The Early Plays of James A. Herne

The Early Plays of James A. Herne

The Early Plays of James A. Herne

The Early Plays of James A. Herne

Excerpt

These plays of James A. Herne, now printed for the first time, represent him in the earlier stages of his career, with the exception of the fragment of The Reverend Griffith Davenport. He was born February 1, 1839, at Cohoes, N.Y., and made his stage début as George Shelby in Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Adelphi Theatre in Troy, in 1859. After playing several seasons with stock companies in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, he became the leading man for Lucille Western, and his first visit to California, in 1868, was with her company. It was in the 'seventies, however, when he became the stage manager at Maguire's New Theatre in San Francisco, that he began to write plays. His great admiration for Dickens is reflected not only in some of these adaptations, which have perished, but also in his acting parts such as Caleb Plummer, Dan'l Peggotty and Captain Cuttle. Herne preferred to represent real life upon the stage, but he had also the actor's inherent love of romance and his first adaptation to survive in manuscript represents an interesting example of his collaboration with David Belasco, at all times a romantic artist.

Of even more importance for Herne's future career was his marriage with Katharine Corcoran, to whom he gave her first opportunity as an actress in 1877 and who, after their marriage in 1878, joined the Baldwin Theatre Stock Company. Her encouragement and her understanding of dramatic values were of inestimable advantage to Herne in his playwriting, and in his most important plays the leading part was interpreted by her with a skill which was amply recognized by contemporary dramatic criticism.

Within an Inch of His Life is a free adaptation of Emile Gaboriau's novel, La Corde au Cou. Miss Julie Herne is of the opinion that her father worked from an English translation, as his study of French began only in 1896. The relative shares of Herne and Belasco it is not possible now to assign accurately. Belasco's representation of the fire scene through red and yellow silk slips was one of his early successful bits of stage mechanics. The manuscript is not in the handwriting of either, but it remained in the possession of Herne and certain marginal notes are clearly in his script. The dramatization of La Corde au Cou, while it accentuated certain of the melodramatic elements of the original and even created new ones, is not on the whole unskilful. The painstaking details which French legal customs forced Gaboriau to insert . . .

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