Sunday, November 18, 2018

JOHN G. BRANDON: TWO ONE-ACTS


John Gordon Brandon (1879-1941) moved from Australia to London in the early 1900s.  He began his literary career in 1909 as a playwright of short plays for London’s music halls.  During World War One he became a prolific dramatist of one-act plays that portrayed patriotic fervor, strong attacks against German ideals and British fear related to German spies.  These plays were popular pieces that fit well into the programs of the variety theatres throughout England.

For Those in Peril premiered in February, 1916 at Collins Music Hall located in Islington, a district in Greater London. It played for six performances on a bill that included dancers, comediennes and acrobats. This play addressed a concern harbored by many English citizens concerning Germans who had been living in England for years, while secretly serving as German spies.

For Those in Peril takes place in a convent’s reception room. This convent is located on the isolated Highland Coast near Erriboll in northern Scotland, where there is a hidden sea loch. The time is 
nine o’clock on an autumn evening. Mother Mary Theresa is praying when Vargo, who works at the convent, enters. He does not appear to have the ability to speak, but she realizes it is time for her to lock the entry gate. Vargo has been a faithful male servant at the convent for six years.

There is a knock at the locked entry and Lieutenant Graham Winfield arrives.  He is Mother Mary’s brother and he is on a dangerous naval mission. His ship is in this area to guide Irish troops to an English port where they will depart for battle on the Continent. He knows that German submarines are hiding in the area near the convent. They have been using this position to make their deadly strikes against British ships.
 
After Winfield leaves the Convent, another visitor arrives to speak with Vargo, who only feigns being dumb. He is Captain Von Hoeler of the German Submarine Service.  Vargo has been a spy for Germany during all his years at the Convent and he must help the German Submarine Captain. Will the British navy be able to get the Irish troop ships through this area safely? The answer lies with valiant Mother Mary who is resourceful and devoted to her country.

Even today the plot of For Those in Peril continues to be compelling. It also imparts information that may not be widely known today but were likely news items reported at the time. English audience members would have known about the participation of more than 210,000 Irish soldiers in the British forces, even though they were not conscripted. The drama’s main message for the audiences during the war demonstrated that calculating Germans will always be outwitted by a resolute British male or female.

The role of Mother Mary Theresa was played by Miss Beaumont Collins, who was billed in newspaper ads as “Famous Emotional Actress.” Collins’s professional acting career can be traced back through The Era’s theatre reviews to as early as May, 1890. After For Those in Peril closed in London, she toured with it to many cities in England as well as Belfast, Ireland.

Another one-act melodrama by Brandon is titled The Pacifist or The Peacemonger. It was written in 1918 and approved by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for production on October 22, 1918.  It was produced at the Empress Theatre six days later. This theatre is located in Brixton, a district in South London. The drama illustrates the concern held by many English people regarding fellow citizens who were ardent pacifists.

The setting for this play is Dr. Madge Verrinder’s “cozy sitting room furnished in the best taste.”  Her apartment building is located near East India Docks located in the London district named Poplar. Brandon used the fact that the first German air raids in London happened in this district causing more than 1,400 deaths and significant property damage. The Pacifist is set on a summer evening in 1917.  It is “the night following a very bad Air Raid.”

Richard Brunner, who works with the Port of London Authority, enters Dr. Verrinder’s quiet apartment.  He is the pacifist in the play who strongly desires England to make peace with Germany. He gives the Germans information about transports and he has gone so far as to explode a transport in port.  He believes that his activities will gain traction for his cause—securing peace.

Brunner is Doctor Madge’s fiancĂ© and that is why he has access to her apartment. When she comes home, she sees him talking with a German female who is a spy. Madge realizes that Brunner has gone too far. Then she learns the police have pinpointed her building as a location from which signals were being sent. She fears Brunner will be arrested and put to death.  She hands him a revolver: “I trust you have the courage to do the only possible thing to be done.” He refuses to take her suggestion since he naively claims that he wants to live. To end this dangerous situation, Madge adds poison to Brunner’s cup of coffee and it does the job.

