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Nebraska State Journal

April 5, 1894
page 6


William H. Crane and his excellent company played "Brother John" to a good house at the Lansing last night. A more delightful and sympathetic audience has not filled the Lansing theatre this season. Everyone expected something great and no one was disappointed. In this wicked and perverse generation plays like "Brother John" and actors like William H. Crane are restful and wholesome. They are realistic with the realism of good and remind one that realism after all may not be an absolute synonym for evil, Mr. Crane is an artist with a great heart. I don't know any higher praise to give him. His John Hackett is effective because he has warm blood in him. Romeo and Hermanis sigh and sing and die the world over without half the genuine emotion and warmth that John Hackett had last night. Mr. Crane makes the latter loving and loveable.

On stage most men love according to tradition, and with all their art and tradition and Delsarte grace they can only squeeze out enough of very intangible love for one woman. Brother John loved everything; even his hats. He could love his brother and his sister, a thing that is almost a forgotten art among actors, who as a rule recognize but one kind of love. Some way it stirred one up to see a man hug his brother on the stage like he meant it and got some comfort out of it. As a rule when one sees a particularly impassioned Romeo one pities his wife, but Mr. Crane's stage love is so warm and frank and sensible that it leaves the impression that his friends and relatives may be fairly comfortable and may not have to pay such an awful price for fame as the kindred of genius generally do. Some one has said that in his impersonation of Brother John Mr. Crane has done what Howells failed to do in Silas Lapham . It is a high and noble art to so take the scales from men's eyes that they can see the good that is near to them. In this century it is not the man who plays classic roles or who paints classic pictures, but the man who can distill poetry out of the commonplace, who is the truest artist.

Mr. Crane's company was the best that has been in Lincoln for many moons. The success of the play last night was, in athletic language, largely due to the good line work. A good play cannot be presented by one star any more than a good novel can be made out of one character. Every actor deserves special mention and there is neither time nor space for that. Mrs. Augusta Foster as Beck , Miss Busby as Helen , Miss Anne O'Neill as Sophie and Miss Glady Walter as Maggie are beautiful women and strong artists. Miss Idalene Cotton was a perfect genius of a servant girl. Mr. Joseph Wheelock as Bobbie Hackett did some very strong acting and is an actor of great promise. Mr. Boyd Putnam as De Rutyer was sufficiently detestable and pitiable. The blonde villain is rather a novelty on the stage and is a departure that deserves encouragement.

As for the play itself, it is the work of a very clever woman and a very poor playwright. It is loose in plot and lacks finished technique. It has neither completeness nor logical sequence. The crisis on which the play turns, namely, the sudden desire of the Hacketts to go home, is wholly supposition on the author's part. She gives no good reason for it. A repetition of an overheard bathing room conversation is not enough to convince an audience. The playwright should have introduced an open insult or some visible pretext to warrant such a sudden change of feeling. The men in the play are well done, the women are simply treated as articles of convenience, which is a pleasant way that female authors have of handling their own sex. Women can never take women seriously. Men, it seems, can. Women can paint pictures and write novels, but never while the world stands will a woman mould a great statue or write a great play. No woman has ever done anything good in marble, and the limitations of the drama are as severe as those of sculpture. If a woman has perfect liberty and plenty of rope she may do something good, but she cannot be great within limitations.

The C. U. C. Minstrels

The C. U. C. minstrel show attracted a good sized house at Lyceum hall last night, and the entertainment surpassed, if anything, the expectations of the audience. Part 1 opend with a grand overture especially prepared for the occasion by F. Lorenz . This was followed by the opening chorus, "Climb Up, Ye Little Children, Climb," which brought down the house. The following selections were rendered during the prelude: "Give Him a Welcome Home," Professor Arlington ; "Coon Down from the Moon," Mr. Rice ; "German Medley," Professor Emerson ; "You Can't Lose Me, Cholly," Mr. Sweatnam .

The closing chorus, which also appeared to please the audience, was "Knights of the Mystic Star."

Part 2 was made up of specialties. The "Upper Ten and the Lower Five" was executed in excellent shape by Messrs. B. F. C. Baker and W. H. Cunningham . Will O'Shea renewed his great popularity with Lincoln people by giving a half hour's trip to Wonderland, in which, as adverstised, the "more you looked the less you saw." Mr. O'Shea is rapidly rivalling Hermann in his feats of magic. Professor Arlington appeared as a monologue comedian to the satisfaction of the spectators.

