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Nebraska State Journal

18 November 1894
page 13


"Does THE JOURNAL roast every show that comes to town?" inquired an advance man clad in plaid trousers and a waxed mustache. Well, not every one, but most of them this year. The facts and figures are that fourteen companies have received favorable notice and fifteen rather unfavorable. Even the most enthusiastic play-goers must confess that the theatrical attractions in Lincoln this year have been unusually flat, stale and unprofitable. Last season no one had any reason to complain. There were poor companies here, but there were also good ones. Seabrooke , Robert Mantell , Felix Morris , Frank Daniels , Clara Morris , Julia Marlowe , DeWolfe Hopper , Marie Tempest , W. H. Crane , "The Black Crook," Richard Mansfield and Alexander Salvini all played at the Lansing. Mr. Church deserves very great credit and considerable gratitude from the people of Lincoln for the class of amusements here last year. There is small profit and considerable risk in handling each attractions. But all of these, with the exception of Felix Morris, who was not sufficiently known here, drew crowded houses, and Mr. Church certainly did not lose money on them. With perhaps three exceptions every company that has played at the Lansing this fall has come straight from the Fifteenth Street theatre of Omaha, where they gave for 50 cents exactly the same performance that Lincoln pays a dollar to see. A critic who has any battered remnants of conscience left cannot avoid "roasting" such companies. It is impossible to pour glowing adjectives and to burn incense to Mr. Gustave Frohman's No. 13 company of boys and girls just out of a western dramatic school. No critic enjoys perpetually "roasting" performances. It grows desperately monotonous after a time. There is a limit to the harsh adjectives in the English language, and it becomes difficult as well as unpleasant, this "roasting" business. But any newspaper that bestows the same exorbitant praise upon a No. 13 Jane company that it humbly tenders Richard Mansfield puts itself in a very ridiculous position. There is only one standard of criticism, and that is justice; to pay respectful tribute to what is great, to gladly acknowledge what is good, no matter where it is found, to be gentle to what is mediocre, to be absolutely uncompromising toward what is bad. Charity, friendship, good nature, kindly feelings toward the house or toward the players have nothing to do with it. It is not a question of how great an actor's name is, of what some other critic has said, of what house plays him, of how hard the times are, but of what can this actor do. It is an unfortunate fact that inferior companies draw fairly well in Lincoln, and it is also an unfortunate fact that for a theatre there is more money in playing an inferior company to a fair house than a good company to a crowded one. The house, of course, gets a larger percentage in playing fifty-cent companies at a dollar than in playing standard companies at a dollar or even a dollar and a half. But the public gets tired of that sort of thing after a while and it will gradually lose confidence in a house in which it has always had the greatest confidence. Good companies have been near us this season, but they have "never touched us." In Omaha Julia Marlowe played three nights, Charles Frohman's "Sowing the Wind" company three nights, Emily Bacher in "Our Flat" four nights, Rose Coglan two nights, Georgia Cavyan in "The Amazons" and the great Aladdin Jr. Extravaganza company.


There are two sides to every story. If Mr. Church were here he would probably have another very good side to this one. Had he been here it is almost certain that he would have managed to coax some of the first class attractions down from Omaha, but it is not so easy to manage a theatre at several hundred miles distance. His representatives in Lincoln say that a number of good companies are booked for later in the season. Among them are: Ada Bothner in "A Bunch of Keys," Katie Emmett , the Tavery Opera company, the Seabrooke Opera company, "Old Kentucky," Sandow , "The Girl I Left Behind Me," Sol Smith Russel , "The Charity Ball," Herman , Ward and James , the Whitney Opera company, Paul Kauvar and Russel's comedians.

One encouraging and rather remarkable feature about most professional people is the good natured way in which they generally take criticism. Of course every actor makes due efforts to impress a critic; he will try to convince you that he is second to none living, but if the truth is told him candidly and without malice he generally admits it, sometimes laughingly, sometime a little sadly. An old actor, whose bread and butter depends largely on his notices, will take quietly what an amateur, whose notice only affects his vanity, will bitterly resent. Sometimes an actor will even be grateful for an adverse criticism, though that, of course, is rather rare, for even when we acknowledge a defect, we all of us are resentful toward the person who tells us of it. If they have any complaint to make they make it in an honest, gentlemanly way. Comparing several letters from soubrettes and leading ladies who fancied they had been injured with some annonymous communications signed "A Club Woman," "One Club Woman," "A Friend of Clubs," etc, it is strange how much more courteious and womanly are the epistles of the actresses. They never resort to typewritten anonymous subterfuges, they write and spell in their own original and diverting way and sign their own names when they are fortunate to posses names—yet these people are not supposed to have very good traditions or much culture, and adverse criticism hurts not their egotism and boundless self conceit, but their income, touches the actual necessities of life.