The person in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office who approved the play for production stated in his report: “Brunner is impossible, I hope, and the Play seems unfair to the pacifists.  But I see nothing to object to from the point of view of the Office.” Since this play premiered two weeks prior to the declaration of the armistice, there would have been little reason for it to be presented after its initial production.

NOTES:
I read each script from the following resources:

For Those in Peril:
       Maunder, Andrew, ed. British Literature of World War I, Drama, Vol. 5. New York:
             Routledge, 2011.
The Pacifist:
       www.herts.ac.uk/-data/assets/pdf.

Monday, October 29, 2018

APOLLINAIRE’S WHAT TIME DOES THE TRAIN LEAVE FOR PARIS?


Guillaume Apollinaire’s (1880-1918) published his poem titled Le Musicien de Saint-Merry in 1913 and in July 1914 it became the basis for another creative venture titled A Quelle Heure un Train Partira-t-il Pour Paris? (What Time Does a Train Leave for Paris)? This second work, a pantomime, was in the development stage one month prior to the start of World War One. Apollinaire wrote the scenario in collaboration with two visual artists and a musician.


                                                      APOLLINAIRE on August 2, 1914
The three artists who worked on this project with Apollinaire were Marius de Zayas (1880-1961), a caricaturist and author from Mexico, who was also a member of the New York avant-garde.  He was closely associated with Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) a New York photographer and promoter of contemporary art at his gallery “291.” It is believed de Zayas would stage the pantomime. The second visual artist was Francis Picabia (1879-1953). Picabia was a French avant-garde painter and poet. He was to design the scenic backdrops and costumes. Alberto Savinio (1891-1952) was to write the score. Savinio, an Italian composer and author, was a man of multiple talents and a variety of intellectual pursuits. This was an amazing cadre of international talent drawn to Apollinaire’s project during the Summer of 1914.

What Time Does a Train Leave for Paris? has six scenes and numerous characters. The Musician with no eyes, no nose, and no ears is the major character. He was the catalyst in Apollinaire’s poem The Musician of Saint Merry. It was determined by the four creators that the Musician would play his flute through an opening in his throat covered by a rubber or metal washer. Following World War One, this character became a favorite of several visual artists. Avant Garde painters renamed this character the Faceless Man. Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) who was Alberto Savinio’s brother and a friend of Apollinaire, painted his version of the Faceless Man many times.

Scene One of What Time Does a Train Leave for Paris? is to be staged in front of a screen of white cloth. The Poet stands to the side near the footlights. Black silhouettes of “beings whom the poet does not know but whom he has the right at last to greet” pass behind the screen. He greets each with “a brief, jerky, automatic gesture.” Then a black curtain falls in front of the screen, hiding even the Poet. In complete darkness a voice cries through a megaphone lines 5, 6 and 7 from the poem.

Scene Two immediately establishes the date as “21st day in the month of May 1913.”  The roof line of a city appears as the lights come up. It is very low in the background, but slowly emerges since actors represent the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and Tall Factory Chimney. A placard reads “Rue Aubry-le-Boucher.”  The Musician appears and crosses into the street designated by the placard as described in lines 10-12 of poem. Sounds of city life are heard and shouts including:
       “Help!” ---- “An airplane is buzzing us.”
                               “Long live liberty!” ----“We are leaving for America.”

Scene Three. All the architectural characters are assembled at different intersections. The Musician appears playing his flute and numerous women begin to follow him. Women appear from the various streets. The women follow the Musician off-stage as the music fades.

For Scene Four the creative team envisioned either a light show or moving pictures to cover the movements of the monuments off-stage. Then, accompanied by music and projections, they wanted the history of Paris with its ancient processions to be created on stage, however this idea and the previous one was not developed. Some Republican Guardsmen are to be represented and Napoleon III (1808-1873) appears as Automatic Sovereign. He is wearing a modern costume and appears with two attendants. (Napoleon III was President of France from 1848 to 1852 and Emperor from 1852-1870.)

Scene Five is another Paris street. Stage right is an ancient house with broken windows. It is for sale.  The front door is open. When the Musician arrives, he enters the house.  He is followed by all the women. Before entering the house, each one cries out her name. This event is observed by two men—Soldier and Poet. Each man arrived from a different direction. Each one halted, waited and watched the entire procession. Night falls as the music fades and all the women have disappeared into the house.  Soldier and Poet force open the locked door to discover the house is empty.

