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Oscar Wilde in America and Lady Windermere's Fan

Lady Windermere's Fan in Cleveland   Detroit   Louisville  New York 1893  St. Louis

Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience (1881) had satirized aesthetes (and Wilde).  Oscar Wilde had been sent to tour America in 1882 by D'Oyly Carte, who feared that American audiences wouldn't get the parody. Wilde lectured on art and beauty, gave interviews and was widely quoted, and tried to get his first play Vera the Nihilist produced.  

Clara Morris was Oscar Wilde's choice for Vera, and when that didn't work out Marie Prescott played the Nihilist.   He had also hoped to recruit C. P. Flockton The 1883-84 Union Square Company season opened in August in New York with Vera the Nihilist .

Oscar Wilde was in attendance, but "the distinguished playwright of the future had, in 1883, much to learn about dramatic composition and [the play] was a ghastly failure". [Odell]  It ran for only one week in August 1883.

Vera the Nihilist   The New York Times review (Aug. 21, 1883 4:7) called the play "an energetic tirade against tyrants and despots, it is full of long speeches in which the glory of liberty is eloquently described.. his [Wilde's] cleverness stops short of dramatic art. The play is unreal, longwinded and wearisome.  It comes as near failure as an ingenious and able writer can bring it. "   http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F40E17FC385F15738DDDA80A94D0405B8384F0D3

Percy MacKaye also writes in Epoch: The Life of Steele MacKaye about his father's conversations with Wilde around this time, and Mary Anderson's initial involvement in the play.

Vera the Nihilist  http://users.belgacom.net/wilde/woman2.html

EJ Phillips refers to Patience in reporting on Gilbert & Sullivan's Gondoliers in 1890.  Wilde is not referred to directly in any of these letters, but we have inherited a cigarette card of him, and EJ Phillips was in New York in 1882.  It seems quite possible that she heard him speak but she couldn't have seen Vera as she was in San Francisco the week it was performed in New York in August 1883 .

Between the Acts cigarette card Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Review by Philip Bounds of Neil McKenna, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Century, 2003 http://eserver.org/clogic/2004/bounds.html

Napoleon Sarony's photographs of Wilde http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/clarklib/wildphot/sarony.htm

Lady Windermere's Fan LWF
Lady Windermere's Fan
(London, 1892, New York 1893) was Wilde's first big success, followed by A Woman of No Importance (London 1893). Gilbert's Engaged seems to have greatly influenced the enormously popular The Importance of Being Earnest (London 1893).  Did the Palmer company actors who played in Engaged (including EJ Phillips) discuss the resemblance?  What did EJ Phillips think about the Duchess of Berwick's ideas on marriage?

"Oh, men don’t matter. With women it is different. We’re good. Some of us are, at least But we are positively getting elbowed into the corner. Our husbands would really forget our existence if we didn’t nag at them from time to time, just to remind them that we have a perfect legal right to do so." http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/oscar-wilde/Lady-Windermeres-Fan.pdf

AM Palmer had presented the first American LWF productions in Boston and then in New York in Feb. 1893.  According to Odell,  Mrs. DP Bowers (playing the Duchess of Berwick -- the part later played by EJ Phillips) and Maurice Barrymore (Lord Darlington) had "the most showy parts in the play". 

The New York Times review of the London production of Lady Windermere's Fan [Feb. 28, 1892] has the subheading "The author makes an insolent speech from the stage.  And assails the critics for their disapproval of his dramatic work".  Calls it a "cynical society play",  "Oscar Wilde has made himself the talk of the busiest theatrical week for many months.  The critics almost unanimously condemn the play.  They say that the plot lacks novelty and that the principal scene is palpably cribbed from "The School for Scandal". The lines, however, are very clever and people in society will rush to see the play as they did on the first night, when the most brilliant audience that has gathered for years in the St. James Theatre gathered to witness the work. ... Mr. Wilde was adorned with one of his newly invented electric green boutonničre, as were also his followers in the stalls."

