Variations on the Frontier Myth: Edwin Milton Royle’s The Squaw Man and David Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West

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


Edwin Milton Royle’s The Squaw Man, which opened at Wallack’s Theatre on October 23, 1905, and David Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West, which opened at the Belasco Theatre on November 14, 1905, were among the most successful Broadway-style plays of the 1905–1906 theater season. According to the information on New York productions for that theater season, compiled by Garrison P. Sherwood for Burns Mantle’s The Best Plays of 1899–1909, The Squaw Man, which had an initial run of 222 performances,1 and The Girl of the Golden West, which had an initial run of 224 performances,2 were among the five longest-running productions in a season that included over a hundred entries. The other three long-running shows were Charles Klein’s incredibly successful four-act play The Lion and the Mouse (686 performances), the Hippodrome musical extravaganza A Society Circus (596 performances), and the legendary production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, starring Maude Adams (223 performances).3 Of the five, Royle’s and Belasco’s plays both frontier plays had the most in common. The success of these two works indicates not only their authors’ skills but also the general appeal of the frontier play for 1905 Broadway theater audiences.


Audience Member Civilized World Title Character Frontier Western Charity Fund 
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  1. 1.
    Burns Mantle, The Best Plays of 1899–1909, eds. Burns Mantle and Garrison P. Sherwood (New York: Dodd-Mead, 1947), 207.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    John H. Lenihan, “Westbound: Feature Films and the American West,” in Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture, ed. Richard Aquila (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 111.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Roger A. Hall, Performing the American Frontier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 205–6.Google Scholar
  4. For a brief discussion of other of his plays, see Arthur Hobson Quinn, A History of American Drama: From the Civil War to the Present Day, vol. II (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1936), 123–26, and Mantle, 343. Apparently, in 1910, Royle had hoped to premiere a sequel to The Squaw Man, a play originally entitled These Are My People and then called The Silent Call, a work based on his 1910 novel, The Silent Call. The play version of the novel was scheduled to open in January 1911, but was held back. See “Change to ‘The Squaw Man,’ New York Times, Dec. 31, 1910, 4. Nothing more seems to have come of it.Google Scholar
  5. 26.
    Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” in The Frontier in American History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986), 4.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    See also Mantle, 239. Her silence in addition to her dedication to husband and child suggest the subservient position that Whites assumed Indian women held within the tribe. With regard to the questionable nature of this assumption, see Rosemarie K. Bank, “Rhetorical, Dramatic, Theatrical, and Social Contexts of Selected American Frontier Plays, 1871–1906,” diss., University of Iowa, 1972, note 27, 160.Google Scholar
  7. 38.
    Much of the material on Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West presented here appeared in an earlier form in my essay “‘Local Colour’ Plus ‘Frontier Myth’: The Belasco Formula in The Girl of the Golden West,” Essays in Theatre/Études Théâtrales 11.1 (1992), 85–97.Google Scholar
  8. 40.
    According to Garrison Sherwood’s information, The Rose of the Rancho opened at New York City’s Belasco Theatre on November 27, 1906, and ran for 240 performances during the 1906–1907 and 1907–1908 seasons (Mantle, 527).Google Scholar
  9. Craig Timberlake, The Life and Work of David Belasco: The Bishop of Broadway (New York: Library Publishers, 1954), 284–85.Google Scholar
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  11. 44.
    David Belasco, The Girl of the Golden West (New York: Samuel French, 1915, 1933), 8. Future references to this play will be to this version of the script and will be parenthetically cited in the text.Google Scholar
  12. 47.
    In this context, see Daniel Gerould’s discussion of Minnie in “The Americanization of Melodrama,” in American Melodrama, ed. Daniel C. Gerould, (New York: Performing Arts Journal, 1983), 26. Minnie’s combination of “wildness and femininity” has led Gerould to write that this self-reliant heroine is “a specifically American version of the New Woman who appeared in life as in literature around the turn of the century.”Google Scholar
  13. 48.
    Stuart Wallace Hyde, “The Representation of the West in American Drama from 1849 to 1917,” diss., Stanford, 1954, 276–77.Google Scholar
  14. 52.
    In this regard, see Wallace Stegner, introduction to Bret Harte, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and Other Tales (New York: Signet, 1961), ix.Google Scholar
  15. 56.
    Barbara Welter, “The Cult of the True Womanhood: 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18 (1966), 152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 57.
    See Yellow Bird (John Rollin Ridge), The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955), 13–18, 65, and 105.Google Scholar

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© Richard Wattenberg 2011

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  • Richard Wattenberg

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