Scene Six is located at the same square seen in Scene Three. The Musician is standing stage right. Soldier and Poet enter from a door on the left and see him. The Automatic Sovereign crosses the stage with his two attendants, who are blowing their noses. Automatic Sovereign commits suicide with a single shot from his revolver. The pantomime ends.

This pantomime appears to capture some of the moods and influences of the period felt by Parisians. It experiments with available theatrical and film technologies, literary and artistic avant-garde styles, contemporary philosophical ideas and popular political ideology. Also it includes bits of mythology and other elements of the past as well as current Parisians fears about an impending war. It contains many elements and characters that are not in Apollinaire’s 1913 poem.

The four artists planned to produce What Time Does a Train Leave for Paris? in Paris. Alfred Stieglitz agreed to have the pantomime staged in New York City early in 1915. There is even a hint that plans were being made for a tour to four other American cities. When the war broke out in August 1914, its American production was cancelled. The various artists who worked on the pantomime returned to their own countries.

Apollinaire desired to join the French military. He was not a French citizen, however becoming a soldier would earn him citizenship. By December,1914 Apollinaire joined the French artillery at Nimes. On March 17 1916, he was wounded in the head by shrapnel. He recovered, but his health was never totally restored. He died in November of 1918, two days before the Armistice, as a result of contracting the Spanish Flu.

The pantomime’s scenario had not been published and following Apollinaire’s death the manuscript was lost. It was discovered in a private library in the United States by Willard Bohn (1939-    ). He published his English translation of the pantomime’s scenario in an article titled “A New Play By Apollinaire” in Comparative Drama, Volume 11, No. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 73-87.  The pantomime was published in its original language in France during 1982.
 
NOTES:
    I also read another English translation by Peter Read.  It is published in The Lost
         Voices Of World War 1 by Tim Cross. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989.

    Another excellent reference: Bohn, Willard. Apollinaire and the Faceless Man. 
          Salem: Associated University Presses Inc., 1991.  Photo of Apollinaire is from
          this book, page 20.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

INSIDE THE LINES by EARL DERR BIGGERS


During April of 1914 Earl D. Biggers (1885-1933) was on a “grand tour” by ship when he saw for the first time the Rock of Gibraltar.  Biggers wrote in an article published by the New York Times on March 7, 1915 that it was looming “ahead of us and looked to me for all the world like the old home town of Romance.  What a setting for a play!”  Biggers’s play Inside the Lines which opened at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre on February 12, 1915 is set in Gibraltar.

As the ship Biggers was sailing on left the harbor of Gibraltar, one of the Americans aboard told him a story. (This person inspired the character in the play named Henry J. Sherman of Kewanee, Illinois.)  He informed Biggers that while ashore he was told “from the tower on the Rock they can keep tab on every ship that comes within sixty miles.” He also told Biggers that the whole harbor and straits for miles around were mined.  “Pull a switch up there in the tower and you can blow every ship in sight to Kingdom Come.”  Biggers was taken with the idea and responded: “Wouldn’t be bad for a play would it—that is, if there was a war.” His American companion responded: “There won’t be any war.  Folks are too civilized for that nowadays.”

Unfortunately, this gentleman’s conclusion about war was incorrect and Biggers wrote a spy play that won him fans in America and Great Britain. Act One for Inside the Lines is set in the lobby of the Hotel Splendide located on Gibraltar.  It is Tuesday, the first day that England is at war with Germany. Joseph Almer, a Swiss, is the proprietor of the hotel that has a group of American travelers in the lobby, who are frantically trying to find a way back to the United States.

 
                       American Tourist in Lobby of Hotel Splendide--Broadway production

Among the Americans is Jane Gerson, a young New York department store buyer of French designer gowns, plus Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Sherman and their adult daughter Kitty.  Captain Woodhouse, a British officer, has also just arrived at the hotel.  He is scheduled to report for signal duty at the fortress. Jane Gerson believes she had met him several weeks prior, but Woodhouse insists that did not occur. A questionable character named Alfred Capper arrives.  Into this chaos comes Lady Crandall, the American wife of General George Crandall, who is England’s Governor of the “Rock.”  She desires to aid the frantic Americans, especially Jane who has in her possession French gowns designed by the most famous fashion designers of that time--Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895), Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936), and Paul Poiret (1879-1944).

