Denver Post, 1918-28.
Denver Times, 1918-28.
Denver, Colorado. Colorado Historical Society. Nearly complete file of programs.
-----. Public Library. Partial file of programs.
Robley D. Rhine
[ERNEST] WILKES STOCK COMPANY, SPOKANE, WASHINGTON. The Ernest Wilkes Stock Company ( Spokane, Washington) was one of a number of stock companies organized by actor-manager Ernest Wilkes, a traveling star and member of the Wilkes family (brother Thomas and sister Willamene) which had companies in seven cities, including Denver (Wilkes Players*), Seattle ( Wilkes Stock Company, Seattle*), Los Angeles ( Wilkes Stock Company, Los Angeles*), Tacoma, Salt Lake City, Butte (Wilkes Stock Chain), and Spokane. In 1915, Wilkes was operating the only circuit of stock companies in the West, when he negotiated with A. S. Hatfield for a lease of the American Theatre (built in 1910 at the corner of Post and Front streets). Wilkes opened his Spokane company on Sunday, November 14, 1915, with Roy Cooper Megrue slick melodrama Under Cover ( 1914).
The increasing drawing power of films at theatres such as the Liberty, the Clemmer, and the Class A; the popularity of the vaudeville acts at Pantages and the Hippodrome; and the glamor of the traveling stars who performed at the Auditorium provided Wilkes with stiff competition. However, Spokane did have a tradition of resident stock companies, and the success of the Jessie Shirley Stock Company* indicated an audience for live, spoken drama in Spokane. Remarkably, the Wilkes company tried to reach that audience, even though the effort clearly involved considerable risk.
Wilkes and his brother Thomas organized their companies according to a clear set of guidelines. Generally, they were opposed to the star system in stock and worked instead for strong, well-balanced companies. They tended to rotate players from city to city to provide each audience with new faces. Players, such as Anne Pittwood, were taken out of the resident company and sent to tour the circuit in roles in which they excelled. Though Ernest Wilkes believed stock companies could not profitably employ stars, he made a frequent exception for himself, appearing often as a guest with his companies. Otherwise, he employed the best stock players available, and he strove continuously to make his productions equal the standard of road companies.
Though Wilkes chose an unfortunate week for his premiere (the Spokane Apple Show was running and the weather was unusually inclement), the first season ( November 14, 1915, to May 28, 1916) seems to have been fairly successful, for Wilkes announced he would return the following year. Audiences