ONE of the most illuminating things Van Wyck Brooks ever said, about himself, was that Mr Dooley is already forgotten. It was particularly illuminating because Mr Brooks was in England when he made that statement, and it was some time before 1914 -- and i t happens that it was in England, in 1917 that I was made to understand how living Mr Dooley is, how relevant to affairs and situations of the moment, and how much English men and women consider him as one of the better items in the heritage of Americans. The writer of The Ordeal of Mark Twain is an invaluable critic for America; yet one wishes that he, too, could see Mr Dooley's place in our literature; one still hopes that he will begin to enjoy Ring Lardner.
The juxtaposition of these two names would be reasonable even if both of them did not write in slang, for one is the greatest of our retired satirists and the other has every chance (if not every intention) of becoming the greatest of our active ones. I s hould like to say at once that I am not addressing an open letter to Dear Mr Lardner, bidding him, while there is yet time, to think on higher things. I do not want him to forswear for a moment his hold on the popular imagination, nor to write for a more judicious clientHe. I am satisfied to have Mr Lardner amuse me; if the strain of satire in him is an accident and he prefers to go on with his slang humour -- I can always read Mr Dooley or Dean Swift. But if
the growing vein of satire in all of Lardner's work is what I think it is, he has much to learn from Mr Dooley. I shall presently come to Mr Dooley and indicate what it is Lardner can learn in those beautiful pages; the main thing is that he is probably t he only man in America with the capacity of learning the lesson of the master, and happily he can learn it without ceasing for a moment to live in his own world. I do not wish to force upon him the ordeal of being worried about.
There may have been a time when Mr Lardner gave cause for worry. Perhaps when You Know Me, Al had run as long as it needed to run, one might have feared that Mr Lardner, having discovered the American language as his medium, simply didn't know what to do with it. If his humour was going to depend for ever on "1-sided" and "4-taste" and odd misspellings, it might cease to be funny. It was necessary, in short, that Mr Lardner should have something personal to say. He has answered the question of his future by showing the beginnings of a first-rate satirist, continuing the tradition of Mark Twain and Mr Dooley. And having these tentatives in mind we can begin to look back and wonder whether he wasn't always something of a satirist, unconsciously.
The dates may confound my argument, so I will omit them; substantially Lardner began writing the letters of a busher just when the more serious magazine
were exploiting the intellectual idea of "inside baseball." Those were the days -- and they must have been funny, we feel circa 1923 when the bought and sold world's series and the letters of the fishing pitcher and suchlike scandal are in our memories, c arefully tucked away because the honour of the national game is safe in the hands of a dictatorthose were the days when the manager of a baseball team was regarded as a combination of a captain of finance (later events rather justified that assumption) a Freud, and an unborn Einstein. A fine body of college graduates, clean-living, sport-loving, well-read boys were the players; and a sport-loving, game-for-the-game's sake body of men the enthusiasts. Hughie Fullerton and Paul Elmer More might be seen any day in the same column, and John J. McGraw, who allowed himself to be called Muggsy to show what a good democrat he was, lunched daily at the President's table. Into this pretentious parade Mr Lardner injected the busher-and baseball has never recovered. The busher was simply a roughneck and a fool, a braggart and a liar; he was on occasions a good ball player, and he seemed to be inflated with the hot air which had been written about him. He pricked the bubble, and I do not wonder that Heywood Broun, des pairing of making interesting his accounts of a recent world's series, publicly prayed to God to change places with him for duration. Nothing short of divine power could save them.
It is a long time since the days of the busher and when Lardner returned to baseball it was clear that the subject interested him in no degree, and that he had changed much as a writer. It is not necessary to belittle the earlier work; only to note that i n 1922 the Lardner touch was much more deft, that the language was both richer and more accurate, and that he was continually writing parodies, sometimes of a phrase, often of a whole style. Three or four of the reports he wrote for the New York Americ an were jewels -- and, although they had little to do with baseball, they must have been written in the few hours which intervene between the end of a game and the moment of going to press. The whole series of articles ought to be reprinted; I am limi ted to snatches from two of them. The first set the theme: that Lardner had promised his wife a fur coat from his winningshe had bet on the Yankees. The headline was
Rings' Mrs.and then followed:
On Fur Coat
Well friends you can imagine my surprise and horror when I found out to-night that the impression had got around some way another that as soon as this serious was over I was planning to buy a expensive fur coat for my Mrs. and put a lot of money into same and buy a coat that would probably run up into hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
Well I did not mean to give no such kind of a impression
and I certainly hope that my little article was not read that way by everybody a specially around mv little home because in the first place I am not a sucker enough to invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars in a garment which the chances are that the Mrs . will not wear it more than a couple times all winter, as the way it looks now we are libel to have the most openest winter in history, and if women folks should walk along the st. in expensive fur coats in the kind of weather which it looks like we are going to have, why, they would only be laughed at and any way I believe a couple can have a whole lot better time in winter staying home and reading a good book or maybe have a few friends in to play bridge.
