FROM THE LIFE
SHORE, Jane (Frances Martha Widgen), actress; b. Phila., Oct. 27, 1883; d. Mathew and Martha (Deprez) W.; ed. Leslie Academy, Phila., etc. Made her début in "The Level of Pity," 1903; first starred in "A Woman's Reason," 1904; later starred in Thomas's "A Man's a Man," 1905-06; Shaw's "Satan's Advocate," 1906; Barrie's "A Window in Thrums," 1907-09; "Romeo and Juliet," 1910; Channing Pollock's "The World, the Flesh and Little Miss Montgomery," 1911-12; Galsworthy's "The Quality of Mercy," 1913; Shakespearian rôles and repertoire, 1914-16. Address: Hoffman's Theater, New York City.—Who's Who.
IT is not easy to do any sort of truthful portrait of Jane Shore. We are all, no doubt, different with different people, and at different times, but Jane Shore is wilfully so, particularly when she sees that she is being watched. It is difficult to choose any incidents from her life that seem wholly characteristic. And it is impossible to find any brief, connected series of events that gives her inclusively. The best that one can do is to offer one's portfolio of pencil studies and say: "Glance over these. You may find one or two that you'll recognize."
At one time I had a dozen photographs of her tacked up together over a writing-desk; and invariably the stranger would say: "Who are all the good-looking girls? I recognize Jane Shore, but who are the others?"
Take, for example, the earliest anecdote about her that I have. It is the story of how, at the age of six, she rode her pony into a corner drug-store and demanded of the soda-fountain clerk that he serve her and her Shetland with ice-cream soda. She did it with childish seriousness, and the young clerk humored her by pretending to water the pony with fizzy drink while she had her glass in the saddle. And you might consider the incident typical of her imperious directness and unconventionality if there were not ground for suspicion that she knew exactly what she was doing, knew that the clerk would be amused by it, and knew that the story would be relished by her parents.
And the ground for this suspicion is found in the following consideration:
Once, when she was no more than eight, she was out driving with her father—behind the fastest and most vicious of the young horses that he delighted to fight and master—when the breeching of the harness broke, going down a hill, and the frightened animal, being butted into by the carriage, kicked back at the whiffletree, broke one of the shafts, put a hoof through the dashboard, and then bolted, with the harness breaking anew at every plunge and the hanging shaft prodding him on. They were on a country road so deeply ditched that they could not turn out of it into a fence. They were approaching a bridge, and it was improbable that they would be able to cross it safely. "Well, young lady," her father said, through his teeth, "I think we're done." She clung to her seat in silence. He saw a shallower part of the ditch ahead, where there was an open gate into the fields. Fortunately it was on the opposite side from the broken shaft. He took a single rein in both hands and pulled on it savagely. The horse leaped aside, the carriage swooped into the ditch, a front wheel dished and broke at the hub, and they overturned.
They were saved from being kicked to a pulp because the tugs broke and freed the horse. When they picked themselves up from the mud, the girl, her face blazing with excitement, cried: "Daddy! Let's do it again!"
And the point is that she knew what she was saying and said it partly because she really had enjoyed the excitement, partly to reassure his anxiety about her, but largely for what you might call the dramatic effect. This she has admitted. She has admitted that by some duality of mind, even at the age of eight, and in such a moment, she was capable of a theatricality.
It is the more puzzling because she was evidently a frank and natural child. She was not precocious nor self-conscious. Nor was she ever paraded in any public way by her parents. They were not stage people. Far from it. Her real name is Fanny Widgen. Her father was Mathew Widgen, a Philadelphia business man, a rice importer, of Quaker descent. Her mother was the daughter of a Calvinist minister, of an old Huguenot family. And unless you blame the French blood of a great-grandmother, there is no inheritance to account for temperament, artistry, and the stage.
Jane Shore herself gives a curious explanation of the origin of her career—more curious than credible. She says that just before her birth her mother developed an unaccountable passion for the theater; and the staid Mathew, forced to humor her, took a box at every possible performance and sat stonily in the public eye, with his wife concealed behind him. The future Juliet was all but born in that box. After her birth Mathew Widgen's aversion to the stage—as one of the open gates to hell—prevailed again in his family, unopposed. And when, at the age of five, young Fanny was found standing on a chair in front of a mirror, whitening her face with flour, it was with horror that her mother cried, "I've marked her for the theater!"
That is all very dramatic. And it may be true, as far as it goes. But it omits to mention that Mrs. Widgen provided her daughter with lessons in singing and dancing and the parlor arts of water-color painting and piano-playing. It overlooks the encouragement that she gave her child in the imaginative games which they enjoyed together, secretly, in the attic games that at one time included a miniature stage and elaborate costuming. It fails, in short, to understand what is quite plain in Jane Shore's recollection of her parents—namely, that her mother was a suppressed personality, kept pallid in the shadow of her husband's righteous domination and making an unconscious revolt in the person of her daughter. If she "marked" her child for the theater, she did it, I believe, as the mother of three solemn sons—and a prospective fourth—oppressed by the tight-mouthed Mathew, and turning involuntarily to the light and romance of the stage from the drab respectability of her smothered life. To understand her you have only to see Jane Shore's photographs of her mother and her father and their blank-windowed white-brick house with its black metal deer on either side of its entrance steps and the metallic-looking black pines surrounding it. Those photographs sufficiently explain why, as long as Mrs. Widgen lived, she never allowed the girl to be checked in any natural impulse or the expression of it.
It happened—as it frequently happens—that the father admired a spirit in his daughter which he would have crushed jealously in his wife. Fanny had inherited his strength of will; he was proud of it in her; and she had her way with him. In fact, she did as she pleased with them all, including her horse-faced brothers, whom she named after the three bears of the fairy-tale. She began life with the dominating spirit of privileged youth, and it carried her far.