Artists, great and small, leaders and camp followers, have the credit of being the most conceited set of people who walk this unworthy planet. But that is a mistaken conception. The clossal egotism of the world is in Philistia, not Bohemia. The Bohemians make large pretentions, it's a part of their business. But they have great standards, that saves them. The most exalted leading lady after she talks about Duse twenty minutes is humble. In Philistia there are no standards and no gods. Each house has its own little new improved portable idol and could never be convinced that it was not just as good as any other idol. Here the great standards of art avail nothing, for these people patronize art. Every Philistine thinks he could be a greater actor, a greater painter, a greater poet than any Bohemian if he chose to soil his hands with art. It is no wonder that men like Mansfield and Salvini grow bitter and resentful toward this mighty Philistia which patronizes and criticises and ridicules art, but which is itself above criticism, beyond ridicule, sacred, exalted, holy, "like a city set upon a hill."


The American does not particularly have it in for Mrs. Kendal , if only she would let the American press alone. But Mrs. Kendal has seen fit to advertise herself by indulging in highly unwomanly tirades which is almost as contemptible a business method as indulging in husbands. In a recent interview with a San Francisco reporter the model of womanly virtues used language that very few ballet dancers would be guilty of in this country. The Usher in the Dramatic Mirror is a clever man and he can say sharp things, and this week he paid his tribute to Mrs Kendal as follows:

"Is Mrs. Kendall a little tin anything on wheels?

The reason I ask is because in speaking to a San Francisco interviewer about the chilling reception accorded to "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" in that city, she is reported as saying: "They stoned Jesus because they did not understand Him and know He was Jesus."

"The press," she also remarked, "is too much taken up with medical advertisements to have the time to devote to criticisms. Such newspapers and such news!

"That the press should be shocked at anything—that is what is amusing," continued the irate lady. "First column, 'Sunday's Sermon;' second column, a medical advertisement, 'Lost Manhood,' whatever that may be; third column, 'Mrs. Tanqueray is Immoral;' fourth column, 'Husband Ran Away From His Wife—List of the Illegitimate Children; fifth column, 'A Full Account of the Prize Fight."

"Mrs. Kendal evidently doesn't look skyward when she reads the newspapers—by the way, it seems to me it used to be her boast that she never looked into a newspaper, The blasphemy and the vulgarity of this San Francisco interview has not been matched recently. It places the matron of the British stage in quite a new light.

Mrs. Kendal has made it plain enough that her trips to this country are made solely in the interests of the American dollar. When the dollar sticks in the public's pocket as in San Francisco, all her insular dislike of us and our institutions spills over.

Mrs. Kendal is ungrateful. She has made money in this country after she ceased to prosper at home. She has been placed on a pinnacle of art higher than she ever dreamed of occupying in England and the unaccustomed height makes her dizzy.

If Mrs. Kendal hopes to retain the patronage of American playgoers and maintain their delusion that she is a wonderful actress, it will be necessary for her to curb her unbridled tongue and comport herself with a degree of dignity appropriate to the position to which she has been so miraculously elevated."

From the vindictive nature of Mrs. Kendal's remarks on medical advertisements it looks as though she has taken patent medicines, if so the state of her temper is not to be wondered at.

Mrs. Kendal's present state of madness is largely dhe to the same American newspapers which she so bitterly reviles. The American press turned on a steady stream of maudlin praise when the Kendals honored this country by coming for its dollars. Newspapers were afraid to give her anything but xaggerated praise, because she was English and had a London reputation. They prostrated themselves in the dust before her and it is natural that she should trample on them. They have flattered this woman until she has become almost unbearable. The few newspapers that held themselves down to conscientious moderation are to be sincerely congratulated. The foolish and emotional awe of the American people for anything English is making Mrs. Kendal a very officious autocrat just as it made Lily Langtry a harlequin.


The Lily, by the way, is here again and all loyal American hearts are beating with fond pride. The American public delights to make fools of foreign beauties by its servile worship, and this woman has more capacity, more inborn talent for being made a fool of than almost any other woman in the world. But however large a fool Lily may have been in affairs of the stage and affairs of the heart, she has always been perfectly sane on money matters. She has spent money prodigally but she always saw to it she had a steady income from some source. The Lily's friendship always came high and she has impoverished enough fellow idiots to make up for her extravagance. She has over $500,000 invested in this country now, besides her property in England.


They say that the Lily is just as young and just as lovely as she was ten years ago. It's a peculiar trick that actresses have of keeping young. It cannot be due solely to their care of their persons, for the constant use of grease paints and cosmetics more than offsets any care of the complexion. The fact is they keep their youth because they keep their emotions. People always grow old inside before they do outside. When a woman sinks entirely into the conventional mould, when she begins to dissimulate before the world and to teach her daughters to dissimulate, then she grows old. Wrinkles are only scars of old fires that have burnt out and emotions that have been smothered. Actresses reach that period very late in life because they encourage feeling of every kind instead of checking it. They love and hate to distraction on the stage every night, and all the next day the warmth and color of it clings to their faces. Nobady is old who is capable of great emotions. The lines of the face only grow set and rigid after life has become so and the old well springs of emotion have been frozen by the chilling atmosphere of the everyday world. When the limits of a woman's world are her social duties, when she begins to be politic and discreet and advises her daughters not to read the books that used to be all in all to her, then her hair grows as gray as her life.


