Once a Clown, Always a Clown/Chapter 4

IV

HOW NOT TO ACT

Once I saw a great actress play Madame X. Another time I saw a less-gifted actress play the rôle. I could write from here to the outskirts of Omsk on the art of the actor—but stay! I do not intend to. I can make my point by contrasting those two performances.

The great actress was Sarah Bernhardt. The performance was a benefit at which she gave the second act of the play. Madame X returns to the husband she has betrayed and left eighteen years earlier, and begs humbly for a glimpse and a word with her son, whom she has not seen since he was a child of two. Meanwhile she has sunk to infamy. Of course she will not betray for an instant to the son that she is his mother, she pleads to the father, but oh, for pity's sake, just a fleeting sight of him in his man's estate! The husband refuses sternly, as he is entirely justified in doing in ethics; she is not a woman of one mistake. But the audience will hate him if the actress playing Madame X is competent.

Bernhardt's performance implied such grief, despair and mortification that the audience suffered as she pretended to, yet seemingly she did little. She did not tear her hair, distort her face, clutch her breast nor bite the scenery. Rather she stood passive, as if benumbed with contrition and sorrow. When the husband ordered her from his house she walked trance-like to the door. In the doorway she swayed almost imperceptibly and supported herself with her hand on the jamb. Then she passed through the door, but four fingers of her right hand remained in view, gripping the casing in a last despairing gesture.

The actress was gone from the stage, not to reappear, but with those four inert fingers she accomplished more than all the glycerine tears and soprano shrieks that ever were uttered. A gasp of sympathy ran through the house, and when the husband advanced to the door and without a word brutally wrenched the fingers from the jamb and flung the hand out, an inhalation of horror rose from the seats. The scene left us trembling with vicarious emotion.

A great and highly temperamental actress had just completed a strongly emotional scene. Of course she must have collapsed, exhausted and nerveless, into the arms of her devoted maid, and denied herself to all visitors for hours. They always do, we have been told, since the first press agent discovered that we liked to hear it.

I was not backstage to see, but four or five years later Bernhardt was playing Madame X on tour. Somewhere, where our routes crossed, she gave an extra matinée and I was enabled to see that stirring performance again. Her manager, E. J. Sullivan, saw me in the house and asked me backstage to meet her.

"Oh, wait until after the last act," I protested. "She must be fearfully wrought up now."

"Come on, come on!" Sullivan said impatiently, and I followed him. The second act was on, and we waited behind the scenes, listening to the dialogue between the mother and father and visualizing the scene. We heard the man shout "Go!" Bernhardt appeared in the door, swayed a trifle, put her right hand on the jamb for support, then passed through the door, her four fingers still clinging to the casing.

As another audience gasped in agonized

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Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Sarah Bernhardt at the Time of Her First American Appearance in "Camille"

sympathy the actress saw us standing there. Her face brightened, and waving her free hand, she said cheerily:

"Hello, Eddie! Isn't this a wonderful house though?"

Her fingers wrenched loose and her hand flung aside, she advanced to greet us, and while the audience still sobbed she asked us to her dressing room and there chatted amiably of everything save the woes of her heroine, until the call for the third act.

Of course she did, as any actor should have known without seeing. Acting is an art, not a spasm. The actress who makes her hearers weep is not the one who weeps herself but the one who seems to weep. Had she not been completely self-possessed, making her every move deliberately with shrewd preknowledge of its effect, she would have had no effect. Had she lost control of herself for an instant, that instant she would have lost control of her audience. Bernhardt, of course, was in the keenest sympathy with the rôle, but she was controlling that sympathy and using it, not permitting it to use her.

The secret of fine acting, the secret of all art, is suggestion, the inflaming of the spectator's imagination; and the secret of suggestion is studied repression. The actor, the writer, the painter who flies into a fine frenzy overacts, overwrites, overpaints. The best writing, that which reads without effort, is that which has been rewritten most often. The artist who tries to be literal leaves the imagination cold. The photograph is literal. It copies, and the clearer and harder its accuracy the worse it is. The rogue's gallery photograph is fine realism. The portrait suggests; it glides over the superficial and gets at the soul of the sitter. The first defect of the movies is that nothing has been left to the imagination. When little Eva ascends to heaven in the films she sprouts her wings before your eyes and flaps aloft. The spectator wonders how it was done, and forgets that he is seeing a child die.