Her mother's death, when she was only fifteen, had an abnormal effect on her. It put a shadow permanently into the background of her mind, established a peculiar tragic hinterland of thought into which Jane Shore retires at her most lively moments, unaccountably, with an air of almost cynical detachment when you would least expect it. But that came later. As the immediate result of her mother's death she was sent away from home, to the Misses Leslie's Select Boarding-school for Young Ladies. There she remained for three years, chiefly distinguishing herself as a leader in various dormitory escapades and in the school's amateur theatricals, in which she generally played male parts with a deep voice and a gallant stride. Her success in organizing mischief ended by the Misses Leslie demanding, with firm politeness, that her father take her home. And her success in the school theatricals gave her the idea of going on the stage. When her father received her, disgraced, in his library, she turned the flank of his wrath at her expulsion—characteristically—by announcing that she was done with school, anyway, that she was going to be an actress.
He sat grasping the arms of his library chair, like a ruler enthroned, confident of his authority. "Never," he said. "No more of that. You'll take your mother's place here—"
"Dad," she cut in, "you've let me have my way too long to start bullying me now. I'm going on the stage."
"Never!" he said, with a gesture of finality. "Never!"
She folded her hands. "If you wanted to do it, nobody in the world could stop you. And I'm like you."
His face hardened in a cold fury. "You'll not disgrace my name!"
"I'll change it," she said, cheerfully. "I'm going to call myself 'Jane Shore.'"
"Not while I live!" he shouted. "Not while I live!"
"Well," she said, "you can spend the rest of your life fighting me, if you want to. But I'm going to do it."
And, of course, she did it. She took her mother's place as housekeeper for a month, and during that time she secretly pawned or sold everything that could be removed from the house without being missed. She put in her own purse all the money that she could get for the household expenses, and she paid no bills. She sent her trunk unnoticed to the railroad station, with the aid of a young gardener who was her slave; and, having dressed herself for a drive, she took her satchel in her dog-cart, drove to an exchange stables where she was known, sold the cart and her little mare for two hundred dollars, and bought her ticket for New York.
That night she settled in a studio-room on Twenty-third Street, with a former classmate who was studying music. She had seven hundred dollars. She had left her father the pawn-tickets and a letter addressed to "Dear old Daddykins" and signed "Jane Shore." It informed him, gaily, that as soon as her money ran out she would be back for more.
She had chosen the name of "Jane Shore" because she had read Sir Thomas More's description of the original Jane in a history of famous court beauties—which she had borrowed from a school-mate whose reading was secretly adventurous—and she thought that the description fitted her. So it did, somewhat. And, at least, it shows what she was ambitious to be. It runs:
Proper she was, and faire: nothing in her body that you would have changed, but if you would have wished her somewhat higher. Yet delited not men so much in her bewty as in her pleasant behaviour. For a proper wit had she and could both rede wel and write; mery in company, redy and quick of aunswer, neither mute nor ful of bable; sometimes taunting without displeasure and not without disport.
Her vitality, her will, and her high spirits carried her unwearied through the obscure hardships of her first four years of struggle as a chorus-girl, as a gay young widow in a musical comedy, as an ingénue in a Washington stock company, and finally as the mother of a kidnapped child in a vaudeville act. She made a hit in the last by virtue of one nerve-shattering shrill scream with which she lifted the audience from their seats when she found that her baby had been stolen. She was then engaged to take a similar part, with a similar scream, in a melodrama by an author whom I knew. It was his first accepted play. I went to hear him read it to the company, on the stage where they were to rehearse; and I was struck by the fact that in the semicircle of actors who sat around him only two seemed to listen to the play. The others listened to the speeches of their individual parts, coming forward to these with their interest, so to speak, like children to receive their presents from a Christmas tree, and examining the lines that they received invidiously, with one eye always on what the others were getting.
The two who seemed to be hearing the play as a whole were a little girl, who was evidently to take the rôle of the kidnapped child, and a young woman in a dark street gown who listened with a consistent interest, her eyes always on the reader. She wore a sort of three-cornered hat, and she sat back in her kitchen chair, one arm outstretched to rest her hand on the knob-handle of her parasol in the attitude of a cavalier with his cane. She had an air of easy alertness, an air of intelligence, an air of personality. Her place near the middle of the semicircle indicated that she had only a small part in the play, for the principals sat at either extremity, near the footlights, by some stage convention of precedence; and the others had arranged themselves in order of importance in the arc. (The star, of course, was not present.) She did not strike me as remarkably beautiful—until I saw her properly made up, in the glory of the pinks and ambers of the foots. But there was, as Sir Thomas More said, "nothing in her body that you would have changed, but if you had wished her somewhat higher"; and greater height would have handicapped her in her beginnings on the stage, where the men are rarely tall and rarely willing to play opposite a woman who dwarfs them.
It was probably her hat that gave me the feeling she was a horsewoman; and this impression was confirmed when the reading was finished and she rose to walk about the stage with what used to be called a "lissome" carriage—a supple-waisted and firm-shouldered bearing—that obviously came from horseback-riding. I remarked her to the playwright, using some phrase about her "carriage"; and he repeated it, when he introduced me to her, as an excuse for the introduction. "Yes," she said, regarding us gravely, "it got me my start in the profession."
He was called away by the stage director, and I remained to ask her, "How was that?"—being already curious about her.
She replied, demurely, "I sold it for a hundred dollars." And with that she left me, puzzled.
