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Madison Square Theatre Company

Previous: Union Square Theatre Company

It was 'the remarkable Madison Square Company' according to Lewis C. Strang, 'rather than the plays that were given, which brought such reputation to the house"  more on Palmer and the Madison Square Company

"The Madison Square Theatre Stock Company's short heyday paralleled a sharp decline in American stock companies and the concurrent ascendancy of the combination house system. Palmer believed that his Union Square troupe's 1877 tour 'was the precursor of all the noted expeditions ... since then...to the Pacific Coast (Boston Sunday Herald May 9, 1880) and M.B. Leavitt also affirmed Palmer as 'one of the first to institute the system of long summer tours for stock companies'." [Odell?]

The theatre, built in 1877 after a fire destroyed the previous theatre on the site, (the south side of 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue) was rebuilt by Steele MacKaye in 1879 "as one of the earliest "intimate" playhouses and renamed the Madison Square Theatre.  It was demolished in 1908.  

The task of organizing, designing and superintending the building of the Madison Square Theatre and the Lyceum Theatre, New York, was the labor, almost alone, of MacKaye. To both tasks he brought his inventive faculty, idealism, and spirit of innovation, manifest in his double stage, elevated orchestra, folding theatre chairs, oxygenating and cooling plants, the first "professional matinee," souvenir programs, an "honest" mechanical doorkeeper, an automatic prompter, flame proof curtains, etc. …  Two of his closest friends were Thomas Edison and Oscar Wilde. Edison said in a letter to MacKaye’s son, “He was possessed of great imaginative power, together with an abnormal energy, ever seeking new worlds to conquer.” It was Wilde who told him, “You and I can conquer the world, why not, let’s do it.”  Buffalo's Steele MacKaye, the "Father of Modern Acting" Buffalo History Gazette June 2011


More on Steele Mackaye and his Madison Square Theatre

Madison Square Theatre and floor plan

"AM Palmer was in control at the Madison Square Theatre, which also had changed its policy, and to the fine company he organised for that little jewel of a theatre JH Stoddart, Mrs. Phillips and Maud Harrison betook themselves for 1885- 1886, there to remain till Palmer also bowed before the utter changes of the '90's.

Odell gives useful summaries of each season. From the wreckage of the Union Square company Palmer enlisted the lovely Maud Harrison...and JH Stoddart...[for a revival of Sealed Instructions]...Members of the original cast remaining were Frederic Robinson, WJ LeMoyne,  Walden Ramsay, Harry Hogan, Annie Russell and Lena Langdon.  What a joy to be a boyish lover of the drama...Yet I remember that, to my surprise, the usually beautifully gowned Mrs. [Agnes] Booth and Miss Harrison wore dresses of a former era; perhaps they were unwilling to buy new clothes for what could be but a brief run for a play not new." [Odell]

The 1885 Madison Square season had opened in Oct. with Sealed Instructions, a success from the previous season. 

On Nov 7th 1885 "[AM] Palmer presented, under the direction of the author Henry Arthur Jones' fine play Saints and Sinners

A cooperative benefit for the Actors' Fund was held in Feb. 1886, with productions at Daly's (said by Odell to have had the original idea) and Wallacks and Palmers.   

And Engaged, by WS Gilbert  had "entered the regular bills on Feb 23rd. ...Not for anything conceivable would I give up my memory of that priceless performance, the women of the cast being as near perfection as anything on the stage can be. " 

Gilbert's "pathetic verse drama Broken Hearts was produced on March 30th with Bronson Howard's Old Love Letters. The season ended with a few weeks of Our Society, since Richard Mansfield was bringing Prince Karl to New York for the summer.  During the summer ladies in the audience were served gratis with ices from Maillard's, just a few steps from the theatre, at the corner of Broadway and 24th Street.  Old-time memories cause us to wonder if there has ever been ice cream so rich and delicious as that of Maillard, wondrous caterer for connoisseurs.

Held by the Enemy had been produced from Aug- Oct. 1886.  After closing for a week the theater reopened on Nov. 1st "with one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the New York stage. This was Sir Charles Young's very ingenious social drama "Jim the Penman" dealing with the life of a forger who mingled with the "best" people and was finally identified by his wife, who realized that it was he who had separated her from an earlier lover, whom she meets years later, and who gives her the letters apparently written by her which had caused him to leave her and, indeed, England.

Palmer had also announced a series of special matinees for new plays by American authors. These included William Dean Howells' Foregone Conclusion, Brander Matthews' Margery's Lovers and Fair Fame, Clinton Stuart's adaption of Dumas' Denise.

The Palmer season closed on May 28th, 1887 and Richard Mansfield opened on May 30th in Prince Karl.

The 1887 season opened Oct. 3 with Jim the Penman, and on Nov 10  The Martyr was produced. Elaine, which had appeared at an author's matinee the previous season was put in the regular bill in Dec. In mid January 1888 Heart of Hearts (Henry Arthur Jones' "improbably romantic drama"  Though Palmer's season "had not been enthralling. On April 2nd, he met success, financial and artistic with Robert Buchanan's adaption of Daudet, which he called Partners.