The other actress was the leading woman of a stock company. The company was a good one and the actress intelligent. I met her at a dinner party on a Sunday evening following a dress rehearsal of Madame X, which was to be the next week's bill. I congratulated her sincerely on the opportunity.

"Oh, Mr. Hopper!" she wailed. "I appreciate the possibilities of the part, but I dread it. I find myself living the rôle and overwhelmed with the terrific pathos of that poor woman. It exhausts me. At dress rehearsal I broke down twice."

I made some polite response, but to myself I said, "If that is so, dear lady, you are going to flop." She did. I was able to see a matinée. She had not been on the stage three minutes before it was apparent that she was not thinking of herself as an actress artfully portraying a rôle, but as a woman overwhelmed with misery. Very early in the play she reached her climax and had nothing left for contrast in the bigger scenes. In life, grief is not necessarily majestic; often it is a bit ludicrous. One may respect and pity the tears of a weeping woman and yet find her streaked and swollen face and reddened eyes a little ridiculous. And so in the scene which Bernhardt had made so arresting, this second actress seemed rather to be a bride sniveling over her first burned biscuits or a matron grieving over the marriage anniversary forgotten by her husband, than a figure of stark tragedy.

The lady was entirely sincere, I believe. She had heard that an actress must live her rôles, and had believed it. A better actress might have struck such a pose, but she would not have acted upon it. There is a bit of charlatanism in every trade, and the pose has been a common one at times among women of the stage.

I saw Miss Olga Nethersole give a fine and craftily contrived performance of "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" in Chicago once. Mrs. Tanqueray kills herself. Once in the spectator's seat I, actorlike, am almost as ingenuous and impressionable as a school girl. I go to see a play to be amused, to be stirred, not as a visiting mechanic studying the machinery, and I was so moved by the tragedy I had watched that, despite my professional training, I hesitated to accept the invitation of Louis Nethersole, her brother and manager, to go backstage and meet the star. Instinctively I thought of myself as intruding on death. But I went, and found her, of course, as self-possessed as if she had been playing a George M. Cohan heroine.

Later in the week the Chicago Press Club gave Miss Nethersole a luncheon. I was a guest, and being asked to speak, took my text from my experience at seeing her in front of and behind the curtain and its bearing on a fundamental of acting. When I had sat down a

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From the photo, by Schloss. Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Olga Nethersole

member of Miss Nethersole's company whispered to me, "Now you have put your foot in it."

In as much as my feet are extensive, I trembled. It smacked of a serious offense. So it was. I had, in fact, annoyed the guest of honor, clumsily forgetting that she had persistently exploited herself as an actress who, while on the stage, lived, not acted, her rôles, with a consequently appalling emotional drain. Her public loved to think of her as being half carried to her dressing room by sympathetic attendants.

As a spectator I have seen a number of unforgettable performances in the theater, among them Edwin Booth in "The Fool's Revenge", Mme. Janauschek as "Brunhild", Joseph Jefferson as "Rip Van Winkle", the elder Salvini's "Othello", Mme. Bernhardt's "Camille" and "Madame X", and Adelaide Neilson's "Juliet." One only of these memories has been effaced. In the glamour of Miss Jane Cowl's Juliet I forgot the performance of the talented English woman. It has been said that no actress is competent to play Juliet until she has reached an age where she has ceased to look the part of that lovely sixteen-year-old daughter of the Capulets. It is no longer true. Miss Cowl had all the illusion of youth that Miss Neilson and other great Juliets lacked. Even technically she gave a finer performance. In the balcony scene, Miss Neilson dropped flowers one at a time to Romeo. Miss Cowl did it better without an adventitious aid.

I was stumbling out of the theater in a romantic haze when Adolph Klauber, Miss Cowl's husband and manager, stopped me and asked me backstage.

"Tell her how you enjoyed it," he said. "She will love it."

But I, who had seen a lovely girl kill herself, forgetting footlights, curtain, audience and all, demurred. "I wouldn't lose the illusion for anything," I told him. "Give her my love and tell her that the fact that I do not want to see her is the truest proof of my appreciation."

He laughed at me and shoved me ahead of him. Miss Cowl was standing in the door of her dressing room, and in my impulsive way, I said, "Oh, Jane! I can't tell you. I have no words for it." My lachrymal glands were working overtime.

"No one ever has said more," she told me and took my hands. To relieve the tension I felt, I turned to the subject of her hair.

