The Return of Peter Grimm
191 Pages

The Return of Peter Grimm


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Project Gutenberg's The Return of Peter Grimm, by David Belasco
Edited by Montrose J. Moses
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,
give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at
Title: The Return of Peter Grimm
Author: David Belasco
Edited by Montrose J. Moses
Release Date: August 29, 2004 [EBook #13319]
Language: English
Produced by David Starner, Charles Bidwell and PG Distributed Proofreaders
(Born, San Francisco, July 25, 1853)
The present Editor has had many opportunities of studying the theatre side of David Belasco. He has been privileged to
hear expressed, by this Edison of our stage, diverse opinions about plays and players of the past, and about insurgent
experiments of the immediate hour. He has always found a man quickly responsive to the best memories of the past, an
artist naively childlike in his love of the theatre, shaped by old conventions and modified by new inventions. Belasco is the
one individual manager to-day who has a workshop of his own; he is pre-eminently a creator, whereas his
contemporaries, like Charles Frohman, were emphatically manufacturers of goods in the amusement line.
Such a man is entitled to deep respect, for the "carry-on" ...



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Published 08 December 2010
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Language English
Project Gutenberg's The Return of Peter Grimm,by David BelascoEdited by Montrose J. MosesThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere atno cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under theterms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: The Return of Peter GrimmAuthor: David Belasco        Edited by Montrose J. MosesRelease Date: August 29, 2004 [EBook #13319]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM***Produced by David Starner, Charles Bidwell andPG Distributed Proofreaders
DAVID BELASCO(Born, San Francisco, July 25, 1853)The present Editor has had many opportunities ofstudying the theatre side of David Belasco. He hasbeen privileged to hear expressed, by this Edisonof our stage, diverse opinions about plays andplayers of the past, and about insurgentexperiments of the immediate hour. He has alwaysfound a man quickly responsive to the bestmemories of the past, an artist naively childlike inhis love of the theatre, shaped by old conventionsand modified by new inventions. Belasco is the oneindividual manager to-day who has a workshop ofhis own; he is pre-eminently a creator, whereas hiscontemporaries, like Charles Frohman, wereemphatically manufacturers of goods in theamusement line.Such a man is entitled to deep respect, for the"carry-on" spirit with which he holds aloft thebanner used by Boucicault, Wallack, Palmer, andDaly. It is wrong to credit him with deafness toinnovation, with blindness to new combinations. Heis neither of these. It is difficult to find a managermore willing to take infinite pains for effect, with noheed to the cost; it is impossible to place abovehim a director more successful in creatingatmosphere and in procuring unity of cooperationfrom his staff. No one, unless it be Winthrop Ames,
gives more personal care to a production thanDavid Belasco. Considering that he was reared inthe commercial theatre, his position is unique anddistinctive.In the years to come, when students enter theColumbia University Dramatic Museum, founded byProfessor Brander Matthews, they will be able tojudge, from the model of the stage set for "PeterGrimm," exactly how far David Belasco's much-talked-of realism went; they will rightly regard it asthe high point in accomplishment before the adventof the "new" scenery, whose philosophy Belascounderstands, but whose artistic spirit he cannotaccept. Maybe, by that time, there will bepreserved for close examination the manuscripts ofBelasco's plays—models of thoroughness, ofmanagerial foresight. The present Editor hadoccasion once to go through these typewrittencopies; and there remains impressed on thememory the detailed exposition in "The Darling ofthe Gods." Here was not only indicated everyshade of lighting, but the minute stage business foracting, revealing how wholly the manager gavehimself over to the creation of atmosphere. Iexamined a mass of data—"boot plots," "lightplots," "costume designs." Were the play everpublished in this form, while it might confuse thegeneral reader, it would enlighten the specialist. Itwould be a key to realistic stage management, inwhich Belasco excels. Whether it be his own play,or that of some outsider, with whom, in the finalproduct, Belasco always collaborates, themanuscripts, constituting his producing library, are