Further and more, I met a man at supper last night that has been in the fur business all his life and ain't did nothing you might say only deal in furs and this man says that they are a great many furs in this world which is reasonable priced that has got as much warmth in them as high price furs and looks a great deal better.
For inst. he says that a man is a sucker to invest thousands and thousands of dollars in expensive furs like Erminie, muleskin, squirrel skin and Kerensky when for a hundred dollars, or not even that much, why a man can buy a owl skin or horse skin or wea sel skin garment that looks like big dough and practically prostrates people with the heat when they wear them. So I hope my readers will put a quietus on the silly rumour that I am planning to plunge in the fur market. I will see that my Mrs. is dressed in as warm a style as she has been accustomed to but neither her or I is the kind that likes to make a big show and go up and down Fifth ave. sweltering in a $700 hog-skin garment in order so as people will turn around and gap at us. Live and let live is my slocum.
If this were not funny its secondary qualities would not be worth noting. The single sentence
which makes up the second paragraph is a miracle of condensation, for it contains the whole mind and character of the individual created behind it (it is not Ring Lardner, obviously) and at the same time it is a miracle of the ear, for the rhythm and into nation of the American spoken language is perfectly caught and held in it. What is the use of Babbitt in five hundred pages if we have Lardner in five hundred words? The fur episode was continued two days later, the Yankees continuing to lose and t hree kittens -- "three members of what is sometimes referred to as the feline tribe" -- out at Mr Lardner's "heavily mortgaged home in Great Neck . . . is practically doomed you might say . . . " because Mr Lardner has met a man "who has did nothing all h is life but sell and wear fur coats" and who assured him that catskin garments no bigger than a guest towel were all the rage and had been seen on "some of the best-dressed women in New York strolling up and down Tenth avenue. . . ."
"These 3 little members of the feline tribe'is the cutest and best behaved kitties in all catdom, their conduct having always been above reproaches outside of a tendency on the part of Ringer to bite strangers' knuckles. Nowhere on Long Island is there a more loveable trio of grimalkins, and how it pierces my old heart to think that some day next week these 3 little fellows must be shot dow'n like a dog so as their fur can be fashioned into a warm winter coat for she
who their antics has so often caused to screech with laughter."
The annihilation of the whole Black BeautyBeautiful Joe style of writing in the last sentence is complete, and is accomplished with the retention of Lardner's own peculiarities. It may shock Mr Lardner to know that he has done in little what Mr Joyce has done on the grand scale in Ulysses.
Indeed I feel that there must be hidden parody in the earlier writings of Mr Lardner, too, because he is so clean in handling it now. Satire in detail he hadthere is a dictionary of it in his one word "hell." Elsewhere, in a series later than You Know Me, Al he has described a half-fatuous, half-hardheaded roughneck dragging his silly and scheming wife and sister-in-law through the hotels and apartments of the backwash of society, and the story grew more and more sardonic, more and more entertainin g; little of the aimless, sickly, trivial life of the merely prosperous escaped him. Unlike Mr Dooley, his chief concerns were private ones; it is only recently that he has touched upon public affairs. For a long time his only "universal" was baseball -- a form of entertainment which now bores him exceedingly. He is also bored, I gather from an interview in the New York Globe, with the sort of fiction he has been writing, and amuses himself with writing plays. But as a satirist he is turning slowly towards matters of pith, and the question of his ultimate rank depends on this:
Can he, as he broadens out, retain the swift, destructive, and tremendously funny turn of phrase, the hard and resistant mind, the gaiety of spirit which have made him a humorisO Can he, in short, learn from Mr Dooley and remain Mr Lardner? For many reaso ns I think he can.
Between the busher and these newspaper reports Mr Lardner has written much; among his ephemera, even, there are many pages not to be lost. I shall return to them after drawing a long course with Mr Dooley as my centre, for it is one of the significant thi ngs about Mr Dooley that you must always keep him in your eye when you are scanning the horizon for an American satirist.
Mr Dooley was a satirist of the highest order and an excellent humorist. The combination is interesting. Psycho-analysts may determine at a later date that the reason he wrote in dialect was that he was afraid to attack the American people directly; I pre fer to believe that the good sense of his creator (Finley Peter Dunne, to be sure; but one always thinks of Martin Dooley in his independent existence) saw that a benevolent humour was the correct medium for a satire adequate to America. And that is Ameri ca's good fortune. Read the criticism of American warfare and politics as developed in the satire of Mr Dooley and compare it with the satire of French politics and warfare as expressed in the irony of Anatole France; without measuring the
quality of the one by the other, think only that each is adequate to the subject. Less than the bitterness of Penguin Island and the Histoire contemporaine would not have served for France; more than the laughter of Dooley would have been disproportionate and unmanly for us.
Satire is like parody in admitting the integrity of the subject; it Is a pruning knife applied for the good of the tree; and irony is a dagger with corrosive poison at the tip. Satire is proper to America because essentially the satirist believes that lif e is all right, and that only the extravagances and frailties of American life, at the moment of writing, need correction or are subject to mockery. The Frenchman, in a highly organized society, which he takes to be not only the best expression of life, b ut life itself, turns to irony as his natural mode when he is confronted with the ineluctable vision of its evil.