Through Lady Crandall’s intervention Mr. Reynolds arrives.  He is United States Consul at Gibraltar and he arranges for the Americans to sail in two days. He solves all their problems including cashing letters of credit and checks. Jane goes to stay with Lady Crandall at the Governor General’s house.

Act Two is set in the Library of the Governor General’s home. It is Thursday afternoon. This is when the spy plot starts to develop.  Alfred Capper arrives to inform the Governor General that Woodhouse is a German spy. The plot involves multiple German spies who are there to destroy a major portion of the British fleet.  This is a possibility since the British Mediterranean Fleet is scheduled to arrive at Gibraltar. 

                                
                                                CAPTAIN WOODHOUSE & JANE GERSON 
 
Act Three is the same setting as Act Two, but it is Thursday evening and the Americans are coming for their farewell dinner. The spy intrigue is in full bloom as is the romance between Jane and Woodhouse. The British Mediterranean Fleet arrives prior to a brief pause in the action of this act, when the curtain is lowered for a few seconds to indicate the passage of five hours.

It is late Thursday night.  The Library continues to be the setting for this scene that is filled with melodrama, intrigue, suspense and accusations. Eventually the threat to the fleet is resolved and the spies are revealed. They are all dealt with in an appropriate manner.  I have not provided a detailed description of the play and all the characters since that would ruin the suspenseful quality of this melodrama. The secrets of this popular type of American play were only revealed to an audience at the end of the performance.

                                                    ACT III from the Broadway Production

Inside the Lines played on Broadway for 103 performances. The New York Times review on February 13, 1915 mentions that: “Mr. Biggers has brightened his play with some moments of considerable humor, most of them inspired by the plight of the disconsolate American tourists struggling to get home, trunks or no trunks.” Lewis S. Stone (1879-1953) played Captain Woodhouse and Carroll Mc Comas (1886-1962) starred as Jane Gerson. Stone played the same role in the 1918 silent film of the play.

Inside the Lines continued to be popular in other cities of the United States throughout the remainder of the war. Other productions were mounted by numerous theatrical groups across the United States such as The Colonial Stock Company in Cleveland, Ohio. This production played in 1916 for more than ten weeks. A revised 1918 version of the play was performed in Boston by the Henry Jewett Players at the Copley Theatre to positive reviews and large audiences.

Bernard Hishin (1885-1944), a London theatrical producer, secured the rights to produce Inside the Lines in England.  His production opened at London’s Apollo Theatre in June of 1917. This was when the spy play genre was beginning to be popular in England. The review in the May 26, 1917 edition of London’s Sporting Times sums up the play: “A clever play, brightly acted and warmly received.”  This production starred Eille Norwood (1861-1948) as Woodhouse and Margaret Clayton (1891-1961) as Jane. She also played the role of Jane in the 1918 film.

The 1930 film remake of Inside the Lines, as a talkie by RKO, starred Betty Compson (1897-1974) as Jane and Ralph Forbes (1904-1951) as Captain Woodhouse. From the plot description, it appears that screen writers John Farrow (1904-1963) and Ewart Adamson (1882-1945) took many liberties with the storyline.

Inside the Lines was published as a novel in 1915 by The Bobbs-Merrill Company. Earl Derr Biggers was assisted in this undertaking by Robert Wells Ritchie (1879-1942), who co-authored the novel. He undoubtedly worked on developing the backstory before the characters reached Gibraltar. There are also meetings between characters that the novel incorporates to build more suspense between the events in the play. This novel is currently available in paperback as a reprint released by Wildside Press, 2003.

The Evening News, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania newspaper reported on January 30, 1925 that Inside the Lines would be broadcasted on the radio that evening. This popular spy-thriller reached audiences for decades after it first appeared on Broadway. It is still an entertaining read. 

PHOTO NOTES:
Broadway production photos from novel reprinted by Wildside Press, LLC
Drawing of stars in British production from THE ILLUSTRATED SPORTING AND DRAMATIC NEWS, June 23, 1917, page 467.