It was not until I heard, later, of her selling her dog-cart to leave home that I understood the pert creature had been punning. She apologized for it, then, by explaining that she had been nervous. "I was frightened to death," she said. "It was my first engagement with a regular company, and I didn't know how to behave."
I do not believe a word of that. I do not believe that she was ever frightened in her life.
She left me, as I said, puzzled. She did not invite any further acquaintance, and I did not seek the invitation. My curiosity about her was lost, for the time, in a curiosity about the stage conditions that appeared to my astonished apprehension as the rehearsals progressed. And since those conditions have largely helped to make Jane Shore what she is, I should like to indicate them briefly.
In the first place, I had supposed that the rehearsal of a play, by a stage director and his company, was like the rehearsal of a musical composition by an orchestra and its conductor. I expected to hear it studied, practised, faithfully interpreted. I imagined that the author would rise at impatient intervals and say: "No, no. That isn't what I meant. Take it this way."
Nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite. The author proved to be as little important at the rehearsals of his work as a father at the birth pf his baby. He was lucky if they did not order him out of the house. The producer, who had put up the money for the play, had the first right to say what should be in the play for which he had put up the money. The stage director, hired to rehearse the production, began immediately to suggest changes in the play in order to show that he was worthy of his hire. The star attempted not at all to subdue his personality to the part he had to play; he busied himself subduing the part to his personality. And not merely that. He did not care whether or not he was true to life; he considered only whether or not he was true to the sympathies of his audience. He was the hero, and he would not say or do anything that was not heroic. He had to dominate every scene in which he shared; the positions and the speeches of the other characters had to be arranged to show his dominance; and the whole play had to be remolded to that end.
It was one of those plays that have since come to be called "crook melodramas." The hero of it was a desperado who had stolen a child. He was in love with the Faro Nell of the gang. He contracted a salutary passion for the mother of the kidnapped girl, and under her influence he reformed and he converted his fellow-criminals. The author had been a police-court reporter—before he became a theatrical press-agent—and his crooks were real and their lines true, though his plot was "bunk," as he admitted. It was supposed to show the saving influence of a "good, pure woman" upon the criminal mind.
The star had already objected to talking "thieves' slang," and his lines had been rewritten. Now he objected to the unrequited ending of his devotion to the child's mother—so she was made a widow; she fell into his arms at the final curtain—and Faro Nell had to cherish the only unrequited passion in the play. This, however, left the star still a reformed criminal. The author improvised for him a noble motive of revenge upon a world that had done him wrong, but it was not sufficient.
"I'll lose them," the star said, referring to the audience. "I'll lose them if I steal that child."
The difficulty was overcome by making Faro Nell take the actual guilt of the kidnapping, and he assumed the responsibility in order to protect her, because she loved him—poor soul, she loved him. And then, in the second week of rehearsals, he arrived glowing with an idea. The hero should not be a criminal at all. He should be an honest, though desperate, man whose child had been kid- napped and whose wife had died of grief. He had joined the criminal band to learn their secrets and betray them to the police. Great idea! It was acted upon at once.
By this time the meaning of the play had been cheerfully obliterated. The curtains had all been changed. The characterization of the hero was a crazy-quilt. And the author was anxiously trying to add explanatory lines to account for actions that the recording angel himself could not have audited correctly.
"That's all right," the star would say. "Don't worry about that. They won't think of it till they leave the theater."
To do the author justice, he was not greatly worried by what was going on. Above all else, he wished his play to succeed; and these expert emendations were designed solely to achieve success. The producer seemed equally satisfied; he had seen such things done before; it was the way in which successes were written. And the actors, accustomed to the divine right and ruling egotism of stars, accepted their losses and their gains—as the alterations either reduced or fattened their parts—with Christian humility and resignation when they stood in the eye of authority, and with a fierce contempt and jealousy between themselves.
Throughout it all Jane Shore was wonderful. Whatever folly the star did, whatever absurdity he said, she watched him and listened to him with a deep-eyed admiration that was so meek and so trustful that it would have made a sick dove blush for its arrogance. Faro Nell had no such art. She argued with the star at the third rehearsal. And when her part began to dwindle—and Jane Shore's to grow—she knew it was because he disliked her and wanted to keep her down. She began to scheme against him. She even appealed to me, as a friend of the author; and I began to discover, behind the outward seeming of the rehearsals, a concealed activity of intrigues, stage politics, personal ambitions, plots, and counter-plots. Parties had been formed, influences had been organized. The resulting struggle, with its alliances and compromises, its victories and its defeats, was called a rehearsal. A detailed account of it would read like a court memoir of the days of a grand monarch. And the welfare of the play, that was to carry them all, seemed to be consulted as little as the welfare of the country that supports a grand monarch's court.
Jane Shore was obviously of the star's party and high in favor. He deprived her of some of her best lines—for various pretended reasons, but really because they competed with his own—and she merely said, studiously: "I see. Then I take the next cue, do I?"
He made her work down-stage, with her back to the footlights, so that he might face the audience when he addressed her; and she said: "Just a minute. Let me mark the position on my part."
He made her "noise up" her scenes with him, so that he might play at the top of his voice, which was his only way of expressing emotion. And she ranted diligently.
He made, her stand as motionless as a dummy while he spoke lines to her, because he wanted the audience's undivided attention for himself—and he moved and gestured as much as he pleased while she replied. She obeyed him religiously, and with every look she called him "Master."
It was touching to see. When you consider that she knew exactly what he was doing and despised him for it, it was a masterpiece of art.
He took her out to luncheon with him. He took her home in a cab when it rained. They were seen together in a box at a benefit. They dined at his hotel. She was pointed out as his new leading woman—and then as his latest affinity. He was already paying alimony to three others, and the company began to bet on whether Jane was going to take the first step toward joining his Alimony Club. "He always marries them," they explained. "He's religious."
