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The Strangling of Our Theater
Condensed from Vanity Fair (April '26)
Walter Prichard Eaton
HE American theater today presents a curious paradox. On the one hand, in New York City are more playhouses than in any other world capital. On the other hand, outside of New York City, in practically all cities of less than 100,000 people, the theater is dead, is non-existent and in most cities up to 1,000,000 population, is rapidly dying.
Thirty or 40 years ago actors like Edwin Booth played in towns like Scranton and Bridgeport. There was a whole year of profitable business for a star of a successful play in the onenight stands alone. The local manager knew the tastes of his audience; he came to New York, saw all the plays, and then booked the ones ne thought his people would most enjoy. There were no motor cars then, no radios, no golf clubs, no motion pictures. The spoken drama was the chief form of entertainment for everybody. In the '90's, however, with the formation of the Theatrical Syndicate, local managers were reduced to janitors; they had to take any and all plays sent out from New York (often with second-rate companies). Then in the 20th Century, came motor cars, motion pictures, radios, and jazz dances.
The old-time theater found itself confronted with an unprecedented situation, because a large proportion of its former patrons, who had known no other place to go, now had plenty of other places, and places where they could find entertainment really much closer to their mental capacities, find an art that was created for them, indeed. Meanwhile, a smaller proportion of the theater's patrons had already been alienated by syndicate methods which had been cheapening and dishonest. The theater was left high and dry.
most picturesque happening in our theater in recent months has been the foundation of a closed shop among the dramatists, as a direct result of conditions caused by the mov. ies. Nearly 200 dramatists have banded together, drawn up a new contract which lodges with them, not the producer, all motion picture rights in their plays, and sworn a mighty oath to have no traffic with any manager who isn't willing to sign on the dotted line.
The matter came to a head when certain motion picture producers began to furnish to play producers the coin with which to mount the play, and expected in return the screen rights if such rights seemed worth purchasing. This cut out competitive bidding for the rights, and frequently resulted in great potential loss to the authors.
It is a well known fact that FamousPlayers controls the so-called Charles Frohman Company of play producers. It is admitted that Fox and other motion picture magnates have furnished financial sinews to Sam Harris, Al Woods, the Selwyns, and others. The consequences are so serious, that a good deal of alarm is justified. If a man is putting up $50,000 to produce a play which he hopes will make him a good motion picture later, he isn't likely to put it up for plays of a kind experience has shown will not screen.
Consider, then, the average motion picture, and ask yourself if this doesn't constitute a possible menace to true drama, the drama of spiritual values, social criticism, poetic elevation.
How far the ruck of playwrights have for some time written with one eye on the screen, and hence cheapened their product, nobody of course can say. I think considerably, just as many of our second-grade novelists have. Of course you cannot serve both
God and the Movies; you cannot write for the approval of the intelligent minority and for the pennies of Moronia.
What the motion pictures have done to the theater by way of reducing its patronage has been inevitable, a part of our democratic, social, and economic evolution. It has been to separate the public into layers that hitherto were potential, but largely unrealized. has sorted out the vast army of morons or child-adults, in this democracy of ours, given them their own art, their own playhouses. It has been to show us (which we ought to have known) that the true theater, the true spoken drama, is an intellectual and spiritual aristocrat; that true plays are written and produced-like true music and sculpture and poetry-for the intelligent minority, and that only by consolidating, organizing, and consistently appealing to this intelligent minority can the spoken drama now survive. It used to do that, because the majority, having no other place to go, followed the lead of the minority into the theaters. But they are quite out of hand now. The "movies" have got them.
The theater of commerce has answered the challenge of the movies by producing well-nigh as much hokum, slush and flap-doodle as they have, by making no effort throughout the country to consolidate its theaters to a number that the intelligent minority might support, to give those theaters only the best, the real plays. In city after city you find a Shubert house and an Erlanger house, competing against each other, when perhaps one theater, well conducted, managed by intelligent local people, might survive and enable the drama to survive. Nothing is done to get school children into the theater, and let them feel something of the thrill of real drama. The next generation is left worse off than the present.
As usual, G. B. Shaw has put his finger on the solution. The existing commercial and syndicated theater,
now so nearly dead outside of New York, must die everywhere, and the sooner the better. On its ruins the intelligent minority must rear the new theater, which holds no traffic with Moronia, which is true to itself and the age-old ideals of spoken drama, which is an aristocrat of the arts, which, in time, will bring thousands of people up to its level, attracted by its sincerity and the spiritual nourishment it affords.
