Two playwrights from western Pennsylvania, Marc Connelly, 31, from McKeesport, and George S Kaufman, 32, from Pittsburgh, have a second hit on Broadway. Last year their Dulcy with Lynn Fontanne, 34, did well; this season, their three-act comedy To the Ladies!, starring Helen Hayes, 21, has been doing even better for the past month at the Liberty Theatre on West 42nd Street.
Helen Hayes and Otto Kruger in To the Ladies!
Truth is, Connelly and Kaufman finished writing the play just the day before rehearsals started. On opening night, when there were calls for “Author!,” they wheeled a mannequin out on to the stage.
The reviews have been good, with most critics preferring it over Dulcy. Their Algonquin Hotel lunch buddy Alexander Woollcott, 35, wrote in the New York Times that To the Ladies! provided “an occasion of genuine and quite uproarious jollification.”
A 10-minute walk away, the first show presented in the Shubert organization’s new 49th Street Theatre, the revue Chauve Souris is Connelly and Kaufman’s main competition.
Produced by a troupe originally from Moscow, the evening of songs and sketches is hosted by the Turkish-Russian Nikita Balieff, 49, an émigré from the Bolshevik Revolution, like a lot of the members of his company.
On stage Balieff speaks a combination of broken English, French and Russian while wildly gesticulating, but off stage the theatre world knows that he speaks perfectly good English.
Chauve Souris, or the “flying bat,” named for the original variety company Balieff put together back in Russia, has been a touring hit—Paris, London, South Africa. The tune in the show that sends the audience home humming is The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.
Connelly, Kaufman, and the other writers they lunch with regularly at the Algonquin are thinking that Chauve Souris is ripe for parody.
Today, Woollcott has sent a note to Kaufman and his wife, publicist Bea Kaufman, 27, on the occasion of their 5th wedding anniversary:
I have been looking around for an appropriate wooden gift, and am pleased hereby to present you with Elsie Ferguson’s performance in her new play.”
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.