An amusement incident happened in Omaha about three years ago when the great Bernhardt played there one night as she was hurrying back to Paris. After the play was over, and while La Tosca was divesting herself of the vision in light blue in which she had been indiscreet enough to jump into the Tiber, the enterprising little editor of the Omaha Bee presented himself at her dressing room door and offered to show the tragedienne through the Bee building. A peculiar little laugh and musical "entrez!" issued from the sacred interior, and Mr. Rosewater went serenely in. A little while afterward he reappeared with the willowy Bernhardt upon his arm, followed by her maid who carried a pile of cloaks and furs. With the greatest deference he seated her in his carriage and said to the driver in a loud voice. "To the Bee building!" He took her through it all, the editor's dens, composing rooms, mailing department, all of that beautiful building that is the "pride of two continents." A newspaper office is such a fitting place to take a beautiful woman anyway, a woman who has seen everything worth seeing on this planet. The dirty floors and dingy walls and the compositors in their shirt sleeves with their suspenders dangling down behind their stools must have been especially pleasing to the woman who drives through American cities in closed carriages because they hurt her aesthetic eye. It must have been hard on her gown too, but as Bernhardt was never known to pay a dressmaker's bill that was immaterial. After she had admired the great gothic masterpiece sufficiently, they drove back to the Paxton and concluded the festivities by an all night wine supper which permeated the upper corridors with loud laughter and the scent of Turkish tobacco and champagne.


Yet this was the same Bernhardt who so scandalized Russia by her treatment of Count Zahetoff of the Guard of the Transfiguration some fifteen years ago. The count had completely lost his head, had actually made her a proposal of marriage. One night after the play he had a great fete for her in his palace. In the dead of winter, when the Neva was frozen over and the winds were sweeping down from Siberia and all Russia was under three feet of snow, he had a bower of roses built for her in the great hall of his palace, costing heaven knows how many thousands of roubles. He sent his own sledge for her, with its six black stallions, with silver sleigh bells, and its robes of sable and ermine. He gathered all his masculine friends and impatiently awaited the arrival of the sledge. It came, but it was empty. The actress sent him word by his own servants that she was reading a new novel of de Maupassant's and could not wait to finish it. The amiable count knocked his lacky down and went into the hall and tore down his palace of roses and trampled on them till he was tired and had made a nasty mess on his marble floor, and then he got very drunk and went to bed. This was the same woman who, when in defiance of respectable society and precedence she was invited to a court ball in Rome, sent her maid to represent her. Having insulted and outraged the greatest courts and dignitaries in the world, probably the very enormity of being asked in a western wilderness to accompany a wizen, little man of fifty through a printing shop rather fascinated her. She has a fondness for the bizarre and the only thing she really dreads or fears is ennui. Having made pets of boa constrictors and slept in coffins there was really no good reason why she should not go through the Bee building on the arm of Mr. Rosewater.


One of the greatest improvements made in magazine literature this year has recently been made in the Dramatic Mirror. In type, illustrations, paper and general make up the Dramatic Mirror is now one of the neatest weekly magazines published in America. Mr. Harrison Gray Fiske has been the most successful and enterprising of any of the dramatic editors. There was a time when it was thought that a dramatic publication must necessarily be a rather scandalous sheet, containing chiefly news of the divorce courts. Mr. Fiske has conducted the Mirror along the most legitimate lines of journalism. He has made a magazine which gives the most importa t professional news, which treats the public fairly as well as the profession, and which is truly devoted to the interests of American plays and players. Through the columns of the Mirror, great actors who are at fault are plainly told so without regard to their "ad," and the weaker men who have been imposed upon are stoutly championed, Mr. Fiske has no taste for scandal, and in all cases he has absolutely refused to touch upon the private life of any member of the profession, and has kept the Mirror a cleaner paper than any daily newspaper in the country.


The university library is one of the best places in town to find good nature and plenty of it. Not that there is nothing better than good nature, but good nature is a peculiarly rare article in this world, rarer even than culture. Miss Mary L. Jones and her assistants, Miss Mary E. Robbins and Miss Florence Smith , are conducting one of the best regulated university libraries to be found anywhere. In the first place, so far as books are concerned, the library is an unusually good one. It contains no old lumber and numbers about twenty thousand well selected volumes. Miss Jones and Miss Robbins both graduated from the Albany library school under the chancellorship of George William Curtis . They are both women of wide reading and of considerable faith in human nature. When Miss Jones went into the library it was but partially developed. Now all the books are catalogued according to the most complete system and any book or any subject can be found at a moment's notice. Without perfect system and the most scientific methods, it would be impossible to accommodate the large number of students who are now sent to the crowded library daily. It requires not only science, but unfailing patience. But even in this ungrateful world patience brings its reward. There is perhaps no professor in the institution who can be said to be absolutely popular and who does not have his one or two unruly students, but it would be safe to offer a gold medal for any student who has anything but the warmest regard for the librarian. Miss Jones has achieved the feat of being popular alike among the learned and the unlearned.


The greatest drawback to the library of course is its abominably crowded condition. Ever nook and corner of the room is full, at one end there is even a little scaffold build to hold bound magazine literature, and up this Romeo's ladder the obliging librarians trip and do the balcony scene half a dozen times a day.