Part 3 was devoted to sketches, in which a variety of good things was sprung upon the audience in succession almost too rapid for digestion. Mr. E. R. Butler appeared in his new selction, "A Battered Tin Horn," a vocal solo just written and never before rendered before an audience in Lincoln. The program closed with a laughable fake entitled "The Trial of a Member in the Colored Gentlemen's '400' Club." The performance will be repeated this evening.


  William H. Crane: William H. Crane (1845-1928) was one of the best known comic actors of his day. He partnered with Stuart Robson from 1877-1889, then took off on an independent career. Popular as he was in the 1890s, his greatest success was yet to come, in the title role in David Harum (1900), a role he recreated in the silent film (1915). He appeared in other silent films, notably as Buster Keaton's father in Keaton's first starring role, The Saphead (1920).

Humorist George Ade, classing Crane with such actors as Joseph Jefferson, said, "William H. Crane is another veteran of the stage who holds the regard of the public. It knows him as the kind of man we should like to invite up to our house to meet the 'folks'" (Century, December 1910). Critic Lewis C. Strang, who also compared Crane with Jefferson, said "He is a character comedian, whose one character is himself. His is a whole-souled, frank, and genial personality . . . that suggest shrewdness and generosity, keen good sense, and tender-hearted chivalry. . . . His command of pathos is not so sure" (Famous American Actors of the Day in America [1900] 149, 151). Crane wrote a volume of reminiscences, Footprints and Echoes (1927).

Image in the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

William H. Crane

  Brother John: Brother John (1892), by Martha Morton (1865-1925), opened in New York in March 1893. William H.Crane created the role of the down-to-earth Yankee hat manufacturer who rescues his brother and sisters from the entanglements created by their desire to live the fashionable life.

  Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.

The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.

The Oliver Theater, Lincoln, Nebraska. The theater was originally named The Lansing Theater.

  John Hackett: In Martha Morton's Brother John (1893), John Hackett is a sensible and prosperous hat manufacturer in Connecticut. His younger brother and sisters yearn for a more fashionable life, so he gives them money to go to a New York resort, where they meet with various shady characters. Hackett must come to the resort to rescue his siblings and show them there's no place like home. The plot is described in more detail in Cather's April 1, 1894 column.

  Hernanis: Victor Hugo's verse play, Hernani (1830), was one of the first Romantic plays, written in rebellion against the classical dramatic conventions, such as the strict unity of time and place. Although it ran for a hundred performances, there were struggles every night between Hugo's supporters, led by Gautier, and supporters of the classic French drama. In the play, Hernani, a Spanish bandit, falls into the power of Ruy Gomez, and gives Gomez his hunting horn with the promise that when Hernani hears the horn, he will take his own life. When finally Hernani, revealed as a Spanish nobleman, marries his love, Gomez's niece, Doňa Sol, he hears the hunting horn. True to his pledge, he takes poison, but Doňa Sol takes it also in order to die with him. Verdi's opera, Ernani (1844), with a libretto by Piave, is based on Hugo's play.

  François Delsarte: François Delsarte (1811-1871) had his singing voice damaged by bad training. He dedicated himself to a scientific study, as he believed, of the principles of aesthetics and how emotions are expressed through the voice and the body. Many great actors and actresses consulted him; his ideas were brought to the U.S. by Mackaye Steele. One of Steele's associates, Gertrude Stebbins, published The Delsarte System of Expression in 1885. Delsarte's teachings were popularized as a system of conventionalized gestures and poses.

  William Dean Howells: William Dean Howells (1837-1920), American novelist, critic, and editor, grew up in Ohio. He became assistant editor (1865), then editor (1871-1881) of The Atlantic Monthly, and then of Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1886-1892 and 1899-1909) where he was a publisher and champion of literary realism and of writers such as Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Charles Chesnutt, as well as European writers such as Ibsen, Zola, and Tolstoy. His first novels were about middle-class life, followed by international novels of manners, then by novels examining current social problems; A Modern Instance (1882), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) are some of his best-known works.

  Silas Lapham: One of William Dean Howells' best-known novels, <hi rend="italic">The Rise of Silas Lapham</hi> (1885) concerns the wealthy Vermont paint manufacturer, of humble origins, Silas Lapham, and the Lapham family's dealings with an aristocratic Boston family, the Coreys. When Lapham loses his money because of his refusal to take part in a dishonest business deal, and returns to his roots in Vermont, the Coreys realize his value.

  Mrs. Augusta Foster: Augusta Foster made her New York debut in Virginius in 1884. She was a member of William H. Crane's company in the 1889 production of On Probation, and remained in it through 1894. Foster played Beck Hackett in Brother John (1893). The New York Times review said of her and the role that Foster "long associated with 'heavy' parts in tragedy, is burdened with an impossible caricature of New England spinsterhood, which seems to be devoid of a glimpse of humor, but which she bears with a zeal that should not go unappreciated" (21 March 1893).

