The Great Bordello. A Story Of The Theatreby Avery Hopwood, Jack F. Sharrar
Published here for the first time, "The Great Bordello. A Story of the Theatre" is the work of Jazz-Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928), benefactor of the Avery and Jule Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, his alma mater. Hopwood was one of the most successful playwrights of his day, having had four hits running on Broadway in 1920 ("The Gold Diggers," "The Bat" and "Spanish Love" (both co-authored with Mary Roberts Rinehart) and "Ladies' Night (In a Turkish Bath)," co-authored with Charlton Andrews. Although Hopwood amassed a fortune writing Times Square entertainments, his chief goal was to write a novel, "Something," he once told a newspaper reporter, "which an intelligent man can sit down and read and think about." "The Great Bordello," completed only days before his death, was to be, he hoped, just such a work. -- Set in the early decades of the twentieth century, "The Great Bordello" is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of aspiring playwright Edwin Endsleigh (Hopwood's counterpart), who, upon graduation from the University of Michigan, heads for Broadway to earn his fortune and the security to pursue his one true dream of writing the great American novel. Shaping Edwin's journey in the world of the theater is his love of three women: the beautiful, ambitious Julia Scarlet, whom he first meets in Ann Arbor; the emotionally fragile and haunting Jessamy Lee, and the very private and mysterious leading lady Adelina Kane, idol of the American stage. In the company of Edwin and his loves are an array of thinly-veiled representations of theatrical personages of the time, amongst them Daniel Mendoza, the exacting and powerful impresario, who controls the lives of his leading ladies; the goatish manager Matthew Lewis, who promotes Julia Scarlet as "the American Sarah Bernhardt"; the worldly-wise veteran of the stage, Ottillie Potter, who has gotten where she is because, "Men had what I wanted, and I had what they wanted"; and the huge, manlike Helen Sampson, chief among theatrical agents. Once described as "the most devastating exposé of the American theatre as an institution imaginable," "The Great Bordello" portrays the disintegration of youth's dreams amidst the ruthless realities of life and the human desire to accomplish something of enduring value. -- Jack F. Sharrar is author of "Avery Hopwood, His Life and Plays" (UMI Press), and has adapted two of Hopwood's plays, "Fair and Warmer" (Playscripts, Inc.) and "Just for Tonight" (Playscripts, Inc.), in addition to F. Scott Fitzgerald's one-act play, "The Debutante" (Playscripts, Inc.). He is author of the play, "Up In Avery's Room," has contributed to Oxford University Press's "The American National Biography" and "The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Heritage: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era" (UMI Press); and is co-editor (with Craig Slaight) of numerous award-winning volumes of scenes and monologues for young actors (Smith & Kraus, Publishers). He is Director of Academic Affairs for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and holds a Ph.D. in theater history and dramatic literature from the University of Utah.
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The author of such quintessential Jazz Age farces as "The Gold Diggers" and "Ladies's Night in a Turkish Bath," Avery Hopwood remains among the most fascinating and neglected of early twentieth century American playwrights. Hopwood died tragically young, haunted by the sense that, despite his prodigious commercial success, and sparkling comic craftsmanship, he had not fulfilled an artistic potential recognized by such friends as George Jean Nathan and Gertrude Stein. It would have thrilled and amazed him that, 84 years after his death, readers can now enjoy his long-lost, unpublished novel "The Great Bordello," with which hoped to secure his lasting literary reputation. Edited by Jack Sharrar (author of the excellent Hopwood introduction "Avery Hopwood: His Life and Plays"), "The Great Bordello" is both a compelling backstage novel and an essential document of early twentieth century Broadway theater during a time of tremendous social, cultural, and theatrical change. The autobiographical protagonist of "The Great Bordello," Edwin Endsleigh, seeks to reconcile his conflicting desires for artistic integrity and material success, only to become trapped both by Broadway commercialism and his own weakness for luxury. Along the way, he becomes involved with three actresses representing different aspects of his ambitions: the sensuous and venal Jessamy Lee; the independent and career-focused Julia Scarlet (based loosely on Maxine Elliott), and the artistic and ethereal Adelina Kane (based loosely on Maud Adams). There are also characters based on Carl van Vechten, David Belasco, and the powerful female theatrical agent Elisabeth Marbury. Had this book been published in 1928, Hopwood would have sent shockwaves through the Great White Way. With a title taken from a line of Emile Zola, "The Great Bordello" juxtaposes Edwin's sense of artistic prostitution, as he begins to immerse his talents in profitable "bedroom farces" (i.e. Hopwood's own "Getting Gertie's Garter"), with the desperate measures of one of the actresses. As sexually frank as anything by Hemingway or Dos Passos (and more so than Dreiser, with whose "Sister Carrie" the novel can be compared), "The Great Bordello" is a caustic indictment of a casting couch system that Hopwood depicts as powerfully pervasive in the early twentieth century. If "The Great Bordello" is a witheringly de-romanticized portrait of the commercial Broadway theater system, the novel is vividly detailed and wittily observed, capturing the bustle and ballyhoo of pre-Jazz Age Broadway. Hopwood writes dynamic and nuanced theatrical characters, as well as dialogue that reflects his skill as a playwright. I hope that this remarkable, ahead-of-its-time novel will help restore Hopwood's theatrical reputation and his place in the modernist canon, further study of his complex and fascinating life, as well as study and production of his plays. -- Maya Cantu