The danger is, to be sure, that our satirists remain superficial. When the thing is done roughly, without much humour, with no rich sense of the vastness and variety of the comic carnival, we get little more than the eternal "wise crack"; and the wise cra ck is no more entertaining in misspelled English than it is in capital letters, no more in pidgin than in Yiddish. I do not mean that George Ade and Wallace Irwin and Bill Nye and Montague Glass haven't each a special quality which makes for amusement; I do mean that they lack the great general qualities of
knowing and understanding which create humour. An illustration will do more than any defining to make the difference clear. The Japanese Schoolboy used to begin his letters, "To Hon. Editor" and Ring Lardner is, I suppose, the only man in America who can begin, "Well, friends . . . ."
Ambrose Bierce is generally supposed to have had this quality; certainly he had intelligence and wrote respectable English with a cold pen. His Dictionary does not impress me as the work of a spirit naturally ironical. Ade wrote satirically a long time ago; once in a while something occurs in the Fables to justify the acclaim of which F. P. A. is the curator. There is much more in Artemas Ward, whose glory is kept alive, worthily, by the sardonic leader-writer of The Freeman, Mr Alber t Jay Nock. As language neither Ade nor Ward approaches in interest the studies of Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi, nor those of Dooley and Lardner. The difference between Bill Nye and Ward on one side and Montague Glass and Lardner on the ot her, is that the former did not use an actually viable language or dialect, but used distortions of English for a specific effect. (I am far from suggesting that Ward did not use American notably, nor that his language is the better part of his work; he w as a real satirist.) It is my guess that in the beginning the misspelled words signified that the speaker was the hard sensible common man with none of "your" refinements. Juvenal and Johnson may
have been superior to the thing attacked; it pleased the democratic American to pretend to be beneath it. The literary success of the dialects is another matter, which anyone who believes that ours is still an AngloSaxon country will do well to consider. Montague Glass is particularly interesting in this respect. He impresses me as being neither a wise nor a foolish man, but a smart one. What gave him his vogue was his conformity with the norm of business acuteness and his use of a highly complex private racial idiom, which expresses a highly complex integrated almost secret racial life; he transferred, almost transliterated it into recognizable, at least understandable English, with such a climax as "I wish I were dead, God forbid!" which was recognized by the populace as a part of American 'life ten years before Mr Henry Ford bought the Protocols. The racial dialect is also exploited, but not with so reliable an ear, by Hugh Wiley in his negro stories; it is possible that the stories of Octavus Roy Cohe n are more accurate (they are not so entertaining) ; but the life they represent is, in any case, too near to America to be surprising to us.
I am convinced that nearly all of Mr Dooley and nearly all of the later Lardner would stand without dialect. It is not an odd-looking word that impresses most in Mr Dooley's masterpieces about the Dreyfus case. "The witnese will confine himself to forgeri es" is English as Swift would have written it, and is
neither better nor worse than, "How th' divvle can they perjure thimsilves If they ain't sworn?" or
" 'Let us proceed,' says th' impartial an' fair-minded judge, 'to th' thrile iv th' haynious monsther Cap Dhry-fuss' he says. Up jumps Zola, an' says he in Frinch: 'Jackuse,' he says, which is a hell of a mane thing to say to anny man. An' they thrun him out. 'Judge' says th' attorney f'r th' difinse, 'an' gintlemen lv' th' jury' he says. 'Ye're a liar,' says th' judge. 'Cap, ye're guilty, an' ye know it,' he says. . . . 'Let us pro-ceed to hearin' th' tisti-mony,' he says . . . Be this time Zola has come back; an' he jumps up, an', says he, 'Jackuse,' he says. An' they thrun him out."
It is no wonder that this passage was reprinted by the New York Evening Post after the expulsion of the Socialists from Albany. Nearly everything serious in Dooley has the same relevance, and one reads about war experts and "disqualifying the enemy " (in relation to the Spanish-American and Boer Wars) with a slightly dizzying sensation that this man has said everything that needed to be said twenty years in advance of his time. We needed him badly during the war, but a comic song about him had someh ow withdrawn his name from the rank of great literature and we had to do with sad secondbests. There isn't a chance in the world that he will be forgotten, because he is recognized in England and we shall some day reimport his reputation. For he
has the great advantage of being at the same time a humorist and a social historian, an every-day philosopher and the homme moyen sensuel.
His qualities are so immediate that analyzing them appears superfluous. He gets his effects by distortion, not by exaggeration. When he told Mr Roosevelt to call the next edition of his book Alone in Cubia he extracted an essence from it, rather th an inflated it. His adversatives are surprising and devastating. He conceives a Blood-is-thicker-than-Water speech in these terms (from the English to the American) : "Foolish and frivolous people, cheap but thruehearted and insincere cousins. . . . Ye ar -re savage but inthrestin'." Sometimes he leaves out the "but": "They was followed be th' gin'rals iv th' Fr-rinch ar-rmy, stalwa rt, fearless men, with coarse, disagreeable faces." His unexpectedness goes farther; he once said that left alone General Sha fter could have taken "Sandago" without losing an ounce.