  Beck: Beck Hackett is the spinster elder sister in Martha Morton's Brother John (1892).

  Amy Busby: Amy Busby, formerly of Rochester, NY, was a member of Willam H. Crane's company from 1891 to 1894; she played Helen Van Sprague in his production of Martha Morton's Brother John (1893). In 1894 she had a supporting role in Richard Mansfield's production of Shaw's Arms and the Man (1894). Odell listed her, with Anne O'Neill and Gladys Wallis, as one of the "very pretty girls" of the cast (Annals of the New York Stage, XV:302).

  Helen: Helen Van Sprague is a character in Martha Morton's Brother John (1893).

  Annie O'Neill: Anne O'Neill appeared frequently on the New York stage in the late 1880s, often appearing in Irish-themed plays such as Waddy Googans (1888) and MacNooney's Visit (1889). She appeared with Alexander Salvini in 1890, but thereafter she was a part of William H. Crane's company. She played the part of Sophie Hackett in Crane's production of Brother John (1893); Odell listed her, with Amy Busby and Gladys Wallis, as one of the "very pretty girls" of the cast (Annals of the New York Stage, XV: 302). Her last appearance in New York was in Sweet and Twenty in 1901.

  Sophie: Sophie Hackett is the younger sister in Martha Morton's Brother John (1892).

  Maggie: Maggie Rolan, in Martha Morton's Brother John (1893), was played by Gladys Walter; the New York Times described the character as a "hungry and sentimental maiden" (21 March 1893).

  Idalene Cotton: Idalene Cotton was a member of William H. Crane's company in his productions of Martha Morton's Brother John in 1893 and 1894, where she played the part of Marie. Later in the 1890s and early twentieth century, she appeared in New York in such plays as Miss Francis of Yale (1897), In Gay Paree (1899), Broadway Tokio (1900), and The New Yorkers (1901). Her last two appearances in New York were in 1913 and 1919. According to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center catalog, Idalene Cotton was the daughter of Ben Cotton, head of a touring minstrel troupe from the 1850s on.

  Joseph Wheelock jr.: Joseph Wheelock, Jr., made his New York debut in William H. Crane's production of Martha Morton's Brother John (1893), playing the younger brother, Bobby Hackett. He appeared in various historical and society plays until c. 1906. Joseph Wheelock, Sr., appeared on the New York stage from 1872 until 1908.

  Bobbie Hackett: Bobbie Hackett is John Hackett's younger brother in Martha Morton's Brother John (1893); a decent young man, he is tainted by fashionable life so far as to get drunk.

  Mr. Boyd Putnam: Boyd Putnam appeared in a number of plays in New York between 1888 and 1896, including Crane's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (September 1894) and Sutton Vane's In Sight of St. Paul's (1895), but he was not in the New York production of Martha Morton's Brother John (1893).

  De Rutyer: The fashionable villain in Martha Morton's Brother John (1893).

  The C. U. C.: The Catholic Union Club in 1894 was headed by Charles McGlave, president, and E. R. Butler, secretary.

  minstrel show: Minstrel shows usually consisted of three parts: it began with the walkaround, a comedy routine with jokes between the interlocutor in the center and the end men; the second part, the "olio" was a variety show of songs, instrumental music (usually violin, banjo, tambourines and other rhythm instruments, such as the bones), dancing, and jokes, ending with a comic skit; the last part was the finale, usually music and dancing. Minstrel shows as such began with the Virginia Minstrels (white men in blackface) who played in New York in 1843. Traditionally the black makeup was from burnt cork. Minstrel troupes with African Americans became more common after the Civil War; though much of the humor was directed against the speech, customs, and character of African Americans, the minstrel shows provided a stage for black performers and an outlet for black composers.

  Lyceum hall: No building or public hall of this name is listed in the 1892-95 Lincoln city directories.

  F. Lorenz: Frank Lorenz was director of the Lansing Theatre Orchestra, according to the 1894 and 1895 Lincoln city directories.

  "Climb Up, Ye Little Children, Climb": One of the versions of the spiritual, "Jacob's Ladder," (based on Jacob's vision in Genesis 28: 12) includes these lines: Jacob dreamt he seed a ladder,Climbing up the sky,Angels going up and down it,Climb up, children, climb.Climb up, ye little children,Climb up, ye older people,Climb up to the sky.Go up in six and sevens,Climb up, children, climb.