"What have you done with it?" I asked. "It is incredibly beautiful. You look eighteen." "I ought to," was her answer. "It cost me $356," and she lifted off a wig, a magnificent set of fabricated tresses.

Once my impulsiveness was not so kindly received. I had seen Mrs. Fiske in "Divorçons" and in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", two rôles lying at opposite poles and each superbly done. I marveled that any one could achieve such versatility, and happening to meet Harrison Grey Fiske I spoke eloquently to him of his wife. A few days later I chanced to dine in the same restaurant with Mr. and Mrs. Fiske. He stopped by my table and asked me to tell Mrs. Fiske what I had told him.

I begged off. "What does she care about my opinion?" I objected. "Minnie Maddern Fiske has had about all the praise any one can accumulate in one life, and I am only a clown to her."

But I was only too happy to have him wave my deprecations aside and lead me over, and encouraged by him, I unbosomed myself to Mrs. Fiske of my admiration for her art.

I had not gone far when the lady interrupted with, "Thanks so much; let us change the subject."

She simply dumped Niagara Falls on me; so when I was presented with a similar opportunity to tell Miss Maude Adams how highly I thought of her, I felt something more than my usual diffidence. It was the last night of the long run of "What Every Woman Knows" at the Empire Theater and my first and last opportunity of seeing it. I never have witnessed such emotional adulation in the theater. It was hysterical. Her devotees pelted the stage with flowers and enforced so many curtain calls that the last act did not begin until 11:08 P.M.

After the show I went backstage to see Richard Bennett, who was supporting Miss Adams in the Barrie piece. A mob of three hundred women and men was standing in a drizzling winter rain at the stage door in the hope of being able to touch Miss Adams' hand or dress as she left the theater, and the ogre, Alf Hayman, was at his perpetual task of guarding her from the approach of any one. No great actress, or minor actress for that matter, ever has led such a secluded life as the girl who was

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Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Maude Adams and Henry Miller in Their Frohman Stock Company Days

born Maude Kiskadden. I have been told that her never broken rule of not being interviewed and the nunlike seclusion of her private life originally were part of a carefully premeditated plan on the part of Charles Frohman to enshroud her in mystery and thereby stimulate the public's interest. Whether that is true or not, Miss Adams found this inviolate privacy pleasing and has maintained it ever since.

Knowing this, I should not have thought of intruding, but Bennett, against my wishes, sent her word that I was backstage in the hope of seeing her. Her maid was back a moment later and whisked me past Alf Hayman's forbidding frown.

"I know you wouldn't have come behind to see us if you hadn't nice things to say," Miss Adams greeted me. "Now just say them, please."

"I'm afraid to, Miss Adams," I said. "If I should I fear my volubility might smack of insincerity. It seems that I gush," and I told her of my experience with Mrs. Fiske.

"Then go right ahead and gush," she replied. "I am going to sit back, close my eyes, not say a word and just listen."

Possibly I did gush. Certainly I told her with all my heart how I had been thrilled and delighted, and never have I been more sincere. "Beautiful!" she applauded when I had finished. "I feel as renewed as if I had spent a week in the Adirondacks."

All this in support of the truth of acting. The acrobat or the dancer may leave the stage exhausted, but an actress who knows her business no more swoons at the finish of her big scene than Whistler had to be revived with smelling salts on completing an etching. The poor actress puts her heart into the rôle, the trained actress puts her head into it.

Mr. George Arliss has said it perfectly in one short sentence: "The art of the actor is to learn how not to be real on the stage without being found out by the audience."

A revolution in the theater from artificiality to realism has taken place in my time. It has been a change for the better, by and large, but much nonsense has been and still is talked of stage realism.

Incidental music and the soliloquy were theatrical devices in good standing long after I became an actor. The soliloquy was the drama's self-starter. At the rise of the curtain one of the characters, usually the faithful old servant, entered, and talking to himself, dropped the necessary clues to get the plot going. It was brief and effective, but it also was, no one denied, stilted and theatrical. Today an audience would snicker.

So the playwrights now get out and crank, and if the motor is cold and the ignition feeble, as frequently happens, the process is laborious and painful to all concerned. It is a rare play that can leap forward with the rise of the curtain without first taking the spectators into its confidence. The playwright now either gives over a third of his first act to trying to get the play under way naturally by the force of gravity, or he puts false whiskers on the soliloquy in the hope that the audience will not recognize the discredited old gentleman.