I do not wish to write a literary essay about Mr Dooley, and having mentioned Swift I have little to say. I must admit that the Irish of Mr Dooley is stage-Irish; what makes it acceptable is that it is entirely Dooley-Irish, and whatever the spelling, wha tever the oddities of words, the intonation is always right. For of course it is possible to write a dialect without imitation of*sound, and to do it effectively and honestly. Sherwood Anderson has done it in I Want to Know Why and in I'm a Fool ; Lardner has
done it in The Golden Honeymoon; and the amiable efforts of Mr John V. A. Weaver are ineffective because in nine out of ten cases he is setting slang words, well observed and accurately recorded, to the rhythm of literary English. Mr Dooley's rhyth m is always that of the estimable, easy-going barkeeper who is speaking.
One looks back with a certain envy to the time when a barkeeper could talk about the world. Our present social situation is disjected, and the perioa before the war seems incredibly calm and halcyon. It seems to us that then America was settling into the character it had made for itself in the Civil War, a time of consolidation and certainty. A minor passion for social justice seems to have been the only great force hostile to that sense of security and self-satisfaction without which no civilization can become sophisticated and refined. It was pre-eminently the time when a satirist could exist. Mr Dooley is the proof that he did. He understood his America, as in his time, and without bitterness he makes it live again.
Ten years from now, if we settle down, Mr Lardner may have another such opportunity. For the moment he is driven to the surface; he has no point d'appai for his attack; in a bewildering and unsure civilization, he is himself unsure. It is possible that he will become so accustomed to shallow waters that he will never venture into deep; I should be sorry, because he has qualities too precious to be wasted.
He is developing a strain of wild imagination, of something approaching fantasy. And his occasional pieces of fiction are far beyond the average of stories written in America. The Golden Honeymoon (which Mr Edward J. O'Brien had the acumen to put i n his collection of the best stories of 1922) is almost a masterpiece; it has a sort of artistic wisdom, is without tricks, and is beautifully written. He has also written a burlesque which failed drearily with the 49-ers and a sketch, The Bull Pen , in which the busher reappeared, which was a moderate success in the Ziegfeld Follies. This piece and The Golden Honeymoon show a fresh tendency on Lardner's part to understate; they are actually quiet, as if he were tired of noisiness. I do not t hink he is tired of anything. In an interview recently he said, "Some philosopher once said that if you want a thing badly when you're young you're likely to get too much of it before you're old; I hope to God he knew what he was talking about." He is afraid of nothing; one fancies he doesn't care for too many things.
He grew weary, a little while ago, of the literary diaries published from week to week by the highbrows, these records "of who they seen and talked to and what they done since the last time we heard from them" and so he wrote his own for the New York Sund ay American. Among the items chronicled were: "When I got home Sousa was there and we played some Brahms and Grieg with me at the piano and
him at one end of a cornet. 'How well you play, Lardy,' was Sousa's remark. Brahms called up in the evening and him and his wife come over and played rummy. (This is grotesque, but he knows his subject.) "Had breakfast with Mayor Hylan and Senator Lodge. . . . Went home and played some Rubinstein on the black keys. . . . President Harding called up long distants to say hello. The Mrs talked to him as I was playing with the cat. . . . Took a ride on the Long Island R.R. to study human nature. . . . " And so on. It is a little better than verbal parody, is it not, Lardy!
Mr Lardner pretends still to feel some of the heman's contempt for letters, suggesting at the same time the fat-headed pride of a real-estate broker who has had a patriotic poem printed in the local paper. He is, as Sherwood Anderson says, "sticking to th e gang." But he is wise and witty and he has few compunctions about being vulgar. It is his most precious asset. For in America the fear of vulgarity is the beginning of deadness. Abase! (if I may quote Mr Dooley).
THE incurable romanticist, George Jean Nathan, was the first to speak boldly in print and establish the rule of the silver-limbed, implacable Aphrodite in the theatre of Florenz Ziegfeld; and the equally incurable realist, Heywood Broun, has discovered that it isn't so. Mr Nathan, obsessed by the idea that the world in general, and America in particular, goes to any extreme to conceal its interest in sex, really did a service to humanity by pointing out that there were beautiful girls in revues and that these girls constituted one of the main reasons for the attendance of men at the performances. Mr Broun, sensing a lack of abandon and frenzy in the modern bacchanale, says, simply, that it isn't so, and implies that anyone who could get a thrill out of that -- ! Like the king in that story of Hans Christian Andersen, of which Mr Broun is inordinately fond, the girls haven't any clothes on; and this little child, noticing the fact, is dreadfully disappointed.
Now Mr Ziegfeld is, in the opinion of those who work for him, a genius, and can well afford to say, "A plague on both your houses," f or he has built up what he himself calls a national institution, glorifying, not degrading, the American girl (pauvre petite). He can afford to look with complacency upon undergraduates charging upon his theatre in the anticipation of unholy delights, and forced to bear the clownings of Eddie Cantor or the wise sayings cf Will Rogers; then he can turn to Dr John Roac h
Straton who, having heard from Mr Broun that the Follies are chaste, approaches to see some monstrosity of a classic ballet and hears the vast decent sensuality of a jazz number instead.
