I suppose you know all about the stage and stage people. You've been
touched with and by actors, and you read the newspaper criticisms and
the jokes in the weeklies about the Rialto and the chorus girls and the
long-haired tragedians. And I suppose that a condensed list of your
ideas about the mysterious stageland would boil down to something like
Leading ladies have five husbands, paste diamonds, and figures no better
than your own (madam) if they weren't padded. Chorus girls are
inseparable from peroxide, Panhards and Pittsburg. All shows walk back
to New York on tan oxford and railroad ties. Irreproachable actresses
reserve the comic-landlady part for their mothers on Broadway and their
step-aunts on the road. Kyrle Bellew's real name is Boyle O'Kelley. The
ravings of John McCullough in the phonograph were stolen from the first
sale of the Ellen Terry memoirs. Joe Weber is funnier than E. H.
Sothern; but Henry Miller is getting older than he was.
All theatrical people on leaving the theatre at night drink champagne
and eat lobsters until noon the next day. After all, the moving pictures
have got the whole bunch pounded to a pulp.
Now, few of us know the real life of the stage people. If we did, the
profession might be more overcrowded than it is. We look askance at the
players with an eye full of patronizing superiority--and we go home and
practise all sorts of elocution and gestures in front of our looking
Latterly there has been much talk of the actor people in a new light. It
seems to have been divulged that instead of being motoring bacchanalians
and diamond-hungry _loreleis_ they are businesslike folk, students and
ascetics with childer and homes and libraries, owning real estate, and
conducting their private affairs in as orderly and unsensational a
manner as any of us good citizens who are bound to the chariot wheels of
the gas, rent, coal, ice, and wardmen.
Whether the old or the new report of the sock-and-buskiners be the true
one is a surmise that has no place here. I offer you merely this little
story of two strollers; and for proof of its truth I can show you only
the dark patch above the cast-iron of the stage-entrance door of
Keetor's old vaudeville theatre made there by the petulant push of
gloved hands too impatient to finger the clumsy thumb-latch--and where I
last saw Cherry whisking through like a swallow into her nest, on time
to the minute, as usual, to dress for her act.
The vaudeville team of Hart & Cherry was an inspiration. Bob Hart had
been roaming through the Eastern and Western circuits for four years
with a mixed-up act comprising a monologue, three lightning changes
with songs, a couple of imitations of celebrated imitators, and a
buck-and-wing dance that had drawn a glance of approval from the
bass-viol player in more than one house--than which no performer ever
received more satisfactory evidence of good work.
The greatest treat an actor can have is to witness the pitiful
performance with which all other actors desecrate the stage. In order to
give himself this pleasure he will often forsake the sunniest Broadway
corner between Thirty-fourth and Forty-fourth to attend a matinée
offering by his less gifted brothers. Once during the lifetime of a
minstrel joke one comes to scoff and remains to go through with that
most difficult exercise of Thespian muscles--the audible contact of the
palm of one hand against the palm of the other.
One afternoon Bob Hart presented his solvent, serious, well-known
vaudevillian face at the box-office window of a rival attraction and got
his d. h. coupon for an orchestra seat.
A, B, C, and D glowed successively on the announcement spaces and passed
into oblivion, each plunging Mr. Hart deeper into gloom. Others of the
audience shrieked, squirmed, whistled, and applauded; but Bob Hart, "All
the Mustard and a Whole Show in Himself," sat with his face as long and
his hands as far apart as a boy holding a hank of yarn for his
grandmother to wind into a ball.
But when H came on, "The Mustard" suddenly sat up straight. H was the
happy alphabetical prognosticator of Winona Cherry, in Character Songs
and Impersonations. There were scarcely more than two bites to Cherry;
but she delivered the merchandise tied with a pink cord and charged to
the old man's account. She first showed you a deliciously dewy and
ginghamy country girl with a basket of property daisies who informed you
ingenuously that there were other things to be learned at the old log
school-house besides cipherin' and nouns, especially "When the Teach-er
Kept Me in." Vanishing, with a quick flirt of gingham apron-strings,
she reappeared in considerably less than a "trice" as a fluffy
"Parisienne"--so near does Art bring the old red mill to the Moulin
Rouge. And then--
But you know the rest. And so did Bob Hart; but he saw somebody else. He
thought he saw that Cherry was the only professional on the short order
stage that he had seen who seemed exactly to fit the part of "Helen
Grimes" in the sketch he had written and kept tucked away in the tray
of his trunk. Of course Bob Hart, as well as every other normal actor,
grocer, newspaper man, professor, curb broker, and farmer, has a play
tucked away somewhere. They tuck 'em in trays of trunks, trunks of
trees, desks, haymows, pigeonholes, inside pockets, safe-deposit vaults,
handboxes, and coal cellars, waiting for Mr. Frohman to call. They
belong among the fifty-seven different kinds.