New York Times review of the Boston production [Jan. 24, 1893] began "The dramatic event of the present season here took place at the Columbia Theatre last night.  It is not difficult to understand its London success, and its unqualified reception here tonight bespeaks a successful run.  The company was cordially received by one of the most brilliant audiences ever seen in the theatre, and calls before the curtain were the rule through out the evening. May Brookyn and Julia Arthur were especially favored. ...the play offers abundant opportunity for bright dialogue, clever situations and a display of fashionable toilets." 

Lady Windermere's Fan text, Project Gutenberg http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=790

EJP to Albert, Washington DC Jan 6,1893  I suppose you have seen by the papers that AMP[almer] is to have possession of the Madison Garden Theatre in 1894.  The company are now playing Alabama in Boston & rehearsing Lady Windermere's Fan" for next week I guess. Miss [Julia] Arthur, Miss [May] Brookyn & Mrs. [DP] Bowers are the ladies in the cast.  [JH] Stoddart & [Frederic] Robinson are not in it. [Maurice] Barrymore,  [Edward M.] Bell & [EM] Holland are.  

Edward Bell, Lady Windermere's Fan and RUM  Feb. 17, 1893

New York, Mar 19, 1893  I went behind the scenes during last act of Lady Windermere's Fan at Palmer's yesterday afternoon.

New York, April 12, 1893  [Mr. Palmer] offers me an engagement with Chas Frohman  for next season to play in Lady Windermere's Fan.  Season begins Sept 15th. 

Septr 10th [1893 Philadelphia] [Neppie's birthday Sept 11th; EJP's birthday Sept 7th]  Accept the enclosed as a part of your birthday gift.  It would be more only I rec'd a telegram at 4:30 yesterday to go to N.Y. tomorrow to see Mr. Palmer about playing the Duchess in Lady Windermere's Fan for Mr. Chas Frohman.  I have to use a part of your birthday gift until I get back to draw from the bank [first mention of a bank].  John did not draw any yesterday and I have to go to N.Y. & return on $10. ... If I succeed tomorrow in closing an engagement with Mr. Frohman, I shall soon have to go to New York, for rehearsals and dressmaking (two expensive dresses for the part!) and will soon be able to see you. 

New York,  Monday 18th Septr [1893]   Rehearsal for 2 weeks in Lady Windermere's Fan and play in Harlem on the 2nd of Octr under Mr. Chas Frohman's management, with whom I have signed a contract for season of 93 -94 

Hattie to Neppie, Philadelphia Oct 10/93  It is only three weeks yesterday since Mama left but it seems much more.  Her going was rather sudden & packing & going through trunks, etc threw the house into disorder, so I concluded I might as well clean house early.  About Friday or Saturday of week before last Mama wrote me that she had been feeling so miserable that she had visited a Doctor who pronounced her trouble "Catarrhal gastritis" & put her on a particular diet &c.  She wrote that she thought he was doing her good.  

On the evening after the first production of Lady Windermere's Fan I had a letter from Maud Harrison who had, I knew, been going with Mama to select her dresses & helping her in many little ways.  She wrote to tell me that Mama had got through the first performance very nicely, looked lovely, &c, & then went on to tell me how sick Mama had been, what a terribly nervous state she was in, how every little thing exhausted her & all about it.  She said she went with Mama & dressed her & would do so every night.  She sent her letter by special delivery & enclosed samples of Mama's dresses.  The latter fact made me feel almost as though Mama was not able to write herself. 

I wrote to Miss Harrison & asked her if she thought Mama was able to start out, or if she ought to come home.  She wrote back that she would not hear to her going if she were not able or the Doctor thought it unwise, but she considered Mama was improving & that the change might do her good.  Of course Mama was writing each day that she thought she was a little better &c but I felt so worried & upset that I determined to go & see for myself before she went as far West. 

So to New York I went Saturday morning leaving Jack in the care of his Grandma Dolman.  I found Mama looking thinner & more haggard than when she went away & from all accounts she had had a pretty close call from a thorough break-down.  The Doctor had been to see her the day before & made an examination of her.  She thought she had a cancer or that her heart was diseased, both of which he denied.  Said there was a slight irritation of the heart from the nervous strain & her system run down. Said her lungs were as sound as a drum.  Told her she fretted too much. 

