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Maurice Browne and the Chicago Little Theatre CHARLES LOCK The recent revival of interest in Eugene O'Neill has a certain polemical, even ideological bias: the revival has occasioned very little research into or argument about O'Neill's sources and influences because it depends on the assumption of O'Neill as initiator, as the origin of American drama. A sampling of two scholarly books from the 1950S and one from the 1980s should indicate sufficiently the manner in which O'Neill has been deprived of his ancestry. In Bernard Duffey's The Chicago Renaissance ill American Letters (1954) we read of the Chicago Little Theatre that: Its example was influential in the formation of the Provincetown Players, through George Cram Cook's connection with it, and the Washington Square Players, upon their formation, sent representatives to study its methods and achievements. I Henry F. May, in The End of American Innocence (1959), elaborates on Cook's movements and connections: In Davenport, Iowa, (Cook] met Floyd Dell. . . . When Den became literary editor of the Chicago Evening Post he made Cook his assistant. In Chicago Cook saw the Irish Players and Maurice Browne's little theater. In 19 I 3. shortly after his marriage to Susan Glaspell. another Davenport writer, Cook came to Provincetown.2 For both these scholars, writing at a time when many of the principal figures were still alive, the course of influence, from the Chicago Little Theatre to Cook to Provincetown to O'Neill, was accepted and established. A contrast is afforded by a recent book, Christopher Bigsby's Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, Volume One: 1900-1940 (1982). There Maurice Browne's narne is misspelt, and the Chicago Little Theatre receives a mere two mentions, to be dismissed on the dubious grounds that as the Little Maurice Browne and the Chicago Little Theatre 107 Theatre gave rise to no major American playwright it merits no part in the history ofAmerican drama.3 The introduction onto the American stage ofplays by Euripides, Chekhov, Suindberg and Yeats, together with radical concepts and styles ofproduction, is thus rendered irrelevant, even (perhaps) un-American. The founder of the Chicago Little Theatre was an Englishman: hence the un-American spelling. Later, back in England, Maurice Browne was to achieve immense fame and riches as the producer in 1929 ofR.C. Sherriff's Journey's End. As director and impresario Browne was responsible for bringing Gielgud's Hamlet to the West End, and for supposing that the star of Show-Boat would make a spectacular Othello. The Roderigo supporting Robeson was Ralph Richardson, then quite unknown. Such, blended of vulgarity and intuition, is the stuff oftheauicallegend; and it has obscured the seriousness of Browne's conuibution. In the 1930S a lecture by Browne was introduced by George Bernard Shaw: Ladies and gentlemen, you all know the name of Maurice Browne. You all know that he is running six West End theatres simultaneously and ... Well, I'm here to tell you that none ofthese things matters atuppenny damn. The work this man sitting behind me did twenty years ago on a fourth-floor-back in Chicago - that is what matters.4 Born in 1881, educated at Winchester and Cambridge, Browne had no definite vocation nor specific ambition when he went to America in 1910. He had been a teacher, and a peripheral figure in Eddie Marsh's circle ofthose who would later be known as the Georgian poets. In that circle Browne was close to Louis Wilkinson, whose novels and memoirs were published under the name Louis Marlow, and whose friendship with John Cowper Powys was to prove crucial for the Little Theatre. Between 1904 and 1906 Browne was teaching in India, where he met the American poet Arthur Davison Ficke. When Browne returned to England and set up as a publisher, his Samurai Press issued Ficke's first volume of poetry, From the Isles, in '907. But neither as teacher nor as publisher had Browne had any conspicuous success, and he had given little thought to the theatre. Browne went to the United States in 1910 in pursuit of an actress with whom in Florence he had fallen in love...


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