Mr Ziegfeld has lived through so much-through the period when it was believed indecent to be undressed and through the manlier period when nudity was contrasted with nakedness (it is the basis of a sort of Y. M. C. A. Tsthetics that the nakoe is always pu re) and through the long period, 1911-15, when the reviewers discovered the superior attractiveness of the stockinged leg; art in the shape of Joseph Urban has left a permanent mark upon him, and he has trafficked in strange seas for numbers and devices; what was vulgar and what was delicate, boresome and thrilling, have all passed through his hands; he has sent genius whistling down the wind to the vaudeville stage and built up new successes with secondary material; the storehouses are littered with'the gaudy monuments of his imitators. And all the time the secret of his success has been staring Broadway in the face.
It is well to speak of Mr Ziegfeld's success because in the last few years several things have happened to the revue; for almost as long as I remember the Ziegfeld Follies, I remember the Winter Garden opposition, the Passing Show, its exact antithesis.[f n.1]
But lately there have arrived at least two productions which give every guaranty of permanence, in addition to some others which may turn out to be equally sure of survival. I mean the Music Box Revue and the Greenwich Village Follies. The Music Box is only in its third year; its chiefs assets are one of the most agreeable theatres in New York, assuring a reputation on the road, and first call on the still unsatisfied talents of Mr Irving Berlin. The Greenwich Village Follies, even if it lose its prese nt director, John Murray Anderson, will continue to be successful for one of the strangest reasons in the world-its reputation for being "artistic." The Winter Garden, the two Follies, and the Music Box, are the four points of the compass in this truly ma gnetic field. When the needle points due north, I usually find Mr Ziegfeld fairly snug under the Pole Star.
There are, if you count the chorus individually, about a hundred reasons for seeing a revue; there is only one reason for thinking about it, and that is that at one point, and only one point, the revue touches upon art. The revue as a production manifests the same impatience with half measures, with boggling, with the good enough and the nearly successful, which every great artist feels, or pretends to feel, in regard
to his own work. It shows a mania for perfection; it aspires to be precise and definite, it corresponds to those de luxe railway trains which are always exactly on time, to the millions of spare parts that always fit, to the ease of commerce when there is a fixed price; jazz or symphony may sound from the orchestra pit, but underneath is the real tone of the revue, the steady, incorruptible purr of the dynVo.. And with the possible exception of architecture, via the back door of construction, the revue is the most notable place in which this great American dislike of bungling, the real pleasure in a thing perfectly done, apply even vaguely to the arts.
If you can bring into focus, simultaneously, a good revue and a production of grand opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, the superiority of the lesser art is striking. Like the revue, grand opera is composed of elements drawn from many sources; like the revue, success depends on the fusion of these elements into a new unit, through the highest skill in production. And this sort of perfection the Metropolitan not only never achieves -- it is actually absolved in advance from the necessity of attempting i t. I am aware that it has the highest-paid singers, the best orchestra, some of the best conductors, dancers and stage hands, and the worst scenery in the world, in addition to an exceptionally astute impresario; but the production of these elements is so haphazard and clumsy that if any revue-producer hit as low a
level in his work, he would be stoned off Broadway. Yet the Metropolitan is considered a great institution and complacently permitted to run at a loss, because its material is ART.
The same thing is true in other fields -- in producing serious plays, in writing great novels, we will stand for a second-rateness we would not for a moment abide in the construction of a bridge or the making of an omelette, or the production of a revue. And because in a revue the bunk doesn't carry, the revue is one of the few places you can go with the assurance that the thing, however tawdry in itself, will be well done. If it is tawdry, it is so in keeping with the taste of its patrons, and without pr etense; whereas in the major arts -- no matter how magnificent the masquerade of Art may be -- the taste of a production is usually several notches below the taste of the patrons.
The good revue pleases the eye, the ear, and the pulse; the very good revue does this so well that it pleases the mind. It operates in that equivocal zone where a thing does not have to be funny -- it need only sound funny; nor be beautiful if it c an for a fleeting moment appear beautiful. It does not have to send them away laughing or even whistling; all it needs to do is to keep the perceptions of the audience fully engaged all the time, and the evaporation of its pleasures will bring the audienc e back again and again.
The secret I have alluded to is how to create the atmosphere of seeming -- and Mr Ziegfeld knows the secret in every detail. In brief, he makes everything appear perfect by a consummate smoothness of production. Undoubtedly ten or fifteen other people hel p in this -- I use Mr Ziegfeld's name because in the end he is responsible for the kind of show put out in his name and because the smoothness I refer to goes far beyond the mechanism of the stage or skill in directing a chorus. It is not the smoothness o f a connecting rod running in oil, but of a batter where all the ingredients are so promptly introduced and so thoroughly integrated that in the end a man may stand up and say, This is a Show. Everyone with a grain of sense knows that Mr Urban can make al l the sets for a production and Mr Berlin write all the music; Mr Ziegfeld has the added grain to see that if he's going to have a great variety of things and people, he had better divide his decor and his music among many different talents.
