Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Ashley Dukes (1885-1959) noted critic and historian, praised Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln in his book, titled The Youngest Drama: Studies of Fifty Dramatists published in 1924:
It was a play of the hour, and in every line an allusion to the momentous
            issues of the hour could be heard. For large audiences (including returned
            soldiers among their number) it was the first drama to break the
            spiritual silence of five years. After the manner of plays with a message,
            it was open to more than one interpretation. (Pages 150-151)
Dukes further claims that “the play brought a new audience into the theatre.”  He comments that “. . .the importance of Lincoln was ethical, political, social, and Mr. Drinkwater was not yet a biographer, but a prophet.”

When Dukes wrote his book, Abraham Lincoln was still a popular drama on the stage. The original London 1919-1920 production had a run for 466 performances with William J. Rea playing the role of Lincoln. The play was staged as a revival in June, 1921 at London’s Lyceum Theatre and moved in October to Scala Theatre for the remainder of its 173 performances. William J. Rea had again been cast as Abraham Lincoln.

Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln toured throughout Great Britain during the entire decade of the twenties and into the thirties. The local reviews often mentioned Lincoln was a very noble hero with an appeal to a diverse audience. There were also many amateur dramatic groups who held readings of the play in those sections of the country where the touring companies did not venture. Abraham Lincoln became a symbol of culture and patriotism to the British people. After Abraham Lincoln was broadly introduced to the British public there continued to be an interest in him. 

Drinkwater’s interest in the subject of Lincoln persisted. He wrote a slim volume titled Lincoln: The World Emancipator. This book was published in 1920 by Houghton Mifflin Company and The University Press Cambridge. The book is dedicated to Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) an American, who was extremely active in relief aid work during World War One. Hoover became the thirty-first President of the United States from 1929-1933.  The last chapter of Lincoln: The World Emancipator is titled “An Epilogue”. It is a playlet and the setting is “in the shades. On a late Spring evening of the year 19--.” The characters are William Shakespeare and Lincoln. The book is an interesting companion piece to the play.

Once World War One became history, Drinkwater’s “Lincoln” did not fade quickly from the theatre. The Old Vic Company mounted “Lincoln” during World War Two. Since the theatre where the Old Vic performed in London was bombed, the company toured their productions throughout Great Britain. Abraham Lincoln was one of the plays that was performed on tour, but it was brought back to London in August, 1943. Herbert Lomas (1887-1961) played Lincoln. The play stirred the hearts of its audiences during the midst of another war.

During the time that London audiences were still appreciating the 1919 production of Abraham Lincoln, the play was staged on Broadway at the Cort Theatre. The production opened on December 15, 1919 and closed in May 1920 having racked up 193 performances.

Frank Mc Glynn Sr. (1866-1951) starred as Lincoln. A career move, for the six-foot, four-inch actor, that insured him of playing the role of Lincoln once the production left Broadway. He toured across the United States and Canada in the role for more than two years. Mc Glynn later built a film career acting in nearly a dozen different movies in the role of Lincoln.
William H Harris, Jr. (1884-1946) the producer of the original Broadway production of Abraham Lincoln, also produced its Broadway revival.  The revival was staged at the Forrest Theatre during October, 1929.  It played for eight performances with Frank Mc Glynn starring as Lincoln.
“Lincoln” also had a life in countries where English was not the native language. In the August, 1931 issue of The Era, it was reported that Erich Glass’s German version of Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln was performed in Munich. An article in the Ottawa Journal newspaper dated June 22, 1935 announced that England was producing Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln to take to Vienna’s Theatres Festival Week.
Many newspapers in the United States ran an article by C. R. Cunningham who told about seeing Drinkwater’s “Lincoln” performed in Tokyo. It was produced by the Zenshinza players in Japanese on February 12, 1946. Mr. Cunningham did not understand the language, but he reported the audience enjoyed it. He also commented that this play was the first of a series of presentations designed to teach the Japanese people about democracy.
There was at least one Lincoln film based on Drinkwater’s script. It was made in 1924 as a sound film starring Frank Mc Glynn Sr. as Lincoln. It was released in February, 1924. While I have found many other films with Abraham Lincoln as their titles, I have not found another attributed to Drinkwater’s script.
Drinkwater’s “Lincoln” was used by the BBC Radio Sunday Night Theatre in May, 1935. This broadcast of the play was acted by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre company. The popular American television program Studio One aired it’s version of Drinkwater’s script on May 26, 1952.  It omitted scene six completely and added some material to the play.

I would love to see an excellent production of Abraham Lincoln. It certainly would resonate with many Americans today.

NOTE:  Susie Self posted The Triumph of Abraham Lincoln on-line in 2008. This article has a couple of interesting photos of Drinkwater and some of the men associated with producing the play. It is an informative read. Ms. Self is the granddaughter of the playwright.

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