They were a respectable lot of hard-working men and women, but they had no illusions about their star. They admitted that he was a handsome bully, an egotistical cad, a bone-headed matinée idol, a strutting lady-killer with all the delicate impulses of a caveman. One of them said, "He's the kind of actor that ought always to wear a wig—as a protection against woodpeckers." Faro Nell summed it up, "He's the lowest form of humanity I've ever had to associate with."
While they were betting on Jane's chances for the Alimony Club, it began to be evident that the producer had opened another competition. He had been seen at the opera with her. Some one whispered it around that he was calling on her in her apartment, which she still shared with her musical friend. He had not yet acquired the reputation for sexual rapacity that has since distinguished him, but he was not regarded as an ascetic bachelor. They began to watch Jane Shore with a new interest. What was her little game? How was she playing it?
As far as I could see, she was not playing it at all. At rehearsals she was entirely frank and natural, absorbed in her work, diligent, and biddable. It was evident that she had real imagination; she read her lines in the correct emotion, without fumbling, and her voice was rich and true. She had a good stage presence and some of the authority of experience, in spite of the meekness that made her appear unconscious of her art. Whatever game was being played, she seemed rather the innocent stake than the chief player. She deceived me completely. She certainly deceived the star. And I think she deceived the producer.
He had been an East Side boy, out of the Ghetto—an office-boy in a theatrical agency, a messenger- boy and assistant in a box-office, where he finally became treasurer. While he was still behind the ticket-wicket he rented the theater for a Hungarian violinist who had come to this country unknown, in the steerage. The violinist startled the critics with a brilliant and poetical virtuosity, and charmed a fortune into his own pockets and his manager's. The production of my friend's play was to be the entrance of this coming theatrical magnate into "the legitimate." And nothing less like a theatrical magnate could be imagined.
He was the embodiment of quiet, plaintive-looking, white-faced silence, with an unblinking eye and an impersonal voice. And he is still that, although he now divides the control of the American stage with what is left of the Big Three. He is a study. I believe his success is due to the fact that he is so pathetic, so apparently trusting, and so appealing, that the Big Three assisted him out of mere charity. As a matter of fact, he is as crafty in business as a society woman. He breaks contracts like a tearful widow when he is losing money by them. When it is the other party to the contract who is losing he can be as chalkily indifferent and implacable as a Chinaman.
Jane Shore discovered in him the soul of a musician. It had been his first ambition to be a violinist; all that he could save from his earnings as an office-boy he had put into a fiddle; and he still played it secretly, with much melancholy feeling, but no technic. Hence his original venture with the Hungarian violinist whose art he had appreciated instantly when he heard him in an East Side café. Hence, also, his visits to Jane Shore's apartments, where her friend played the violin and Jane sang to the piano.
"He was in love with me, I know," Jane has since confessed, "but I found out that he was mad about his mother, and she was so orthodox that it would have killed her to have him marry a Christian. And he never even hinted at anything else. He's really rather a dear. It's his mother's fault—the way he's going on, now, with chorus-girls."
There is no doubt that Jane Shore's beauty and culture and air of "class" reached some early marrow of subservience in his bones. When he was with her, as one of the company expressed it, "he looked as wistful as a sucked orange."
Her success with the star was another matter. "All he wanted," she says, "was a mirror"—a flattering feminine regard before which he could pose and admire himself. "He never talked; he boasted. He boasted of how much money he'd made with his other plays. How much he'd won on the stock-market. How he'd picked a twenty-to-one shot on the races. How he'd told Augustin Daly what he thought of him. How he'd pulled Charlie Frohman's nose. What he said to a fireman who tried to stop him smoking behind the scenes. How he'd thrashed a cheeky waiter, and an elevator-man who insulted him, and a cabman who tried to overcharge him. And even how he'd silenced Maurice Barrymore with the superior brilliance of his repartee."
He never boasted to her of his previous conquests. No doubt they had been merely mirrors, as she said. As long as they gave him a flattering reflection, he treasured them. As soon as one grew tarnished in the brightness of her complacency, he tossed her into the matrimonial dust-box, paid for the breakage like a gentleman, and looked for another glass. An audience was a sea of mirrors to him, and the image that he saw reflected there was that of a fine, upstanding, robust hero who never did a human thing on the stage or said a true one. He was an actor by virtue of the fact that he "put across the footlights" the fictitious personality that had made him popular. And he did not know it was fictitious. Obviously he did not know it. He saw himself in the eyes of admiration only, and never suspected the truth about himself.
At the dress rehearsal there began to appear one truth about him that few of us suspected: he could not act. He had almost no imagination. He had a certain easy grace, a confident manner, and a large voice. The rest had been done for him by good stage directors. In this case the stage director had been unable to control him, because he owned a fifty-per-cent. interest in the play—in lieu of salary—and the producer had let him have his way unchecked. As a consequence he had been so busy telling every one else how to act that no one had noticed his own performance. It was taken for granted that when the moment arrived he would open out like a magic rose.
At the dress rehearsal, when he opened out to nothing but resonant vacuity, we could not believe our ears. "I need my audience," he explained. "I'm dead without it." And we all accepted the explanation as sufficient—all except Jane Shore. She had endured much from him in the belief that, though he was an egotistical and selfish bore, he could act. After her first scene with him at the dress rehearsal she realized, with professional contempt, that "he wasn't there." Confronting him, with her back continually to the footlights, she allowed a mild withdrawal of her admiration to appear in her face, and that discouraged him.