But Bob Hart's sketch was not destined to end in a pickle jar. He called
it "Mice Will Play." He had kept it quiet and hidden away ever since he
wrote it, waiting to find a partner who fitted his conception of "Helen
Grimes." And here was "Helen" herself, with all the innocent abandon,
the youth, the sprightliness, and the flawless stage art that his
critical taste demanded.
After the act was over Hart found the manager in the box office, and got
Cherry's address. At five the next afternoon he called at the musty old
house in the West Forties and sent up his professional card.
By daylight, in a secular shirtwaist and plain _voile_ skirt, with her
hair curbed and her Sister of Charity eyes, Winona Cherry might have
been playing the part of Prudence Wise, the deacon's daughter, in the
great (unwritten) New England drama not yet entitled anything.
"I know your act, Mr. Hart," she said after she had looked over his card
carefully. "What did you wish to see me about?"
"I saw you work last night," said Hart. "I've written a sketch that I've
been saving up. It's for two; and I think you can do the other part. I
thought I'd see you about it."
"Come in the parlor," said Miss Cherry. "I've been wishing for something
of the sort. I think I'd like to act instead of doing turns."
Bob Hart drew his cherished "Mice Will Play" from his pocket, and read
it to her.
"Read it again, please," said Miss Cherry.
And then she pointed out to him clearly how it could be improved by
introducing a messenger instead of a telephone call, and cutting the
dialogue just before the climax while they were struggling with the
pistol, and by completely changing the lines and business of Helen
Grimes at the point where her jealousy overcomes her. Hart yielded to
all her strictures without argument. She had at once put her finger on
the sketch's weaker points. That was her woman's intuition that he had
lacked. At the end of their talk Hart was willing to stake the judgment,
experience, and savings of his four years of vaudeville that "Mice Will
Play" would blossom into a perennial flower in the garden of the
circuits. Miss Cherry was slower to decide. After many puckerings of her
smooth young brow and tappings on her small, white teeth with the end of
a lead pencil she gave out her dictum.
"Mr. Hart," said she, "I believe your sketch is going to win out. That
Grimes part fits me like a shrinkable flannel after its first trip to a
handless hand laundry. I can make it stand out like the colonel of the
Forty-fourth Regiment at a Little Mothers' Bazaar. And I've seen you
work. I know what you can do with the other part. But business is
business. How much do you get a week for the stunt you do now?"
"Two hundred," answered Hart.
"I get one hundred for mine," said Cherry. "That's about the natural
discount for a woman. But I live on it and put a few simoleons every
week under the loose brick in the old kitchen hearth. The stage is all
right. I love it; but there's something else I love better--that's a
little country home, some day, with Plymouth Rock chickens and six ducks
wandering around the yard.
"Now, let me tell you, Mr. Hart, I am STRICTLY BUSINESS. If you want me
to play the opposite part in your sketch, I'll do it. And I believe we
can make it go. And there's something else I want to say: There's no
nonsense in my make-up; I'm _on the level_, and I'm on the stage for
what it pays me, just as other girls work in stores and offices. I'm
going to save my money to keep me when I'm past doing my stunts. No Old
Ladies' Home or Retreat for Imprudent Actresses for me.
"If you want to make this a business partnership, Mr. Hart, with all
nonsense cut out of it, I'm in on it. I know something about vaudeville
teams in general; but this would have to be one in particular. I want
you to know that I'm on the stage for what I can cart away from it every
pay-day in a little manila envelope with nicotine stains on it, where
the cashier has licked the flap. It's kind of a hobby of mine to want to
cravenette myself for plenty of rainy days in the future. I want you to
know just how I am. I don't know what an all-night restaurant looks
like; I drink only weak tea; I never spoke to a man at a stage entrance
in my life, and I've got money in five savings banks."