She denied it, but she does & always has when she is away from her children.  She worries how they may be getting on & when she is home she worries because her salary isn't coming in.  Summer vacations have never done her any good for that reason.  It is among my earliest recollections.  She is not weak in any way & doesn't feel weak.  I think it has all come from mental worriment.  

Her interviews with Mr. Palmer before the engagement was made were not pleasant for her & then when she made the engagement she only had two weeks to get ready for it.  Two very expensive dresses to be gotten up & the first act was hard study for her.  But she has pulled through nicely, looks lovely in the part & young.  I remained with her & saw her off on the train at J.[ersey] City after which I took a train for home.  She writes me that she saw you for an instant & was very glad to do so. 

Columbian Exposition, Chicago Oct. 1893

Detroit, Mich  Novr 15th 1893  I sent you a list of the places we visit on Monday.  You can always direct a letter care of Chas Frohman's Lady Windermere's Fan Co Theatre and it will reach me.  In Cincinnati next week we play at the "Grand Opera House" so you can send there.
 
I heard of the failure of the Joseph Co but not from [Albert].  Miss [Maud] Harrison sent me a notice of it from NY World.  I was very sorry but not surprised.  I knew it could not last another season.  
 
I have not as yet been asked to go to California and I do not think I shall be.  It would, as you say, be very pleasant to spend the cold months there, but to study a lot of new parts, rehearse and get costumes ready, would not be so pleasant, and there would not be any money in it for me.  Besides there is no glory in belonging to Palmer's Co anymore.  I will enclose an article from last Sunday's Chicago Tribune which shows the state of things as viewed by the recent performances given by the Co in Chicago.
 
The week after next will be hard work.  Three one night towns and long trips.  Go onboard a boat tonight.  Do not think I will sleep much.  We are due in Cleveland at 7 in the Morning.  Slight showers of snow have been blowing about all day & yesterday, not enough to cover the ground but I am afraid enough wind to make the Lake very rough. 

[clippings are enclosed]
Review of Lady Windermere's Fan. EJ Phillips played the Duchess of Berwick in Oscar Wilde's new and financially successful society play.  Good sized audience.  Frohman's Co. has the reputation of always casting a play well and having a company of uniform strength in all parts.  An undoubted success in New York and Chicago but there is something about it which will prevent it from ever becoming popular.  "Its moral tone is not very high and a great many who heard it are loath to believe that the English society is quite as bad as represented.  The play glorifies the repentant woman and attempts to show that society forgives and forgets a woman's missteps...The play is like a familiar face.  It reminds you of something you have seen or heard before.  Sensitive folk are apt to think there are just a few too many "damnits" in the part of Mr. Hopper [Walter Dolman's role] On the whole the cast seems superior to the play" 

The other article which is much longer is headlined  Near to its Tomb  AM Palmer Company dying as a Stock Organization.  
 
New York has practically turned the AM Palmer Co out of doors.  Miss Agnes Booth and Mrs. EJ Phillips are recent defections from the organization and neither could be spared.

Cleveland, Ohio  Friday Novr 17th, 1893  The clipping you sent from the Sun is one of many in which Mr. [AM] Palmer still uses my name, but I do not think it will do him any good.  I think Chas Frohman will fulfill his contract with me for this season, and then will perhaps want me for the next season.  In going to California with Palmers Co I would still be under Chas Frohman's & [Al] Hayman's management.  It is a mixed up affair all around.  In fact a game of Battledore and Shuttle-cock.  And the Actor is the latter and the manager Battledores him where ever he pleases.
 
Miss Elsie deWolfe did not gain her bit of diplomacy as Miss Ada Dyas & Mrs. Thorndike Boucicault are engaged for A Woman of No Importance.  It was a cheeky bit of work for Miss deWolfe and she did not deserve to succeed.  And it is well for herself she didn't for, it would have been her third dramatic failure.
 
We opened to a very nice house last night and two performances tomorrow.  We go to Louisville for three nights.  Then to Evansville 1 night, Lafayette 1 & Peoria 1.  Three miserable bad towns,  hotels and theatres bad.  Then go to St Louis.  Play in the old Olympic where I used to belong to the Stock Co [with Benedict DeBar].  

The Willard
     Louisville, Ky.
                    Novr 27th 1893

My dear Son,
Next week we are to be in St Louis and a great Jewish festival or Charity is selling tickets and share receipts with [Charles] Frohman.  A very large sale has already been made.  Three days ago announced in Cin'ti papers as $10,000.  So I suppose Chas Frohman's share will amount to $5000 at least.
 
I have a Courier Journal ready to post with this giving an account and the paper's opinion of the Hawaiian trouble.  Places Mrs. expresident in a rather queer position if all can be proven true.

Yesterday on leaving the hotel in Cin'ti they gave us all souvenirs of the hotel.  As it was Cin'ti I am going to send them to you for Ted to play with [Albert was born in Cincinnati.].  Love and Kisses to my dear children 3 from their loving  Mother

The Southern
       Walnut Street
     Absolutely Fireproof
                             St Louis, Decr 5th 1893
 
My dear daughter Neppie,
On Friday last the Thermometer registered 3 degrees below zero at 5 AM in La Fayette.  And we had a big snow Fall all the way to Peoria and a foot deep there and it is cold here. 

I had an excellent [Thanksgiving] dinner in Evansville, quite a surprise to us all.  It was a sumptuous bill of fare and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We did not give a Matinee.  Had a very good house at night.  Opened last night to a very poor house.  That is, the lower part of the house was good, but the balcony & gallery were almost empty, showing the poor man has not the money to attend theatres.  Times are very dull all through this part of the Country.
 
Next week we have six towns to play in as follows  Monday, Springfield Ill, not far from here and we stay here until Monday Morning.  Tuesday, Bloomington, Ill, Wednesday Decatur, Ill,  Thursday Terre Haute, Ind.  All these places are not far apart and the journeys will not be fatiguing.   Friday, South Bend, Ind  a little longer ride.  Saturday Grand Rapids, Mich.  The following week we are not to play.  On Xmas day open in Baltimore for a week.  Then to Phila for two weeks.  After that New England, playing one week in Boston and one week in Providence. 
 
Ted's ring is called the Isabella ring.  They were very popular at the [Columbian Exposition] Fair as souvenirs.  When Ted is old enough he can wear it on his watch chain.  Love and Kisses to my dear children Albert, Edward and Neppie from their loving Mother

Isabella ring
This sterling silver ring and bracelet set is among the most exemplary souvenirs from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893 that we have encountered. The two pieces are part of a small number of souvenirs created by the Gorham (Silver) Manufacturing Company commemorate the Exposition. The paperwork included with the ring translates the inscription on the jewelry. It reads as follows: "The Isabella Ring - This token is intended to recall in after years the World's Columbian Exposition, and also to suggest the occasion of its celebration; carrying the mind back through the centuries both to the great Discoverer and to his sovereign patroness, Isabella of Castile, known in history as "The Catholic," by whose noble faith and help the marvelous discovery of a world was made possible, and the names Isabella and Columbus immortal. Online Antiques Mall http://www.the-forum.com/collect/93isabel.htm

St. Louis  Decr 10th 1893  Mr. [AM] Palmer sent to Mr. [Charles] Frohman to release me for California.  Mr. Frohman sent Mr. [JG] Saville to me to ask if I wanted to go, and that he, Mr. Frohman, did not want me to go.  So I said I did not want to under any circumstances.  And Mr. Frohman made me an offer of resting this week.  Would pay my salary and send me to Phila so that I would be well rested to join the Co in Baltimore, but as I could rest next week I told them I preferred working this week unless I got very tired and would then take their offer and go home from Terre Haute on Friday.  

next: Philadelphia Dec. 1893

Newark, N.J.   April 3rd 1894 Walter [Dolman] has done very well in the "part" of "Hopper" and I guess is all right for the Summer, and possibly the Fall.  I expect my season to close in Chicago about the 12th of May, for I think there are plenty [of others] anxious to go on for the "Duchess" for half my salary.  Nothing further has been said to me, and I do not think they will be likely to keep me at present salary. 

