John Luther Long was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania on January 1st, 1861. He was a lawyer by trade, and practised for much of his career. Meanwhile, however, he indulged an interest in writing, producing both plays and short stories. Of the latter, one in particular sparked interest--"Madame Butterfly". Long based the story on the recollections of his sister, Mrs. Correll, who had been to Japan with her husband, a missionary.
Long selected David Belasco, a well-regarded producer and writer, to transform the story into a play. The work was a success, eventually catching the attention of Puccini, who would compose the opera Madame Butterfly with a libretto penned with Long's assistance.
Long published several more works, including nine other books, several plays, and two librettos for opera. Among these, he enjoyed moderate success with a second drama set in Japan, The Darling of the Gods, and Adrea, a tragedy set in the Roman Empire. He lived in Philidelphia with his wife, Mary, serving on the Philadelphia Dramatic Society council, until his death in 1927. Madame Butterfly remains his most famous work.
Long's successful use of the exotic and the classical in his most popular works reflects the influential blending of Japanese and traditional styles in the arts-and-crafts movement around the turn of the 19th century. America's fascination with Japan and all things Japanese began with the "opening of Japan" by Matthew Perry in 1854. Following this military success, the Japanese turned the breach of their cultural haven to their advantage, beginning to craft pieces of "Japanese art" specifically for consumption by the Western world. This culminated in the Centennial World's Fair, at which the Japanese quickly sold not only all the wares which they had brought, but their entire pavilion, to eager consumers.
This cultural trend met with some criticism as well as applause. The satiric critique of the Japan fashion by Gilbert and Sullivan in both The Mikado and Patience are one example; Madame Butterfly itself suggests disapproval of Americans who think of the Japanese as "pretty playthings" and of their culture as throwaway and unworthy of consideration.