Thus the property man rings the prop telephone. If society drama, that calls for a servant to answer, but that will not serve our purposes. We want the heroine to answer that insistent ring, or we want to keep the cast down, so we give the servants a night off and bring the heroine on, complaining about the servant problem.

She takes off the receiver, discloses her identity and confides in the telephone, "I am absolutely alone in this big house! Can you imagine it? My maid is being godmother at some stupid christening, this is the cook's night off, and you know the butler left a week ago. What? George? You didn't expect George to be home? He's somewhere on one of his silly duck hunts. It is very awkward, what with the Gainsborough pearls in that little wall safe."

Now we are ready to get on with the play, but the distinction between talking to oneself and talking into a dummy telephone is pretty finely drawn. And if we really were to go in for realism that conversation should be varied occasionally to: "Who? Who? What number are you calling? No, this isn't Pipestone 68-J." Which would be highly realistic, but not very helpful.

Or there is the still more transparent device of the parlor maid with the feather duster. There never was another such a young woman for talking to herself, and expert cross-examination or a police third degree could not have wrung the essential facts from her better than the mere sight of a feather duster. The more sophisticated dramatists arrange it a bit better. They have the second man enter, snatch a comedy kiss from the maid, and remark that the motor horn that the property man has just tooted sounds like the master's car, and how surprised he will be to learn that the mistress has not been home since she went to the Meadowbrook dance on Wednesday with that dark Mr. Smithers. Yes, it was Wednesday because it was the same night that old man Clitus Coincidence was stabbed to death with the green jade scissors in his study.

When you come to dissect it, I don't know that this is such a marked advance on the soliloquy. Possibly the greatest passage in the drama is a soliloquy. In "What Price Glory", a very fine drama hailed as a masterpiece of the newer realism, the play opens with two runners and an orderly in regimental headquarters. They hold the stage alone for something like five minutes. Their conversation is clever, diverting and shrewdly in character, but for all that, its purpose is merely to prepare the way for the principal characters, and the three promptly fade into the background and remain there when the play really begins. Later in the same drama is a glaring violation of realism. The captain and the sergeant help themselves repeatedly at the bar of the estaminet, with no tally being kept of their drinking and no one present to protect the interests of the house. The proprietor and his daughter are conveniently absent. The sheer impossibility of this situation will be apparent to any member of the A. E. F. or any one else with any acquaintance with French inn-keepers, but the necessities of the drama demanded that the two leading protagonists have the stage to themselves.

To-day the drama has to get along most of the time without the aid of music. In the few theaters that still maintain orchestras, the first violin will be found in the alley smoking a cigarette when the drama is thickest. He used to be at his post in the orchestra trench playing "Hearts and Flowers" for the sad passages, welcoming the hero and the heroine on their first appearances with appropriate bars, and warning of the villain's first approach with minor chords, as distant thunder presages the gathering storm. Childish, perhaps, but the suggestive power of music is tremendous. It will prepare an audience as whole pages of dialogue will not. A hurdy-gurdy offstage or a phonograph unobtrusively introduced onstage can give the emotional key to a scene instantly. The motion-picture houses appreciate the power of music, if the legitimate stage has largely forgotten it.

The revolt against the conventions of the theater can go only so far before it meets the conventional stone wall. "Let's pretend," the theater asks of the spectator and must always ask. The spectator can rightfully ask only that the pretense be convincing at the moment. A room full of persons in life never has talked and never will talk and move as a room of actors talk and move on the stage. The stage is a narrowly restricted medium, and dramatist, stage manager and players are not permitted to forget it for an instant. If an actor should wander aimlessly about the stage as he does in the home of a friend he would distract the audience's attention from other actors at the moment more essential to the story, and play general hob with the performance. He may not turn his back to the spectators because they cannot quit their seats and follow him around.

A group gathered socially in a drawing-room do not naturally talk one at a time. On the stage they must. An actor who spoke as loudly in his home or on the street as he should on the stage would be a man one would cross the street or dodge into a doorway to avoid. He raises his voice in the theater to be heard. Inaudibility is the curse of current acting. There is no more serious offense in the theater. Of what avail to be realistic if the unfortunates back of F can not hear what you say? Some time ago I had a last-minute opportunity of seeing one of the best of the younger actresses in an interesting rôle. The best seats remaining were in the sixteenth row. She played a repressed girl and in her effort to be natural she kept her voice at a pitch that barely carried across the footlights. She was an actress of sufficient ability to enable me to read in her face something of what I could not hear, but as the play was not billed as a pantomime, my irritation and that of the bulk of the audience was justifiable.

