- Bernard Shaw and James B. Fagan, Playwright and Producer
James B. Fagan is today primarily remembered, if at all, through his Hollywood career; for example, his surviving presence on the Internet is limited to a site such as IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. There is no entry for him on Wikipedia, and he barely rates a twenty-line paragraph in the Cambridge Guide to Theatre. However, he was a prolific playwright, actor, director, and sometimes also designer both in the West End and on Broadway, and he had close connections to Bernard Shaw. Himself a complete man-of-the-theater, indeed Fagan serves as a litmus test revealing the wider theatrical world in which Shaw moved through the early years of the twentieth century, and he can be seen as an influence on Shaw’s drama.
Like Shaw, he was Irish, even serendipitously sharing the same middle name, Bernard, although born in Belfast (where his father, Sir John Fagan, was a surgeon and Inspector of Irish Reformatories) instead of Dublin. Born in 1873, he was almost twenty years younger than Shaw (though he died seventeen years before Shaw, in Hollywood in 1933). Where Shaw arrived in London as an autodidact promoting himself as a critic and lecturer, by contrast, after taking a law degree at Trinity College Dublin, Fagan started his career as an actor, debuting with F. R. Benson’s company in 1895, and later joining Beerbohm-Tree’s company, turning himself into a practical man of the theater by adding the functions of producer and director to his acting, as well as becoming a prolific playwright. Like Shaw, Fagan supported O’Casey in his problems with the Abbey Theatre, in addition to producing the British premiere of Juno and the Paycock in 1924 and reviving it at the Cambridge Festival in 1929, as well as producing the London premiere of The Plough and the Stars in [End Page 95] 1926. Both Shaw and Fagan also championed the challenge to social morality represented by Eugène Brieux, with Shaw writing a provocative introduction in 1911 to an English collection of three Brieux plays—one of which, Damaged Goods, marked Fagan’s debut as a producer in 1917—while Fagan himself translated at least one other play by Brieux, False Gods, which was published in a 1916 collection together with Woman on her Own, translated by Shaw’s wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend.1 Fagan’s first original play, The Rebel, premiered in 1899 and was picked up by the New York producers Rich & Harris, who added songs by William Mack, kicking off Fagan’s Broadway career in 1900. (At that time, only two of Shaw’s plays had reached the American stage.) Coincidentally, The Rebel is the only one of his fifteen plays in which Fagan addressed Irish topics or history—about the same total percentage as in Shaw’s work—and like Shaw too, all the rest of Fagan’s plays were aimed at the English or (particularly in Fagan’s case) American market, even though The Rebel turned out to be a major success.
A fairly standard combination of Romance and Melodrama, The Rebel was fueled by Irish sentiment, and on Broadway the role of “Hellcat” Ryan attracted a star of the time, Edward Aiken (who specialized in Irish romantic parts and went on to appear in The Bold Sojer Boy and a revival of Boucicault’s 1865 Arrah-Na-Pogue), while the songs from the play became popular favorites, among them Andrew Mack’s serenade “Oh my love!” and “Eyes of Blue” as well as a hymn to freedom and Ireland, “Tara, you shall hear the harp once more.” In 1915, less than a year after the first Hollywood feature film, The Rebel was turned into a film starring Alan Doone.2 While Fagan followed this film with a series of adventure plays set in historical or exotic locations (The Prayer of the Sword, 1904; Under Which King? 1905; and later Hawthorne of the USA, 1912, a prefiguring of James Bond set in the Balkans that opened in New York just one week before his best-known play, Bella Donna, which made Fagan the...