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Strange Duets

Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865-1914

Kim Marra

Publication Year: 2006

Autocratic male impresarios increasingly dominated the American stage between 1865 and 1914. Many rose from poor immigrant roots and built their own careers by making huge stars out of “undiscovered,” Anglo-identified actresses. Reflecting the antics of self-made industrial empire-builders and independent, challenging New Women, these theatrical potentates and their protégées gained a level of wealth and celebrity comparable to that of Hollywood stars today. In her engaging and provocative Strange Duets, Kim Marra spotlights three passionate impresario-actress relationships of exceptional duration that encapsulated the social tensions of the day and strongly influenced the theatre of the twentieth century. Augustin Daly and Ada Rehan, Charles Frohman and Maude Adams, and David Belasco and Mrs. Leslie Carter reigned over “legitimate” Broadway theatre, the venue of greatest social cachet for the monied classes. Unlike impresarios and actresses in vaudeville and burlesque, they produced full-length spoken drama that involved special rigors of training and rehearsal to sustain a character’s emotional “truth” as well as a high level of physical athleticism and endurance. Their efforts compelled fascination at a time when most people believed women’s emotions were seated primarily in the reproductive organs and thus were fundamentally embodied and sexual in nature. While the impresario ostensibly exercised full control over his leading lady, showing fashionable audiences that the exciting but unruly New Woman could be both tamed and enjoyed, she acquired a power of her own that could bring him to his knees.Kim Marra combines methods of cultural, gender, and sexuality studies with theatre history to explore the vexed mutual dependency between these status-seeking Svengalis and their alternately willing and resistant leading ladies. She illuminates how their on- and off-stage performances, highly charged in this Darwinian era with “racial” as well as gender, sexual, and class dynamics, tapped into the contradictory fantasies and aspirations of their audiences. Played out against a backdrop of enormous cultural and institutional transformation, the volatile romance of Daly and Rehan, closeted homosexuality of Frohman and Adams, and carnal expiations of Belasco and Carter produced strange duets indeed.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This book has been fourteen years in the making. Many individuals and organizations helped me along the way. First, I must thank Thomas Postlewait, editor of the Studies in Theatre History and Culture Series. After contracting the project in 1999, Tom responded to various drafts with extraordinary thoroughness, rigor, and insight. He is truly the type of editor who helps one discover...

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Introduction: Premier Assertions

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pp. xiii-xxii

In the spring of 1888, Daly’s Theatre company set sail for a momentous English tour. The repertoire featured impresario Augustin Daly’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, starring his leading lady, Ada Rehan, as the eponymous Katharine. Shrew’s London premier would mark the first production of a Shakespearean comedy by an American company on the bard’s home turf.1...

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Pioneering on the Theatrical Frontier: Augustin Daly’s Early Ventures

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pp. 1-30

In the annals of theatre history,Augustin Daly (1838–1899) holds the status of first American régisseur, or autocratic producer-director. Employing methods analogous to those of the seminal European régisseurs Richard Wagner and Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, Daly made each stage presentation a realization of his own, singular vision. Like Wagner, he believed his vision...

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A Troubled Republic: Daly and His Leading Ladies

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pp. 31-71

Beginning at New York’s Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1869, Daly established an institutional structure through which he could gain and maintain control of his theatrical destiny. He resigned his various newspaper posts to devote himself to the venture full time. If in the previous decade he was obliged to work chiefly at others’ behest, he now attempted to govern all aspects of production...

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Birds of a Feather: The Queer Theatrical Empire of Charles Frohman and Maude Adams

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pp. 73-103

The year after Augustin Daly triumphed with the 1888 London engagement of his Taming of the Shrew, starring Ada Rehan, a younger manager, Charles Frohman (1860–1915), scored his career-launching hit in New York with Bronson Howard’s Shenandoah. From that 1889 opening until his untimely death on the Lusitania in 1915, Frohman would far surpass Daly in the scope...

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Through Fairy and Fowl: Civilization by Sexual Inversion on Frohman’s Imperial Stages

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pp. 105-141

On 19 May 1900, Charles Frohman and Maude Adams sat down to dinner with Sarah Bernhardt, perhaps then the most famous actress in the Western world. The American impresario and actress were visiting Paris to see the French diva in L’Aiglon, or The Eaglet, Edmond Rostand’s play about the frail son of Napoleon I, in which Adams was to appear that fall. Bernhardt hosted the dinner in Adams’s honor with twenty distinguished authors and members...

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A Priestly Acting Pedagogy:David Belasco’s Quest for Sexual Knowledge

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pp. 143-175

In 1879 in his hometown of San Francisco, three years before he would move to New York, young David Belasco, a Jew of Portugese descent, stage managed Salmi Morse’s The Passion: A Miracle Play portraying the life of Christ in ten acts. This was an extraordinary event on many counts. The huge stage of the Grand Opera House—80 feet deep by 106 feet wide—accommodated...

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Drilling Her in the Emotional Parts: David Belasco Trains Mrs. Leslie Carter for the Stage

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pp. 177-214

With the publication of Du Maurier’s novel,Trilby (1894), its rapidly produced dramatization (1895), and the “Trilby craze” it spawned, the story of the bohemian artist’s model and the darkly Semitic Svengali who made her sing gripped public imaginings of relations between impresarios and actresses at the turn of the last century. This fictional duo codified a view of the actress as an...

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Imperial Expiations: Belasco’s Othered Worlds

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pp. 215-255

In George Du Maurier’s Trilby, Svengali and his protégée tour the richest concert halls of Europe, culminating their cultural climb at Paris’s once dazzlingly exotic arena, the Cirque des Bashibazoucks. Rapturous audience members, including powerful dignitaries, reel in thrall to Trilby’s uncanny voice. Through her, Svengali possesses and rouses them to ecstatic emotional...

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Epilogue: Phantoms of Broadway

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pp. 257-260

The original novel, The Phantom of the Opera, by the French journalist and suspense fiction writer Gaston Leroux, first appeared in the United States in 1910.1 It has since spawned numerous film, stage, and television versions, most famously the 1925 silent film produced by Carl Laemmle starring Lon Chaney and the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with lyrics by Charles...


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pp. 261-311


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pp. 313-339


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pp. 341-352

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297410
E-ISBN-10: 1587297418
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459934
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459932

Page Count: 378
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture