Read an Excerpt
Complete Broadway 1918-1923
By Dorothy Parker, Kevin C. Fitzpatrick
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Dorothy Parker
All rights reserved.
A Succession of Musical Comedies: The Innocent Diversions of a Tired Business WomanVanity Fair, April 1918
Well, Wodehouse and Bolton and Kern have done it again. Every time these three are gathered together, the Princess Theatre is sold out for months in advance. This thing of writing successes is just getting to be a perfect bore with them. They get up in the morning, look out of the window, and remark wearily, stifling a yawn, "Oh, Lord—nothing to do outdoors on a day like this. I suppose we might as well put over another Oh, Boy!"
From all present indications, Oh, Lady! Lady!!—they do love to work off their superfluous punctuation on their titles—is going to run for the duration of the war, anyway. You can get a seat at the Princess, somewhere along around the middle of August, for just about the price of one on the Stock Exchange. Only moving picture artists and food profiteers will be able to attend for the first six months; After that, owners of ammunition plants may, by trading in their Thrift Stamps, may be able to get a couple of standing rooms. Of course, if you want to be mean about it, you can talk about the capacity of the theatre, which is nearly that of a good-sized grain elevator. But I still insist that Tyson would be exacting staggering rentals for seats for Oh, Lady! Lady!! if it were playing in Madison Square Garden.
If you ask me, I will look you fearlessly in the eye and tell you, in low, throbbing tones, that it has it all over any other musical comedy in town. I was completely sold on it. Not even the presence in the first-night audience of Mr. William Randolph Hearst, wearing an American flag on his conventional black lapel, could spoil my evening.
But then Wodehouse and Bolton and Kern are my favorite indoor sport, anyway. I like the way they go about a musical comedy. I love the soothing quiet—the absence of revolver shots, and jazz orchestration, and "scenic" effects, and patriotic songs with the members of the chorus draped in the flags of the Allies, and jokes about matrimony and Camembert cheese.
I like the way the action slides casually into the songs without the usual "Just think, Harry is coming home again! I wonder if he'll remember that little song we used to sing together? It went something like this." I like the deft rhyming of the song that is always sung in the last act, by two comedians and one comedienne. And oh, how do I like Jerome Kern's music—those nice, soft, polite little tunes that always make me wish I'd been a better girl. And all these things are even more so in Oh, Lady! Lady!! that they were in Oh, Boy! (At least one reference to Oh, Boy! must be made in any mention of any other Wodehouse, Bolton, and Kern musical comedy. Now I've done mine—twice.)
The cast of Oh, Lady! Lady!! certainly does the right thing by it. Carl Randall, who dances like a clothed member of the Ballet Russe, is the Boy Wonder of the occasion. He does practically everything, except double in brass, and he has that worried look which is the greatest asset of a comedian. He is the only musical comedy hero in captivity who can dance his way down the stage, while the lined-up chorus girls hold their arms in an arch above him, and still look like a human being.
And, besides all that, he gets through the entire evening without once appearing in a Norfolk coat.
Vivienne Segal, who escaped uninjured from the wreck of the Century show, sings and dances charmingly. But won't someone who knows her awfully well please tell her, all for her own good, that her dresses really should be just a little bit longer?
When the critics pull off their annual Spring festival, the famous non-prize contest for the twelve best individual performances of the season, I should like to nominate Reginald Mason, as the English detective, for the rating among the first six. People like Carroll McComas, Margaret Dale, Edward Abeles, and Harry Fisher are scattered casually through the rest of the cast, while the chorus is composed of good, kind, motherly-looking women.
I was deeply disappointed and grieved in Going Up. Maybe it was because I had heard such paeans of praise about the thing that I rather got the impression that people who once saw it never wanted to see anything else, but just pined away and died if they weren't allowed to go to it every night. Maybe it was because my seat was so far over at the right side of the Liberty Theatre that I was practically out in Tenth Avenue. Or maybe it was because the lady on my left, who discovered the loss of one of her gloves shortly after the curtain rose, and searched for it ceaselessly throughout the evening. She was one of the most thoroughly conscientious women I have ever encountered; the glove was evidently the dying bequest of some departed dear one, and life was as nothing to her without it. She went over every inch of floor space within a radius of twenty feet; she not only rose and shook herself at ten-minute intervals, but she made everybody around her rise and shake themselves, also. The pleasant knowledge that I was under strong suspicion added much to the general thinness of my evening.
Be that as it may, I wasn't wild about Going Up. However, the piece is bearing up bravely under the blow; according to those who have tried to get seats, the house is sold out until sometime in 1924.