evidence of his instinctive eye for stage effect.The details in the career of David Belasco areeasily accessible. It is most unfortunate that thestupendous record of his life's accomplishmentthus far, which, in two voluminous books,constituted the final labour of the late WilliamWinter, is not more truly reflective of the man andhis work. It fails to reproduce the flavour of thedramatic periods through which Belasco passed, inhis association with Dion Boucicault as privatesecretary, in his work with James A. Herne atBaldwin's Theatre, in San Francisco, in his pioneerrealism at the old New York Madison SquareTheatre, when the Mallory Brothers weremanagers, Steele Mackaye was one of the stockdramatists, Henry DeMille was getting ready forcollaboration with Belasco, Daniel Frohman washouse-manager and Charles Frohman was out onthe road, trying his abilities as advance-man forWallack and Madison Square successes. Winter'slife is orderly and matter-of-fact; Belasco's real lifehas always been melodramatic and colourful.His early struggles in San Francisco, his initialattempts at playwriting, his intercourse with all thebig actors of the golden period of the '60's—Mr.Belasco has written about them in a series ofmagazine reminiscences, which, if they are lackingin exact sequence, are measure of his type ofmind, of his vivid memory, of his personal opinions.Belasco has reached his position throughindependence which, in the '90's, brought down
upon him the relentless antagonism of theTheatrical Trust—a combine of managers thatfeared the advent of so individualistic a playwrightand manager. They feared his ability to do somany things well, and they disliked the way thepublic supported him. This struggle, tempestuousand prolonged, is in the records.A man who has any supreme, absorbing interest atall is one who thrives on vagaries. WhateverBelasco has touched since his days ofapprenticeship in San Francisco, he hassucceeded in imposing upon it what is popularlycalled "the Belasco atmosphere." Though he haddone a staggering amount of work before comingto New York, and though, when he went to theLyceum Theatre, he and Henry DeMille wonreputation by collaborating in "The Wife," "LordChumley," "The Charity Ball," and "Men andWomen," he was probably first individualized in theminds of present-day theatregoers when Mrs.Leslie Carter made a sensational swing acrossstage, holding on to the clapper of a bell in "TheHeart of Maryland." Even thus early, he wasdisplaying characteristics for which, in later days,he remained unexcelled. He was helping BronsonHoward to touch up "Baron Rudolph," "TheBanker's Daughter" and "The Young Mrs.Winthrop;" he was succeeding with a dramatizationof H. Rider Haggard's "She," where William Gillettehad failed in the attempt."The Heart of Maryland" established both Belascoand Mrs. Carter. Then he started on that
extravagant period of spectacular drama, whichgave to the stage such memorable pictures as "Du, Barry"with Mrs. Carter, and "The Darling of theGods," with Blanche Bates. In such pieces heliterally threw away the possibilities of profit, inorder to gratify his decorative sense. Out of thattime came two distinctive pieces—one, theexquisitely poignant "Madame Butterfly" and theother, "The Girl of the Golden West"— both givinginspiration to the composer, Puccini, whodiscovered that a Belasco play was better suitedfor the purposes of colourful Italian opera than anyother American dramas he examined.Counting his western vicissitudes as one period,and the early New York days as a second, onemight say that in the third period David Belascoexhibited those excellences and limitations whichwere thereafter to mark him and shape all hiswork. There is an Oriental love of colour and effectin all he does; but there is no monotony about it."The Darling of the Gods" was different from "TheGirl of the Golden West," and both were distinctfrom "The Rose of the Rancho." It is this scenicdecorativeness which has enriched many a slimpiece, accepted by him for presentation, and sucha play has always been given that care andattention which has turned it eventually into aBelasco "offering." None of his collaborators willgainsay this genius of his. John Luther Long'snovel was unerringly dramatized; Richard WaltonTully, when he left the Belasco fold, imitated theBelasco manner, in "The Bird of Paradise" and"Omar, the Tentmaker." And that same ability
