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

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Labor Dispute Eastern Civilization Mining Camp Civilized Order Ranch Hand 
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. 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
  4. 4.
    Montrose Moses, The American Dramatist (1925; New York: Benjamin Blom, 1964), 319.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    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
  6. 9.
    For a discussion of the “traditional” way in which women are presented in late-nineteenth-century drama, see Rosemarie K. Bank, “Rhetorical, Dramatic, Theatrical, and Social Contexts of Selected American Frontier Plays, 1871–1906,” diss., University of Iowa, 1972, for instance, 191–92. For a fuller discussion here of gender in the nineteenth-century theater, see chapter 2.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 211.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    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
  9. 15.
    For instance, see Bederman, Chapter 1, “Remaking Manhood through Race and Civilization,” Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 18.
    Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890 (Middletown, CN: Wesleyan University Press, 1985), 531.Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992), 18–19.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    For a handy summary of the original New York reviews, see James J. Murray, “The Contributions of Clyde Fitch to the American Theatre,” diss., Boston University, 1950, 175–77.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Edward Dithmar, “At the Play and with the Players,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1899, 11–16.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    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
  17. Ironically, given the later conflict between the Shuberts and the Syndicate, when it was finally produced at the Herald Square Theatre, that theater was a Shubert theater—their first in New York. Alfred L. Bernheim writes that it was through productions like the 1900 production of Arizona that the Shuberts were able to restore the Herald Square Theatre to the status of a first-class theater [The Business of the Theatre: An Economic History of the American Theatre, 1750–1932 (1932; New York: Benjamin Blom, 1964), 64].Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    See G. Edward White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 75–144.Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    Augustus Thomas, The Print of My Remembrance (New York: Scribner’s, 1922), 342; see also Ronald J. Davis, 13–14.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    Augustus Thomas, Arizona: A Drama in Four Acts (New York: R.H. Russell, 1899), 8. Further references to this play will appear in text.Google Scholar
  21. 47.
    Theodore Kremer quoted in Montrose J. Moses, The American Dramatist (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1939), 302.Google Scholar
  22. Ironically but not surprisingly given the cost of admission, productions of spectacular melodramas at “ten-twenty-thirty” theaters were rather spare. Touring versions of “ten-twenty-thirty” melodramas tended to travel without scenery, depending on the stock scenery of the houses in which they performed. See Garrett H. Leverton, “Introduction,” in The Great Diamond Robbery & Other Recent Melodramas, America’s Lost Plays, vol. VIII (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1940), viii-ix.Google Scholar
  23. 53.
    WD. Howells, “The Recent Dramatic Season,” North American Review 172.3 (1901), 474Google Scholar

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© Richard Wattenberg 2011

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  • Richard Wattenberg

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