Tag Archives: 1905

How Times Have Changed, 1905

The following is the third excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. You can read the first part here and the second part here:

One can readily imagine the lack of imperial presence and the regal authority of Mansfield’s Richard minus the ermine robes and the crown and scepter. As greatly would the audience miss the “props” which go to make up King Dodo. The Virginian without his revolver in the climax of the closing act, which brings down Trampas and sends the spectators home satisfied with the turn of events, would better have left town before sunset. The property man is all that saves him and restores him to his winsome New England school ma’am.

A visit behind the curtain to James L. McCarrick, the property man who is responsible for all the matters of seeming minor importance in “The Virginian,” brings out the importance of this official when the final and desired result is accomplished of giving to a dramatic production the genuine and realistic settings and accessories which are demanded now by the theatre-going public.

In days of old, when McCarrick was new at the business, say twenty-five years ago, any old thing would do for a stage dinner. Cold tea in a black bottle answered the requirements of beer, champagne or soothing sirup. A loaf of bread stood for the usual essentials of a square meal. The audience was satisfied and the actors had to be. One big costumer’s shop in the city was the rendezvous for the manager about to exploit a new play. There he could pick out a wardrobe for each individual member of his cast without leaving the house. War bonnets and tomahawks for the Indian braves, velvet and glittering ornaments for the court ladies and uniforms for the soldiers which were suitable for any army of any nation. Out of the same box came equipment which would permit anything but the most presuming theatrical venture to be staged and with the utmost satisfaction as far as the public was concerned.

To-day it is an entirely different proposition, as is evidenced by the “stunt” which Mr. McCarrick was called upon to perform ere he had secured sufficient properties to permit the first production of such a simple-appearing play as “The Virginian.”

Now there is a definite and certain disappointment if there is lacking the least detail of costume or stage settings evident to the discriminating audiences which at every performance of a play are prepared to criticise the least fault. Everything must be perfect and managers have bent to the popular demand in this line, and money without stint is expended to satisfy this very demand, costumes, scenery and smaller paraphernalia now ordinarily costing much more than do the actors receive in salaries.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

Property Man is “It”, 1905

The following is the second excerpt of an article which first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic. You can read the first part here:

When the leading woman swooned at the sight of the tragic and thrilling vision she would have had a bitter bump on the hard floor had not the property man thoughtfully supplied an upholstered divan at the exact spot, and thereby broke the fall and saved the dramatic situation.

After all is said and done the property man is “it.”

The ordinary theatrical programme carries on the first page of the bill of the play the cast of characters in which the principals see their names in the largest letters, which do not interfere with the typographical make-up of the folder. After the synopsis and the lesser details, in these days so necessary to the proper enjoyment of the drama, musical comedy and other what nots of the theatrical world, one comes across a list of officials which is seldom perused were it not interspersed with stereotyped humor. This list embraces the persons who have made possible the evening’s pleasure to the spectator.

The stage manager and the assistant stage manager come first, since it is their executive management which directs the efforts of everyone else. Frequently are found the stage carpenter, who is responsible for the scenery and stage settings, and the electrician, who handles the light effects and transforms noontide to twilight and black to dawn without batting an eye.

The mistress of wardrobes, who checks up the gauzy gowns of a half hundred coryphées, or who bosses the packing of the Gainsborough hats of a handsome bunch of show girls, at times sees her name among those of the executive staff. The head usher is never missing, and there have been instances where the head bill poster has been enumerated. The piano that was used and the maker of the gowns worn by the principal women of the cast is sure to be found.

But when one cares to know who has made the show what it is, the name is usually missing from the rolls, and back through the stage entrance he must go and around corners of scenery and through crowds of supes until he reaches the den of the property man. Then, indeed, has he come to the beating heart of the production.

Is first to get an idea of the new play
Is first to get an idea of the new play

When the modern comic opera, drama or extravaganza is being prepared for its initial performance, the first man to get a copy of the lines and an idea of the theme of the play is the property man. After the playwright has finished the book and the librettist has turned out the tuneful melodies, all of which comes after the financial backer has set his official seal of approval upon everything that has been done, the property man is taken into the consideration, and while the manager is jaggling over contracts with his stars and secondary representatives are looking up available timber for the lesser parts, the property man is skirmishing the city and country over seeking for those little essentials without which the scenery might as well not be painted and the performers, as in the old Shakespearean days, would as well perform in ordinary street costume.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

The Indispensable Property Man, 1905

The following first appeared in 1905 in the St. Louis Republic:

Theatrical managers depend much for the successful production of their play upon the Property Man: With the first-class companies this individual, whose name is not on the programme, is considered the most indispensable personage in the make-up—some of the things he has to do.

The Property Man's corner
The Property Man’s corner

In the present-day theatrical production there is a man behind the gun, and he is the party with the cash. The man in charge of the powder magazine and the man who sends the ammunition to the firing line is the property man.

All things considered, he is the most indispensable personage included in the make-up of the modern theatrical company, especially the first-class productions. While not in the least a dictator or the one above all others of whom the principals even, to say nothing of the lesser lights, stand in awe, he is of more supreme importance to the management than is many another who gets his picture in the dramatic columns of the daily prints, or who is posted upon the bill boards weeks in advance of the arrival of the show.