When they came to the big scene in the third act—the love scene in which he returned her child to her—she suddenly let herself go. At sight of her little daughter coming through the door she uttered a scream of agonized joy so poignant that it stabbed into you instantly and struck tears. She fell on her knees and caught the girl to her in a sort of animal transport of maternal ecstasy, and instead of kissing the child on the face she kissed it on the breast, so that you saw the adored little body naked from the bath, and her nuzzling it, panting inarticulate endearments hysterically, choked with heart-easing sobs. It was a truly dramatic moment, and it came upon the dull mediocrity of the rehearsal like a flash of genius. It frightened the little girl, who began to cry. It took the stage away from the star; he stood staring at her in jealous silence. Behind me I heard a quaint sort of nasal moan, and looked around to see the little producer struggling to control the whimpering distortion of his face.
The star came down to the footlights and began to explain that the whole scene would be ruined if she overplayed it that way. It was a love scene. The point of it was: did he get her, not did she get the child. Her emotion should be one of gratitude to him for returning the girl to her. This cat-fit over the kid would kill the whole movement of the plot.
The stage director said, impatiently: "Yes. Go ahead with the act. We'll fix it after the rehearsal."
The scene went on. The director joined the producer behind me, and I heard him say: "There's nothin' else to it. She's immense." And—though I did not appreciate, at the moment, what had happened—with these words Jane Shore was launched on her triumphant career.
After the rehearsal there was a long and angry conference between the star, the director, the producer, and the author. The star said a great deal; the author said nothing; the producer said little, and the stage director said one thing over and over. It was this: "It's sure fire. We've got to have it. It's mother-love, I tell you. It's mother-love. Broadway 'll fall for it with a yell. It's sure fire. It never missed yet. Broadway 's always strong for its mother. Its wife's a joke. But its mother! Oh, boy! It's sure fire. We've got to have it. It's mother-love, I tell you. It's mother-love." And he struck his breast argumentatively every time he said "mother-love"—to indicate the seat of the appeal. And every time he struck his breast the producer nodded solemnly.
It was evident that Jane Shore had chosen the right scene to steal. "I knew it," she laughed. "I knew they'd never let him take that away from me." She had seen the producer's face, as I had seen it, contorted with emotion. "He's mad about his mother," she explained.
This was Sunday afternoon, in Atlantic City. The play was to open Monday night in a theater on the boardwalk. And when the star failed to shake the power of mother-love in the breast of the management he hurried to Jane Shore's hotel, in the hope of persuading her to give up the scene.
She had expected him. She was out taking the air in a rolling-chair. She remained out till after dark; and he did not find her till he caught her at her dinner, that evening, alone in a far corner of the dining-room, away from the music.
She rose, as she saw him coming, and she greeted him rather excitedly. "I'm so glad you came," she said in a low voice, clinging to his hand. "I've had such a fright."
"What is it?" he demanded, instantly protective. "What's happened?"
"It's all right now," she said. "A man's been following me." And she moved her eyes to indicate an adjoining table where a lonely diner sat reading his newspaper—or pretending to—and smoking a cigar.
Unfortunately for the decorum of the dining-room, as the star looked at him he lowered the paper and spied over the top of it at Jane Shore with an air of watching her from ambush. All the actor's rage at the stage director instantly focused on this peeping Tom. And his rage was reinforced by policy; he wished to do something to put Jane Shore under grateful obligation to him. He crossed at once to the table and struck down the paper, with an oath. In doing so he uncovered the proportions of a man whom he would never have challenged if he had seen him first. The man rose to his feet and struck back.
Jane Shore slipped quietly away.
When the waiters rushed in to stop the disorder the star was sitting on the floor, his nose bleeding and one eye closed, and the stranger was walking composedly to the door, with his cigar in his mouth.
He overtook Jane Shore in the hall. "You've forgotten me, Miss Widgen," he said.
She looked at him with bright intentness. "Oh, of course!" she cried. "I know! You're Tom! From the drug-store!"
He nodded, smiling. She held out her hand, delighted. He was the clerk who had given her pony a drink of soda-water the day that she rode into the drug-store and demanded refreshment for herself and her horse. Evidently he was no longer a clerk, but she did not ask for any explanations.
"Why," she cried, "I didn't know you! Why didn't you speak to me?"
She took his arm and hurried him away from the dining-room where the star, with his nose in a table-napkin, was explaining to a friendly head waiter that it was nothing, a private affair, a gentlemanly misunderstanding.
She was saying girlishly to Tom: "How strange to meet you here, after all these years! What are you doing? Come up and sit on the porch with me."
She did not ask what he had done with the star. She guessed it from what she had seen, over her shoulder, as she passed out the door. And Tom did not make any guilty explanations. He had not been following her. He had been finishing his dinner when she sat down at a neighboring table, and he had stared at her only a little more than she was accustomed to being stared at by solitary diners in such circumstances.
"Who was that fellow who—who spoke to me?" he asked, as they went up-stairs.
"Oh, he's a crazy actor," she said. "I'll tell you about him later. Tell me first about yourself."
He told her, on the balcony, in the moonlight, looking out at the misted ocean—while the star was having his bruised face washed and bandaged by his valet in the bathroom of his suite.
And what he told her was one of those fairy-tales of modern American business that put to shame the inventions of fiction. Briefly, he was no longer a druggist's clerk. A moment of prophetic thought had made him a millionaire. It had occurred to him, over a bottle of extract of pepsin, that the two American passions for chewing-gum and for patent medicine might be profitably combined if you put pepsin in the gum. He had sold the idea, on a royalty basis, to a chewing-gum manufacturer. And after successfully defending himself in court from an attempt to steal his rights he was now devoting himself to his health, his leisure, physical culture, and the search for safe investments. He was not married. Fanny Widgen had been an unattainable ideal of his days behind the counter, and he still felt romantic about her. He did not say so. He did not need to. She knew it from his manner of recalling her and her pony and the sight of her driving past the blue and crimson bottles of the druggist's window in her dog-cart.
