" is one of the great successes, and is generally conceived to be "artistic" as well as commercial. Immediately, after the manner of Broadway, the managers began hounding Gleason for the manuscripts of other plays. They would have produced a telephone book written by Gleason; only the next play didn't turn out to be a telephone book. It proved quite as good as the first. In writing it, Mr. Gleason had the collaboration of George Abbott, that excellent actor who plays with June Walker one of the leads in the noisy "Processional". It is called "The Fall Guy" and in it Ernest Truex gives a very nearly perfect performance.
THE DRAMA SHELF
"Nathaniel Baddeley, Bookman” by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (Swan Press, Leeds). A play of a booklover by a booklover.
"Processional" by John Howard Lawson (Seltzer). This much discussed Expressionistic study of American life reads with more rhythm than was apparent as it was performed.
"Juno and the Paycock" and "The Shadow of a Gunman" by Sean O'Casey (Macmillan). Two unusually fine Irish plays at last available in this country.
"Representative American Plays" edited by Arthur Hobson Quinn (Century). A new edition of this excellent book enlarged to include "Beyond the Horizon" and "Sun-Up".
"It is a Strange House" by Dana Burnet (Little, Brown). Dana Burnet has experimented in many forms of writing. This is one of the strangest attempts to achieve and one of the most successful.
All this leads one to respect the eternal truth of the old law of the theatre: that authentic plays with a real flavor of race and soil come from inside the theatre and are not handed down to the stage from the lofty heights of "arty" condescension.
The New Yorker also made a belated visit to Ed Wynn's show "The Grab Bag" and, although suffering at the moment from bronchitis, had an hilarious evening. Surely Ed Wynn and Al Jolson, despite Gilbert Seldes, will survive as great artists in the real sense of the word.
It is the much maligned Shuberts who are to bring to New York next month the treat for which most of the city has been waiting with an irritable