Belasco possesses to dissect the heart of aromantic piece was carried by him into war drama,and into parlour comedies, and plays of businesscondition. I doubt whether "The Auctioneer" wouldread well, or, for the matter of that, "The MusicMaster;" Charles Klein has written more coherentdialogue than is to be found in these early pieces.But they are vivid in mind because of Belasco'smanagement, and because he saw them fitted tothe unique figure of David Warfield.But a Belasco success is furthered by thetremendous public curiosity that follows him in allhe does. There is a wizardry about him whichfascinates, and makes excellent reading in thepress. Long before I saw the three-winged screenupon which it is his custom to sort out and pin uphis random notes for a play, it was featured in thepress. So were pictures of his "collection," in roomsadjoining his studio—especially his Napoleonictreasures which are a by-product of his Du Barrydays. No man of the theatre is more constantly onthe job than he. It is said that old John Dee, thefamous astrologer whom Queen Elizabeth so oftenconsulted, produced plays when he was a studentat Cambridge University, with stage effects whichonly one gifted in the secrets of magic could haveconsummated. Belasco paints with an electricswitchboard, until the emotion of his play isunmistakably impressed upon the eye. At amoment's notice he will root out his prosceniumarch, and build a "frame" which obliterates thefootlights; at another time he will build an "apron" tohis stage, not for its historical significance, but
merely to give depth and mellowness to such anecclesiastical picture as Knoblauch's "Marie-Odile."He has spent whole nights alone in the theatreauditorium with his electrician, "feeling" for the"siesta" somnolence which carried his audienceinstantly into the Spanish heat of old California, in"The Rose of the Rancho;" and the moving scenerywhich took the onlooker from the foot-hills of theSierras to the cabin of "The Girl of the GoldenWest" was a "trick" well worth the experiment.Thus, no manager is more ingenious, moreresourceful than David Belasco. But his care fordetail is often a danger; he does not know fully thevalue of elimination; the eye of the observer isoften worried by the multiplicity of detail, wherereticence would have been more quickly effective.This is the Oriental in Belasco. His is a strangeblend of realism and decorativeness."A young man came to me once," he said to me,"with the manuscript of a new play, which hadpossibilities in it. But after I had talked with himawhile, I found him preaching the doctrines of the'new' art. So I said to him, 'My dear sir, here isyour manuscript. The first scene calls for atenement-house set. How would you mount it?'"He smiled, maybe at the recollection of GordonCraig's statements that "actuality, accuracy ofdetail, are useless on the stage," and that "all is amatter of proportion and nothing to do withactuality."
"I felt," Mr. Belasco continued, "that the young manwould find difficulty in reconciling the nebulousperspectives of Mr. Craig with the squalor of a cityblock. I said to him, 'I have been producing formany years, and I have mounted various playscalling for differing atmospheres. I don't want todestroy your ideals regarding the 'new art', but Iwant you to realize that a manager has to conformhis taste to the material he has in hand. I considerthat one of the most truthful sets I have ever hadon the stage was the one for the second act ofEugene Walter's 'The Easiest Way'. A boarding-house room on the top floor cannot be treated inany other way than as a boarding-house room.And should I take liberties with what we know for afact exists in New York, on Seventh Avenue, justoff Broadway, then I am a bad producer and do notknow my business. I do not say there is nosuggestion in realism; it is unwise to clutter thestage with needless detail. But we cannot idealize alittle sordid ice-box where a working girl keeps hermiserable supper; we cannot symbolize a brokenjug standing in a wash-basin of loud design. Thoseare the necessary evils of a boarding-house, and Imust be true to them.'"One will have to give Mr. Belasco this credit, thatwhatever he is, he is it to the bent of his powers.Had he lived in Elizabeth's day, he would havebeen an Elizabethan heart and soul. But his habit isformed as a producer, and he conforms the "new"art to this habit as completely as ReinhardtReinhardtized the morality play, "Everyman," orVon Hofmannsthal Teutonized "Elektra."