A writer of fiction may let his characters stray over the face of the earth without restraint of space and little of time. When he attempts the same story on the stage he is in the predicament of an artist in colors restricted to black and white for his effects. The story must be told within the limits of three hours, the narrow frame of the stage, a practicable cast, the mechanical resources of the theater and the fact that the spectators cannot take the play home with them and finish it in bed.

To quote Mr. Arliss again, and I know no better authority:

"It is impossible to maintain absolute reality while writing a good play. It is quite feasible if you are content to write a bad play. If you cannot get drama and realism at the same time, as you seldom can, then there is nothing to do but to discard the realism and hang on to the drama. But it must be real at the time, under the illusion of the theater."

Or as William Winter wrote of Booth:

"He left nothing to chance. There was no heedless, accidental quality in his art. There was neither hesitation, uncertainty, excess nor error. The perfection of his acting lay in the perfect control that he exercised over his powers—his complete understanding of himself, his minute and thorough perception of cause and effect on the stage, and his consummate skill in deducing the one from the other. He acted with the ease that makes the observer oblivious of the effort and the skill which alone can produce such effects of illusion and enjoyment.
"He did not adopt the foolish theory that the true art of acting consists in doing upon the stage exactly what people do in actual life. He knew that art is romantic and that the moment romance is sacrificed to reality, the stage is as impotent as a paper flower. An actor may be natural without being literal. He is a commentator upon life in the realm of the ideal as well as in the realm of fact. He reveals to the public the complex mechanism of human nature and the magnificent possibilities of spiritual destiny."

Often I have heard the highest compliment that may be paid an actor spoken as a belittlement. I have heard it said of John Drew, for instance, "He's not an actor; he just goes on and plays himself."

Mr. Drew could ask no finer tribute to the perfection of his art. If, in the highly artificial environment of the stage, one can seem oneself, there is an actor.

J. C. Nugent wrote in Variety recently of a clash between James A. Herne and an actor at a rehearsal of "Shore Acres." The man had spoken a rhythmical line in the mouthing elocution of the "reading actor."

"What are you singing for?" Herne asked.

The actor replied that the passage was poetic and that he was attempting to exploit its beauty.

"It is a good line," Herne admitted, "but I am sorry that you appreciate it. Otherwise you might make it sound human."

At the next rehearsal the beautiful line was spoken with all the feeling of "Please pass the potatoes."

When Herne protested, the actor defended himself, saying, "I am speaking it naturally, as you instructed me to."

"So I see," said Herne. "The next thing you should learn is the difference between acting naturally and natural acting."

As Mr. Nugent pungently put it, "The stage hand who sets a chair out and ducks for the shelter of the wings is acting naturally, but he looks like a fleeting pair of pants just the same."

I learned more of what I may know of acting in a brief association with Joseph Jefferson than in all my time in the theater previously. Mr. Jefferson arranged a benefit at the Fifth Avenue Theater in the middle nineties for Charles W. Couldock, the original Dunstan Kirke in "Hazel Kirke", whom I have mentioned earlier. Couldock was growing old after thirty years in America without a visit to his home in England. An extremely good actor, he had been improvident and was in need, a tragedy then more commonplace in the theater than now.

Jefferson selected "The Rivals" as the bill and chose a cast beside which even the fine company now playing Sheridan's great comedy so successfully on tour may not be compared. He played Bob Acres; William H. Crane was Sir Anthony Absolute; Henry Miller, Captain Absolute; Nat Goodwin, Sir Lucius O'Trigger; Thomas W. Keene, Falkland; Viola Allen, Lydia Languish; Mrs. John Drew Senior, Mrs. Malaprop; Nellie McHenry as Lucy, and myself as David.

I was playing in contiguous territory at the time and would come into New York by train for occasional rehearsals. On the way from the station to the theater one afternoon I met Mr. Jefferson on the street. He took my arm and we walked together.

"People are going to expect you to clown this part," he told me, "but I know that you are not going to"; that being his gracious way of saying, "Now please don't clown it."

