Friday, October 9, 2015


The Genius of the Marne, written in 1919, was the work of John Lloyd Balderston (1889-1954), who was a well-known American newspaper reporter. During World War One, he was a war correspondent for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate. His byline appeared in many newspapers throughout the United States. The Washington Herald, claimed that Balderston was “The foremost American war correspondent on conditions at ‘The Front’.”  Many of his news stories are currently available online in newspaper archives.
In December of 1916, Balderston wrote an account titled “The Battle of the Somme: An Eye-Witness Report from the Western Front in World War I.”  A copy of this story recently become available as an eBook. It is stunning in its explanation of the visual details of the landscape and in describing conditions that the troops endured. It provided me with a more detailed understanding of trench conditions.
The Genius of the Marne, Balderston’s first play, was published in 1919 by Nicholas L. Brown, New York.  There is an Introduction written by George Moore (1852-1933), an Irish novelist and dramatist. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Moore was reputed to be an influential Anglo-Irish author. He was a proponent of Naturalism in English and Irish literature as well as a Modernist.  He was a personal friend of Balderston’s.  Moore mentions at the conclusion of his remarks; “I was sorry the play could not be produced; though I knew from the beginning that no censor could have passed it while contending factions argued about who won the battle, whether Joffre or Foch or Gallieni or Manoury.”  He was referring to the British censor’s since Balderston undoubtedly tried to have the play produced in England.
The Genius of the Marne, “A Play in Three Scenes” is an account of the night prior to midnight on September 4, 1914 as well as the early hours of the fifth.  The character called General, who is never named but should be recognized as General Joffre. When the play commences, the German army is rapidly advancing from several directions to capture Paris. Throughout the first scene, the staff members urge the General to give them his battle plan, but he refuses to do so until three AM.  Throughout most of the second scene the General is asleep, but he engages in a spirited conversation with an Apparition that “seems to be that of Napoleon.”  The General is inspired by the conversation filled with history lessons and battle plans.  The third scene is at three AM, when the staff returns and wants to know the battle plan. When the General reveals his plan, the staff does not believe it is feasible. However, the General must be obeyed and the plan, once launched, results in success for the French. Although the plot of the play lacks physical action, I enjoyed the historic details provided by the Apparition.  Also, I believe the play provides a clear understanding of the actual battle strategy for this particular engagement during the Battle of the Marne.  
I have neither found information relating to a production of this play in Great Britain nor evidence of any productions in the United States. I have not seen any information about how this play was received as a book drama. There were neither publication announcements that I found nor library listings mentioning this work. Balderston was not discouraged by the lack of interest in productions for his first play. Despite being busy as the editor of London’s Outlook magazine and later Head of The New York World’s London bureau, he wrote a play titled Berkeley Square. This drama was successful in a 1926 London production.  It took three years before the play had its New York premier with Leslie Howard in the leading role.
Balderston retired from the newspaper field in 1931, when The World closed.  He began to devote himself exclusively to writing plays and film scripts. He had returned to the United States by this time and became known during the 1930s as a film script writer for Dracula, Frankenstein, Red Planet, The Mummy and several others.  One of his 1941 film scripts was Smilin’ Through.  I mentioned this play and film in Post 11 titled Two Women Named Jane--Jane Cowl and Jane Murfin also wrote a World War One play that was a Broadway success. Balderston continued to write many Hollywood film scripts into the 1940s.
Balderston’s early career as a newspaper reporter make him a significant source for World War One information, since he was considered by the New York Times to be: “One of the ablest of United States journalists during World War One and the post-war period.”  This statement appeared in Balderston’s obituary in the Times on March 10, 1954. His ability to engage the reader with his observations and to understand the information carry over into The Genius of the Marne.

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