Going Up is a musical version of The Aviator. Do you remember The Aviator? No, you wouldn't—nobody did. Well, anyhow, Going Up has been made over by Otto Harbach, and supplied with music by Louis Hirsch. It has far more plot and much more connected story than most musical comedies. In fact, it's chock full of connected story; you don't get away from it for a minute. Large segments of connected story are always lying around the stage, getting in the way of the chorus. Personally, I would willingly swap any amount of connected story for a few good lines, but everyone else seems to enjoy it, and who am I to crab their innocent fun? It's one of those exuberant things—the chorus constantly bursts on, singing violently and dashing through their maneuvers, and everybody rushes about a great deal, and slaps people on the back, and bets people thousands of stage dollars, and grasps people fervently by the hand, loudly shouting, "It's a go!"
I will say one thing for it, though—there wasn't a single song based on the heatless, meatless, or wheatless days, and no one used the word "camouflage" in my hearing. It's come to the point where if I have to hear or see that word just once more, I'm going to make a separate peace.
Going Up is strictly a one-man show. Frank Craven is the entire evening. He rises above the need for clever lines—he can bring down the house with an agonized look or a single groan of anguish. With sublime good humor and superhuman endurance, Edith Day sings and dances "Tickle Toe" (which the orchestras about town have made almost as popular as "The Star-Spangled Banner") as many times as the howling audience demands—I think it was a hundred and thirty-seven on the night I was there.
Girl O' Mine is one of those shows at which you can get a lot of knitting done. I turned a complete heel without once having my attention distracted by anything that happened on the stage. The comedy part is as harmless as a vanilla ice-cream soda and equally stimulating. Frank Tours' music is as reminiscent and as easily forgotten as a story in Ainslee's. Even the song that they want you to go out whistling doesn't stick with you. The cast does its utmost. Frank Fay, in particular, does all that mortal man can do for musical comedy. Dorothy Dickson dances as gracefully as ever, and she sings too—but that, as Mr. Kipling has so often been accused of saying, is another story.
By all means go to Girl O' Mine if I you want a couple of hours' undisturbed rest. If you don't knit, bring a book.
The Love Mill grinds but slowly and it grinds exceedingly small. Andreas Dippel, who produced it, really should go to Lakewood for a few weeks. He can't be quite well. From the opening chorus, which consists of exempted young men in white flannels, wielding tennis racquets as if they were butterfly nets, to the final discouraged drop of the curtain, it is All Wrong. I'm a tired business woman, and I do love my bit of vulgarity of an evening, but when the chief divertissement consists of two hundred and fifty pounds of comedienne throwing herself into a man's arms, felling him to the earth, and falling heavily upon him when the most delicate jests are those which refer to the perfume of onions—well, it's just too much, that's all. Occasionally, the efforts of the company are greeted with a patter of applause from a sympathetic usher, and now and then someone in the audience laughs uneasily—probably from nervousness. But in the main, it is one of those shows in which all the laughter comes from the stage.
There are countless sallies about marriage and innumerable songs about love—love being compared to various things it in no way resembles, a bridle path and a mill, among others. The mill song contains the exquisite rhyme— "as I think of the time when your lips met mine." Another gem is the patriotic duet beginning, "Now the country is calling, calling you and I—"
I know who wrote those lyrics and I know the names of the people in the cast, but I'm not going to tell on them. The Love Mill will probably be but a horrid memory by the time this organ of enlightenment sells out on the newsstands. The poor thing had a bad start, anyway. It couldn't hope to get right. It was produced at the Forty-Eighth Street Theatre—the stop just before Cain's store-house.
If you like the Winter Garden brand of entertainment, you simply won't be able to contain yourself over Sinbad, the newest Winter Garden orgy. It is billed as an extravaganza, and it's all that. It looks just like the advertisements for Chu Chin Chow sound.
If you like great masses of trick scenery, and involved ballets, and glittering properties and a shipwreck scene so realistic that everyone around looks rather green, you'll hardly manage to hold yourself in your seat. The show runs true to form, from Al Jolson's song about the Albany night boat to the customary girl dressed in male habiliments. It's never the same girl for any two shows, but one of these parts is always written in. Any male ingénue could play it perfectly well, but having a girl do it makes it more intricate. The only surprise in the evening is the absence of the customary song in which the poor, lonesome little chorus girls trip through the audience lisping their pathetic need of a Daddy. In fact, the runway gets only one try-out, late in the last act.