Most of what I have said of acting here I first heard from the lips of that gentle genius, or first realized from studying his delicate art. At one rehearsal Crane and I stood in the footlight dip not more than five feet from Jefferson as he worked over a scene with Nat Goodwin

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From the photo. by Falk. Collection of Albert Davis, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Mrs. Drew, Mother of John Drew and Grandmother of the Barrymores, as Mrs. Malaprop

just ahead of the duel. The play demanded that the two stand at opposite sides of the stage. If he wished to make a suggestion to Goodwin, Jefferson would step out of the rôle for a moment, walk across the stage, confer in a low voice with Nat, then return to his acting position and instantly become Bob Acres again.

Many actors find it impossible to do more than walk through their parts at rehearsal. Lacking the inspiration of the audience, the applause, the laughter, the lights, and conscious of their fellow professionals standing critically about, they are awkward and constrained. I had been a notoriously bad rehearser. When Mr. Jefferson had finished I spoke to him of this, and asked how he was able to be so oblivious of the actors about him and the cold and empty house.

"Oh, my boy," he corrected me. "That is all wrong. You must not know what self-consciousness means. An actor must be superior to any circumstance. Inspiration is well enough. Avail yourself of it if it comes, but how are you to be inspired by a thirty-dollar matinée? And yet if you have any sense of obligation as an artist you must give that thirty-dollar matinée as good a performance as a three thousand dollar house. You must know so well just why you make a certain gesture, what you will accomplish by that gesture, that you will employ it instinctively, whatever the distractions. You must be able to leave the character for a moment for something totally foreign and pick up the threads again as if you never had dropped them."

In the scene where David pleads with his master, Bob Acres, not to fight the duel, Acres sits with his back to the audience to center attention on David. In his earnestness David leans farther and farther across a table until his face almost touches that of his master. As I completed this speech at the first rehearsal, I drew back, thinking to heighten the effect.

"Oh, don't do that," Jefferson whispered. "You nullify the effect. When you get an effect, hold it, hold it! Focus all attention upon it. Your leaning forward helps the force of your lines. If you pull back at your climax you pull the audience back with you. Watch now when we play it. If you do what I say, you will get a round of applause."

I had made an amateurish blunder, but I was able at least to appreciate the wherefores of such a tip and to act upon it. I did so and the burst of applause came.

While it lasted Jefferson said to me, "Splendid, and you deserve it. Isn't that a reward?"

The greatest comedian our stage has known, Mr. Jefferson was the most sympathetic and helpful of men to his associates, and the most self-effacing. We repeated this performance for one night in Boston. The audience demanded curtain after curtain and at each Jefferson forced all of us to remain on the stage to share a triumph that was his own. The house wanted him alone and would not stop. Finally we rebelled and Goodwin, Crane, Miller, Keene and I literally forced him in front of the curtain by himself, but when he spoke it was only of his joy in the privilege of appearing with such a company.

At the same performance I was crossing the stage behind the scenes when I saw Jefferson looking through a crack in the center doors of the set, sizing up the audience, I assumed.

"That's a sight worth seeing," I commented.

"I was not thinking of the audience," he replied. "Stay a moment and watch this laughing exit of Mrs. Drew's." I stood behind him, peering over his head as Mrs. Malaprop closed her scene. When she had finished he took my arm to walk around to make our joint entrance. "I have had the honor of playing with that lady hundreds of times, and I never have failed to watch that scene," he said.

Jefferson was dining at the Players the day after the Couldock benefit with a group of six or seven fellow actors, including John Drew, and every one else in the club crowding about his table felicitating him on his performance.

Mr. Drew did me the kindly and generous service of bringing me the news that Jefferson had remarked, "Gentlemen, I have had a very pleasant experience; I have seen a part played as well as it could be — young Hopper's David."

Mr. Jefferson's words are not to be taken literally, but even as hyperbole I cherish them, along with the praise of Mrs. John Drew, above all else. Few will remember it, but I once played Sir John Falstaff to Mrs. Drew's Dame Quickly at a special al fresco performance in the court of the Grand Union Hotel, Saratoga. Rose Coghlan was the Mistress Ford; Blanche Walsh, Mistress Page.

I committed the part in six hours distributed over three evenings. Billy Crane, who had played Falstaff the previous season and found himself unequal to it physically, lent me the elaborate pads that are a part of the make-up, his wigs, and the benefit of his long research and study of the rôle, making the condition that I would spend three days at his place at Cohasset tutoring under him, another instance of very great kindness shown a young actor by a great one.

