Discipline and Spontaneity: Clyde Fitch’s The Cowboy and the Lady and Augustus Thomas’s Arizona

  • Richard Wattenberg
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


The opposition of savagery and civilization functioned significantly as a way of distinguishing characters from each other and motivating plot development even in early frontier drama. To be sure, the shape of the action in early-nineteenth-century plays like Metamora (1829) and The Lion of the West (1830) depended heavily on the civilization-savagery contrast. Later frontier plays, like My Partner (1879), had even begun to explore the possibility of bridging this opposition by bringing together in marriage at play’s end the characters representing civilization and savagery, East and West, respectively. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth century, however, the possibility of a reconciliation of civilization and savagery crystallized into a major preoccupation both of writers of frontier drama and of other artists and intellectuals who pondered the frontier experience. This turn-of-the-century frontier western discourse to which Turner, Roosevelt, Wister, and Remington were key contributors provides a context within which the frontier visions presented in plays like Clyde Fitch’s The Cowboy and the Lady (1899), Augustus Thomas’s Arizona (1900), Frederic Remington and Louis Evan Shipman’s John Ermine of the Yellowstone (1903), and Owen Wister and Kirke La Shelle’s The Virginian (1904) can be profitably analyzed.


Labor Dispute Eastern Civilization Mining Camp Civilized Order Ranch Hand 
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  1. 1.
    Mary C. Henderson, The City and the Theatre: New York Playhouses from Bowling Green to Times Square (Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1973), 188.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    An earlier version of the following discussion of Clyde Fitch’s The Cowboy and the Lady appeared in my article “Taming the Frontier Myth: Clyde Fitch’s The Cowboy and the Lady” Journal of American Culture 16.2 (1993), 77–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a brief critical biography of Fitch, see Arthur Hobson Quinn, A History of the American Drama: From the Civil War to the Present, vol. I (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1936), 265–296.Google Scholar
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    Montrose Moses, The American Dramatist (1925; New York: Benjamin Blom, 1964), 319.Google Scholar
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    In this regard, see Thomas Lowell Hellie’s very informative dissertation on Clyde Fitch, “Clyde Fitch: Playwright of New York’s Leisure Class,” diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1985.Google Scholar
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    Clyde Fitch, The Cowboy and the Lady (New York: Samuel French, 1908), 12. Further references to this play will be cited parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
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    Edward Dithmar, “At the Play and with the Players,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1899, 11–16.Google Scholar
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    The similarities and differences between Sam Coast and Moody’s Stephen Ghent (from The Great Divide) are very telling. While starting out as a bandit, Stephen, like Coast, becomes a very rich miner, and also like Coast he eventually comes east to find his wife; however, as a westerner in the East, he is presented in an entirely positive light—a good influence on “stuffy” eastern civilization. See Fitch, Her Own Way (London: MacMillan, 1907).Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    Arizona was apparently written as early as 1897, but its production was held up, according to Ronald J. Davis, because after “the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, theater managers became cautious in staging new productions” [Augustus Thomas (Boston: Twayne, 1984), 14].Google Scholar
  16. The play had its world premiere at Chicago’s Hamlin’s Grand Opera House on June 12, 1899. According to Jack Poggi, the Syndicate kept Arizona out of New York for over a year—a practice they would employ when they believed a play was not likely to succeed [Theater in America: The Impact of Economic Forces, 1870–1967 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1968), 257].Google Scholar
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© Richard Wattenberg 2011

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  • Richard Wattenberg

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