Already such theaters are coming. We have no less than four of them in New York. Boston has a new theater which has been made tax-exempt, which is starting a school of the theater arts, and which has played this winter Sheridan, Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare, in addition to lighter works, and with matinees crowded with school children brought sometimes from as far away as Nashua, N. H.
All across the continent, north and south, Little Theaters and Community Theaters are springing up. Mostly they are amateur, and will be for some time; but already a whole new profession has opened-the profession of paid director for such theaters.
Some day a dramatist of skill and power, with something real to say, will find that he can place his drama in 40 Community Theaters across the Continent, for a week's run or more in each. He will not have to consider the Broadway managers, nor write with one eye cocked at the "screen possibilities." He will write solely for the inspiration and approval of the intelligent minority of his countrymen, living their normal lives in their home towns, and thus he will produce real drama, and we shall have a real theater. In time, we may be so proud of it that we'll build for it lovely playhouses on our civic squares, and over the portals carve the name of Shakespeare instead of Shubert or Erlanger, and into its portals lead our children to hear once more the mighty music of our English speech.
Builders of a New Empire
Condensed from Success Magazine (April '26)
NE of the principal industries in Minnesota is the fattening of live stock for market. And in that State today, the most envied children are 16 juvenile farmers who, because of their proficiency in the art of feeding live stock, were the guests last fall of the Great Northern railroad on a six-day tour of Minnesota and North Dakota in a special "de luxe" train. Each of these youthful farmers was accompanied by his or her prize-winning head of fat live stock.
Ten years ago, far-sighted business men and educators of Minnesota organized an annual Junior Live Stock show at South St. Paul-a live stock exposition in which exhibits may be entered only by the farmers of tomorrow, the farm boys and girls of today. The project was an immediate success and last November, at the most successful show in ten years, more than 500 Minnesota boys and girls exhibited live stock. Since only exhibitors who won prizes at their County fairs may show at the Junior Live Stock show, these more than 500 animals were the very best picked from the finest in the State.
When the judging was concluded, the entries were placed on the auction block and St. Paul and Minneapolis business men purchased the prize animals at unheard of prices. The champion steer was sold at 80 3 cents a pound for a total of $777. Another steer, exhibited by a 14-year-old girl, was sold for $859, or 71 cents a pound. The champion hog brought its youthful owner $438 for his summer's work. When the auction was concluded, virtually every large business house in St. Paul had purchased one or more of the entries.
Then Louis W. Hill, chairman of the board of the Great Northern railroad, and son of James J. Hill, "The Empire Builder," had an idea. "These prize-winning children," he said, "are heroes and heroines in the eyes of all the other farm children in the State. Why not send them out with their prize animals to show other children what they can do and to tell them how to do it "
The plan was enthusiastically indorsed. Four days later, every one of the 16 children left St. Paul on a special train which included a sleeping car, a diner, and a palace horse car for the animal nobility. And what a time they had! Many of the young farmers had never slept in a sleeping car or eaten in a dining car. From every indication, they were the happiest 16 young farmers in the United States.
The six-day itinerary of the tour included 21 cities and towns in Minnesota and North Dakota and at every one of these stops the special train received as warm a reception as the spectacle operated by Messrs. Ringling. every community visited, schools were dismissed so that every child for miles around might attend the show and from the size of the crowd that greeted those barnstorming agriculturists in every town one judged that every child for miles around took advantage of the opportunity.
Brass bands turned out in full regalia. Local talent participated in entertainment programs. The traveling farmerettes did their share by pointing out the fine points of their exhibits and explaining in detail how valuable beef, pork or mutton may be grown. They advised their young auditors to "come on in." And the ad
miring auditors replied in chorus, "We'll be with you next year."
Viewed from any angle, the first annual tour of the Junior Live Stock show exhibitors was a complete success and a similar demonstration tour, Mr. Hill has announced, will be conducted by the Great Northern railroad as a grand finale to every Junior Live Stock show of the future.
The tour, however, was simply one of many lines of endeavor to make the boys and girls of today better men and women, better farmers and farmers' wives, in the future. In December of each year a National Boys' and Girls' Farm Club Congress is held in Chicago in connection with the International Live Stock Exposition. Last December, President Coolidge sent a message to the 1600 boys and girls assembled, representing clubs with a total membership of over 700,000.
