Solomon Franklin Smith (1801–1869)
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43 Solomon Franklin Smith (1801–1869) Born in Norwich, New York, the son of farmers, young Sol Smith fell in love with the theater when he was only fourteen after reading Shakespeare and seeing a dramatic performance in Albany. Before finding an opportunity to become a part of the theatrical world, he was a store clerk, a printer’s apprentice , and a student of law. Finally in 1820 he made his professional debut on stage and proved to be especially adept in low comedy parts. After he met and married a singer and actress, he settled for a while in Cincinnati before he decided on a career in theatrical management. He followed opportunities in New York, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Mobile, Alabama. Partnered successfully with Noah M. Ludlow, the pair dominated the theatrical world in the South and West for nearly two decades and became noted for their fair dealings with performers. Smith became close friends with P. T. Barnum and brought to the stage some of the most popular actors of the time, such as Junius B. Booth, Charles and Ellen Kean, and Joseph Jefferson III. Even before he retired from his theatrical career in 1853, and settled in St. Louis to practice law, Smith had already begun to publish comic sketches and tales about his adventures traveling through the Old Southwest—including Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Alabama—in the New York Spirit of the Times and the St. Louis Reveille. His first book collected these in 1845 as Sol Smith’s Theatrical Apprenticeship, to be followed in 1854 by Sol Smith’s Theatrical Journey Work. Just before his death, Smith combined both books into one, divided the material into five “acts,” and published it as Theatrical Management in the West and South for Thirty Years in 1868. Known in the theater as “Old Sol” for his expert elderly comic roles, Smith brought to the printed page some of the same warmth and good humor he generated on stage with his stories about conmen, eccentrics, and unscrupulous activities. No doubt his experience as an actor gave him an edge in capturing the common character of the people he wrote about. 44 Southern Frontier Humor Texts: “A Tennessee Door-Keeper,”“The Consolate Widow,”“Speculation in Whiskers,” and “An Unfinished Obituary,” from Theatrical Management in the West and South for Thirty Years (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868). A Tennessee Door-Keeper At Greenville, East Tennessee, we made a halt, and determined to treat the inhabitants of that beautiful village with three representations of the “legitimate drama,” in a carpenter’s shop, hastily, but tastefully fitted up for the occasion. The first representation was attended by just six people, making the total receipts of the evening THREE DOLLARS! My landlord, the carpenter, attributed the slim attendance to a camp-meeting that was in successful operation about two miles from town, and“reckoned”that if I would“hold on” until that broke up, we should have full shops every night. Thus urged, we did “hold on,” and our next performance was rewarded with a receipt of TWO DOLLARS AND A HALF! I proposed to decamp next morning, but the printer of the Greenville Expositor (who was on the free-list as a matter of course) remonstrated against so sudden a move, urging that a third performance must be successful, as it was quite certain the camp-meeting would break up that morning, and the young folk would all return to their homes. I yielded and advertised for “positively the last performance” the play of WILLIAM TELL, a favorite afterpiece, and a lot of comic songs. At the time of beginning I was glad to find a crowded audience in waiting— the shop, work-bench and all, was literally crammed. One of the carpenter’s apprentices, whom I had transformed into a citizen of Altorf for the occasion, told me that all but five or six of the people in front were religious folks, who had attended the camp-meeting faithfully to its conclusion. The performance proceeded—the actors were in high spirits. Lyne bullied Governor Gesler with great fierceness; Sarnem whacked the carpenter’s apprentice with a hearty good-will, while the latter was making a bow to the governor ’s cap, on a pole five feet and a half high—the arrow, aimed at the apple on Albert’s head, flew, with remarkable exactness, into the horse-blanket held up as a target to receive it behind the scenes...


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