The new "Mrs. Erlynne" and "Lady Windermere" are giving better satisfaction than their predecessors did, so that will incline them to think they may get a more satisfactory "Duchess" for less money.  Week after next we shall be at "The Peoples Theatre" in Bowery. 

We gave nine performances last week in Phila.  Here we give seven.  Next week one night stands. 

Philadelphia Pa, May 14th 1894  I left Walter [Dolman] behind me in Chicago, but he and the new "cast" of Lady Windermere were to leave at 6 PM yesterday for Minneapolis where they are to play tonight and the next two nights.  Then go to St Paul  for 3 nights.  After that 3 weeks of 1 night stands before reaching Denver, Col where they play for one week afterwards, proceeding to the Northwest, and then down to San Francisco where they play for a week.  Very tall travelling, but very interesting to those who have never been over the Country. 

Nobody is offering me $100 per week for next season as yet, but may shortly.  AMP[almer] is in England.  Will be home early in July.  I feel rather glad to have a rest.  I hope the weather will continue cool so I can do some sewing and make myself presentable to visit you in July.  I am in rags and tatters at present. 

Phila Pa July 19th/94  Did not settle anything definitely in New York.  Left my affairs in hands of Mrs. Fernandez.  I found everything very dull in New York. 

Mrs. Dolman got a letter from Walter this Morning.  He and the [Lady Windermere's Fan] Co were detained in Ogden [Utah] 10 days.  Says there were three thousand travellers detained there who could not go either way.  When Walter's train started it was guarded by U.S. troops.  He is now in Washington State. 

St Louis,  Octr 16th 1894   You will be surprised to receive this from so far a distance, unless Hattie has written to you since I left.  I had received a telegram from Gustave Frohman on Friday asking me if I could play the "Duchess" in [Lady] Windermere's Fan for this week in St Louis.  I answered yes, and on Saturday Morning about 9 rec'd another telegram from him telling me to start by Penn RR.

I got ready in a hurry, took the 4:30 train and arrived here at 7 on Sunday night.  Played last night and expect to through the week -- eight performances in all.  The Co then go to Columbus, O[hio] for three nights, then back to Indianapolis for three nights.  And after that go South, playing in New Orleans on Xmas.  

Walter Dolman is looking splendidly.  There has been some trouble in the Co with the Duchess and her husband who played Lord Darlington and they were dismissed,  So I was sent for, for this week.  I had nothing to do and thought I might as well come.  I shall not be much richer for it, but it was a nice little trip. I am not as strong as I would like to be, but if in an engagement I think I should feel better.  

Hopper played by Walter Dolman is described by the Duchess of Berwick as "that rich young Australian people are taking such notice of just at present. His father made a great fortune by selling some kind of food in circular tins—most palatable, I believe—I fancy it is the thing the servants always refuse to eat. But the son is quite interesting. I think he’s attracted by dear Agatha’s clever talk. Of course, we should be very sorry to lose her, but I think that a mother who doesn’t part with a daughter every season has no real affection."  http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/oscar-wilde/Lady-Windermeres-Fan.pdf

Mrs. Thomas Whiffen wrote of Oscar Wilde in her autobiography Keeping off the Shelf "Oscar Wilde and his plays. The comedies were being done in America for the first time, and I'll never forget how the critics took this opportunity to condemn the playwright. When "The Woman of No Importance" was done by Rose Coghlan, one critic spoke of it as "one of Oscar Wilde's foul-minded plays,." I think it is one of the most moral plays ever written, but it just goes to show how a man's reputation can poison everything he touches, especially in the eyes of intolerant people.