Minnesota was one of the first northern States to organize for this work and the Minnesota clubs now have an enrollment of 23,000 boys and girls. T. A. Erickson, Minnesota State club leader, explained, "Each club has a regular plan of organization, officers, plan of work, meetings, with each member carrying a definite home or farm enterprise and endeavoring to use the better methods of agriculture and home economics in developing his or her project. Each club has an adult leader or adviser who works with a local committee. The committee is a part of the county extension service, working directly with the State Extension Service of the College of Agriculture, which in turn cooperates with the U. S. Department of Agriculture in promoting this work as a very important part of the educational program for better agriculture and more happy, prosperous homes.
"We have ten fundamental projects which our club members use as their club projects. In live stock, each member raises a baby beef or a dairy calf, or some lambs, pigs or poultry. In the crop line, each one grows from one to five acres of corn or one to eight acres of potatoes or a good sized
home garden or an alfalfa plot. In the home work the girls learn how to bake, sew and can.
"It is interesting to note that almost as many girls join the stock clubs and feed calves, lambs or hogs as join the home economics clubs. This means that in the future many farmers' wives will be real partners in the business, able to discuss intelligently farm problems.
"Each member keeps careful records of all operations, including cost of feed, labor and profits. These records are very important in presenting results to the community.
"The state program for Minnesota includes: 1-Club short courses at the Agricultural colleges at St. Paul, Crookston and Morris; 2-Club Department with exhibits at the State Fair which gives 1100 county club winners free trips to the Fair; 3-The Junior Live Stock show; 4-Club department in connection with the annual meeting of the state horticultural society when county and district winners in the garden, potato and canning clubs come to St. Paul as the guests of the society; 5-Interstate club meeting at Sioux City Ia., when winning teams from 12 states compete; 6-National Dairy Exposition at which, in 1924, Minnesota had 47 dairy club members out of 200 club winners representing 25 states.
"Last year, we had 2100 dairy calf club members, each with a high grade or pure bred dairy heifer: Many of these were on farms where it was the only good animal. For countless generations, agricultural training has been too much on the order of 'Ask Dad-he knows.' And too often, Dad didn't know. The result, in many cases, was that Son farmed exactly as his great-great grandfather or left the farm. Times changed but farming didn't."
Some epigrammatist has observed that the boy is father to the man. And it is on that unquestionably true premise that club leaders are working out the salvation of agriculture in America.
America's Place in the World
Condensed from The Century Magazine (April '26)
H. V. Kaltenborn
[O European thinks of the United
N° Fatopes olated from the rest
of the world. To him it is the place where thousands of his countrymen have sought and found comfort and happiness. Whoever wanders abroad soon realizes the manifold ties that bind the Old World to the New America. Everywhere peoples and governments are anxious to please us. The American is transfigured and glorified by the strength and reputation of the country from which he comes.
Let no one suppose that this is because the world likes us. There is scarcely no feeling that we have ever made an unselfish contribution to Europe. America is too powerful to be liked abroad.
discredit upon their country are Seymour Parker Gilbert and Jeremiah Smith. They have not made them. On the contrary they have shown the same skill, tact, and patience in the administration of a task involving delicate international relationships as that which added so much to the reputation of the British people in the last century.
man. Every one likes
Switzerland because no one fears it. But no one knows what America may or may not do. The United States has already purchased or conquered an area larger than the whole of Europe, and no one feels certain just what the next turn in our ambition may bring. The astute European statesman sees us as children playing with the new-won toy of World Power, hardly realizing its value, uncertain whether we wish to break it, throw it aside, or try to do something with it. He would love to have us use it in a way that would be to his advantage, but he does not quite know the best way to bamboozle us. He is always sure, however, that a good dose of flattery can do no harm, and he invariably tries that first.
But whatever else Europeans may say about us, they cannot and do not deny our skill as bankers and executives. The two Americans who now have the greatest opportunity to make mistakes that would reflect
Young Mr. Gilbert showed his capacity in the Treasury Department during the war, and was suddenly thrust into the most important administrative job in Europe. Overnight he became Reparations Czar, supervising the most delicate and complicated mass of financial machinery ever devised by the mind of The Dawes Plan is wel! launched upon its second year without a hitch, without a serious dispute of any kind. It is an American plan financed largely with American money and administered with American brains. Europe may not like any better for having put it through, but Europe certainly has a high respect for the way it was thought out and is now being worked out.
There is another American ambassador of business sense and good will in Hungary. Jeremiah Smith of Boston is doing the same sort of League of Nations job in Budapest that the Dutch Burgomaster Zimmerman has been doing in Vienna. He has to see that the government of
Hungary is run efficiently and economically. And he has been so careful not to abuse his authority, to suggest rather than to command, that he has won universal esteem in the Hungarian capital.
For five years scarce a month has passed in which America has not