There have been funnier revues and revues more pleasing to the eye and revues with far better popular music; nowhere have all the necessary ingredients appeared to such a high average of advantage. Mr Anderson could barely keep Bert Savoy within the bound s of a revue; the Music Box collapses entirely as a revue at a few dance steps by Bobby Clark. But Ziegfeld as early as igio was able to throw together Harry Watson (Young Kid Battling Dugan,
nowadays, in vaudeville), Fannie Brice, Anna Held, Bert Williams, and Lillian Lorraine and, as if to prove that he was none the less producing a revue, bring down his curtain on a set-piece of "Our American Colleges." And twelve years later, with Will Rog ers and Gilda Grey and Victor Herbert and Ring Lardner, he is still producing a revue and brings both curtains down on his chorus -- once en masse and the second time undressing for the street in silhouette.
I cannot estimate the amount of satisfaction which since those early days Mr Ziegfeld has provided. My own memories do not go back to the actual productions in which Anna Held figured; I recall only the virtuous indignation of elderly people and my own mi xed feelings of curiosity and disgust when I overheard reports of the goings-on. But from the time I begin to remember them until to-day there has always been a peculiar quality of pleasure in the Ziegfeld shows, and the uninterrupted supply of things ple asant to see and entertaining to hear, has been admirable. Mr Ziegfeld has never been actually courageous; his novelties are never more audacious than, say, radiolite costumes or an Urban backdrop. He is apparently pledged to the tedious set-pieces which are supposed to be artistic -- the Ben Ali Haggin effects, the Fan in Many Lands or the ballot of A Night in Statuary Hall with the discobolus coming to life and the arms of the Venus de Milo miraculously
restored. There are years, too, in which Mr Ziegfeld, discovering new talent, follows but one vein and leaves his shows so much in one tone that a slight depression sets in. Mr Edmund Wilson, in the Dial repeats the plaint of Mr Heywood Broun in the World -- that the Follies are frigid -- the girls are all straight, the ballet becomes a drill, the very laughs are organized and mechanical. Well, it happens to be the function of the Ziegfeld Follies to be ApolIonic, not Dionysian; the leap and the cry of th e bacchanale give way to the song and dance, and when we want the true f renzy we have to go elsewhere. I doubt whether even the success of the negro shows will frighten Ziegfeld into mingling with his other elements some that will be riotous and wild; th e best they can do will be to prevent Ziegfeld from growing too utterly "refined." He tends at this moment to quiet fun of the Lardner type and the occasional horseplay with which he accentuates this murmur, this smile, is usually unsuccessful. I am, myse lf, more moved by broader strokes than his, but I recognize that Ziegfeld, and not the producers of Shuffle Along, is in the main current of our development -- that we tend to a mechanically perfect society in which we will either master the machin e or be enslaved by it. And the only way to master itsince we cannot escape -- will be by understanding it in every detail. That is exactly Mr Ziegfeld's present preoccupation. I dissent, however, from the suggestion
that the physical loveliness of the Ziegfeld chorus has ceased to be seductive. Some, as Mr Lardner once said -- some like 'ern cold, and there are at least five other choruses which affect me as pleasurably. But for those that like the Ziegfeld-type c horus, which has always a deal of stateliness and a haughty air of being damned well bred, Mr Ziegfeld's production of the wares is perfect. He has simply moved his chorus one step backward in order to make them appear slightly inaccessible and so a littl e more desirable. His attack is indirect, but it is no less certain.
In the back of the mind there always remains the idea that a revue ought to be a revue of something, and as far as I know, George M. Cohan is the last of those who have tried to accomplish that. Weber and Fields presented burlesque; Mr Cohan's efforts are not lost in that dim perspective, and they seem superior, for he wove his amazingly expert parodies of current successes into a new creation, a veritable review. The high spirits and sophistication of the Cohan revues have not frequently been equalled on our stage, for the whole of Cohan's talents were poured into them without reserve. The parodies and satire were merciless and spared not even himself; for he took the old jibe about his Yankee-Doodleism and wrote apropos of a show of his which had failed : "Go, get a Flag, For you need it, you need it, you know you need it!" He took
off Common Clay in swift and expert patter; he destroyed the "song hit" with Down by the Erie ten years earlier and ten times better than the Fortyniners did; he advertised himself and ridiculed his own self-advertisement; he was the princip al actor and he played fair with Willie Collier and Charles Winninger and Louise Dresser. Throughout he was the high point of Cohanism, of that shrewd, cocksure, arrogant, wise, and witty man who was the true expression of the America of Remember the Main e!, the McKinley elections, the Yellow Kid, and Coon! Coon! Coon! He was always smart, always versatile. To this day he is smart enough to produce Mary and Little Nelly Kelly, knowing that the old stuff goes biggest and that even in the midst of hi s own sophistication he can capture vaster audiences with his own simplicity. This is an abdication of his proper function, to be sure. The man who had so much to do with the great-American-drama (I allude to Seven Keys to Baldpate and the description "gr eat-American" is deliberate) and who could take any trash (A Prince There Was) and make it go, through the indefatigable energy and the cleverness of his own acting, and who could fight the world with his preposterous Tavern -- this man had no righ t to give up doing what he did so well. I care nothing for the famous nasalities of George M. Cohan; after the Four Cohans I saw him first as actor, so I do not mourn for his dancing days. But I know that with
only a fraction of Berlin's gifts as a composer, he had something which even Berlin lacks: the complete sense of the boards. His revues would have been desirable additions to each theatrical season if they had done no more than produce himself. His hard s ense, his unimaginative but not unsympathetic response to everything that took place on the street and at the bar and on the stage made him a prince of reviewers -- he was not without malice and he was wholly without philosophy. Perhaps that is why his re vues were wonderfully gay. Why they ever stopped I cannot tell; when they stopped, strangely enough, they left the field to the Winter Garden. I make no claim that the revues at this house are always pleasing; people apparently still exist who are enthusi asts for Valeska Surratt. But I do claim that they are always revues, even if they are sometimes to be weighed by avoirdupois and not by critical standard.