Sinbad is produced in accordance with the fine old Shubert precept that nothing succeeds like undress. Somehow, the Winter Garden chorus always irresistibly reminds me of that popular nightmare in which the dreamer finds himself unaccountably walking down a crowded thoroughfare, in broad daylight, clad only in a guest towel. The style of costuming begins to pall on me after awhile. Of course, I take a certain civic pride in the fact that there is probably more nudity in our own Winter Garden that there is in any other place in the world, nevertheless, there are times during an evening's entertainment when I pine for 11:15, so that I can go out in the street and see a lot of women with clothes on.
But the sailor right in back of me thought it was all perfectly great.
So there you are.
The New Order of Musical Comedies: Helpful Hints on What to Do with Your Left-Over FarcesVanity Fair, May 1918
Musical comedies aren't what they used to be when I was a girl. I don't mean to be heart-rending about the thing—I'm just calling your attention to it.
They don't go about a musical comedy the way they used to. They don't start things off with an opening chorus of merry villagers in the national peasant dress of the Eaves Costume Company, scattering property roses, and singing about how abnormally happy they are, for the prince is going to be married, and it looks like a big day for the village. They don't lay the scene in the kingdom of Neurasthenia and make the leading lady a princess, thus giving the hero an opportunity to accent her title on the last syllable whenever he speaks to her. No longer is the comedian cast as a sultan or a pasha or a bey, or something, and I haven't seen a naval lieutenant hero all season. They never set the second act in somebody's studio in the Latin Quarter any more, and they don't have the good old masquerade balls where all the chorus girls dress as gypsies and where the heroine puts on a red satin mask and thus completely conceals her identity. They have entirely done away with the drinking scene, in which the chorus men, clad in early English hunting costume, put their feet on the stage chairs, and, waving their individual drinking cups on high, burst into some song about the advantages of inebriety as an institution.
Even the properties aren't what they used to be. They don't have moons any more, rising jerkily above the tropical palms of the jungle setting. They don't go in for those flower-wreathed swings, in which the chorus used to swing far out over the apprehensive orchestra. There are no longer trick costumes—there always used to be at least one set of costumes that lighted up at the second encore.
I don't mean to say that I can't struggle along with the good old days—I just want to lead gently up to the fact that now a musical comedy isn't a musical comedy at all. It's either an "intimate revue," a form of entertainment in which each member of the cast gets up and does his little parlor trick and calls it an evening, or else it's a discarded farce, which the talented authors have brought up to date by writing in some music cues, introducing a few references to Our Flag, the Dolly Sisters, and the new time system, and getting a man with a good memory to do the music.
Oh, Look! is of the latter variety. It used to be James Montgomery's farce, Ready Money. Now it's being produced at the Vanderbilt, and it's all full of Harry Carroll's music, and its name appears on all the prominent ash-cans in large red and white posters bearing touching testimonials from the Herald and the American. It is one of those things in which the hero owns a mine someplace out West—now you know the whole story, don't you? There is always this about those stage mines: no matter how worthless they may be in the first act, you need never get all upset about them. Gold is sure to be discovered at five minutes to eleven.
I never saw so much stage money in one evening as there is in Oh, Look! Everybody in the cast is always waving thousand-dollar bills in the air, or tugging at their pockets in the effort to work out great rolls of money, or signing property cheques and pressing them on Harry Fox. There are flocks of stage telegrams, too—I should say only about three less than there are in Going Up, which still holds the Western Union record.
Harry Fox is unquestionably the life of the party. A pleasant time is had by all while he is on the stage. I do like the way he behaves; he always makes me feel he must be just that way around the house. He can do wonderful things with a song; you fully realize that, when his first-act song, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," is sung in the second act by the leading lady. It's a good song, too—if you just whistle "Good-Bye, Dear Old Bachelor Days," from the Follies before last, you'll know exactly how it goes.
There is another song, "A Typical Tropical Tune," which simply drives the audience wild. They are so delirious with joy that they can hardly stand it. The man next to me, in particular, was so overcome that I thought he would have to be taken away—so much happiness really couldn't be good for him. I hate not to be one of the boys, but they just couldn't sell me that song. They did all they could to interest me in it. They encored it for an hour and twenty minutes steadily; they let me memorize all the words and they gave me every opportunity of learning the tune. But somehow, it left me cold. However, I will admit that it had it all over the Act I song, which is based on the idea that, if every woman only had a little love affair in her home, none of them would ever give a hang about voting. Somehow, this thing of making jokes about suffrage always seems to me to be in the same class with being perfectly killing about Bryan and mothers-in-law and the Ford car. Anyone can do that—the stunt lies in not doing it.
Excerpted from Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker, Kevin C. Fitzpatrick. Copyright © 2014 Dorothy Parker. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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