"Miss Cherry," said Bob Hart in his smooth, serious tones, "you're in
on your own terms. I've got 'strictly business' pasted in my hat and
stenciled on my make-up box. When I dream of nights I always see a
five-room bungalow on the north shore of Long Island, with a Jap cooking
clam broth and duckling in the kitchen, and me with the title deeds to
the place in my pongee coat pocket, swinging in a hammock on the side
porch, reading Stanley's 'Explorations into Africa.' And nobody else
around. You never was interested in Africa, was you, Miss Cherry?"
"Not any," said Cherry. "What I'm going to do with my money is to bank
it. You can get four per cent. on deposits. Even at the salary I've been
earning, I've figured out that in ten years I'd have an income of about
$50 a month just from the interest alone. Well, I might invest some of
the principal in a little business--say, trimming hats or a beauty
parlor, and make more."
"Well," said Hart, "You've got the proper idea all right, all right,
anyhow. There are mighty few actors that amount to anything at all who
couldn't fix themselves for the wet days to come if they'd save their
money instead of blowing it. I'm glad you've got the correct business
idea of it, Miss Cherry. I think the same way; and I believe this sketch
will more than double what both of us earn now when we get it shaped
The subsequent history of "Mice Will Play" is the history of all
successful writings for the stage. Hart & Cherry cut it, pieced it,
remodeled it, performed surgical operations on the dialogue and
business, changed the lines, restored 'em, added more, cut 'em out,
renamed it, gave it back the old name, rewrote it, substituted a dagger
for the pistol, restored the pistol--put the sketch through all the
known processes of condensation and improvement.
They rehearsed it by the old-fashioned boardinghouse clock in the rarely
used parlor until its warning click at five minutes to the hour would
occur every time exactly half a second before the click of the unloaded
revolver that Helen Grimes used in rehearsing the thrilling climax of
Yes, that was a thriller and a piece of excellent work. In the act a
real 32-caliber revolver was used loaded with a real cartridge. Helen
Grimes, who is a Western girl of decidedly Buffalo Billish skill and
daring, is tempestuously in love with Frank Desmond, the private
secretary and confidential prospective son-in-law of her father,
"Arapahoe" Grimes, quarter-million-dollar cattle king, owning a ranch
that, judging by the scenery, is in either the Bad Lands or Amagansett,
L. I. Desmond (in private life Mr. Bob Hart) wears puttees and Meadow
Brook Hunt riding trousers, and gives his address as New York, leaving
you to wonder why he comes to the Bad Lands or Amagansett (as the case
may be) and at the same time to conjecture mildly why a cattleman should
want puttees about his ranch with a secretary in 'em.
Well, anyhow, you know as well as I do that we all like that kind of
play, whether we admit it or not--something along in between "Bluebeard,
Jr.," and "Cymbeline" played in the Russian.
There were only two parts and a half in "Mice Will Play." Hart and
Cherry were the two, of course; and the half was a minor part always
played by a stage hand, who merely came in once in a Tuxedo coat and a
panic to announce that the house was surrounded by Indians, and to turn
down the gas fire in the grate by the manager's orders.
There was another girl in the sketch--a Fifth Avenue society
swelless--who was visiting the ranch and who had sirened Jack Valentine
when he was a wealthy club-man on lower Third Avenue before he lost
his money. This girl appeared on the stage only in the photographic
state--Jack had her Sarony stuck up on the mantel of the Amagan--of the
Bad Lands droring room. Helen was jealous, of course.
And now for the thriller. Old "Arapahoe" Grimes dies of angina pectoris
one night--so Helen informs us in a stage-ferryboat whisper over the
footlights--while only his secretary was present. And that same day he
was known to have had $647,000 in cash in his (ranch) library just
received for the sale of a drove of beeves in the East (that accounts
for the price we pay for steak!). The cash disappears at the same time.
Jack Valentine was the only person with the ranchman when he made his
"Gawd knows I love him; but if he has done this deed--" you sabe, don't
you? And then there are some mean things said about the Fifth Avenue
Girl--who doesn't come on the stage--and can we blame her, with the
vaudeville trust holding down prices until one actually must be buttoned
in the back by a call boy, maids cost so much?
But, wait. Here's the climax. Helen Grimes, chaparralish as she can be,
is goaded beyond imprudence. She convinces herself that Jack Valentine
is not only a falsetto, but a financier. To lose at one fell swoop
$647,000 and a lover in riding trousers with angles in the sides like
the variations on the chart of a typhoid-fever patient is enough to make
any perfect lady mad. So, then!
They stand in the (ranch) library, which is furnished with mounted elk
heads (didn't the Elks have a fish fry in Amagensett once?), and the
dénouement begins. I know of no more interesting time in the run of a
play unless it be when the prologue ends.
Helen thinks Jack has taken the money. Who else was there to take it?
The box-office manager was at the front on his job; the orchestra hadn't
left their seats; and no man could get past "Old Jimmy," the stage
door-man, unless he could show a Skye terrier or an automobile as a
guarantee of eligibility.
Goaded beyond imprudence (as before said), Helen says to Jack Valentine:
"Robber and thief--and worse yet, stealer of trusting hearts, this
should be your fate!"
With that out she whips, of course, the trusty 32-caliber.
"But I will be merciful," goes on Helen. "You shall live--that will be
your punishment. I will show you how easily I could have sent you to the
death that you deserve. There is _her_ picture on the mantel. I will
send through her more beautiful face the bullet that should have pierced
your craven heart."
And she does it. And there's no fake blank cartridges or assistants
pulling strings. Helen fires. The bullet--the actual bullet--goes
through the face of the photograph--and then strikes the hidden spring
of the sliding panel in the wall--and lo! the panel slides, and there is
the missing $647,000 in convincing stacks of currency and bags of gold.
It's great. You know how it is. Cherry practised for two months at a
target on the roof of her boarding house. It took good shooting. In the
sketch she had to hit a brass disk only three inches in diameter,
covered by wall paper in the panel; and she had to stand in exactly the
same spot every night, and the photo had to be in exactly the same spot,
and she had to shoot steady and true every time.
Of course old "Arapahoe" had tucked the funds away there in the secret
place; and, of course, Jack hadn't taken anything except his salary
(which really might have come under the head of "obtaining money under";
but that is neither here nor there); and, of course, the New York girl
was really engaged to a concrete house contractor in the Bronx; and,
necessarily, Jack and Helen ended in a half-Nelson--and there you are.
After Hart and Cherry had gotten "Mice Will Play" flawless, they had a
try-out at a vaudeville house that accommodates. The sketch was a house
wrecker. It was one of those rare strokes of talent that inundates a
theatre from the roof down. The gallery wept; and the orchestra seats,
being dressed for it, swam in tears.
After the show the booking agents signed blank checks and pressed
fountain pens upon Hart and Cherry. Five hundred dollars a week was what
it panned out.
That night at 11:30 Bob Hart took off his hat and bade Cherry good night
at her boarding-house door.
"Mr. Hart," said she thoughtfully, "come inside just a few minutes.
We've got our chance now to make good and make money. What we want to do
is to cut expenses every cent we can, and save all we can."
"Right," said Bob. "It's business with me. You've got your scheme for
banking yours; and I dream every night of that bungalow with the Jap
cook and nobody around to raise trouble. Anything to enlarge the net
receipts will engage my attention."
"Come inside just a few minutes," repeated Cherry, deeply thoughtful.
"I've got a proposition to make to you that will reduce our expenses a
lot and help you work out your own future and help me work out mine--and
all on business principles."
"Mice Will Play" had a tremendously successful run in New York for ten
weeks--rather neat for a vaudeville sketch--and then it started on the
circuits. Without following it, it may be said that it was a solid
drawing card for two years without a sign of abated popularity.
Sam Packard, manager of one of Keetor's New York houses, said of Hart &
"As square and high-toned a little team as ever came over the circuit.
It's a pleasure to read their names on the booking list. Quiet, hard
workers, no Johnny and Mabel nonsense, on the job to the minute,
straight home after their act, and each of 'em as gentlemanlike as a
lady. I don't expect to handle any attractions that give me less trouble
or more respect for the profession."
And now, after so much cracking of a nutshell, here is the kernel of the
At the end of its second season "Mice Will Play" came back to New York
for another run at the roof gardens and summer theatres. There was never
any trouble in booking it at the top-notch price. Bob Hart had his
bungalow nearly paid for, and Cherry had so many savings-deposit bank
books that she had begun to buy sectional bookcases on the instalment
plan to hold them.