The annihilation of all the vast and silly posturing which went on a few years ago under the name of The Jest was accomplished in a perfect burlesque by Blanche Ring and Charles Winninger (the latter played Leo Ditrichstein in one of the Cohan revu es) and if The Sheik never reached the stage it is possibly because Eddie Cantor burlesqued it in advance on a bicycle and with a time clock for the women of the harem. What has held the Winter Garden down (except, of course, when Al Jolson there i nhabited)
is the lack of good music; for the humour has always been broad and the slap-stick merry. The shows there always seem to be hankering a little for the additional vulgarity of out-and-out burlesque, but the Rath Brothers were as much at home there as the A von Comedy Four; if my head were at stake I could not recall a single thing there which could be called exquisite, but I swear that as the show girls shuffled precariously up and down the runway I did at times fancy I heard the stamping of a goatish foot behind the scenes, and if I didn't like the sound, I was in the minority. The Winter Garden has always been, in part, a direct assault on the senses and the method of art is always indirect; Mr Ziegfeld knows this and always manages to bathe his scenes in a cool virginal light, to the intensification of pleasure for the connoisseurs.
The difference between these two shows can be measured by watching one figure pass across the stage of each. Last year at the Winter Garden Conchita Piquer sang a malaguefia. (You can discover all you need to know about the malaguefia in Mr Santayana's Soliloquies; to us it is the perfect exotic, as strange to our ears as Chinese songstranger because it remains recognizably Occidental, yet seems to be based on no intervals known to our scales, and its rhythm is capricious and uncertain). She sang it "wildly well," with a pert assured air of superiority. Yet she cast flowers into the audience
as she did so, and the background and the massing of the chorus behind her were all out of key and prevented the song from being what at the Ziegfeld Follies it inevitably must have been, exquisite.
At the Follies passes Gilda Grey, a performer of limited talents gifted with unutterable intensity. Against a flaring background in which all the signs of all of Broadway are crowded together, she sings a commentary on the negro invasion -- It's Gettin g Very Dark on Old Broadway -- the scene fades and radiolite picks out the white dresses of the chorus, the hands and faces recede into undistinguishable black. And while the chorus sings Miss Grey's voice rises in a deep and shuddering ecstasy to cry out the two words, "Getting darker!" To disengage that cry, tQ insure its repercussion, went all the skill of production in everything that preceded and in everything that followed. It was exciting, but it was also exquisite, and that is exactly what the Winter Garden could not have done.
Neither of the two Music Box revues has reached that height, because in neither has production kept pace with Berlin's music. It is part of the technique of the revue to have "stunts" and Berlin, being capable du tout, last year set a dining menu to music . Yet nothing was added when lobster and mayonnaise and celery appeared in the flesh; even worse, this year something precious is lost when one of Berlin's veritable masterpieces, Pack Up Your Sins and
Go to the Devil, is produced with an endless number of trapdoors and hoists and all the other mechanics of the stage. The first of the two revues flourished on humour -- Willie Collier and Sam Bernard were inexpressibly funny -- and on Berlin's Say It With Music; so long as it stayed in New York the appearance in person of Mr Berlin, explaining to the well-remembered tunes how he wrote each of his masterpieces of ragtime, added much.
The tone of this revue was the tone of the building itself -- varying from the cool and well-proportioned exterior to the comfortable, a little lavish interior. Florence Moore was as outrageous as ever, and at least as active; she is the most tireless per son on the stage and to me the most tiring, for her vitality affects me as a cyclone in which I am quite unnecessarily involved. All the more surprising, then, was her shift from horseplay to burlesque in the house-hunting scene with Sam Bernard, at the e nd of which the children were shot by their despairing parents to remove the one obstacle between them and the perfect apartment. In an earlier scene Collier had had his chance -- the one in which Bernard tried to explain his difficulties and to read a le tter. All of Bernard's stutterings and flounderings in the English vocabulary availed nothing against Collier's imperturable indifference. Collier has always had a divine spark -- it was visible even in The Hottentot -- and in that scene it glowed beautifully.
