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“O’ It Was a Sight Worth Seeing”: Uncle Tom Hits the Road

  • John W. Frick
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)

Abstract

On September 11, 1853, roughly 2 months after the Aiken/Howard Uncle Tom’s Cabin opened at Purdy’s theatre in New York, the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch announced that “the most extraordinary scene ever presented in our theatrical annals was witnessed [recently] at the NATIONAL.”1 In this fashion, Philadelphians learned that “The Cabin,” as the Dispatch writer dubbed it, had been brought out in “fine style” and that Uncle Tom mania had seized the city. While the Dispatch column applied only to the production that had recently opened at Philadelphia’s National Theatre, it might have equally described what was happening worldwide, because almost immediately upon the release of the novel, stage versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin began appearing in foreign capitals and American cities large and small. But nowhere, however, was the proliferation of the drama more evident than in New York, the site of the first notable theatrical Uncle Toms. By the end of 1853, in addition to Aiken’s adaptation at the National and the Conway version at Barnum’s Museum, Odell lists an obscure production by Robert Marsh at the Odeon Theatre, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; a version staged by a Mr. Thorne at the St. Charles that The Spirit of the Times described as “doing extremely well;” and a tableaux/magic lantern version at the Franklin Museum that consisted of a series of tableaux—3 parts and 25 pictures.2

Keywords

Slave Owner Legitimate Theatre Opera House Double Character Grand Opus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    George C. D, Annals of the New York Stage. 15 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press (1927–41): VI: 277, 328; “From Things Theatrical,” The Spirit of the Times, September 3, 1853. {*}Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Information in this paragraph is from Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 56–59, 124–27; Joseph Roach, “George L. Fox: The Emergence of the American Actor,” Cambridge History of the American Theatre, ed., Don B. Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): I: 359–60.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Thomas F. Gossett, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985), p. 276.Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    Odell VIII: 622–23; E. J. Kahn, The Merry Partners: The Age and Stage of Harrigan & Hart. (New York: Random House, 1955), p. 148.Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    Edmond M. Gagey, The San Francisco Stage: A History. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1950), p. 51.Google Scholar
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  7. 28.
    William Winter, The Life of David Belasco. 2 vols. (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1918): I: 49, 257–58. Birdoff (The World’s Greatest Hit) claims that while at Shiel’s, Belasco also assumed the roles of Marks, Legree, Topsy, and George Harris during his 6 weeks at the opera house. No other source, however, lists a role other than Sambo. Intriguingly, the lessee of Baldwin before Rial was Gustave Frohman, who had the distinction of being the first manager to employ an African American to play the part of Tom. (See pp. 121–23 of this chapter).Google Scholar
  8. 38.
    Joseph P. Roppolo, “Uncle Tom in New Orleans: Three Lost Plays,” New England Quarterly 27 (1954): 213fn; New Orleans Daily Picayune February 15, 22, 28 and March 4, 1883. {*}CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Robert Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-century America (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 217–18. Hill and Hatch, A History of African American Theatre, p. 56. Following Lucas’ debut as Uncle Tom, other African American actors (W. Homer, Dick Hunter, O. B. Rivers and Harry West) played the role in the 1880s and in 1897 Lew Johnson mounted an all black production. (Joseph P. Eckhardt, The King of the Movies: Film Pioneer Siegmund Lubin (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh-Dickenson University Press, 1998), p. 274.Google Scholar
  15. 63.
    Nadine George-Graves, The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville: The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender and Class in African-American Theater, 1900–40 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), p. 15. According to George-Graves, Out of Bondage was repeated in 1890.Google Scholar
  16. 69.
    Birdoff, The World’s Greatest Hit. p. 297. Frank Rahill in The World of Melodrama. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Park, 1967), p. 252 citing Wesley Winans Stout, maintains that dogs made their stage debut in New York in 1879, but there is no mention of them in Odell.Google Scholar
  17. 72.
    A. M. Drummond and Richard Moody, “The Hit of the Century: Uncle Tom’s Cabin: 1852–1952,” Educational Theatre Journal 4 (December 1952): 320; Rahill, The World of Melodrama, p. 252; Odell, XV: 75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Frick, New York’s First Theatrical Center: The Rialto at Union Square. (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985), pp. 1–3.Google Scholar
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    Johnson, “Uncle Tom in Middle Age,” The Transition from Stage Tradition to Screen. Unpublished manuscript, p. 13. The theatrical syndicate was a monopoly that controlled first-class theatre production in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. (See Monroe Lippman, “The Effect of the Theatrical Syndicate on the Theatrical Art in America,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 26 (April 1941): 275–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994), p. 6; Stowe cited in Susan Belasco, “Hymns Songs, and Music,” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture website. {*}Google Scholar
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  25. 135.
    Stephen Railton, “Readapting Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in Nineteenth-Century America Fiction on Screen ed. E. Barton Palmer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 67.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John W. Frick 2012

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  • John W. Frick

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