We spent most of those three days on his yacht. Crane explained to me that "Merry Wives of Windsor" was a very imperfectly constructed play, and how Shakespeare had written it in three weeks at the royal behest of Queen Elizabeth, who had enjoyed Falstaff so hugely in "Henry IV" that she demanded a play showing the rascal in love.

"You have an impossible thing to do," Crane told me. "Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have deliberately had you dumped into the Thames. Dame Quickly comes to lure you back, and within her speech of eight lines you must evidence, plausibly, a change from bitter determination never to see Page and Ford again to an eager willingness. Dame Quickly can help you tremendously in making this incredible mental switch seem convincing. By the way, who is she?"

"Oh, just some amateur Saratoga chip," I replied breezily.

"Then God help you," he groaned.

"On the contrary, Dame Quickly is none other than Mrs. John Drew herself," I reassured Crane.

"My boy, you won't have to do a thing but stand there," he exclaimed. "Let her do it."

It was true. Speaking those eight lines slowly, Mrs. Drew, with her changing facial expression and consummate art, drew me out of my sulks into a comical eagerness, without my doing anything beyond following the cues her face gave me.

Falstaff is a strenuous rôle apart from the make-up, and the make-up is the most harrowing in the theater. On a warm night it can be a torture. Crane built himself up to Sir John's bloated figure with heavy woolen leg pads, a false stomach of inflated rubber, a heavily padded coat and other stuffing that gave all the effects of the steam room of a Turkish bath. With my youth and physique, I found it an ordeal for one performance.

There was a supper at the Grand Union following the play, at which Mrs. Drew and I, among others, spoke.

"Mr. Hopper has said that this is his first time to play Falstaff," she said when she rose. "Oddly, this is the first time I have played Dame Quickly. It is my part; I am built for it, but when I last was seen in 'Merry Wives of Windsor' I had not this contour and I played Mistress Ford. But it is a pleasure for me to say that I never have played with a better Falstaff, and I have had the honor of appearing with Mr. James K. Hackett in his famous impersonation of that rôle."

This was not the less sweet to my ears even though it was quite possible that Mrs. Drew was being more generous than critical. Two strangely diverse men agreed with her; Edward Everett Hale and Pat Sheedy, the gambler. Sheedy was so enthusiastic that he wished to back the company for a summer engagement at the Metropolitan Opera House, his only stipulation being that "the old woman" play Dame Quickly, Percy Winter play Slender, and I, Falstaff.

No actor who has reached the age of anecdotage can escape the question: Who was the greatest of them all? My answer, and that of any one who has been on the stage as long as I, must inevitably be: Edwin Booth.

Booth rescued our stage from the mock heroic. Our tragedians had ceased to be actors and become impassioned elocutionists, thundering blank verse in the stilted, florid, declamatory style still burlesqued in the stock low-comedy character of the "ham" Shakespearean actor. When our architecture and our interiors were at their rococo worst, Booth, following the roaring Forrest, led the classic stage back to simplicity, just as David Garrick a century earlier had deposed Quin and his fellow elocutionists of the English theater. The example of Booth still prevails and has been exemplified splendidly in modern time by Forbes-Robertson's and John Barrymore's Hamlets, by Walter Hampden, Lynn Harding and Miss Jane Cowl.

I suppose there never was such a scene in the theater as that which marked Booth's return to the stage after the voluntary retirement that followed the assassination of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. That mad act cast a somber shadow over Edwin Booth's remaining twenty-eight years. Only the necessity of supporting his family brought him out of retirement, and he never again played in Washington. The old Winter Garden in lower Broadway was the scene. I was a child at the time and not present, but Digby Bell, who was there, never ceased to recall it.

The statement that "the demonstration lasted five minutes", or three minutes or twelve minutes is a commonplace of newspaper exaggeration. It is analogous to "the parade of thirty thousand marchers." No parade used to be thought worthy of the name with fewer than thirty thousand in line, until some one in the New York World office made a few calculations as to how long such a procession would be in passing a given point. That newspaper then sent out checkers to tally the longer parades. On actual count they dwindled sadly; four thousand was discovered to be an impressive procession, ten thousand almost endless.

Actually the longest demonstration of record lasted one minute and thirty-three seconds, if I am not mistaken, and was inspired by Sir Henry Irving's return to the stage of the Lyceum after a long illness. I ignore, of course, those purely artificial contests of endurance that mark the modern national political convention. They belong with the six-day bicycle races. Our imaginations have been so debauched that a minute and thirty-three seconds has a tame sound; but count ninety-three slowly, or better still try to clap your hands continuously that long, if you would appreciate what it means.