I tell you these things to assure you, even if you can't believe it,
that many, very many of the stage people are workers with abiding
ambitions--just the same as the man who wants to be president, or the
grocery clerk who wants a home in Flatbush, or a lady who is anxious
to flop out of the Count-pan into the Prince-fire. And I hope I may be
allowed to say, without chipping into the contribution basket, that they
often move in a mysterious way their wonders to perform.
At the first performance of "Mice Will Play" in New York at the
Westphalia (no hams alluded to) Theatre, Winona Cherry was nervous. When
she fired at the photograph of the Eastern beauty on the mantel, the
bullet, instead of penetrating the photo and then striking the disk,
went into the lower left side of Bob Hart's neck. Not expecting to get
it there, Hart collapsed neatly, while Cherry fainted in a most artistic
The audience, surmising that they viewed a comedy instead of a tragedy
in which the principals were married or reconciled, applauded with great
enjoyment. The Cool Head, who always graces such occasions, rang the
curtain down, and two platoons of scene shifters respectively and more
or less respectfully removed Hart & Cherry from the stage. The next turn
went on, and all went as merry as an alimony bell.
The stage hands found a young doctor at the stage entrance who was
waiting for a patient with a decoction of Am. B'ty roses. The doctor
examined Hart carefully and laughed heartily.
"No headlines for you, Old Sport," was his diagnosis. "If it had been
two inches to the left it would have undermined the carotid artery as
far as the Red Front Drug Store in Flatbush and Back Again. As it is,
you just get the property man to bind it up with a flounce torn from any
one of the girls' Valenciennes and go home and get it dressed by the
parlor-floor practitioner on your block, and you'll be all right. Excuse
me; I've got a serious case outside to look after."
After that, Bob Hart looked up and felt better. And then to where he lay
came Vincente, the Tramp Juggler, great in his line. Vincente, a solemn
man from Brattleboro, Vt., named Sam Griggs at home, sent toys and maple
sugar home to two small daughters from every town he played. Vincente
had moved on the same circuits with Hart & Cherry, and was their
"Bob," said Vincente in his serious way, "I'm glad it's no worse. The
little lady is wild about you."
"Who?" asked Hart.
"Cherry," said the juggler. "We didn't know how bad you were hurt; and
we kept her away. It's taking the manager and three girls to hold her."
"It was an accident, of course," said Hart. "Cherry's all right. She
wasn't feeling in good trim or she couldn't have done it. There's no
hard feelings. She's strictly business. The doctor says I'll be on the
job again in three days. Don't let her worry."
"Man," said Sam Griggs severely, puckering his old, smooth, lined face,
"are you a chess automaton or a human pincushion? Cherry's crying her
heart out for you--calling 'Bob, Bob,' every second, with them holding
her hands and keeping her from coming to you."
"What's the matter with her?" asked Hart, with wide-open eyes. "The
sketch'll go on again in three days. I'm not hurt bad, the doctor says.
She won't lose out half a week's salary. I know it was an accident.
What's the matter with her?"
"You seem to be blind, or a sort of a fool," said Vincente. "The girl
loves you and is almost mad about your hurt. What's the matter with
_you_? Is she nothing to you? I wish you could hear her call you."
"Loves me?" asked Bob Hart, rising from the stack of scenery on which he
lay. "Cherry loves me? Why, it's impossible."
"I wish you could see her and hear her," said Griggs.
"But, man," said Bob Hart, sitting up, "it's impossible. It's
impossible, I tell you. I never dreamed of such a thing."
"No human being," said the Tramp Juggler, "could mistake it. She's wild
for love of you. How have you been so blind?"
"But, my God," said Bob Hart, rising to his feet, "it's _too late_. It's
too late, I tell you, Sam; _it's too late_. It can't be. You must be
wrong. It's _impossible_. There's some mistake.
"She's crying for you," said the Tramp Juggler. "For love of you she's
fighting three, and calling your name so loud they don't dare to raise
the curtain. Wake up, man."
"For love of me?" said Bob Hart with staring eyes. "Don't I tell you
it's too late? It's too late, man. Why, _Cherry and I have been married