Durham writes that "the Madison Square phase of Palmer's career effectually terminated with the 1887-1888 season. In Oct. 1888 Wallack having died in the preceding month, Palmer became proprietor of Wallack's theatre and began to devote a major share of his attention to that new enterprise.

The Fall 1888 season began with a revival of Partners (Nov 14, 1888). Captain Swift was produced on Dec. 4th "the story of an Australian bushranger, who comes to London, accepts an invitation to the country home of Mr. Seabrook, a blind doddering old gentleman and finds that Mrs. Seabrook is his mother. Captain Swift ran for more than 150 performances, closing on May 4, 1889

The fall season of 1889 opened with Aunt Jack "a jolly non-intellectual absurdity ... including Agnes Booth in a big plumed hat singing "If you want to know the time, ask a policeman." Aunt Jack ran until April 26, 1891 -- "public taste that year ran to Hoyt farces and rural drama like the Old Homestead

The 1890 season began with ES Willard, who brought a number of new plays by Henry Arthur Jones from London, including the Middleman, Judah and Wealth

Palmer was "unfortunate in his farewell season (1890-1891) at the Madison Square; he could not, until the very end, find a play his public liked."  The season began Oct. 30th with A Pair of Spectacles and added in November Old Love Letters with Agnes Booth and Louis MassenAnnie Russell was ill and unable to act. Marie Burroughs was playing with ES Willard at Palmer's Theatre and Maurice Barrymore was in Reckless Temple by Augustus Thomas. Esther Sandraz, Sunlight and Shadow, Social Fiction and the Pharisee were not successes.  Augustus Thomas's Alabama was the only bright light in a dismal season.

AM Palmer in 1891-1892 "established his fine company at Palmer's Theatre (late Wallack's), and the house he had made so delightful a feature in the lives of intelligent playgoers was relegated to the amusing trivialities of the farces of Charles. H. Hoyt."  On Sept. 15, 1891 the Madison Square  became Hoyt's Madison Square Theatre, playing a Trip to Chinatown.

I did wonder if the Victorian plays could have been quite as bad as they seem now -- and the lack of success in reviving the few that have been tried in recent years does seem to indicate their limitations.  Jones is one of the playwrights labelled practitioners (along with Sardou and Pinero) of the "well-made play", a phrase first used in a complimentary sense in the early 19th century, but which quickly took on a pejorative sense, and was used ironically of plays in which the action develops artificially, characters are subordinate to the plot, and a series of contrived climaxes creates suspense.  But Gilbert's Engaged was a more encouraging experience. 

Madison Square Theatre

Stanford White's Madison Square Theatre 1890  

Hoyt's Theater, 24th St. (Fifth and Madison)  In 1865, the Christy Minstrels converted an illegal stock exchange (adjacent to the Fifth Avenue Hotel) into a theatre. Later, Augustin Daly managed it from 1869 to 1873, when it burned down, only to be rebuilt in 1877. Steele MacKaye renovated it and renamed it the Madison Square in 1879, and it boasted a number of theatrical innovations, including gas lights, folding chairs, and a primitive version of air-conditioning. It was razed in 1908 and replaced by an office building.  IBDB Internet Broadway Data Base  http://www.ibdb.com/venue.asp?ID=1248  Lists plays 1869-1906

Palmer's Theatre

next: New York 1890s

Henry Arthur Jones  http://www.theatrehistory.com/british/jones001.html
Henry Arthur Jones: The Earnest Victorian:
Monologue from Jones' The  Goal http://www.monologuearchive.com/j/jones_henry_001.html
Jackson, Russell,  Plays by Henry Arthur Jones, New York : Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Mendelsohn, Joyce, Touring the Flatiron: Walks in Four Historic Neighborhoods, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1998 http://www.e-guana.net/organizations.php3?orgid=79&typeID=650&action=printContentItem&itemID=5119&templateID=923&sortField=alpha&... 
New York Times Theater Reviews, New York: New York Times, 1975. Vol. 1. 1870-1885, Vol. 2 1886-1895, 
North American Theater Online Madison Square Theater Company http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/atho/atho.detail.companies.aspx?companycode=org0007088
Odell, George Clinton Densmore,  Annals of the New York Stage, New York : Columbia University Press, 1927

Towse, John Ranken, Sixty Years of the Theater, New York Funk & Wagnalls 1916  http://archive.org/details/sixtyyearstheat01towsgoog has a  chapter on the Madison Square Theatre Company

The Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (New York) has Madison Square "scrapbooks, clippings, playbills and so on", Union Square "scrapbooks, clippings, playbills, photographs and so on" and a clipping folder on the Olympic Theatre, as does the Museum of the City of New York.

Last revised Nov 28, 2014

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