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.
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).
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 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
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.
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.
Dreiser’s preface was a letter to Sender Garlin, dated April 28, 1943.
Sender Garlin (1902-1999) was on the staff of the Daily Worker from the late 1920s through 1943.
Reader’s Digest was founded in 1922 by DeWitt Wallace with his wife Lila Bell Wallace. It soon became one of the most widely circulated periodicals in the world.
Wallace was a supporter of the Republican Party with strong anti-communist views, and the magazine reflected these beliefs. The magazine maintained a consistently conservative and anti-communist perspective on political and social issues.
Dreiser states that “I did not look at any of its material other than that relating to Science, but subsequent to that, and since there are ample sources of scientific data, I dropped it.” He was actively involved at the time in intensive study of scientific phenomena (futile and ultimately worthless) described in Louis J. Zanine‘s Mechanism and Mysticism: The Influence of Science on the Thought and Work of Theodore Dreiser.
Dreiser obviously dashed off the letter. It reflects his social and political views. But it is maddingly imprecise, like so much of Dreiser’s expository writing. Woolly is a good word for what I mean. Also verbose:
… from reading your, booklet, I gather the publication’s true attitude and import. It is all so fascinatingly sly, and to my way of thinking, criminal-since plainly it labors to belittle our chief and most valuable ally, and to forward the desires of the capitalistic group in this country that seeks-and has sought from the very beginning-to establish money-plenty and money-authority for the few as opposed to poverty and slavery for the masses here as elsewhere on earth. How I despise their mentally stupid and wholly material standards, particularly since this in the day when the need for scarcity for any is gone and plenty for all is here. The pity of it is that they are mentally—so thick-putting matter—show, clothes, houses—all material junk, before mind—the mind of a Shelley, for instance, or a Poe or Spencer or a Jefferson or Lincoln.
But, alas, it has to be fought out and will be. The children of the world will not always starve on five cent school lunches while the money-dunces gorge and show off from day to day and year to year.
Dreiser writing without an editor close at hand is akin to a vehicle out of control being in danger of crashing.
“In his Introduction, “Dreiser recalls the impact McTeague had on him and his career.as a writer of naturalistic fiction. He praises Norris for being one of the first rank of American realistic novelists, but laments the lack of critical attention Norris has received from European and American critics who have ‘noisily lauded’ Stephen Crane, Jack Lendon, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and Joseph Hergesheimer while ‘evading’ Norris. Dreiser is especially angry at the attention accorded Crane and at his being credited as the pioneer realist in American fiction. That honor, he felt, properly belonged to Henry B. Fuller [author of The Cliff-Dwellers, his best known work] of Chicago.” — Charles L.P. Silet, “Theodore Dreiser’s Introduction to McTeague.” Dreiser Newsletter 8 (Spring 1977): 15–17.
A well written and acute review of two films based on An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie.
A few observations, comments of my own; and additions to the content of the review.
At the end of the film Carrie, Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier), down and out and desperate, waits for Carrie (Jennifer Jones) at the stage door and approaches her as she is leaving. Carrie, startled, is shocked by his bedraggled condition. She ushers the starving Hurstwood into her dressing room, has food ordered for him, and gives him a generous amount of money from her purse at his request. Shocked by Hurstwood’s condition, Carrie vows to take him home with her and says she wants to resume the relationship. Hurstwood is noncommittal
Carrie leaves the room for a minute to see if she can borrow more money for Hurstwood’s immediate needs. Hurstwood puts the money already given him by Carrie back into her purse, fiddles with a gas jet, turning it on for a minute and then off, and leaves. The film ends.
In the novel, Sister Carrie, the last encounter between Hurstwood and Carrie is in Chapter XLVI.
That night … she passed Hurstwood, waiting at the Casino, without observing him.
The next night, walking to the theatre, she encountered him face to face. He was waiting, more gaunt than ever, determined to see her, if he had to send in word. At first she did not recognise the shabby, baggy figure. He frightened her, edging so close, a seemingly hungry stranger.
“Carrie,” he half whispered, “can I have a few words with you?”
She turned and recognised him on the instant. If there ever had lurked any feeling in her heart against him, it deserted her now. Still, she remembered what Drouet said about his having stolen the money.
“Why, George,” she said; “what’s the matter with you?”
“I’ve been sick,” he answered. “I’ve just got out of the hospital. For God’s sake, let me have a little money, will you?”
“Of course,” said Carrie, her lip trembling in a strong effort to maintain her composure. “But what’s the matter with you, anyhow?”
She was opening her purse, and now pulled out all the bills in it–a five and two twos.
“I’ve been sick, I told you,” he said, peevishly, almost resenting her excessive pity. It came hard to him to receive it from such a source.
“Here,” she said. “It’s all I have with me.”
“All right,” he answered, softly. “I’ll give it back to you some day.”
Carrie looked at him, while pedestrians stared at her. She felt the strain of publicity. So did Hurstwood.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s the matter with you?” she asked, hardly knowing what to do. “Where are you living?”
“Oh, I’ve got a room down in the Bowery,” he answered. “There’s no use trying to tell you here. I’m all right now.”
He seemed in a way to resent her kindly inquiries–so much better had fate dealt with her.
“Better go on in,” he said. “I’m much obliged, but I won’t bother you any more.”
She tried to answer, but he turned away and shuffled off toward the east.
For days this apparition was a drag on her soul before it began to wear partially away.
Of the two films, A place in the Sun and Carrie, I think the latter is much more faithful to Dreiser’s novel. Also, the black and white film and period details, costumes, etc. make Carrie very effective in this respect; they evoke a quality of the novel that made it so telling.
Leda Bauer (born Leda Vesta Bauer-Berg; 1898-1975) was a New York-based film critic, motion picture story editor; and a girlfriend of H. L. Mencken.