Monthly Archives: December 2021

a glimpse of Paul Dresser


mention of Paul Dresser – National Police Gazette 8-3-1889 (2)


In front of Dockstader’s I met genial Paul Dresser, the comedian and song writer. He told me the origin of his song, “Here Lies an Actor.” “I was down in Petersburg, Va., one night.” said he, “feeling very blue. It was raining. The hotel room in which I sat was gloomy. The furniture was old. The curtains were in shreds. The window were cracked and dirty. I felt blue; I had little money in my [pocket?]. I felt devilish blue and melanchol. I left my room and went down stairs into the parlor. The [parlor?] was more cheery than my room, and in [the middle of?] it stood an organ. I sat at the organ and let my fingers run over the keys. My melancholy mixed with the music. I played this, that and the other. I thought of the hard lot of some actors. Finally I struck an original tune. Slowly the music of “Here Lies an Actor” was found, and before I went to bed that night I scribbled the tune on dingy note paper, and that’s the origin of that popular song.”

As I left Mr. Paul Dresser and strolled down Broadway, I ran across Bloke, who told me he was to get the munificent salary of sixty a week next season.

I looked at him for moment and then, as I passed on, I hummed to myself, sarcastically, the persistent refrain:

“Here Lies an Actor!”

— “Paul Dresser’s Plaint.” The National Police Gazette, August 3, 1889




The meeting with Dreiser of “Rosen,” the vaudeville critic who wrote this piece, occurred in Manhattan. Lew Dockstader (1856-1924; born George A. Clapp) was a vaudeville actor who became known for minstrel shows.




Also of interest.

Theodore Dreiser, “My Brother Paul,” in Dreiser’s Twelve Men (Boni and Liveright, 1919)


Clayton W. Henderson, On the Banks of the Wabash: The Life and Music of Paul Dresser (Indiana Historical Society, 2003)



– posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

“Dreiser is a great novelist, narrator and portraitist of capitalist America, a great interpreter of”human nature, … but he does not know women.” (Ruth Kennell on “A Gallery of Women”)


Ruth Kennell review of A Gallery of Women – Chicago Daily News 12-11-1929

Ruth Kennell review of A Gallery of Women RUSSIAN

Ruth Kennell review of A Gallery of Women TRANSLATION

Ruth Kennell remarks re A Gallery of Women (Airmail Interview)


Posted here (downloadable Word documents above) are my transcriptions and translations of the following:

review of A Gallery of Women (published anonymously) by Ruth Kennell, Chicago Daily News. December 11, 1929

РУТ КЕННЕЛЬ, «ГАЛЛЕРЕЯ ЖЕНЩИН» ТЕОДОРА ДРАЙЗЕРА, в Собрании сочинений Теодора Драйзера, Москва, 1938 (Ruth Kennell, “A Gallery of Women” by Theodore Dreiser, in The Collected Works of Theodore Dreiser, Moscow, 1938) — posted here are both the original Russian and my English translation.

Ruth Kennell was the “Ernita” of A Gallery of Women. She does not disclose this in either article.

Ruth Epperson Kennell (1893-1977), an American expatriate, became acquainted with Dreiser during the latter’s trip to the Soviet Union in 1927-1928. She served as secretary. translator, and guide for Dreiser and became Dreiser’s lover.

After Kennell’s return to America in 1928, she maintained an acquaintance with Dreiser but the two were not intimate. Kennell was the author of Theodore Dreiser and the Soviet Union (1969).


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

a “ ‘past-lack’ motivating impulse”


Culhane … resented people using him or his methods to get anywhere, do anything more in life than he could do, and yet he received them. He felt, and I think in the main that he was right, that they looked down on him because of his lowly birth and purely material and mechanical career, and yet having attained some distinction by it he could not forego this work which raised him, in a way, to a position of dominance over these people. Now the sight of presumably so efficient a person in need of aid or exercise, to be built up, was all that was required to spur him on to the most waspish or wolfish attitude imaginable. In part at least he argued, I think (for in the last analysis he was really too wise and experienced to take any such petty view, although there is a subconscious “past-lack” motivating impulse [italics added] in all our views), that here he was, an ex-policeman, ex-wrestler, ex­prize fighter, ex-private, ex-waiter, beef-carrier, bouncer, trainer; and here was this grand major, trained at West Point, who actually didn’t know any more about life or how to take care of his body than to be compelled to come here, broken down at forty-eight, whereas he, because of his stamina and Spartan energy, had been able to survive in perfect condition until sixty and was now in a position to rebuild all these men and wastrels and to control this great institution. — “Culhane, The Solid Man,” in Theodore Dreiser, Twelve Men, edited by Robert Coltrane (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), pg. 152




“[T]here is a subconscious ‘past-lack’ motivating impulse in all our views.” So wrote Theodore Dreiser. This is a clever, original way of saying something by Dreiser, essentially about himself. He had a way of struggling to come with the right word or phrase, and inventing rough-hewn ones, near neologisms to make his meaning plain. Dreiser could identify with Culhane because he himself never overcame the feelings of deprivation and poverty he had experienced growing up — I would be inclined to say emotional deprivation and neglect as well as poverty and want in the commonly understood sense.


– posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

Sandhog (musical)




Posted here is the music from “Sandhog: A Folk Opera in 3 Acts,” which was performed at the at the Phoenix Theater in New York from November 23, 1954 through January 2, 1955 (at the same time when my own father was the musical director for numerous theatrical productions in Boston). “Sandhog” was a dramatization of Theodore Dreiser’s story “St. Columba and the River.”