She explained, then, about the star, laughing unblushingly. "I didn't want to give him back the scene, and I didn't want to talk to him about it. I couldn't say I wouldn't, you know. That would have made too much trouble. So I let him think you had been annoying me. I hadn't recognized you, of course. I knew I could escape if he'd only start a row. And he'd boasted so much about 'beating up' waiters and elevator-men that I thought he'd jump at the opportunity to make a hero of himself for me. Did you hurt him?"
"I don't think so," he said, modestly. "Not much. I may have blacked one of his eyes."
"Blacked his eye!"
"They must have been all elevator-boys that he'd been beating up."
"He probably never fought any one in his life before," she said. And she added, reflectively, "Blacked his eye!"
That was serious. It was serious for everybody—the producer, the author, the whole company. How was he to play his part with a black eye? And if he could not play his part, how about the opening?
He kept his room all the following day, and we had to be satisfied with second-hand reports. He explained that he had tripped on the boardwalk and fallen with his face against the railing. Rumor promptly added that he had been drunk. Jane Shore did not contradict the rumor. She contented herself with telephoning to thank him for his gallantry and his silence. "It was so kind of you," she said, "to protect me from gossip by not telling about that awful man. I suppose you nearly killed him."
He replied, grimly, "Well, he'll never bother you again."
She repeated that to us, weeks later, with gurgles of delight, as if it were a piece of boarding-school mischief.
He wanted to see her, to talk to her, and she invited him to be at the theater at seven. He was there. They had a long conference. She had another with the producer. I heard from the author that the star had threatened to give up the play unless it was played the way he wanted it. There were more conferences, while the audience gathered into the theater and the orchestra struck up a rusty overture. They were still conferring when I went out to find a vacancy in the back row, and the stage director, as I passed him, was saying: "I tell you he's a four-flush. You watch him to-night. Never mind her. Let her play to her limit. Watch him."
I watched him myself. And when he came on the stage—for an entrance that had been carefully built to—the chill that quivered over the house was almost an audible expression of perplexity. He was made up very pale, with his eyes darkened—both eyes—and one of them bloodshot. He wore a wig that came low on his forehead, to cover the lump of a bruise. He looked sinister, unwholesome, anything but the matinée idol that we had come there to see. And I offer it without apology: Jane Shore had done it. She had persuaded him that as a desperate man who had lost a wife and child—a tragic widower defying death among a band of criminals—he ought to be made up in this "interesting" manner. It would conceal his bruises.
His failure was unqualified—as unqualified—as her success. Everything heroic that he said was contradicted by his appearance; and any one who has worked in the theater will understand how the eye will overcome the ear in such circumstances. He was immediately aware that the house was cold to him; and, not being able to see himself with the eyes of the audience, he did not know what was the matter; he thought that the part was "unsympathetic." He could not get any heart into it.
Jane Shore did not help him. She played in a low key, with repressed intensity, in a technic that he could not handle, and when they were on the stage together the audience went to her. Even with her back to them she dominated him. She clasped her hands behind her and in his emotional passages she opened and closed them, unknown to him, and they were as expressive as the dumb mouth of a gasping fish. She killed the biggest moment of one of his most thrilling speeches by dropping her handkerchief behind her, as if from fingers paralyzed with secret emotion. A shudder of her shoulders was more eloquent than his ranting. And when it came to the scene with the child she took the stage away from him, took the house away from him, took the applause and the curtain away from him, and topped it all by receiving across the footlights an armful of roses after a pretty play of girlish shyness and hesitation—as if to say: "For me? They can't be for me! Aren't they the star's?"—until the audience had to authorize and enforce the tribute with an ovation of handclapping and gallery whistles and the pounding of imperative feet.
The hesitation was affected, of course. The roses were Tom's and she had expected them.
She was almost compelled to make a speech. She did go so far as to shake her head in a refusal to make one.
"That finishes it," the author groaned in my ear. "He'll never play it again. Never."
The last act was entirely hers. The star sulked his way through it, saying mere words.
The author left me. I supposed he had gone to throw himself in the surf.
The audience crowded out, saying: "Who is she? Isn't she wonderful? ... Charming! Such grace! ... Well, she certainly takes that part off fine."
Out of a spirit of sympathy for the author, I went back to the hotel and to bed without joining in the post-mortem. I had felt all along that the play was a conglomeration of fatuous nonsense, anyway. One always feels that way about a friend's play.
And next morning I found that—as usual—while I slept all the really important things of life had happened. The others had been up all night. The star had left for Florida, with an incipient attack of press-agent's pneumonia, having broken his contract, abandoned his interest in the production, insulted Jane Shore, and had his other eye blacked by a little property-man named Fritz Hoff who hated him. An unexpected millionaire had "bought in" on the play, and this was the same millionaire who had been guilty of the barrelful of American Beauty roses across the footlights. "Tom the Gum-man" we came to call him. The author was busy rewriting again in order to make a star part for Jane Shore. The stage director was helping by beating his breast like a gorilla and howling for more mother-love. A young leading man, in answer to a wire from Jane Shore, was coming from Washington to rehearse the part in which the star had fallen down. A New York manager had agreed to take the Atlantic City theater off their hands for the latter part of the week. And the producer was leaving for Broadway and the booking-offices, to arrange for an out-of-town opening for Jane Shore in "a new American drama" within the month.