  Give Him a Welcome Home: "Give Him a Welcome Home" was one of the songs published in Will Rossiter's songbook, Playmates, When Children Together (Chicago: Rossiter, 1893). The song may be one by popular composer Geo. H. Diamond, whose picture was on the cover of the songbook.

  Professor Arlington: The Lincoln city directories for 1892-95 do not list any persons with this surname. The title of "professor" may have been a jocular one for one of the "black" participants in the minstrel show, particularly one of the end men who tell many of the jokes in the show.

  Coon Down from the Moon: "Coon" songs, with lyrics in imagined African American dialect, were popular c. 1880-1920; the name derives from the supposed preference of slaves for raccoon meat, extended to apply to the people themselves. Many, but not all, these songs had "coon" in the title. Web searches, Worldcat, nor Havlice's Popular Song Index do not list a song of this title, first line, or refrain, nor a possible variant, "Come Down from the Moon."

  Mr. Rice: The Lincoln city directories list half a dozen men surnamed Rice; Harry Rice, of 713 J Street, was a traveling salesman, like Will O'Shea; Kieffer E. Rice was a bookkeeper, whose position might be similar to those of B. F. C. Baker and E. R. Butler.

  German Medley: The songs in such a medley were more likely to be sentimental parlor songs—or parodies thereof—or German drinking songs than German Lieder.

  Professor Emerson: The Lincoln city directories list half a dozen men surnamed Emerson, though none had professorial occupations. Leroy E. Emerson, a clerk like B. F. C. Baker and E. R. Butler, might have been the most likely to have known the other young men putting on this show. The title of "Professor" may have been assumed for the character he played?possibly one of the two end men who tell many of the jokes in a minstrel show.

  You Can't Lose Me, Cholly: This song, "Can't Lose Me, Charlie," was composed by Harry S. Miller, with words by Richard Morton, and was published in Chicago in 1893. The verse begins, "I got a heap of trouble now." The song appears to have passed into the folk repertory by the 1930s, with the title and first line of the chorus given as "You Can't Loose-a Me, Charlie;" it was recorded by Leadbelly in 1934.

  Mr. Sweatnam: The Lincoln city directories for 1892-95 do not list any persons with this surname.

  "Knights of the Mystic Star": A song by Edward Harrigan (of the vaudeville and music hall team of Harrigan and Hart) and David Braham.

  B. F. C. Baker: Benjamin F. C. Baker is listed in the 1894 and 1895 Lincoln City Directories as a clerk in the District Clerk's office; he lived at 1404 O St. in 1894, and 1018 K St. in 1895.

  W. H. Cunningham: William H. Cunningham, a laborer for the Lincoln Gas Company, lived at 321 N. 21st Street in 1893-95.

  William O'Shea: There are two William O'Sheas listed in the Lincoln city directories, but the most likely is the O'Shea who was a "traveler" (traveling salesman) in the early 1890s for the N. P. Curtice Co., a piano and music store.

  Wonderland: Here, the reference is probably to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and, more particularly here, to the strange and wonderful happenings of a magic show.

  Herrmann: Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896)—known as "Herrmann the Great"—was born in Paris. As a boy he served his older brother, magician Carl Herrmann (d.1887), as an assistant, thus getting his own start. He became tremendously successful in Europe and the U.S., where he became a citizen, making as much as $100,000 a year, with a house on Long Island, a private railroad car, and a yacht. He married Adelaide Scarcez in 1875; she served as his assistant and after his death of a heart attack in 1896, continued the act with his nephew, Leon Herrmann. Herrmann, the Magician: His Life, His Secrets was published in 1896.

  Mr. E. R. Butler: Edward R. Butler (c. 1873-1944), son of Lincoln pioneer, real estate man, and builder John J. Butler, and Mary Kennedy Butler, was born in Lincoln and was a clerk for the Burlington Railroad in 1893 and 1894; in the 1895 Lincoln city directory he is listed as a clerk for the real estate company of his father. The family lived at 1726 N St. He was secretary of the Catholic Union Club in 1894. In his later career he was an traveling agent for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and was the agency manager for the Nebraska Central Building and Loan Association. He was a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church at the time of his death.

  "A Battered Tin Horn": Apparently a song composed by Edward R. Butler; it does not seem to have gained wider currency.

  "The Trial of a Member in the Colored Gentlemen's '400' Club": Probably a skit based on the then-humorous idea that an African American man could be a gentleman or of an upper class: the Four Hundred were supposedly the elite of New York society-the number who could fit into Mrs. Astor's ballroom.