The show was, to be sure, held in the matrix of Berlin's score, and was as much held down as up to that level -- I mean it was not spoiled by the intrusion of alien theatrical elements. Since then a new hydraulic system has apparently been added to the equipment of the stage, and Hassard Short, confusing the dynamics of the theatre with mere hoisting power, moves everything that can be moved except the audience. The elements are all ' there, but they are produced as if it were a benefit, not a revu e.
John Murray Anderson's is the hardest case to be sure about. A year ago he "struck a new note in revues" -- by producing one without a scintilla of interest in any of its proceedings. Nothing quite so lackadaisical and dull has ever had such a success. Ye t he had'long before established a repute for being artistic -- and, as far as I can judge, it was by the exploitation of millions of yards of draperies in place of the usual canvas scenery. It was a sound notion, and in the first of these productions, What's in a Name? there was a pretty air of the semi-professional, a challenging suggestion of improvisation, as if the chorus and principals weren't sure from moment to moment what the regisseur might suggest for them to do next.
He has always presented some of the loveliest and some of the ugliest costumes in New York; and now that draperies are no longer his only resource, he falls back upon transformations in scenery, or
makes a painted backdrop of the Moonlight Sonata come to life, with music, to the astonishment of the multitude.
In short, it would appear that Mr Anderson is introducing into the revue precisely that element of artistic bunk which has long been the property of the bogus arts. I resent it, and resent it the more because he doesn't need it. In his recent show there w ere elements beyond words to praise; the singing of Yvonne George was superb and superbly arranged; the Widow Brown song, sung and danced by Bert Savoy, had a quality of tenderness which all the sentimental songs in the Ziegfeld Follies try vainly to transmit; the two little tumblers, Fortunello and Cirillino, are by name and manner of the commedia dell'arte and John Hazzard's song about Alaska, with slides by Walter Hoban, is the stuff that Forty-niners are made of.
It was in this show that the Herriman-Carpenter ballet of Krazy Kat was tried and dismissed, and the fault here is the fault of Mr Anderson throughout. Again it was attempted with an artistic dancer, when everyone who has intelligence of Krazy knows that it should be done by an American stunt dancer until the time when Mr Chaplin finds time to do it. Krazy Kat is exquisite and funny -- and whether Mr Carpenter lets him remain so or not, it is clear that Mr Anderson wanted him to be artistic at all cost. S o with his whole production; he has sacrificed fun all
the way down the line; one is pleased, much more than amused, and the gigantic revelry, the broad levity of Bert Savoy stand apart from the show like a stranger. It is the one revue in which the mass dancing entirely fails to remain in the memory, and I a m convinced that if Miss Brice hadn't, in the Ziegfeld Follies, made Mon Homme a popular hit, Miss George's far more fiery and varied and more generally interesting rendition of it would leave it cold in the ears of the audiences. For Mr Anderson h as so far learned only to put over separate things, and until you put the whole thing over the individual things gain but half their victories.
That completes the circle to Mr Ziegfeld, and, since it is a question of putting it over, associates with him another man who on at least one occasion has done as well, Mr Charles Dillingham. If you omit the one man shows as practised by Ed Wynn, Frank Ti nney and Al Jolson, and the nondescripts of Hitchcock, and pass over Stop! Look! Listen! as varying too far from the revue type, there remains Watch Your Step as another high spot in production, with the dancing of the Castles, the humours of that very great comedian, Harry Kelly, and of Tinney, the scenery and costumes by Robert McQuinn and Helen Dryden, and the whole story of contemporary dancing in Mr Berlin's music. Except for Harry Kelly, every item was bettered in Stop! Look! Listen!, but in spite of the presence of Gaby Deslys,
it was not a revue -- whereas Watch Your Step almost consciously set out to proclaim itself superior in fineness and slickness to the Follies and almost succeeded.
I am trying to sketch the main types of revue, not to write a history of the revue; it is to be hoped that some one sufficiently sentimental can be found to do the job. Whether in a history the drunken scene of Leon Errol in the subway would figure largely, I do not know; I am not even sure that the scene in the Grand Central while it was building, with Bert Williams as the porter, would be noted; quite possibly the memory of Lillian Lorraine on the swingsto me merely a bearable necessity -- and Fr ank Carter singing, (1918) I'm Going to Pin My Medal on the Girl I Left Behind, will seem more important than Ina Claire's mimicry of Frances Starr's Marie-Odile. It is possible that the injection of real humour, like Lardner's, may make the set scenes like Laceland or the History of Shoes through the Ages or Our Colleges more and more dispensable. I do not know. I feel fairly certain only of this: that the relative importance of the workers in the field is measured by their mastery of the a rt of production far more than by their skill in picking individuals and stunts. I am also convinced that those who have arrived at this perfection in an effort to give America pleasure have done more for us than those who haven't got half way in trying t o give us art.