Her success in that opening is so much a part of the history of our stage that I hardly need refer to it. There is an accurate account of it in one of William Winter's books. He hailed her, if I remember, as a young Madame Janauschek—for she played her cheap melodrama with such eloquence and distinction that comparisons with the old school were inevitable. She showed, in her later plays, that she was modern and naturalistic; and Mr. Winter felt that she was a noble promise unfulfilled. She shrugged her shoulders and went ahead. What her theory of her art is I do not know. I suspect that she is largely innocent of any. Virginia Tracy has written of her: "I don't believe she ever in her life gave two thoughts to anything except the smashing out of certain congenial dramatic effects, quite unrelatedly to anything but her will to put those individual effects across." And in that respect she is certainly the creature of conditions on the modern American stage.
Her acting, I should say, is intuitional. It is not the result of any logical process of thought and study, although she pretends that it is. She acts with two lobes of her brain, one of which governs the utterance of emotion with sincere convincingness, and the other watches the audience, the stage, and her own performance with critical detachment. You will see her come off from a big scene with her lower face working hysterically and her eyes unconcerned and cold. When enthusiasm crowds into her dressing-room to congratulate her she receives it, like royalty at an audience, with a charmingly happy smile, but with a back-thought showing, if you look for it, in the attentive scrutiny of her gaze.
However, it is not her art that I am concerned with. She is a great actress, perhaps. She is certainly a fascinating character. I have done her injustice in this account of her first success if I have not indicated that, though she was incredibly crafty in her handling of the star, she was also impulsive, full of deviltry, a person of incalculable temperament. It was certainly an impulse of mischief that prompted her to start that dining-room fight, although she took such excellent advantage of the results of it. She is tricky. "Of course I'm tricky," she says. "Could any one who is not tricky get ahead in the theater?" She is deeply egotistic. "Well," she asks, "do you think it's possible to be as modest as a hermit-thrush and still make your living singing at the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge during rush hours?" She has faults of pettiness that seem impossibly opposed to her large and generous qualities; but with all the disintegrating impulses of variable temperament and contradictory moods, she has a strength of will that gives her character and direction.
My friend the author fell insanely in love with her. She petted him and encouraged him amiably until it came to a question of marrying him. "No," she said. "No. Never." Well, but why not? "Because it's impossible." She refused to see him. She would not answer his letters. He behaved like a lunatic, drinking and weeping in all the cafés of the Rialto. I went to her, to speak on his behalf; and she listened to me, sitting bolt-upright beside her reading-lamp, with her hands on the arms of her chair, as unmoved as a judge.
She said: "I can't help it. That's the way life is. He'll have to get through it the best way he can."
I begged her to see him. She shook her head. "I'll never see him again." And she kept her word, for years.
Tom the Gum-man came to a similarly violent end with her. "He's too possessive," she said. "He thinks he invented me. He'll be in court next, defending his royalty rights in me."
He went off in a rage and married the daughter of another prophylactic millionaire. She sent him a signed photograph of herself as a wedding-present, and apparently forgot him.
On the other hand, she never rested till she won her father back.
As soon as she made her first success she sent him the seven hundred dollars that she had "borrowed" to leave home. He returned the check without a word. She sent it back, and he returned the letter unopened. She made out the check to her brother Ben—who had a saving habit—and she wired her father, "Have sent Ben money with thanks." It did not come back.
She subscribed to a clipping bureau for her father and ordered every printed word about Jane Shore sent to him. He tried to countermand the order, but the bureau continued to fill it, and she paid the bills. The larger they were the happier she was. "Send him everything," she ordered, "even the advertisements."
She wired him good wishes on his birthday, on Christmas and New-Year's, on holidays and holy days. On Lincoln's Birthday she telegraphed, "Let us have peace." And on Washington's she wired, "Are you prouder than G. W.? He was the father of his country and now look at the darn thing." He replied, "Stop sending silly telegrams." She wired back: "Letters did not seem to reach you. Am writing."
She wrote without replies and sent him presents without acknowledgments; and finally, when she was playing in Philadelphia, she called on him in his office and laughed him out of his resentment. He went to see her in "Romeo and Juliet," and he was scandalized by the love scenes, which she played with frank passion. "All right, Dad," she said. "There was twelve hundred dollars in the house. You know, you have to be a bit scandalous to do that amount of business in a godly town like Philadelphia. Nothing has drawn as well as that, here, since 'The Black Crook.'"
"It's a disgrace," he scolded. "A daughter of mine going on like that in public. A respectable girl!"
"Respectable!" she cried. "I'm so respectable I can't get my name in the papers without paying for it."
And indeed she was so respectable that whenever any one attacked the moral conditions on our stage, Mrs. Fiske, in replying, never failed to refer to the immaculate record and reputation of Jane Shore. With whatever abandon she played Juliet or the proposal scene in Shaw's "Satan's Advocate," she was always primly chaperoned, off the stage, by the inhibitions of her Calvinistic and Quaker ancestors. The nearest she ever came to scandal—
It was quite recently, at Madame Bernhardt's professional matinée, in the Empire Theater, on her last tour. Jane Shore was in the stage-box on the right-hand side with her old admirer, Tom the Gum-man. A wife and three children had not prevented him from returning to an apparently Platonic devotion for his first love. And from the rise of the curtain, from the first sight of Bernhardt as Hecube on her throne, Jane Shore wept quietly, continuously, without a word of explanation, without a movement of applause. She wept, not at the tragedy of the queen, or the soldier mortally wounded on the "field of honor," or Camille dying in her lover's arms; she wept for the greater tragedy of that indomitable artist, pinned down by bodily infirmity, with nothing left to her but her head and her hands, struggling—and with such heartrending success, with the voice of a young, unconquerable spirit, with an art that ought to be eternal—struggling to hold her little circle of light and brilliance against the dark stifle of oblivion that was closing in on her, that was creeping up on her, that had risen already to her throat. Here, after such a career as Jane Shore could never hope for, here was the visible end. When that voice ceased, when that unsubmerged, defiant head sank under the silence, what would be left of the fame and the triumphs even of Sarah Bernhardt?
