Food on the Stage, 1903

The following is taken from a 1903 article in the Evening Star newspaper:

Unpleasant Substitutes for the Real Articles Used.

“Say, it’s a lucky thing that the star don’t have to do the eating and drinking in this piece. Think of being commissary department to a man the size of him. Whew!”

The property man of the Herald Square Theater perspired at the mere thought of having to supply sandwiches and drink sufficient to fill the large, cavernous breadbasket of Mr. Pickwick, as represented in the person of De Wolf Hopper. His remark was apropos of the picnic scene in the last act, where a hamper of food and numerous bottles of wine are consumed by various characters prior to the arrival of the jovial Mr. Pickwick on the scene.

It is not a case of artificial food in this production, if the property man’s statement is to be taken at full value, and the beverages consumed at each performance bear well-known labels that stamp them unmistakably as the “real thing.”

Most actors are not exacting in the matter of stage food and drink. The average dinner on the stage includes such succulent and satisfying dishes as roast made of paper tinted red and papier-mache turkey, so colored as to be very like the real bird when viewed from the orchestra chairs.

The late James A. Herne was one of these who always insisted upon having the genuine articles served at his stage feasts. In the supper scene in “Shore Acres” a big roasted turkey was used at each performance, and Mr. Herne insisted that the actors engaged in the scene should each eat a little of the bird during the progress of the meal. Some actors who served during long seasons with Mr. Herne got so “sick and tired” of the inevitable turkey that even now the mere mention of Thanksgiving is too much for them.

Mr. Herne’s devotion to this sort of realism was not confined to “Shore Acres.” Years before in his play “Hearts of Oak” he introduced a real old-fashioned New England boiled dinner, with its accessories of baked beans and boiled cabbage. The food was brought on steaming hot, and though its appearance delighted the audience, it meant numerous well-developed cases of indigestion for the actors who were obliged to eat of it six nights a week, not to speak of the usual matinees…

The mere fact that the stage food comes on the scene “smoking hot” is not always an indication that it is genuine. In “Liberty Hall,” produced at the Empire some seasons ago, May Robson had to bring on a “boiled haddock.” The fish was made of plaster of paris, and the smoke was produced by a piece of charred paper, which the property man placed in the dish just prior to the actress’ entrance.

Taken from The Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 28, 1903, page 25.

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