In most of the productions which appear at the better theaters nowadays, the leading man or the leading woman has an understudy who, in case of a sudden emergency, may throw on a costume, and without a moment’s extra preparation, go ahead with a part which may mean the making or breaking of the show for that performance. Not so the property man. Rain or shine, fair weather or foul, one-night stands or seasons of two or three weeks, there is no excuse for his absence from his post of duty, and usually no one who can step into his shoes at an instant’s notice.

When the question of putting on a show is resolved into its essential details, the solution gives to the man who handles and who is responsible for all the little things about the production, the largest proportion possibly of responsibility as is assigned to any man or woman connected with the company.

Naturally it is the star who catches the eye and ear of the audience. When the hero does and dares it is he whom the spectators are with heart and soul, and the curtain goes down upon the last set while auditors join in exclamations of rapture over the work of their idol. They fail to take into consideration that when from his trusty revolver sped the fatal bullet which winged the bold, bad villain, none other was responsible for the blank cartridge and the wreaths of white smoke which curled above than the humble property man.

Originally published in The St. Louis Republic, January 1, 1905.

An All-Women’s Theatre Company from 1905

I came across the following article in The Bystander, No. 98, Vol 8, Wednesday, October 18, 1905. Sexist language aside, I thought it gave a glimpse of an interesting theatre company that many of us would not have thought existed at the time. It is also a fascinating article to present during Women’s History Month.

A Novel Theatrical Company: Financed, Managed and Run by American Women

(Mailed by our Correspondent in America)

Miss Gertrude Haynes directing the setting of the scenes
Miss Gertrude Haynes directing the setting of the scenes

The American woman is proud in the knowledge that she can stand alone without the support of mere man. She has taken her place in the world of affairs, and now she is to prove that she can run, entirely on her own, that most difficult of businesses—a theatre. Miss Gertrude Haynes is at the head of a Company which will present a woman’s play, written by a woman dramatist, financed by a woman “angel” (this is as it should be). Advance agent, doorkeeper, treasurers, scene-shifters, attendants—all will be of the fair sex.

In the Treasurer's office, where the "ghost" walks every Friday. For the benefit of the unitiated, it should be explained that the payment of salaries is referred to in the profession by the spiritual simile of a ghost walking.
In the Treasurer’s office, where the “ghost” walks every Friday. For the benefit of the uninitiated, it should be explained that the payment of salaries is referred to in the profession by the spiritual simile of a ghost walking.

Miss Haynes is one of the best-known new stars in the country, her “Choir Celestial” having been presented in all of the theatres of the big circuits. She was the originator of the religious act on the stage, and has won both fame and fortune. But let her speak of her own project:—

“My determination to use women stage hands, advance women, and ticket-takers, is not a freak notion,” said Miss Haybes. “I have tried women for the work and found them better than men. They are faithful, work harder, and can always be trusted to be on hand. And that is more than can be said for some of the men who have been in my employ.

“My sister, Miss Tessie Haynes, went out as my advance agent two years ago, and her success was remarkable. No man ever did so well for me. And it wasn’t six months before she was engaged.

Some of Miss Tessie Haynes’ experiences were more strenuous than most men in the same position are called upon to undergo. In Chicago, she encountered a strike of bill-posters, and could not get the Company paper out. Finding that appeals to the strikers availed nothing, the plucky little woman determined to put up her own bills. Hiring a wagon, she went out supplied with paste bucket and brush, and posted the bills.

Her action caught the fancy of the men, who cheered her bravery, and her bills were not disturbed. She has the record of being the only woman bill-poster in the world.

Miss Tessie Haynes, sister of the manageress, acting as a bill-poster
Miss Tessie Haynes, sister of the manageress, acting as a bill-poster

Miss Gertrude Haynes is not exactly preparing for trouble, but she is prepared to meet it if it comes. The man who thinks to have a joke at her expense will “get left” as his countrymen say.

Thus: “My property woman weighs 160 pounds, is strong and vigorous, and can hustle a trunk if necessary,” declares the indomitable manageress. Nor will she stand any love-making nonsense to interfere with the work in what she calls her “Adamless Eden.”

“No, my doorkeeper won’t flirt with the men. She is a fine, handsome woman with grey hair, inexpressibly dignified, and no man will take liberties with her. At least, I pity the one that tries.”

Man will not be entirely banished from the Company. He will be suffered to play the male roles, but otherwise will be quite subordinate. Listen to this strike-loving scene-shifter of the sterner sex!

“I expect to get a cleaner production by reason of my woman stage director. A woman is naturally artistic. She will not take more time to set the stage than a man, but it will be done infinitely better.

“My artists would fall down every night if I did not go after the men and smooth the wrinkles out of the carpet. A woman would never do such clumsy work.”

Miss Haynes’ final word breathes the very spirit of determination. “I have always come off ahead in our battles, and I’m sure that my new venture of an Adamless troupe will succeed.”

Members of the manless theatrical company engaged in scene-shifting
Members of the manless theatrical company engaged in scene-shifting

This article and images were originally printed in The Bystander, No. 98, Vol 8, Wednesday, October 18, 1905.