Earl Robinson, Singer and Pianist; Waldo Salt, Narrator

1. Come Down; Johnny’s Cursing Song

2. Johnny-O

3. Good Old Days; – Song of the Bends

4. By the Glenside; Sandhog Song

5. Sweat Song; Fugue on a Hot Afternoon in a Small Flat

6. T-w-i-n-s; Katie O’Sullivan

7. Work Song; Death of Tim; Sing Sorrow

8. Ma, Ma, Where’s My Dad?; The Greathead Shield; In the Tunnel; Sam on the Stick; Cursing Song (Reprise); Johnny-O (Reprise); Sandhog Song (Finale)

9. Come Down; Some Said They Were Crazy (Company)

10. Johnny’s Cursing Song (Jack Cassidy)

11. Come and Be Married; Johnny-O (Jack Cassidy, Betty Oakes)

12. By the Glendside (Alice Ghostley)

13. Sandhog Song – Company

14. Katie-O (Edmund Hockridge, 1957)

15. Johnny-O (Felicia Sanders, 1957)

16. Katie-O (Vince Martin, 1957)


The production closed after 48 performances and the show went unrecorded. In 1956, Earl Robinson and Waldo Salt recorded an album of ‘Sandhog’ with Robinson singing the score and accompanying himself on piano and Salt providing linking narration. The album was subsequently issued on the Vanguard label.



Dreiser’s short story “St. Columba and the River” was initially published under the title “Glory Be! McGlathery” in 1925 before being published in 1927 in Dreiser’s Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories.

The initial source for “St. Columba and the River” was an article Dreiser wrote in 1904 for the United Press, “Just What Happened When the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel.”

The setting is the North River (the earlier name for the Hudson River) Tunnel Works and the surrounding neighborhood in downtown New York in the late 1880’s, as per articles about the disaster and Dreiser’s own retrospective account..

The plot of the story was as follows: An Irish-Catholic immigrant, Dennis McGlathery, is hired by his “fellow churchman,” Thomas Cavanaugh, to dig a tunnel under the Hudson River. Three times the powerful river destroys the tunnel and drowns the “sandhogs,” despite the introduction of improved tunneling mechanisms. McGlathery himself survives each disaster. Cavanaugh sacrifices his own life with courage that both frightens and inspires McGlathery. Encouraged by Cavanaugh’s example, McGlathery plugs a leak with his own body before being blown out of the tunnel up to the river’s surface, thus concluding his tunneling career as a hero.



“Sandhog: A Folk Opera in 3 Acts”


Earl Robinson, Playwright

Waldo Salt, Playwright

Howard Da Silva, Director

Ben Steinberg, Musical Director

Sophie Maslow, Choreographer

Howard Bay, Production and Lighting Designer

Toni Ward, Costume Designer

CAST: Jack Cassidy (Johnny O’Sullivan), David Brooks (Tim Cavanaugh), Betty Oakes (Katie O’Sullivan) Alice Ghostley (Sheila Cavanaugh) Gordon Dilworth (Sharkey) Douglas Collins (Bill Clayton) Paul Ukena (Fred Burger) Michael Kermoyan (Joe Novak).


Earl Robinson was a composer, arranger and folk music singer-songwriter from Seattle, Washington. Robinson is remembered for his music, including the cantata “Ballad for Americans” and songs such as “Joe Hill” and “Black and White”, which expressed his left-leaning political views. He wrote many popular songs and music for Hollywood films. He was a member of the Communist Party from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Robinson studied composition at the University of Washington. In 1934 he moved to New York City where he studied with Hanns Eisler and Aaron Copland. He was also involved with the depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project, and was actively involved in the anti-fascist movement and was the musical director at the Communist-run Camp Unity in upstate New York. In the 1940s he worked on film scores in Hollywood until he was blacklisted for being a Communist. Unable to work in Hollywood, he moved back to New York, where he headed the music program at Elisabeth Irwin High School, directing the orchestra and chorus.

Waldo Salt was an American screenwriter who won Academy Awards for both Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home. Salt’s career in Hollywood was interrupted when he was blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. Like many other blacklisted writers, while he was unable to work in Hollywood Salt wrote pseudonymously for the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood. After the collapse of the blacklist, Salt won Academy Awards for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for his work on Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, and a nomination for Serpico.

Howard Da Silva was an American actor, director and musical performer on stage, film, television and radio. He was cast in dozens of productions on the New York stage, appeared in more than two dozen television programs, and acted in more than fifty feature films. Adept at both drama and musicals on the stage, he originated the role of Jud Fry in the original 1943 run of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!

Da Silva was blacklisted the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation into alleged Communist influence in the industry. He was eventually cleared of any charges in 1960.



“He was a lean, bitter starveling in those days [at the period of time which Dreiser writes about in An Amateur Laborer], seeking fame, self-justification. And the work he did to keep alive–he worked on one of the tunnels, under the waters of Manhattan, became partly deaf.” — Lester Cohen, “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir,” Discovery no. 4 (1954)

I have wondered about this the accuracy of this comment. Lester Cohen was a reliable writer. But I could find no mention elsewhere (in Dreiser sources) indicting that Dreiser worked as a sandhog. He may well have known and interviewed some.



reviews of “Sandhog”

1 Brooks Atkinson review of ‘Sandhog’ – NY Times 11-24-1954

2 Harry Raymond review of ‘Sandhog’ – Daily Worker 11-29-1954


See also my post:

Theodore Dreiser, “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”

Theodore Dreiser, “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021