This reception of Booth, born of sympathy, love, idolatry and hot partisanship, continued for seventeen minutes, Bell said, rising and falling, but never stopping, and stimulated by the muffled roar of a mob rioting outside and the hoots and catcalls of a bitter minority in the theater. The majority wished the actor to know that they held him blameless for the insane act of his brother. Booth repeatedly tried to stem the demonstration and continue with his lines. Failing, he finally sank to a bench and wept with bowed head, the hysterical spectators sobbing with him.

Edwin Forrest, his contemporary, was touched with genius, but he was physical, while Booth was intellectual and spiritual, and Forrest, too, was of the declamatory school, his acting marred with mannerisms and elaborate artifice. While Booth was essentially a tragedian, Hamlet his greatest role, he was a comedian of the first rank. No one ever played Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" with a finer, defter comic touch.

For that matter, no man ever was a truly great tragedian who lacked the comic sense. I doubt that a man ever reached the full measure of greatness in any vocation without that saving grace of humor. Contrariwise, too robust a sense of humor has kept others from greatness. Excess in any emotion is disastrous.

Louis James was a case in point. Mr. James would have been recognized as one of the very great actors of our stage, I believe most earnestly, if he had not been the constant victim of his own mischievous humor. He could not resist a practical joke. James was leading man of the California Theater stock company in the days of visiting stars. Edwin Forrest was about to appear with the stock company in "Metamora", a heroic drama of the noble redskin, in which he had won his greatest popular success. As was the custom, the stock company rehearsed the play in advance of Forrest's arrival.

The cast included a child of eight, who played the part of Metamora's sister.

James drew the little girl to one side at rehearsal and said to her, "Now, my little darling, the brutal manager of this theater is not going to let my little sweetheart make the success of her life, but Papa Louis is going to tell her how she can foil brutal manager. Immediately after Mr. Forrest's first speech, speak this line, my dear, but speak it not before the first performance; or wicked manager will take it away from you. Then once you have delivered it, the country will ring with my darling's name."

The child, thoroughly persuaded that she was the victim of the manager's jealous dislike, rehearsed in private the line James had given her. Just previous to Metamora's first entrance his Indian mother wonders what was become of him.

Forrest strode on the stage, a superb physical picture, and his mother, with a cry of welcome, asked, "Where have you been, my Metamora?"

"Out slaying the paleface!" rumbled Forrest in his deepest bass tones.

The child had no response at this point, but up she piped in a thin treble the line that Papa Louis had taught her: "When snow comes I'm going sleighing too."

History does not record the fate of that aspiring but misguided young actress.

James was just as ready to make a performance of his own ridiculous. He was playing Virginius, another popular set piece of the grandiloquent school, with his own company one season and had with him as property man, Jimmy Johnston, as painstaking and sober-minded a man as ever jingled a cowbell offstage.

Virginius kills his daughter with his own hands to save her from some mighty Roman noble, if I remember the play. In Richmond, James went to Johnston and told him that he wished to simulate tears in his big scene.

"You must help me," the actor said. "I want you to get a milk pan, fill it to the brim with water and stand in the first entrance, just out of view of the audience. Hold the pan level with my face. Remember, the pan must be brimful and you must not spill a drop or you will destroy the scene. At the proper moment I can work my way to where you stand, turn my back momentarily and splash the water on my face. Better take up your position at the beginning of the act, as I am not able to say just when I shall be able to employ the tears to best advantage."

The literal-minded Jimmy was motionless in the first entrance at the rise of the curtain, a brimming pan held shoulder-high. James nodded approvingly.

As the act went on, paralysis rapidly set in in Jimmy's arms and the pan began to sink bit by bit. At every falter James would signal "Up! Up!" with a flirt of the wrist. The property man would raise the wavering pan, his face purpling with the effort, and James enjoying the prank like any schoolboy, all the while declaiming the noble periods of Virginius.

At the very climax of the scene and the play, the pan wavered again. Jimmy made a mighty try at recovery, but agonized muscles would not respond and the brimming pan fell with a horrible splash and crash. And with a much louder crash, the high-flown drama came down in a nose dive into the custard pie of the ridiculous.

The good people of Richmond did not award the mantle of Edwin Booth to Mr. James.