"What's the matter?" Tom asked her in the auto on their way home. "Don't cry like that. You'll make yourself ill."
She shook her head. She reached out and took his hand blindly. They drove in silence through the evening drizzle.
She did not speak until they were in her front room. She was dry-eyed and tragic-looking. "Come here," she said, holding out her hand to him. He sat beside her on the sofa. It was the sofa from the proposal scene of "Satan's Advocate." She said, "Take me away from all this."
"Take me away. You want me. You've always wanted me. Take me away, out West somewhere—where you can get your divorce."
"But my dear girl," he said, "do you know what you're saying? Do you know what it means?" He had released her hand, blank with amazement.
"Yes, yes," she cried. "I know. I want to end it all. No more. Not even to-night. Take me away."
He rose slowly. "But," he said. "But—"
She flung out her hands. "I know. I know. The talk—the scandal—I don't care. I don't want ever again to see their silly faces over the foot-lights. It's all— It doesn't matter. It's nothing. You've wanted—you've always wanted me. You're unhappy. We're both unhappy. I want to end it. I want to get—whatever there's left for me to get—before I'm old and—and pitiful. I don't want to be alone then—now—ever any more." And she began to weep again.
"My God!" he said. "If you'd done this ten years ago!"
"I know," she sobbed. "But I didn't!"
He began to walk up and down the room. "I wouldn't care for myself," he explained, "but I can't take advantage of a mood like this, to rush you into a position— You'd hate me. You don't appreciate what you're doing. With the people waiting for you, and the seats sold—running away like this, with a married man—and all the publicity and the scandal."
She sat up, staring at him. He was a big, dark man,black-mustached; and he stood uncomfortably, with his hands deep in his pockets, his head down, blinking at the floor, and talking in a rumbling, grumbling voice. "He looked," she said afterward, "like a fat boy who was being tempted to play hooky from school." And suddenly, in the midst of his perfectly reasonable remonstrances, she began to laugh.
He started as if she had struck him. He turned on her, red, ridiculous. "Have you been playing some damn game with me?" he demanded.
"No—no," she shouted, at the top of hysterical peals of laughter. "No! I was se-se-serious!"
"Then what have I done?" he cried. "What have I said?"
She was too hysterical to explain.
"There I had been," she told it, "for years pursued by these ravenous monsters, men. And you've no idea what a nuisance they are to an actress. They see you all beautifully made up, in the romantic stage lights, being everything sweet and noble and heroic that a playwright can make a woman out to be. And, of course, they go crazy about you—and come around offering to leave wife and family, and home and mother, and business and good name for you—and threatening to throw themselves into the Hudson if you don't instantly throw yourself into their arms. Why! They'd plagued me like a lot of wolves! The maiden pursued! And here, now, when I turned on the most ferocious one of them all— And you've no idea what a scene he'd treated me to only the day before— And when I turned on him and said, 'Well, take me, then! Here I am! Take me!' he began to make excuses. Funny! I laughed so hard I nearly fainted from exhaustion."
He grew more and more angry. He stormed and swore. She could only stammer, "It's—it's so funny!" And at last he stamped out of the house, enraged, humiliated. "And he'll never come back," she said. "Never. Because he knows that if he ever does come back, I'll never be able to look at him with a straight face."
And some of that perhaps explains one thing that seems to have greatly intrigued her public. It explains why Jane Shore has never married. Her suitors, she thinks, have not been in love with her; they have been in love with Shakespeare's Juliet, or Shaw's Patricia Beauchamp, or Barrie's Grizel, or some other ideal that is not Fanny Widgen. And they bore her. She will not marry an actor. "I won't marry one," she says, "for the same reason that I won't co-star with one. There isn't room for two of our egos in one house." A manager wanted to marry her, and she explained her rejection of him by saying in a Bowery voice, "I'm not goin' to be no man's white slave." The fact is she will probably end by marrying Fritz Hoff (now Hoffman), the property-man who blacked the star's other eye for her in Atlantic City.
He has served her like an adoring watchdog ever since that first defense of her. He was her property-man and stage manager in her first success. It was his skill as a stage carpenter that made her house so deliciously picturesque and theatrical with its window-seats and diamond panes and Belasco lights and Juliet hangings. He went with her when the most famous of her managers took her, and it was about Fritz that they had their famous quarrel, I understand. I know nothing about it. All I know is that after her last performance under that management I asked her, "Well, how do you feel about it now?" And she answered, "Feel!"—raising her arms to draw a long breath—"I feel like a wax figure escaped from the Eden Musée."
Fritz became her personal manager, watched the men in the box-office like a prison guard, exercised her bad-tempered little Pekinese, tacked up dodgers for her in prohibited places, quarreled with her company for her, accepted summonses for bills he would not let her pay, let her scold and rage at him serenely whenever anything went wrong for which he was not responsible, and stood out across the street from the theater and enjoyed the glory of his name in electric lights over hers as his only apparent reward.
It is Fritz Hoffman who has made possible her whole later career. She will probably marry him. She will have to if he has ever sense enough to say, "I'll leave you, if you don't." And in the purely practical world in which Jane Shore has to live—the world of the theater—it would be the best thing that she could do.