Tom [Whiffen[ and I knew Oscar Wilde and respected his talent and his keen wit. He was very fond of the violin and tom used to play for him while he was in New York. I can see him now with his sorrowful eyes and long hair, slumped in a corner, nervously pulling his long fingers while Tom played Bach. Turning over my old letters, I find one from Mr. Wilde excusing himself for mixing up a date with my husband, regretting that he had made an engagement to speak in Philadelphia, and although he'd rather hear tom play, he thought he'd better go, as they were paying him quite a sum to listen to him talk, and he supposed "they really expected him". He ended up by saying they didn't want to hear him, they only wanted to look at him, making him feel like a nice, fat Persian kitten at a cat show."

Poor Oscar Wilde, how little we understood him in the Nineties! "The Ideal Husband' was taken off the boards in New York because of Mr. Wilde's reputation.

Producer Daniel Frohman wrote "It is true that Oscar Wilde was proficient in all branches of literature; as a novelist, as an essayist, as a short story writer, as a poet and as a dramatist.  ... few writers have excelled him in wit, satire and in epigrammatic speeches. First, before everything else, he was a dramatist.  ... I was not fortunate enough to have known [Wilde] personally, although I produced several of his plays, the first of which ws, "An Ideal Husband" at the old Lyceum, March 12th, 1895. [Wilde's first trial was in April 1895.] My brother Charles [Frohman] also produced Wilde's plays including, "Lady Windermere's Fan." This was Oscar Wilde's first great play ...It is my belief that Wilde would have been another Sheridan if he had not fallen on evil days." Daniel Frohman Presents, 1935.

Bibliography
Blanchard, Mary, Oscar Wilde's America, Counterculture in the Gilded Age, 1998
Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde, New York: Knopf, 1987
Frohman, Daniel, Daniel Frohman Presents, New York, C. Kendall & W. Sharp [c1935]
Holland, Merlin & Rupert Hart Davies, Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, New York, Henry Holt & Co., 2000
Hyde, H. Montgomery, Annotated Oscar Wilde, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1982
Kendrick, John, Our Love is Here to Stay II, 1996-2003  http://www.musicals101.com/gay2.htm 
Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith, Oscar Wilde Discovers American [1882], New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936

MacKaye, Percy, Epoch: the life of Steele MacKaye, genius of the theater, in relation to his times & contemporaries; a memoir by his son. New York Boni & Liveright 1927

Marcosson, Isaac F. and Daniel Frohman, Charles Frohman: Manager and Man, New York : Harper Brothers, 1916.
Sinfield, Alan, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Movement, Columbia University Press, 1994
Living World of Oscar Wilde, Hofstra Univ. http://www.hofstra.edu/COM/Museum/museum_exhibition_wilde.cfm
Oscar Wilde discovers America, Louis Edwards, 2003  http://www.amazon.com/Oscar-Wilde-Discovers-America-Novel/dp/B0002Z0M5Q
American's Wilde, New York University http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/fales/exhibits/wilde/4america.htm
Gays and Musicals The 1800's http://www.musicals101.com/gay2.htm Patience and Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde trials homepage http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/wilde/wilde.htm  
Oscar Wilde's 1895  martyrdom for indecent acts http://www.robotwisdom.com/jorn/wilde.html  
Sherrard, Robert Harborough,  The Real Oscar Wilde, T Werner Laurie Ltd.
http://www.archive.org/stream/realoscarwildeto00sherrich#page/n7/mode/2up
Vissi d'Arte, Gabrielle de Triolet, April 2002   http://www.mr-oscar-wilde.de/interactive/paper/vissi_d_arte.htm  Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, La Tosca and Sardou 
Whiffen, Mrs. Thomas Keeping off the Shelf, New York, EP Dutton & Co. 1928
Oscar Wilde: The Marlowe of the New Drama Univ. of South Florida  http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/britishdrama2.htm#Wilde
Oscar Wilde, American Sheet Music, Library of Congress http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/fales/exhibits/wilde/4america.htm
Wikipedia Lady Windermere's Fan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Windermere%27s_Fan  Oscar Wilde http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_wilde    Vera the Nihilist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera%3B_or%2C_The_Nihilists 

Last updated Nov. 25, 2011

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